June 11, 2011

Kentucky Visit, Part 1: Culture Shock

Kentucky is my home, and always has been. However, I've lived in other places (on a boat, in Tanzania, Massachusetts, Colorado and now California). Every other time I've come home from a trip abroad, or just to visit from wherever I laid my head at night, I've always been so grateful to call KY home. It's a beautiful state, and the humidity, quality of air, relaxedness and quirky hominess of it all sits right with me.

Even when I lived in Massachusetts for 4 years, however, I would come home at least a couple times a year. I had never been away for more than a few months at a time before. As you know, Ben and I pushed the proverbial reset button on our lives when we moved to California, and in order to solidify the changes we were making in our lives, we opted not to go home last Christmas. The result is that the year we had been gone from KY was the longest either Ben or I had ever been from home. And this, coupled with the fact that we've been living in California, had some interesting effects on our perspective.

After 30 years of exposure, I shouldn't be shocked by young guys wearing tank tops with sleeve holes that go down to their hips out in public, or the auditory-intensity of mufflers, or the preponderance of muddin' trucks with trucknuts, or Friends of Coal bumper stickers. Those things used to make me smile and roll my eyes or smirk before, but this time they really kind of surprised me. How can being gone for just a year make these things seem so strange? I had a real appreciation for how Kentucky or the South might genuinely turn people off if they weren't used to the culture or properly warned.

Health workers smoking outside the hospital

Before I arrived in Ky, I was in the airport in Dallas, waiting to board the plane for Cincinnati, and I was surrounded by archetypes of what represents 'home' to me: very large humans, slow speaking and cordial people, perfectly coiffed hairdos paired with conservative clothing, talk of tobacco farming, and cheerful though superficial chitchat between strangers. I like and appreciate this snapshot of Kentucky/the South East, because it's familiar and warm--but I've never felt like I particularly fit in amongst these types. I never really minded not fitting in, it seemed like other people had more of a problem with my innate nonconformity than I did. I appreciated them for what they had to offer and eventually most people would come around and realize I was harmless and had something to offer, too. In California, many more people have similar attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyles to mine. For the first time, I feel like I 'fit in'--although that's not something I was looking for when I moved there. Sitting at the airport gate, I had a profound thought:

"How strange that 'feeling at home' didn't necessarily include 'fitting in' before."

I'm curious how it will feel to go back to Monterey, to see if I feel like it's home (where I fit in too!), or if it just feels like living in California, where I also happen to fit in.

Another impression that smacked us in the face was that Lexington is a great place for ages 0-22, and 40+. If you are between the ages of 22-40, this is probably not a great place for you to be unless you are
-raising a family,
-a doctor, lawyer, or academic,
-jumped straight into a low-paid job where you might have the opportunity to climb the career ladder over the next 20 years,
-don't mind being very poor.

Especially if you are creative or entrepreneurial, this is not a great place to make a living. There is a culture of ageism where only the older people are 'allowed' to succeed. The only exception we noted was if you open a bar or restaurant--that's an acceptable business model that we have seen several of our peers make successful. In Lexington, I often got the cold shoulder from superiors who may have assumed I was being impertinent by suggesting ways to improve methodology at work. In comparison, despite my age I am respected and welcomed to contribute meaningfully in Monterey. And, we can make a living. We ultimately moved because of these issues, althought I'm not sure we saw it quite so clearly at the time. There's so much to enjoy about Lexington (walkability, friendly folk, historic buildings, slow but measurable social change, Mecca and LVDS) that we clung to those things while we lived there. I'm just very happy to be living my life out in Monterey right now, and I feel so lucky to visit Kentucky right now as a visitor.

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