Looky here! I'm a hillbilly. The real deal. Bonafide. Born and raised. Generational. Go ahead. Ask me if I grew up wearing shoes, with electricity, and indoor plumbing. I've answered these questions a million times in my life. Yes, I do have all of my own teeth. Yes, it's true, some of us don't. Just like some of you don't. Ask me to pronounce "ice", "Nike", or the name of my hometown "Whitesburg". I'll say it over again a few times before I get pissed off.
Here, I'll go ahead and answer the other questions. I have lived most of my life in a trailer. I've lived in three different trailer parks. Perhaps that makes me trailer trash too. I also am a holler rat. I grew up drinking mostly pop. We couldn't drink the tap water. I know the putrid smell of sulfur water well. Pop was what was available for me. The milk was for the baby. Hmmm... what else? Oh, I have used a chamber pot for an extensive period of time, though it was used indoors. I have used an outhouse with a composting bucket in the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. That counts as an outhouse. Toilet paper was provided. I pick weeds out of my yard and eat them. I've pulled the innards of a hawk killed hen out with my bare hands. I went to two schools that were taken over by the state department of education because of poor performance. I roamed the hills as I pleased. I'm not afraid of wild animals, but I do know how to respect them. I can find my way around outside in the dark. I have accepted handouts and government assistance as needed. I've lived above and below the poverty line. Let's just say regularly hovering all around it. I haven't seen a dentist in about 10 years. No, I'm not addicted to prescription pain pills, but I do need quite a bit of caffeine to function. What else might you want to know about a real hillbilly?
My husband and I have been interviewed countless times in the recent years by students and journalists from outside of these hills. Mostly, the questions are the same. Why did you choose to stay in the mountains? Is the economy really as bad as they say it is? Are your towns dying? Are people really as poor as we've heard? Is the education system really awful? Will the death of coal be the death of your communities? And, on occasion someone will be interested in my hometown of Whitesburg. Somehow the idea that it is culturally advanced and doing things that no other town in the region is trying to do has gotten around. Some good things are happening there, but honestly, I have no idea what will come of any of it. Some days I'm hopeful, other days, not so much.
I just wonder what the wonder is all about. My people are portrayed in the media as impoverished, backwards idiots more times than not. I'll link to the positive press at the bottom of this post. Stereotypes are exploited and exaggerated. At best, they are misunderstood. It is perfectly acceptable to most people to publicly make fun of me or any other hillbilly and it happens way more than I can stand. People do it unconscious of how their words and actions are placing me below them and how I very consciously catch that sense of superiority. I want to know what these fascinated people want from us. What is their research or reporting going to do to change anything here? Is it just glorified gawking? Honestly, I think so. Unbeknownst to the well meaning enlightened.
"Oh, how great!" "You are so cool." "I can't believe you live that way." "You are my hero." Really? Being a hillbilly is a new fad - hillbilly chic. That our every day makes us cool, or a hero is frustrating. If you can navigate New York City or fight rush hour traffic in Spaghetti Junction without killing anyone, you're just as deserving of accolades. It isn't our choice to live here, or the happenstance that we were born here that makes us interesting. I wish people wanted to get to know us. We are a people as complex and deep as any other culture you could choose to study. We are so much more than coal, prescription abuse, poverty, job loss, diabetes/obesity, Mountain Dew mouth, and low educational attainment. Sure, they are some big problems, but they stem from something much bigger, and it is partly the fault of you outsiders.
Other than any privilege that being white brings me, I am not unlike the inner city African American mother who when questioned by the outside has to answer the same thing again and again. Why the violence? Police brutality? Gangs? Welfare? Or the Hispanic person looking for work who gets asked about immigration, deportation, and working for low wages. Or the Middle Eastern person who constantly answers questions about Islam, terrorism, and what it is like being a Muslim American.
As a hillbilly, I'm part of the "other" in this country. With that comes responsibility. It means sometimes being the voice of my people. As much as I want to talk about telling ghost stories with my Mamaw, eating soup beans and cornbread, how inventive my ancestors were, how mesmerizing our traditional music can be, and how dang smart we are, I will answer any and all manner of questions whether it makes my heart sing or not. I won't yell at you for repeating my words back to me in exaggerated, butchered accent while smiling from ear to ear. I won't even be upset at the shock that I am very literate and well read. I'll cater to you in a hope that somehow, I can help you see more of us. I want to change the story being told out there. I want all the truth. No exaggerations. No hope where there isn't any. All the wonderful eccentric bits left in. I want our stories told straight from the horse's mouth. It is time to change the narrative if we want to be seen for who we are and we want to find real solutions for the future that is upon us.
