A Letter from the Heart of Darkness in My Own Private Dumbf***istan

I originally wrote this as a response to a mild post of Kevin’s blog.  His post was about cell towers and lines of sight. I decided this was too crazy for that venue and not fair to burden his site with. Instead, it will fester here.

I do get insane sometimes about what has happened in less than two generations  where I live in Kentucky. My children are smart and they have moved away to where hope has a better chance to live, maybe even thrive. I cannot be consoled about that nor made glad nor coaxed into being positive. Don’t try.

Some might go ahead and argue that I should lighten up. Be more positive, they say, and you will draw more positive energy to you. That would be like telling a cancer patient that if they had a better outlook they wouldn’t be in stage four now. I won’t be positive. It is a culturally desperate situation. It snaps in the air around me like a downed power line in the dark, burning insulation and more. Here is what I wrote for Kevin, but decided it needed to live here in this public space instead.

Confronted by failed private infrastructure every day. No cell service in the hills and hollars unless I get it from an inferior local provider–Bluegrass Cellular. I have T-Mobile because they were the first to offer wireless cell connection at home. But it all comes at a cost and it is all as fragile as a penny on a railroad track waiting on a train.

This is the trivial tip of the iceberg for me. Below that surface we see the classic political powerlessness of the truly rural. I have a railroad not three miles from me, but no passenger service. Why? No political power to wrestle money from the eastern and western rail corridors, no power to increase the size of the pie, no power to make the private rail corps share the transportation commons.

Info infrastructure? I am dead end on my connection. Have been told I will never go any faster on my dsl. Schools are underpowered with both internal wireless access as well as fibre in and out their doors. And that says nothing about the totally spotty access our students get, access that’s absolutely mission critical if by ‘mission’ we mean their futures.

This rural disconnect even gets down to seemingly trivial items like radar coverage. We are at the edges of three different radars (sited in metro areas of course) and we get ‘fuzzy’ coverage at best. What this means is that the very real threat of tornados is combatted not by viable technology but by human spotters giving notice via sirens atop volunteer firehouses throughout the county. That’s a real WTF.

Some might argue that we hillbillies should vote with our feet, again another urban-centric reaction. Some of us are committed to growing things for cities to eat. Not sure we want too many more of us to leave that calling. Say what you will about tobacco and growing it (both detestable to my mind) but it provided economic and agricultural stability for generations. When government price supports were withdrawn ( in other words when political power abandon us) we lost that. People did vote with their feet when this happened. My county, the second largest dairy producer in the state, began hemorrhaging farmers so fast that the average age of dairy farmers went up ten years in the same time period. Average ages don’t do that hardly ever unless something dire is happening.  Plague maybe or the crashing of a culture?

Kevin, I know you didn’t intend for this to be a political soapbox, but it seems to me that rural life has become an idyll for most, but you cannot feed your family with myth. Cheap food along with cheap oil has enabled political power to be concentrated into urban hands. And folks marvel about the nasty intensity of the gun nuts and the preppers and the meth farmers and the tea partiers. I don’t wonder at all. We in dumbf**kistan have been abandoned. It is every crazy mf for him or herself and the devil take the hindmost. Or at least that’s what it feels like on the worst days to me, a not so quiet desperation.

I wrote a cutout poem about this and posted it on a public space started by Susan Watson.  It rises from the context above, driven to poetry by extremity.


I hate to sound like some faux John Brown in the wilderness prophesying death and destruction.  I actually believe we are in for a slower crash much like James Howard Kunstler describes in his World Made by Hand novels.  If you think I’m angry, then you should read his take on what is going on in urban blightscapes.

You might ask in fairness, what do you suggest?  I don’t suggest anything at this point.  I can only hope for a terrible status quo or move to the cities near my kids.  My wife and I have talked about this nearly every day.  It seems the rational reaction to abandonment and worse.  Get out while the getting is good.  Of course, there are myriad options, but they are all huge leaps and with each leap we would pull up the roots, the ties, the connections to what’s left of our community, a small, hard-bitten clump of 1970’s back-to-the-landers whose defining trait is stubbornness not intelligence.  And worse we would be ripping from its context the hard-earned tacit knowledge that is the legacy owed to future generations.  Gone forever.

I will recover from this outburst.  You need to see this for what it is.  Someone coming to terms with personal mortality and cultural destruction.  I just want witnesses.  I don’t want you to hurt like I do, I just want you to see the wanton and terrible  sight of a culture dying, to acknowledge it with a nod or to even curse it with a “good riddance and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”.  I will let others argue for the moment about what is really happening, I will just tell you that I know what I know and this is what I know. Not positive. Not negative.  Your mileage may vary, but this is what I know.


The Big Here

Wanted to explore the idea of a watershed and how water follows simple rules to create awe inspiring complexity--river deltas, for example.
Wanted to explore the idea of a watershed and how water follows simple rules to create awe inspiring complexity–river deltas, for example.

When I teach literature, I am always impressed by how cut and dried the ‘idea’ of setting was compared to how complex setting plays out in the good ol’ day-to-day.  That’s why I was so glad to see KQED’s quest this week on #CLMOOC  was to help us question and explore the meaning of public space.

When I introduce the idea of setting to my literature students I want them to be very local.  In fact, I wanted them to think of setting in terms of their spaces, their homes, their neighborhoods.  I wanted to get them to become aware of where they lived as if they were characters in their own work of fiction.

In the process of doing this I discovered a marvelous tool for coming to terms with setting and place:  The Big Here.  This is a quiz created…well, let Kevin Kelly tell the story from here:

You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. (See the world eco-region map ). At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

The following exercise in watershed awareness was hatched 30 years ago by Peter Warshall, naturalist extraordinaire. Variations of this list have appeared over the years with additions by Jim Dodge, Peter Berg, and Stephanie Mills among others.

It is quite glorious how this ties together so many threads in our collective work this summer–systems, games, remediation, identity, and now–public space.  I have come back to this quiz/questionnaire over and over in my own.  Maybe you would like to explore it, too.  I invite you below or you can be terribly informal and just skim the website and lurk a bit there.  It repays deeply and irrevocably.

Here is a Public Commons if you want to share:

View The Big Here Bazaar on Hackpad.

I am hoping to add a Google Survey as well so that folks can gather their responses in a public spreadsheet, a more democratic space I cannot imagine. If somebody beats me to this I would not be unhappy (hint/hint/hint).