As my time in Tennessee comes ever more swiftly to an end, I am prone to reflecting on the last 10 months. When we moved here with K. last August, it was both exciting and terrifying to be in a new place. We moved with nary more than a carload of stuff and spent the first two to three weeks in Cookeville alternating between cleaning our new home (which was rather disgusting, as if the people who had lived there previously just gave up on taking care of it once they realized they were moving) and spending our savings on furnishing it from the ground up. We had jettisoned so much of our stuff in the move that we had to buy almost everything from scratch, from shelves to soup ladles, from couches to kitchen cleaners.
When I recall that first month of living off Subway sandwiches, killing cockroaches multiple times a day, not knowing hardly a soul…I hardly want to move again. But when I remember how quickly and pleasantly we made new friends and established ourselves at work and in the community, I feel a bit better about our impending move. K. and I meet and make friends easily, we open our homes to people, we get involved. We also, I think, search out people like ourselves, thinkers, doers, creative folks, etc. We taste the local cuisine and patronize local businesses, preferring local over chain whenever possible.
Many people both here and in New York look at us askance when we say that we moved from New York to Tennessee. They all seem to be thinking, “Why would you do that?” I remember having the same thought when I met a woman in Maryland who was part-owner of a local business there but fondly reminisced about her youth in New York City. “Why did you leave?” I asked her aghast, my 23-year-old brain unable to comprehend why anyone would leave the most amazing, creative, sociable, cutting-edge place in the world.
After living in Tennessee for ten months, however, I think I have the answer. And that answer is, that creative and awesome people are everywhere—and so are small-minded assholes.
New Yorkers, after all, are notorious for believing they live in “the best city in the world.” I was told multiple times while living there a version of the following sentiment: Everything that is the best in the world is here, so why leave or live anywhere else? or If it’s not in New York, it doesn’t exist. But when I moved to Long Island, I encountered the same attitude: Why go to New York City when we have so many amazing things here on Long Island?
One of my favorite Long Island anecdotes is actually K.’s. She went in for a check-up, and the doctor, a handsome man from the South, was playing some classic jazz tunes on his in-office radio: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, that type of thing. After he left, the nurse helping out leaned over to K. and said, with a thick Long Island accent, “Can you believe this music? I mean, what a hick!” We cackled and cackled over this response later because, to us, it was obvious that this nurse was the hick; what cultivated, cultured human being doesn’t like Louis Armstrong?
Case in point, hicks, or small-minded folks, are everywhere. You don’t have to go to Tennessee or anywhere else a New Yorker might consider “the boonies” or “flyover country” to find hicks. They are in your backyard. They are the people who refuse to leave New York because “why bother?” They are in New York City just as much as they are in the Tennessee hills or in London or in China or in a village in Provence, Peru or Polynesia.
Conversely, there are also educated, questioning, creative, curious, intellectual, fabulous, fashionable and free-thinking people everywhere as well. Here in the wilds of the Upper Cumberland plateau, I have had the pleasure of meeting writers, artists, philosophers, thinkers, poets, actors, readers, vegans and vegetarians, organic gardeners, musicians and many more category of open-minded, wordly people who, for one reason or another, live here and not anywhere else.
Of course, it is a lot easier, perhaps, to find these people in big cities. And cities also provide other kinds of built-in conveniences like arts newspapers or LGBT publications, a plethora of organizations putting together events constantly, maybe a wider variety of shops catering to your person interests and needs. Still, I have found charming bookstores, comfy cafes, enlightened conversation, and delicious local eats right here in my proverbial backyard, along with the greenery, rolling hills, lakes and rivers that make it clear to me why artists, thinkers and writers would choose to live here rather than, say, Nashville. There a few more beautiful views than the green hills and clear streams of our very own Putnam County here.
A view of Center Hill Lake last fall when we visited the Appalachian Center for Craft,
a satellite campus of Tech, where students can study weaving, blacksmithing & woodworking,
among other crafts. The public can take workshops there, too.
When I tell people that I really will miss Cookeville and our friends here, many of them seem doubtful. “Well,” they say, “You are just good at finding the bright side of things.” And maybe that is true; but maybe it is also true that there are good things to be found nearly everywhere.
|Cane Creek Park, on the western edge of town.|