Giving Back: Center for Sustainable Living

When we choose organizations to donate to each quarter, we often prioritize those serving women, children, and people experiencing homelessness. One area we haven’t explored as readily is the environment! So, for the third quarter of 2018, we’ve decided to give back to Bloomington’s Center for Sustainable Living. For over twenty years, they have been helping the Bloomington community love and care for our planet, and we are so grateful for all they do. They host bike repair events, they put on the Winter Farmers Market, they help folks get solar panels, they began a community toolshare, and more.

Image result for center for sustainable living bloomington

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider the Center for Sustainable Living or the many other worthy organizations in your community.

Giving Back: CASA of Monroe County

Imagine being a child with an unstable home life. Imagine being brought to court as adults decide your fate. Now imagine if you had your very own adult, who is not your parent, making sure your voice is heard and that your well-being is prioritized. That’s what court-appointed special advocates, or CASAs, do.

Our first donation as a company was to CASA of Monroe County, and we have decided to help them out again. CASAs do very important work behind the scenes of court cases where children are involved. These volunteers represent child victims in juvenile cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. They work with the child throughout the process so the child has stability and representation. They truly are advocates, and we are so lucky to have them as part of our community!

Monroe County Casa Logo

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we donate to a local organization, and this past quarter, we have chosen to thank CASA of Monroe County. They do such important work in our community, and we’re honored to be able to donate to their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider CASA or the many other worthy organizations in your community.

Giving Back: Girls Inc. of Monroe County

Emma González. Naomi Wadler. Malala Yousafzai. Emma Watson.

Strong young women are our future. As they fight for a better world, they inspire us all.

In our own community in Bloomington, Indiana, we have a fantastic organization empowering young women: Girls Inc. of Monroe County. This nonprofit

inspires all girls to be have a peek here  strong, smart, and bold. We equip girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and look toward a future where girls and women are empowered and part of an equitable society.

In a culture where kids are constantly connected and judged, Girls Inc. provides a place of stability and strength where young women can recognize their worth and power. They offer educational programs (everything from STEM outreach to media literacy to redefining beauty) and organized sports teams to help girls “develop the values and skills they need to become confident, productive, and responsible adults.”

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we donate to a local organization, and this past quarter, we have chosen to thank Girls Inc. of Monroe County. They do such important work in our community, and we’re honored to be able to donate to their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider Girls Inc. of Monroe County or the many other worthy organizations in your community.

Dear Appalachia: Appalachian Readings

Continuing my 2018 resolution to read more books about Appalachia, I chose Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 by Emily Satterwhite for February.

In Dear Appalachia, Satterwhite looks at reader responses to popular Appalachian regional fiction from the late 1800s to present day. I’ll admit, I haven’t read all the books Satterwhite discusses, but I’ve read a fair number, and two of my favorites are in there: Coal Tattoo by Silas House and Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani.

While the book covers a lot, I found myself drawn to certain themes as I read. Two of the major ones for me were (1) insiders versus outsiders and (2) race and the idea of Appalachia as a white utopia.

Inside or Outside

It was fascinating to see the various reader reactions from Appalachian insiders, outsiders, and insiders who moved away (Jesse Donaldson and I would both be in the latter category). As a native who no longer lives in the region, I tend to react one of two ways to Appalachian literature: either it makes me homesick because it is a fair representation or it makes me angry because it is full of stereotypes. It seems others who are intimately familiar with Appalachia react similarly.

Appalachia has always had a strong dichotomy between locals and outsiders, partially because outsiders have come in time and again to take advantage of the hospitality of mountain folks and the natural resources the landscape holds. They’ve taken our coal, our lumber, our money, and they’ve left us with flattened mountains and dirty water.

The outsider readers saw what they wanted in the books Satterwhite examined: an isolated mountain utopia with close neighbors who were simultaneously hard-working farmers capable of living off the land. They saw the region as somehow more authentic than the US as a whole. In fact, many outsider readers assumed these tales of simple mountain life were biographical documentaries. They chose to see the “imagined geography of Appalachia” (184) as true to life, whether there was proof of that or not (and in some cases the authors weren’t even Appalachian themselves, but outsiders who had visited the area). Many readers simultaneously admired our mountain toughness and self-sufficiency and also wanted to come “save” us from our primitive ways. (Read Ann Pancake’s essay “Tough,” if you haven’t.)