The more positive press:
Imagining a Post-Coal Appalachia (The Atlantic Monthly)
ZipUSA: 41858 (National Geographic)
5 Days in Kentucky: Small Town Conceives of New Life After Mining (Al Jazeera America)
I’d like to share some thoughts on an aspect of our lives that does not get nearly the attention and respect it deserves. As women, we have a unique ability that has been so demeaned by modern culture that we have no idea how to approach it in a positive way. Our menstrual cycle is that ability, that “superpower” that we carry. Think about how powerful it is, considering that without it there would be no humans on earth! Our cycle carries a regenerative, life-giving force, and yet we have been told nothing positive about it. We’re encouraged to suppress it, medicate it, tolerate it, and ideally act as if it is not even happening, as if it were a weakness, and we would be better off without it!
What if, instead, there were a model for menstruation that was based on positive associations and images? Instead of being a joke, a burden, or an embarrassment, what if your monthly cycle could be a personal rhythm, a meaningful experience, or even a blessing?
It’s hard to imagine, given the fact that modern culture so thoroughly demeans and dismisses this aspect of our lives. Really, though, distancing ourselves from our own experience, and trying to ignore something so central to our lives, is what causes much of our distress. We are literally fighting ourselves each month! When we think about it, it’s obvious that this is not empowering, or healthy. There are a few simple ideas, shared by many cultures throughout the world, that present the menstrual cycle in a very different light, and can help you have a much easier time each month. Believe it or not, you could even begin to look forward to your period!
• You can learn to anticipate your needs and optimize your time, so that you approach different projects when you have the most energy for them.
• You can learn to take loving care of yourself, with “time out” when you need it most!
• You can also learn to interpret your menstrual challenges in a more holistic way - looking for ways to balance your energy and expectations, instead of blaming yourself for not being able to do it all, all the time!
It’s really about getting back to the basics: learning what our cycles were designed to do, and how we can support them so that we can feel our best. This is a rhythm, after all, that operates at the center of our bodies and lives for several decades. Our cycles affect everything we do, so wouldn't it be wonderful to learn how to live in harmony with them? We ourselves, and everyone around us as well, would benefit from that!
I’d like to share, today, how using the seasons or the moon as a model for our own rhythms makes it easy to visualize an entirely different way of approaching the changes that we go through from week to week. In Part 2 (to be published in June), I’ll go into further detail about the premenstrual and menstrual times of the month, which tend to pose the most difficulty for most of us.
I have found that observing the similarities between the menstrual cycle and the rhythms of nature changes everything. The moon and seasons have phases that are easy for us to visualize and relate to. Looking at the rhythm of the moon, or the seasons of the year, we can easily see how the light grows and brightens, expands into fullness, and then decreases and wanes again.
Once you begin to interpret your own experiences similarly, in terms of “seasons” or “phases” that have a natural, predictable rhythm throughout the month, your own month makes much more sense. You’ll have a reliable pattern to follow and will finally be able to work with your cycle instead of against it! You’ll begin to develop a personal practice that takes advantage of your own optimal times for different types of activities. You’ll anticipate your needs and make plans for self care. Your month will become immeasurably easier and you’ll probably end up wondering why you did not learn this long ago!
Let’s take a closer look:
This model shows the 28-day cycle of the moon’s phases, as the moonlight grows brighter until it reaches full moon, and then returns to darkness again before the new cycle begins. The wonderful thing is, you can place any other cycle onto this same model and see the same pattern of expansion and contraction. This is how everything in nature works, from the inhale and exhale of a single breath, to the circling of the largest galaxies. Everything has a pulse or a rhythm of movement.
When we place the four seasons of the year onto this model, we easily see that summer is similar to full moon, while winter, at the opposite end of the cycle, resembles the dark of the moon. Springtime is similar to the growing light after new moon, and Autumn corresponds with the waning light that occurs after full moon, as the light descends toward darkness and the completion of the cycle.
It is a predictable rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it has much to teach us about ourselves, as well! This pattern of growing outward and returning inward offers a balance of energies, and it also allows for different types of expression, and different perspectives. If things stayed the same all the time, nothing new would ever happen! So, when we apply our own menstrual cycle to this model, we can see how it reflects the fact that we go through profound rhythmic changes each month. Remembering how our cycles resemble the wise design of other rhythms of nature can help us appreciate our own different types of expression, and different needs.
It’s easy to see, when looking at the model of the moon and seasons, that full moon is very different than dark moon, and summer is very different than winter. In a similar way, something very different is going on within us, depending on whether we are ovulating or menstruating! Why would we expect ourselves to act or feel the same from week to week, when we are in a completely different personal “season?”
