Three Years Gone
July 4th marked three years since I last wrote an essay for my website.
In those three years, I watched our son JD grow, celebrated career success for myself and for my wife Betsy, finally completed my dissertation and earned my doctorate, built a wonderful little farm with Betsy and JD, survived a global pandemic, and navigated the college where I work through a 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation and the addition of our first graduate programs.
During those three years, I watched as our country grew more fractured and less kind, transitioning from the leadership of one of the worst humans on the planet to the leadership of an ineffectual political party floundering to make progress and live up to their promises. This transition came in spite of an attempted coup which saw, for the first time since 1812, occupation of the US Capitol by hostile forces. I have also watched a coup of a different type as a president who did not win the popular vote appointed three justices to the United States Supreme Court, tilting the majority toward a conservative, regressive, and theocratic worldview. This Court has already begun systematically dismantling many of the rights humans have been granted in the US, and some of the members have promised to take away even more rights from an allegedly free populace.
Early in the pandemic, Betsy and I took JD out to protest frequently. While I was not writing on my website, I took to Facebook to rant, often taking stances that subjected me to harsh and cruel feedback from people I don't know. Though I speak from a place of privilege, the last few years have been tough for us all, including those of us who endeavor to push back against hate and inequity in forums occupied by those who are content with regressive politics, theocracy, and the shattering of democracy.
In spite of all of that, I have experienced unmitigated joy over the last few years. We have welcomed new life on our farm in the form of goat kids and lambs and piglets, extracted gallons of honey from our apiary, planted new fruit trees, and watched as our son, JD, has grown into a kind, caring, and articulate toddler who loves big.
Occasionally, it would occur to me that I should write something new for my website, This Appalachia Life. The site, which I started shortly after my mother died as a means of sharing my lived experience with others, through the lens of my academic training and research, at one point attracted about a million readers a year, but it eventually suffered from neglect when I focused on other projects that were more important to me. I continued to write, but most of my writing was academic - the sort of writing that no one apart from those who read academic journals or review accreditation compliance reports will ever read. I also completed a lengthy dissertation about faculty perceptions of learning outcomes assessment, and I doubt more than fifteen people will ever read it, five of whom were forced to do so by virtue of being on my dissertation committee. Through all that, though, I still thought occasionally about what my "comeback" to public writing might look like. After a point, I was sort of embarrassed to just post again on This Appalachia Life after having not done so for years.
That leads us here. I decided some time ago that This Appalachia Life, both as a name and as a concept, was no longer a good way to conceptualize or market my writing. Despite multitudes of requests, I never published the work of any other writers. Every word on that site was typed by my hands, and much of it was more deeply personal than I would have been comfortable sharing publicly at other stages in my life.
When I first met Betsy, she asked me to read Brene Brown's book The Power of Vulnerability. I scoffed at first, but then I read the book, and it changed the way I think about sharing my own experiences, both personal and academic. I realized that there is indeed power in vulnerability, and I witnessed firsthand how my own vulnerability helped others to understand and work through their lived experiences. In some sense, I retreated from public vulnerability over the last three years, with the exception of what I shared on Facebook. Lately, though, I have been ignoring Facebook, realizing that my posts there do not really serve any purpose other than to scream into the void and be met by idiots who are not subject to reason and who have fundamental misunderstandings about our country, our history, and even observable scientific fact. Lately, I've been looking for a better outlet for my thoughts about culture, politics, and justice. That leads us here.
This website, while new, features some of my most popular essays from the past, and I hope to once again be more diligent about sharing my work and my writing here in a public forum. I aspire to write deep dives of the sort I completed previously, but I suspect that many of my essays will be shorter, something that will seemingly work well with our ever-decreasing attention spans.
I would apologize for my absence for the past three years, but the truth is, I don't owe anyone an apology. My time has been most well spent. I have grown as a human, as a writer, and most importantly, as a father. I have cherished our growth and success as a family, even as we watched the world suffer around us. Like most people of my gender, socioeconomic status, and race, I have observed the suffering world from a place of privilege. With this website, I hope to get back to the work of using my privilege to speak truth to power.