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April 27, 2017

A few days ago, I mentioned to my wife Betsy that I might take up blogging soon. "You said that last summer," she reminded me.  As I glance begrudgingly at the stack of essays waiting beside me to be graded, I realize that if I do not start now, she and I might be having a similar conversation next April. Really, I'm glad Betsy reminded me that this is something I have been meaning to do for a long time. It seems less impulsive this way. It seems like a meaningful activity instead of just a distraction from grading papers. 

 

It is likely that if you are reading this, you know me, or at least know OF me, already. Perhaps we are connected via social media. Perhaps you once taught me, or I once taught you. Perhaps we haven't seen each other since high school, or perhaps we had a beer together just last week. The mystery of social media is that we are connected to so many people - "Friends," Facebook calls them - about whom we often know so little. The people from our hometowns, distant family members, colleagues, and old friends all know something about us, but because many of us curate our social media posts so carefully, and because we all change over time, the reality is that many of the people to whom we are connected do not know us in a holistic sense.

 

My goal in writing this blog is to articulate my thoughts about life in a holistic way. Few of us are one-dimensional, and I am no exception. Because we tend to group up with friends based on things as pragmatic as proximity and as complex as shared social or political views, many of us have different sets of friends, and these friends sometimes never interact. Blogging, it seems, is like that too. When one signs up for a new account on a blog site, one is forced to confront this reality. There are options for food blogs, fashion blogs, and travel blogs. But what if I want to write about the awesome new tie I wore out for dinner while on vacation? To borrow an academic term, where is the intersectionality? In this blog, I hope, I will explore intersectionality in a way that is practical and not academic. I will do it, I hope, by writing about all the things that are important to me and to the world around me, even if they seem unrelated. 

 

Were I to choose a single topic for a blog, it might be faith, organic gardening, woodturning, history, or education. However, I am not interested in being constrained to writing about a single topic, because my faith is inseparable from my love of gardening and my work as a woodturner is in many ways connected to my work as a college professor. I live one life, and I'm not certain there's much value in separating out various important parts of my identity for the purposes of a blog. The other alternative is to have three or for subject-specific blogs, but this seems both overly bureaucratic and a great way to just say ah-to-hell-with-it about blogging. With these thoughts in mind, I decided months ago that were I to begin blogging, I would write about all the things that make up my life. 

 

I decided on the title "This Appalachia Life" because so much of my identity is derived from being Appalachian. I could have chosen "This Appalachian Life," but that domain was already taken, so I dropped the "n." From our garden to our rural way of life to our unique brand of higher education, Betsy and I live lives that are marked indelibly by Appalachia. Not only am I a lifelong resident of the region, I am also a scholar of Appalachia. In particular, I study the region's economic history. I research and write about things like political corruption, the resource curse, and systemic intergenerational poverty. Lest I get too eggheadish, however, I find that I am a better scholar when I remind myself that my roots here run deep, and when I write about Appalachian people, I am writing about my own people. We grow a garden because we want organic, fresh, sustainable food, but also because I grew up helping my granny grow a garden. It's in my DNA, and I'm pretty proud of where I come from and how my ancestors worked hard to survive in these isolated mountains. 

 

One of the primary reasons I decided that it was time to start blogging is my deep-rooted desire to engage in dialogue about our region that less scholarly and more practical. There are many scholars of Appalachia who I admire and respect. Many of them grew up here just like I did. One thing most of us have in common is our drive to talk about the region in ways that are meaningful not just academically but socially. Most of us write about the problems in our communities because we want to work with our neighbors to find solutions. However, we occasionally get bogged down with theory and jargon and end up turning out work for which we are our only audience. Over the past couple of years, I have fallen into that snare myself.

 

Here, I am going to share pictures of our dogs and squash and tell silly stories about our chickens. But I'm also going to write about the opioid crisis that is plaguing the coalfields and examine the complicated history of corrupt politicians who have a vested interest in keeping their constituents poor. My current project - let's not call it a book yet - focuses on the intersection of poverty and politics in central Appalachia. That one sentence description, however, makes it sound like a book no one is going to read, and that reality reveals one of my most important goals in writing this blog. Graduate school trained me to write for a scholarly audience, and I am grateful for the scholars who turned me into a better historian. However, my hope at this point in my life is that I can use my scholarly training to write pieces that foster dialogue among wider audiences. To get to that point, I need to refresh my creative writing skills. Somewhere between falling in love with writing creative non-fiction as an undergrad and then falling in love with academic research in graduate school, I lost my ability to tell a story in an engaging and narrative-driven way. Here, through writing about my woodturning, our dogs, and my faith, I hope to re-learn how to write in a way that is engaging. I hope you'll all join me in this journey! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2019 -  Joshua Wilkey - This Appalachian Life