Just recently, I passed up an offer to be interviewed by a major cable network. Okay, maybe major is an overstatement, but this particular network is pretty popular and it does crank out some damned fine made-for-TV movies. The kind of two-hour saga chock full of dramatized and traumatizing cheese. They make movies destined to be rounded up into a kitschy collection on down the road. And I’d probably buy it too, if I found it at a yard sale. I appreciate those late-night, tear-laden schlock fests. I appreciated the offer to be featured on their website and share a day in my life, I did. But I didn’t tell a soul I’d gotten the offer until after I turned it down. Shake that head and wonder, go on.
Did I miss my “big break”? Have I passed on an opportunity to share my work, and my heart, and the hills and hollers I love, with the world? Could a camera crew sweep in from the Big City and liberate me from my gravel road existence? So many questions left hanging around unanswered!
I’ve made a lot of decisions people may not understand in my time on this earth. And one of my unfathomable choices is garnering a lot of folks’ attention here lately: I stayed. Seems like the whole world wants to understand why.
I am an intelligent, capable woman not without my charms. I’m confident enough to know I could make a go of it just about anywhere. I stayed in the Appalachian foothills, conscientiously and contentiously. It might be easy to picture me pinned down by poverty, trapped in a bright red backwoods wasteland, quietly yearning to escape. It might be easy to imagine a woman like me wandering the rainy streets of Portland with my portable Royal in hand, perhaps? But I ain’t never been much for cliché.
The thing is, you don’t know me. Yeah, I said it. I done and brought the daytime talk show mantra right on over the literary threshold. What else did you expect from some East Kentucky trash, right? You don’t know me, no matter how much you’d like to. I won’t let you. No matter how many platforms you encourage me to step up on. I remain a mountain misty-ry.
I don’t want to impart upon you the hard lessons I caught onto real quick. The ones you learn being broke and staying home, planting roots in the dirt, the dirt that courses through my veins. Why should I? I’m not so sure you deserve to taste the salt of the earth, to experience that flavor on your tongues. Tongues so used to smooth silver spoons may not be able to swallow such a bite, let alone gulp the sweet pleasure of a perfectly cold cup of Kool-Aid on a perfectly hot day. You ain’t earned it. How’s that for hillbilly blunt?
Listen honey, it’s nothin’ personal. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust a lot of people. And especially not outsiders looking through a lens at my existence, setting up my sense of self shot for shot, strangers with cameras. Call me a backward hick, blinded by the isolation of my upbringing. Call me a barefoot fatalist, disadvantaged by the quality of my education. Bring up some valid points. But the land and the people who raised me, we’re used to being exploited. For decades, a century, more.
Young generations of Appalachians have been shipped out of the region like so much livestock, encouraged to roam in search of greener pastures. Those of us who stayed behind to tend the roots, we’ve been watching. Mourning from front porches and pine thicket cathedrals as our mountains are stripped bare; as living, breathing forests turn to dead timber. And the culture has been clear-cut, too. Pared down with the knots and burls and messy bits removed. It’s currently bouncing around Brooklyn in bibs, strumming a banjo all wrong and snacking on some vegan, gluten-free cornbread. I see you, and I hold tight to my birthright of cynicism.
I’m weary and I’m cautious and I’m greedy with what’s left of the way of life I love. Why should I give it to you? You, who are blinded by dirty feet and thick accents and the glare coming off your own framed graduate degree. I’m not a specimen stuck in a bona fide Mason jar. I’m not a lightnin’ bug to glow and die for the amusement of bored housewives or elbow-patched academics. It’s not my responsibility to explain to you why I feel like y’all want to put a lid on me and seal me up tight. I could wait till I’m suffocating and plead with you to poke a few air holes in the lid, but really, I’d rather die.
Misty Skaggs, Rabble’s Appalachian Features Editor, is an author, artist, and activist from Eastern Kentucky.
Follow her on Twitter @mistymarierae.
Header Image: Creative Commons, Public Domain.