Satterwhite explains that the timing of the popularity of this genre was tied to growing industrialization and the great migration known as the Southern Diaspora. White Americans generally felt displaced, across the country, and they saw Appalachia as a safe, calm, grounded homeland (and many with ties to the area from previous generations, mentioned so, in a claiming sort of way, in their letters to the authors: “My own ancestors were among those early settlers” [111]). Satterwhite writes, “Migration provoked among white Americans a sense of deep estrangement that they turned to fiction to ameliorate” (214–215). They wanted to belong, they “craved a way to understand their relationships to the seemingly atomizing mass culture that newly surrounded them” (118), and this fictional, romanticized version of Appalachia was perfect to them. Many readers actually visited the region as tourists, trying to find the real places that the fictionalized towns were based on, and were disappointed that they were not as imagined. However, as one reader astutely wrote regarding The Dollmaker, “We all have our ‘Detroits’ and we all long for the security of the old Tipton Place . . . but, the Old Tipton Place . . . does not exist for any of us” (123).

Race and Utopia

Unfortunately, the white-washed assumptions many outsider readers had regarding Appalachia as a long-lost home or respite sometimes also showed an endorsement of “racism, nationalism, and imperialism” (221). They saw Appalachia as old-world white, with ballads, traditions, and dialect. Also, if these readers could rewrite their roots as oppressed Appalachians, then they would be incapable of then being the oppressors. These readers valued Appalachia for it’s “purity” and “racial innocence” while also identifying with the “not-quite-white” rough and tumble mountaineers (219). The blandness of their national white culture was essentially tempered, in Appalachia, by the Cherokee, the Melungeons, the Celtic (220).

(It should be mentioned that many nationalities who came in to work in coal, lumber, and railroads were rarely mentioned in the novels, much less the letters: Italians, Polish, African Americans, and many more. Coal camps, in reality, were melting pots of culture. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. has a memoir about his experiences growing up in a coal camp that I highly recommend: Colored People.)

This sense of utopia (hopefully not racialized) happens for insiders who have moved away, too, as shown in On Homesickness and in my own life. We idealize what we had. Within the concept of Appalachia, my childhood has become a place—one that I’ve compacted into beautiful, nostalgic memories, one that I can never physically visit.

The Geography of Hope

The reality of the situation is that I left, as many others have in southern migrations, for opportunities—for school, for jobs—that my hometown could not provide for me. Yes, my hometown is small, and a lot of people know each other. But it is also rural and cannot easily sustain my goals. Like Jesse Donaldson, I think often of moving back, of the sound of the Bobwhite and the whistle of the train, but what would that mean? I can’t return to my idyllic mountain childhood, so what would the region become for me? Could the beauty of the landscape and the proximity to family cancel out the lack of jobs and the tension of prolific political views antithetical to my own? Like Gertie in The Dollmaker, what must I sacrifice in order to return?

As Wallace Stegner writes in “Wilderness Letter,” “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

As I contemplate my homesickness and the reality of the region, one important takeaway I have from Dear Appalachia is this: “We owe it to the region and to our organizing efforts to see Appalachia in a more complicated way, and to notice when celebrating it risks doing more harm than good” (217).

What reading resolutions do you have this year? Share them (and any recommendations) with us using the hashtag #IEreads.

(This is reposted from Rachel’s personal blog.)

Prompts from the Interwebs

Happy March, everyone! It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Indiana. As you thaw out from the winter chill, check out these writing prompts from the depths of the internet, culled just for you.

This artist makes 3-D portraits from DNA found on gum, cigarette butts, and fingernails.

If you need a reason to make you write regularly, check out this program: Pen Pals for Seniors.

On Homesickness: Appalachian Readings

A resolution of mine for 2018 is to read more books about Appalachia. I was an Appalachian studies minor back in the day at Berea College, and my writing and, honestly, my identity are wrapped up in the region.

