The other morning, before opening my eyes, I had this comforting yet strange (and rather eerie) sensibility that I was in my bed at my parents’ home in Tennessee. I swear to God I heard a cow moo, too, before realizing I had in fact moved to the West coast (over a year ago), and was living in the city of Portland, Oregon; and yes, it was cloudy and raining again. I salute you, Pacific Northwesterners, and your ability to persevere through the gray; it was taxing for a Southerner. I will never forget to take my vitamin D supplement ever again.
I’m from a quintessential small rural town: McMinnville, Tennessee. At the base of the Appalachian Mountains, our terrain was in the relatively unexciting area of foothills before it reached the flat, dusty, never-ending agony of West Tennessee. It would get cold, so we had a wood stove, but it rarely ever snowed more than an inch. It would get hot, and hay bales would burst into flames, but that was just part of summer. Tornadoes abrasively greeted us in the springtime (R. I. P. backyard apple trees and trampoline), along with planting onions in the garden (which I hated, for whatever reason). I always knew it was time to go back to school in the fall because the corn had grown almost tall enough to harvest.
Home was a hodgepodge farm of horses, chickens, cows, one evil goat—Goatman—a million dogs, barn cats, and two siblings. I had a pet duck, Ping, who lived to be ten years old, and raised a calf my senior year of high school since her mother had died during her labor. I was my dad’s tractor buddy until my little brother was born; he fortunately took over that position. My sister would pull and eat radishes straight from the dirt. My mother mowed the yard in her bikini. We were country. I was country. Whatever.
I always liked books and reading. It gave me the perfect tool to live and survive acceptably unsocial around my peers (I was reading!). My dad was often the one who would provide me with books to read that would result in me empathetically devastated (The Red Pony by Steinbeck, anyone?). Besides my father providing me books and my English teachers advocating me to pursue a literary degree after graduation, there wasn’t an outlet for students interested in writing. There wasn’t an art club, let alone a writing club. However, my sophomore year of highschool I wrote an essay comparing myself to an opossum and submitted it into a competition called “Laws of Life” contending against all high school students in my county. It was a silly metaphor for “the living dead,” which I felt like I was doing; undoubtedly I was influenced by my intimacy with depression. I won! Third place, but, still. Fancy that—a country girl comparing herself to a rat-like marsupial? It was awesome. I was going to be the most badass writer, but the first thing I needed to do, I thought, was get the hell out of Tennessee and work on camouflaging my country accent. Naturally, and ironically, I only moved a state over (North Carolina) to get my undergraduate degree and “escape.”
Since working on Kait Heacock’s short story collection, Siblings and Other Disappointments, and moving to Oregon in general, the resentment I found towards my home and the South—induced by stereotypes of laziness, poverty, and ignorance—have almost entirely faded (besides how this makes me feel). Even working for Ooligan Press has been interesting with my lack of familiarity with the region I’ve now situated myself in (I’m going to stop acting like I know where Yakima is, for example). I don’t pretend to know how Heacock personally views her writings oriented towards the Pacific Northwest and what that means to her, but damn if your heart doesn’t ache for the beautiful, ugly nature of your home when you’re away, no matter how old you are.
As a writer and a rather sensitive human, living in a city full of visual and literary creativity has allowed me to step back and fully recognize the nuances I always overlooked when I was standing too close. It’s almost like I never even knew it was my place until leaving provided me with a lense to see differently. This isn’t an epiphany by any means. It’s a subtle awareness that quietly rustled the sheets and woke me up one morning. I’ve never felt more at ease telling people where I am from as I attempt to embody that culture into words.
It’s my home. It’s my place.