Our menstrual time is like our own winter or dark moon, when we retreat more into ourselves. Our ovulation is like our own personal summer, or full moon, when we are more radiant and social, and our energy is expansive and focused outward. (These are generalizations, I realize, but most women will find that they have a personal rhythm that is somewhat similar to this model. The thing is, when we approach our cycle with curiosity and interest, we can discover what our own rhythms actually are!) For half of our cycle, our energy is building toward ovulation, and most of us will tend to feel more social and capable at this time. These are the qualities that are rewarded in modern culture! But for the other half of the cycle, our outer focus tends to wane as our attention naturally turns back toward ourselves, toward our own feelings and needs. This tends to be a more introspective time, a time to re-balance, to catch up with ourselves, to notice what is not working so well, and to correct anything that needs our attention before it gets worse!
This knowledge of the value of our cycles is a “wisdom teaching” that women have shared with each other in various ways for thousands of years. But as modern culture has divorced itself from nature, these wise traditions have also lost favor and been forgotten. The expectation for women to be agreeable, available and productive at all times, entirely negates our own need for self-care, rest, creativity, and time alone. We need some deep introspective time, from which renewal and inner guidance can emerge, for the good of our entire family and community. We need time for balance and self care. We can’t be focused on others all the time.
I love to think of trees as such a great example of this cycle of self care! Most trees lose their leaves or become dormant in some way in winter. They are not in full bloom all the time! They withdraw underground and descend into their roots. Does this mean that they are lazy, unreliable, or selfish? Of course not! They withdraw into their roots to gather strength from the nourishing soil, so they can emerge fully in the coming season of flower and fruit and have energy for the year to come. Anything else would be a recipe for burnout!
It is easy to see the value of this rhythm in the lifecycle of trees, but can be harder to see in ourselves! But we, too, can take time for ourselves and give ourselves the time to recharge. Our cycles are actually designed to help us do this; to create these healing practices in our own lives.
I look forward to sharing more with you in Part 2 of this guest post to be published next month, about specific tools, perspectives and practices that you can begin to incorporate into your life. Many blessings to you until next time!
My Foundation Class, Welcome Your Rhythm, begins on June 22, for 5 weeks, by phone. If you and a friend wish to enroll together, you may each receive a $30 discount. Please let me know your names and I’ll send you each a discount code to use when you enroll! This is a great way to take the class, since you’ll be able to compare notes about your experiences. www.WelcomeRhythm.eventbrite.com
The first four women to enroll will also receive a complimentary Cycle Comfort Coaching Session with me, which can be used either before or during our 5-week course! You can discuss any aspect of your cycle, or work on creating more healthy habits in general.
It's 11pm on a Thursday and my little gals are sleeping. My head is so full of things I want to write about. I write for weeks in my head sometimes before I get a chance to put it down somewhere. It's hard, at times, to retrieve the right words as my multitasking mind likes to store things in broad ideas. The house is quiet and while watching sappy, chick TV, I realized I had to get this down before I forget. I cannot forget this. I CANNOT forget this. I'm putting it here. My journal is public. My heart laid bare.
Many months ago a friend and mentor suggested I explore the spiritual principle of Joy. What is joy? Have I ever felt it? If so, when? What brings me joy? I thought on it for awhile and I gave up. It is hard to know if you've experienced something you can't define. The closest I got was when my girls were born. Yet, it wasn't quite what I would call joy. It was blissful satisfaction. It was sacred beyond words. Joy seems too simple a word for those complex moments post birth. I gave up thinking about it.
Then, I began doing a yoga DVD from my favorite teachers, Ana Brett and Ravi Singh.
I've been having pain in my arms, neck, and shoulders. This just so happens to be where the heart chakra is located. Mushy love stuff always has been kind of cheesy for me. Not much into Kum Ba Yah or hippie dippy make love all around the world. I am too cynical for it. I've felt too much. Hurt too much. It just doesn't seem realistic. Except, as much as I'd hate to admit, there's part of me that wants to believe it. A part that wants the possibility.
So, to address the physical pain, I began doing the yoga once a week to address the heart center. Green Energy is a part of a weekly rotation of 6 practices/DVDs that I have set out for myself. Green Energy comes on Thursdays. Each time I do it, my heart center opens a little more. I can feel it being physically freed. As woo-hoo as it may sound to some, I've also experienced spiritual and emotional release as a part of this practice. I've come to understand in a deeper way some of the things that hurt me so as a child and as an adult. I've come to understand what I thought I could never.