Because I do best with goals, I decided to read one book on Appalachia each month. For January, I chose On Homesickness by Jesse Donaldson.

This book hit me on several levels even before I cracked open the cover.

  1. I am constantly homesick for the mountains of East Tennessee and often fantasize about returning to that area and escaping southern Indiana.
  2. I miss my four years in Kentucky at Berea College.
  3. This book was published by WVU Press, which is where I truly cut my editorial teeth. It was my first job working on books (prior to that, I worked on Appalachian Heritage, a literary journal out of Berea).

I started the book with high expectations, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how WVU describes it:

One day, Jesse Donaldson wakes up in Portland, Oregon, and asks his wife to uproot their life together and move to his native Kentucky. As he searches for the reason behind this sudden urge, Donaldson examines both the place where he was born and the life he’s building.

The result is a hybrid—part memoir, part meditation on nostalgia, part catalog of Kentucky history and myth. Organized according to Kentucky geography, with one passage for each of the commonwealth’s 120 counties, On Homesickness examines whether we can ever return to the places we’ve called home.

On Homesickness is beautiful—both in design and in prose. Each section is opposite the image of a Kentucky county, in the order the counties were formed. The text itself winds through the history of Kentucky, the history of the author, and the invisible string tying the two together. More than once, I felt that the author carefully, uncannily shaped my emotions into words.

It’s hard to live outside the region you love. And I think it is extra hard when it comes to Appalachia. We mountain folk are known for our tie to place. The earth literally grounds us. The hills and hollers have been our horizon since birth. Kathleen Stewart, in A Space on the Side of the Road, linked this connection (sometimes a manacle) to memory. The places and things on our homesteads hold our memories. Leaving them means leaving our history, our ancestors, and our identity. It took generations to scrap a living out of those hills—and those hills became a part of us.

And so it is with Jesse Donaldson, who finds himself across the country, away from his roots. And truly, what plant can survive that far from its roots?

As I read, I found each section to be rich, something to be savored and ruminated on. I had to pause after a dozen or so to catch my breath and let my mind play with all the threads I’d discovered. Over and over, his words cut at the core of how I feel here in Indiana. I love my life here, but “why does one patch of woods feel like home when another doesn’t?” (115), Donaldson asks. All I can do is nod. I may live in Indiana, but it will never be home.

And yet my husband is here. Is from here. What would it do to rip him from his roots and attempt a replanting in the red clay of Appalachia? Would he feel as I do now? Speaking of his own spouse, Donaldson writes, “A place can’t love me. Not like you” (127). The pull between the now and then, the you and me, the here and there is palpable.

In his vignettes, Donaldson deftly expresses his experiences with homesickness, and somehow mine as well. I was an outsider in many ways as a child; does the distance make my need to belong to Appalachia more real? Would I be as preoccupied with the region if I still lived there? Or does the refraction of hundreds of miles make things rosier than they would be if I moved back?

“I am trapped somewhere on a bridge between the Kentucky of my mind (an idealized past) and the Kentucky I no longer know (some troubled present).” (139)

I highly recommend this book for the beauty of its prose and the clarity with which it examines the concept of home and roots and family.

The Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain. Photo by Rachel Rosolina.

What reading resolutions do you have this year? Share them (and any recommendations) with us using the hashtag #IEreads.

(This is reposted from Rachel’s personal blog.)

Giving Back: Boys & Girls Club

Being a single parent isn’t easy, especially when also running your own business around the holidays. Enter: the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington. This organization provides camps and programs after school, during holiday breaks, and over the summer, meaning Lesley and other parents in our community have a safe, fun option for their children. As their website states,

The Club supports single parents who need an affordable, structured, safe and measurable program that allows them to maintain employment, work longer hours, or further their education.

Our local branch serves 450 kids per day, and 2,600 youth are served through some form of programming throughout the year. That means 15 percent of all kids in our county benefit from this organization!

In addition, there are some amazing stats on their site:

Stats from the Boys & Girls Club

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we donate to a local organization, and this past quarter, we have chosen to thank the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington. They do such important work in our community, and we’re honored to be able to donate to their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider the Boys & Girls Club or the many other worthy organizations in your community.