This month, my partner and I celebrate 3 years living in West Virginia. In the last few months something has shifted with our lives in our small town, Princeton, in Southern West Virginia. The first few years were so so hard. It was not easy to make friends. It felt like every single thing took forever – getting a roof for the workshop space or having someone out to the house to help with home repairs. And then there were all the little things – the extra effort spent to find doctors, to get healthy food, to go get a pot for your plants. All the things, big and small.
And the community we sought out when we moved here was elusive – especially on the tail of the Covid pandemic. Families are extremely tight and it can be hard to connect with people outside their family units. And we had to face the reality of moving to a community that has been through decades of hardship – a scarcity of jobs, the opioid epidemic – and all the predatory businesses that nestle in with this hardship. There were so many days where I wondered what I was doing here – whether moving here was a HUGE mistake. And in those moments I had to remind myself that I followed my heart to get here. That’s all we can ever do. I had to summon enormous amounts of faith when I couldn’t see past the dark, cold, tough days. So many of them. Trying an apprenticeship program for sewing and realizing we didn’t have what we needed in place to succeed here yet. Returning from my mom passing in California to a long dark winter with not enough social support.
You take a gamble moving to a new place – especially in small town America that seems to bear a disproportionate share of our country’s many many social and economic challenges at this point in time.
But lately I feel my faith and patience is being rewarded by a feeling of belonging to this small, strange, lovely community in the mountains. Over the summer an extremely talented local quilter moved into the adjoining space at the workshop, bringing in what I came to realize was desperately needed energy there and allowing me to finally settle in and invest in the workshop space. Last month an additional local sewer with a unique design vision moved in to join her. And last week I began our first of a weekly community stitch night at our local coffee shop, the Wild Roots Coffee House. I am really feeling the community these days. It would laugh at the realization that what so many of us seek – connection and the steadiness of community to hold us in this crazy world – is mostly free (or the cost of a hot tea), if the perceived elusiveness of it for so many of us has not caused so much pain.
Over the summer I met with a woman in a town north of here who said that it took her 3 years to settle into her small town as well. It was validating to hear from others that it just takes time. It may not feel good or easy in the meantime. It may be mostly tough days, speckled by moments of beauty when the rainbow colored leaves are backlit against a dark purple sky and you are reminded that there is an intense depth of beauty to be found here. And so in the meantime, we have to have faith – with no assurance that we will get to that 3 year mark and be in the right place. It might not work out. That’s scary. So much invested. But on the other hand if our hearts lead us there – there is something there for us.
The other lesson I’ve learned here – beyond faith, is that it is a mistake to look for your people – the people who look and think like you in a small community. It is a mistake to worry that there is no one here creating classic womenswear or whatever it is. You bring that uniqueness. It is OK for you to be an n of 1. The important thing is to surround yourself with a diversity of people who share bits and pieces of what you love. It is good and right that you are bringing what does not yet exist in your community.
So please – wander off the well worn path, follow your heart, hold tightly to your faith and build your community wherever you are.
Go, fight, win.