Recently Rural: A Memoir
by Eugene Havens

Let me tell you a story about a guy who got everything wrong. This guy always thought one thing when reality was another. He put all his eggs in one basket, and the basket broke. He saw potential where there was none. He mortgaged his future on a nonexistent property in a fictitious world. He opened empty gifts that somehow blew up in his face. I am that guy.

Grand illusions led me in a new direction. I was drawn to a rural land. I had lost faith in the city. It showed me enough of nothing. No longer invested, I became open to alternatives. Rural land was not a solution to city dreams. It was a consolation, a place to regroup and plot a new course. I moved from the city to the country, believing in something better.

I knew not to believe in the stereotypes. Rural America wasn’t a poverty-stricken wasteland, a retrograde political environment, or a culturally backward disaster. It’s what I had heard in my years of city living. I knew these issues existed. They were advanced as the overall disposition of rural character. I would avoid the easy disparagements. City living had its own problems, from economic to political to cultural. It had an attractive side that made you forget about them a little.

Rural life didn’t have qualities that were conversation changers for city people. It had trees, farmland, lakes, and mountains. As qualities, they were wallpaper, an environmental enhancement. It put the onus on rural life to compete with the city, which it couldn’t do. So, rural problems became the focus of conversation.

I didn’t buy into unfair stereotypes. I bought into other stereotypes. I believed rural life would be a respite from the competitive city. I believed it would be easier. Actually, I was told it would be easier, and yet I chose to believe it. The grand illusions I lived by traveled with me. Would I ever get rid of them?

What would be easier in the country? I was pretty sure everything. You could find a good place to live. You could meet people who had more time on their hands for socializing and fostering that mythical word community. You could bring your city capital which would be valuable to people who lacked it. Your work experience would be coveted by local entrepreneurs. Your decades of living in the big city would be a curiosity.

Your family would have it easier, as well. In this family-first location, there would be friends for your kids. There would be kid-friendly activities even if the town itself were limited. That outdoor life you envisioned for a child would be easier to make happen. It would be safer. Schools would be more focused.

I believed in positive stereotypes. They assured me all was true. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said people avoid the truth because they don’t want to see their illusions destroyed. I couldn’t afford to avoid the truth. Rural life was already plan B. I would need to watch my comforting illusions shatter and discover if there was such a thing as grand certainties.

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