Writing in Rural Alabama: Ten Years Forward

If you are living life correctly, you don’t stay the same person. You grow, change, empathize more – maybe. Or you can sink into the world you inhabit and become dogmatic, rigid, judgmental. I turned 40 while living in rural Alabama. Many people become fixed in their ways at that age. They believe what they’ve always known. As the years progressed, I watched my former acquaintances back in the city become less curious and more unyielding in their perspectives.

And so, I’m grateful for the abrupt change, though I realize it came at a cost. I have no doubt that had I been able to stay in New York, my writing career would look quite different at this point. Sometimes, I try to imagine what it would be like. Having access to resources and the ability to network in person, I would likely possess a souped-up resume. I was already heading toward historical dramas, but could I have gone to Austin for a year of research at the LBJ Presidential Library? I don’t think so. How would I have seen the 2016 presidential election? Probably just like almost everyone else in New York City.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have been happy under those circumstances. I would’ve had the resume, but something would be missing. And my awareness of that would leave me unsettled and frustrated.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been curious about the country. I wanted to know what it was like in other parts. I’ve crossed the country four times by Amtrak. Whenever I passed little towns along the way, I wondered who lived there. How did those folks spend their day? What did they think? What kind of jobs did they have? When I lived in New York, I felt trapped. Everything was expensive and I worked hard to survive. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to think or process.

Pretty soon, I was a writer writing about writing in New York. It’s easy to forget the world when you live there. The world is a big place, but when it comes to you, it has to come in acceptable packaging. It loses something when it conforms to your specifications.

I am quite a different person than I was back in 2006. I get to be who I am now because I know who I am.

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