Then, this Thursday, I felt something strange during my practice. A realization came to me as clear as the full moon in the dark of night. My happiness doesn't depend upon anyone else nor does my happiness depend upon another's being happy. It doesn't depend upon the value someone places upon me in their life. Happiness is boundlessness. It is freedom. It is self worth. It is the space you give yourself to love others within the boundaries of loving yourself. I am born free. I am born boundless. It is by choice if I feel tied down. To listen, know, and follow my own heart is the key to giving myself the space to find joy.
Where my path crosses another's there will be effect. However, the effect is the responsibility of the one whose path I cross if I am going forth in love and truth. We share each other in moments. Some moments so brief can impact a lifetime so profoundly. It is when we act from our truth, that our presence can lead another to their own. Happiness doesn't come from responsibility and obligation. Responsibility and obligation can be chosen to inform happiness.
I told a friend the other night that I have always been a results oriented person. The student, the pleaser, has always wanted to hear that I'm all right. I've needed that reassurance my whole life - the kudos, the reward, the A+, the feeling of being wanted. My happiness has hinged on what I could do for others to make them ask for my presence. My happiness has been determined by my feeling of security in bonds among people. That kind of happiness isn't real. It is lonely. It is fleeting. It is panicking. It is finite.
I'm still not sure what joy feels like, but I think I will know when I feel it. I think I owe it to myself and everyone in my life to be free enough to be happy. To acknowledge my truth, set my own goals, and work in love toward them. I just had to get it down before I forget.
I'm not about to reveal any juicy gossip information about my marriage. My marriage is well passed the seven year itch at coming really close to year sixteen and twenty-one years together. Nope, this is more real for me than that. I've noticed a trend in myself this year while exploring my unsettled feelings. Every seven years, my life seems to take a huge turn. We've been back in the mountains and attempting living in this lost place for seven years this next month. My body, mind, and heart is telling me it is time for something new.
There's a little bit of basis for this feeling I'm having.
Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner created a theory of human development based on seven-year cycles that were associated with astrology. According to his theories, humans experience changes physically and mentally every seven years. - The Seven-Year Itch: Fact or Fiction by Jennifer Nagy
I work with Steiner philosophy every day as I educate my daughters. He was definitely on to something. I am not the woman I was when we moved back home. I'm in a big transitional phase of my life. I'm coming out of the fog of new motherhood and wondering what is next for me.
My husband is doing well in his work. In fact, he's so busy that my time with him is limited. I tallied it up (Yes, I did.). He's home for about 30-35 waking hours on the average week. The 2-3 hours we have with him on Tuesdays-Saturdays are in the mornings. I'm getting breakfast, preparing for school, straightening up, then, seeing him off to work. We often don't see him again until the next morning as we are in bed by the time he comes home. His off days are filled with running errands, tending the girls, and mowing the yard. We're so beat there's a lot of Netflix watching thrown in there as well. He's thriving in his work though, as hard as it is. He's consumed by it, loves it, and is wildly dedicated. If I'm honest, I'm kind of envious. I'm not envious in a jealous kind of way, but in the way that wonders if I could follow dreams and come out ahead.
I worked while getting my master's degree and he got his. I taught public school. He also went through his tattoo apprenticeship at this time. Then, I began having my babies. Now, I have no more babies in the plans. I'm ready to grow with my daughters. I want to chase dreams again. It is funny though, I seem to have gotten lost in all of this supporting. I'm in an odd place. In all my unsettled rushing mind, I didn't realize that it is up to me to make changes for myself. I've expressed my desires to John, and he has listened, but he's in his own dream and cannot attend to mine. I've lamented to friends, probably more than I should have, about monotony and lonesomeness. Finally, one of them shared with me that she had recently realized that if change is to be had, it was up to her to go after it.
For the last ten years, I've been a stay at home mother. I've learned to cook awesome food. I've been working on the balance of teacher and mother as the same role. I have opened my lap and arms even when I was the one wanting to be held. All of life has revolved around this family I have made, and supporting them in all that they do with all of my loyalty. As much as I know I'm loved, and I sometimes feel appreciated, I know that if I want my life to be more balanced and for my talents to be put to use, I have to seek the opportunities and welcome the idea of rearranging what I thought my life should look like at this time.
I have to find the adventure. I have to chase my own dreams. I have to find my own way through the darkness. I cannot expect more support than I already have. I know how to make sacrifices, but now it is time to sacrifice stone chiseled ideas rather than hopes and fulfillment. My daughters deserve to see me thrive on every level. What meaning will it have if I tell them that they can be whatever they want to be, if they see me lay down my chances? In the family I have created for myself, I've laid the foundation for going forward. Now, it is time to try it out and see what happens. I cannot fear the change that will lead me to the next thing.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.