Written by William Campbell
Unsettled is about a lot of things. Its about being part of the rural diaspora, the stereotypes of both rural and urban living, and the conflicted feelings having grown up in open and free spaces and then relocating to overcrowded cities. These are lofty themes that we want to tackle over time, but in the end, this is a project to me. In the best sense of that word, I see project to mean process matters. As a society we’re obsessed with being finished or complete like some kind of casserole. But as human beings we’re always in process, asking questions about what it means to be us in the world and trying to make meaning of our life experiences. Throughout this blog I’m not going to pretend to be an ultimate authority or the most unique voice on a topic. I’m going to articulate thoughts that will change over time. I’m going to write posts that I’ll cringe over months later and want to re-write. Other than the obvious, some of the themes I hope to explore are:
I. Rural stories
When my sister approached me with the idea of developing a blog around the idea of how our rural upbringing has influenced our identities and perspectives, at first I wondered how much there was to write. Maybe we put up a reflection or two on our lives, maybe post some pictures of the farm from when we were kids and then move on. The last thing I wanted was to contribute to the self-obsessed me-ism of the blogosphere – everyone writing about themselves as if their perspectives were so special and grand.
Yet as I discussed the possibility of this blog with friends and acquaintances, others’ stories started to come out of the woodwork. Cassie – who’d left Chicago to move to a small town in Tennessee due to a career opportunity for her family. Erin – who left her rural upbringing in Illinois to study music in Paris, only to return as an opera singer and teaching artist in Chicago public schools. Devin & Emily – homeowners in Chicago with a dream to manage their own farm and raise sustainable crops and livestock. Though the world’s population is flocking to city centers, the countryside has a claim on us possibly just as strong. These are not just the stories of the rural diaspora like me and my sister. These are stories about the resilience of rural spaces and the claim that the countryside often unknowingly has on us.
Other than the time I broke my ankle jumping into a pile of hay, my most salient memories from childhood revolve around imagination and play. I wasn’t surrounded by neighbors or comic book stores like kids on TV, so I had to find my own fun. Whether it was adventuring through the forgotten hog sheds pretending they were fortresses, or it was biking around our circular driveway making up battles and races, I needed a way to escape either the mind-numbing drudgery of chores or the butt-flattening hours of video games. Something within this lonely yet open experience fostered my creativity into the weird yet enjoyable thing it is today. My mother always said that she didn’t have to entertain me; I found my own fun. It taught me to become a world builder where I was increasingly unsettled in my little rural universe.
Unsettled is about family and returning. Just as much as this blog is about the theme of rural identity and experiences, it is also about the relationship between me and my sister, as well us and our families. My rural upbringing is directly tied to my relationship with Bryna, Bob, Mom, and Dad. I cannot write about the stereotypes of rural spaces without defending the intelligence of both my mom and my dad. I cannot reflect about the unique adventures we had without talking about the antics of my brother and my cousins infiltrating our neighbor’s barn. I cannot write about the illusion of safety in less urban settings without thinking about my father’s chopped off finger (sorry, just the tip of his finger). And even in this project itself, my sister and I are learning about each other in ways we didn’t as kids. We’ve already discovered how different we remember scenarios from childhood, and I hope to explore these familial experiences in this project.
IV: Politics and religion
We are told that the two things we’re not supposed to talk about at the table are politics and religion, but it is impossible to explore the dynamics of a rural community and upbringing without diving into these issues. Working now for an interfaith organization, I teach others how to talk about their religious and philosophical differences in ways that build respect instead of conflict. We often talk about how our avoidance of these topics causes us to avoid some of the deepest part of the human experience. I am not just a Christian but I am a Christian who grew up in an evangelical country church. I am not just a moderate independent, but I am a moderate independent who grew up with a politically active mother who caucused for the Democratic Party and a father who changed his political leanings gradually over time. There is no way that we can talk about the destruction of barns to make way for more corn or the fact that we can’t return home now without getting the stench of yet another hog confinement facility without giving at least a wink to the politics at play. Whether this is a warning or an invitation, opinions will be on the table.