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An Anxious Moment

The pond out the window confirms that my aesthetics have never been so predictable.  Though “storm drainage catchment” is more precise, this pond is landscaped to perfection: reeds along the edge, fish stocked in its quarter-acre around.  I can watch the gentle Vs of a few ducks that paddle around and I can imagine what kind of marsh might have been here forty years ago, what animals sipped or napped or hunted here two centuries past, whether an Arapahoe hunter or Ute families walked along this marsh.


It’s not just an environmental consciousness I’m trying for, or an awareness of the ghosts of indigenous people I’m remembering in my imagination.  It’s not just my complicity in the white bourgeois economy of conspicuous consumption represented by my even sitting in this chair.  It’s not just the recognition that I can even be in this house because of a long tradition of heteropatriarchy that makes my marriage fiscally advantageous. It’s not only a sense that this blandly cultivated loveliness has displaced the kinds of creativity I otherwise crave in my towns, the weirdness just around the corner that has otherwise let me play effectively at full-on respectability.


It isn’t just that I’m lonely in what I still can’t help but thinking of as an outpost from home, or that I’m worried that the technology that’s playing melancholy piano music in the background is probably monetizing my aesthetic morning, or that I’m so caught up in my alienation from this aestheticized environment we’ve constructed for ourselves that I can’t get any writing done, or that I’m writing about the Real but can’t see it even out my own window, or even that I’m a ready-made Baudrillard lesson plan, or that I’m terrified that all of this means that, literally, the whole thing is about to collapse with the ecosystem and the president and the racist hatred and that my only immediate solace is to stare out the window at the ducks make their gentle Vs across the reeded pond while melancholy piano music plays in the background.


Ok, maybe it’s that last thing.

Change is the only constant

I’ve been ruminating on this idea for some weeks now–that change is the only constant–as the circumstances have quite quickly come into focus that occasion my family’s current news: that after 14 years in Morgantown and at WVU, we’ll be moving to Fort Collins, Colorado and taking on new roles at Colorado State University.

Those who know a little about our recent work-life will not be surprised to learn that former WVU Provost and new CSU president Joyce McConnell was eager to invite Ann to join the president’s office there.  And while the full details of my future at CSU have not fully disclosed themselves, a warm welcome has been made for me in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts, where I will be a professor of English, and have opportunities to teach in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance–a lifelong dream that never quite worked out at WVU.

When I first arrived here at WVU I was a dedicated academic blogger in a moment when that was a really flourishing way to kick around ideas, ruminate, and share news.  I’ve used this space for that sort of thing much more occasionally over the last two years, but this seemed occasion to write more expansively that the more popular social media platforms would.

So: Here are some things that are true.

  • This is a great opportunity for Ann; no brainer, there.
  • It’ll be a good career opportunity for me too, if things bounce the right way.  (Also, we all know that academia is built for people like me; I’ll be fine, even as I try to level the playing field a little bit more for people for whom academia was not built).
  • We also think, for reasons more complex and personal than I’d care to blog about, that this will be a good move for our kids, too.
  • I was just settling into a groove in the Honors College, and had started a few things that I would’ve liked to see to fruition.  I have great faith in the people who are there, that should they still want to, they will have great success. Moving across campus from them two years ago was difficult, but this will be hard.
  • I am more than a little heartbroken to leave behind the WVU Humanities Center that I had the privilege to help build with a group of extraordinary colleagues–those who have served on the advisor board, those who have come to work directly for the Center, those who applied for grants, gave talks, came to coffee, attended an event, whatever.  I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve ever been professionally involved in, mostly because the results of the Center’s work were predicated on relationships, relationships that I value so, so deeply.
  • I have a complicated relationship with West Virginia.  On the one hand, the first Claycomb (Johann Conrad) in the new world settled near Berkeley Springs, arriving sometime before the America Revolution–early settler colonialism at its best, I have to assume.  But, too, my dad is from Appalachian Pennsylvania, and my mom is from Pittsburgh, so I felt a lot of deep affinity for the place, even though I’m a coastal kid, through and through. I’m also most comfortable in a city, and while Morgantown barely meets the threshold, the rural surrounds have never been fully home for me.
  • But I’ve tried my hardest to be HERE in the years I’ve been here. My work with Governor’s Schools from 2012 to 2017 really connected me to our public schools and their students in a significant way.  On the other hand, the 2016 election made me feel deeply ill-at-ease here,  politically.   Soon thereafter, I committed to taking the opportunity to invest my time and intellectual labor in making this place more humane and more just. Whether that was through the Appalachian studies work sponsored by the Center, investing a bit more deeply in the state Humanities Council, or simply by calling and writing my state legislators, I was trying to be good for West Virginia, and not just waiting for West Virginia to be good to me.  And yet the 2018 elections doubled down on some dispiriting trends, the state legislature continues to make terrible decisions and say terrible things, and in some ways, I feel like it’s important to protect my kids from those legislators.  I won’t say more about that, but I will say this:  I’ve come to love this place (its legislators aside) for its beauty, its resilience, its fierce and stubborn pride. And also, I am worn down by this place for what the exploiters of the world have made of it–resource-ravaged, water-polluted, opioid-infested, and in too many ways, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, and corrupt.  I can imagine coming back someday–really–but also will brace myself for some sadness that it will almost surely entail.  But in the meantime, I am sad to be leaving that work behind right now.
  • What I am saddest about–in some ways, the saddest I have ever been–is what the distance will mean.  Dear, dear friendships will erode, some beyond repair.  The ones that persist will do so despite the distance, and with some serious labor.  My folks will see somewhat less of my kids.  The communities in which we’ve been deeply invested–the university, the schools our kids attend, the Episcopal church, the community theatre program for kids at the Creative Arts Center, the scholarly communities of English, of Theatre and Dance, of the Humanities Center, of the Honors College–man, we laid down some DEEP roots, and uprooting will be hard, and we will be (for a time) less well-nourished because of it.
  • There are platitudes that we deploy about folks at WVU–Once a Mountaineer, etc. etc.  I suspect that this may be true in some ways, if for no other reason than that I will always brag about these students and my wonderful colleagues.  But also, very much of who I am as an academic and as a citizen was forged here.  Montani semper montani, I’d wager.

So I am sitting with the sadness for now, and appreciate the less-varnished responses to our departure (Christine’s poop emoji is so far the best) as much as the kind well wishes.  But know this.  If you’ve been a part of our West Virginia journey, and you haven’t already a new journey of your own (in which case we already miss you), we will surely miss you, and miss you sorely.