On settling and settling in

I was in Tennessee for the past week visiting with the family. Two nights ago my mom was performing in an outdoor Memorial Day concert, so I went. The concert was put on by the community orchestra and community chorus, in an amphitheater just by my parents' house. It was nicely done, and a lot of people attended, even though it was a rainy evening. The conductor was a professor of music at Tennessee Tech, and he did the arrangements for several of the pieces that the group performed--like a medley of all the armed service hymns. The group performed accessible, popular songs for Memorial Day, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it.

The thing that occurred to me while I watched was this: I grew up in Cookeville and attended Tennessee Tech--also in Cookeville--and in my years there I met a number of professors who weren't happy about living there. They took the job at Tech because it seemed like a good first job, but they tried desperately, year after year, to find a job elsewhere so that they could leave. This isn't a situation unique to Cookeville, of course; I have colleagues at the College of Charleston who are continually on the job market, trying to escape South Carolina. Those folks by and large seem pretty miserable.

Cookeville leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you're longing for an urban environment, but it also has things going for it. It's the kind of place where you can do a community theater production with your whole family, where you always run into people you know in Kroger's, where you can have a butter twist at the same donut shop your parents frequented when they were in college. And hey, it has an Indian restaurant now!

The folks who feel like they're settling by being in a place, and who are desperate to leave, often don't recognize the things there are to appreciate in a town like Cookeville, or a city like Charleston. It's easy to pick out the things that are wrong with any place you live (and believe me, Biffle and I have done our share of this when it comes to Charleston), but it seems to me that folks like the conductor of the Cookeville community orchestra are making a better choice. He's chosen to settle in, to use his music theory skills to create something for people to enjoy, to become part of the community.


Anonymous said...

I thought the Indian restaurant burned down? - Blogless Reader

Kenneth said...

My friend who teaches at East Tennessee State University has said similar things about Johnson City -- especially that it's a great place for him to raise his family. What's worrisome to me is the fact that he-who-would-be-my-husband-if-it-weren't-illegal-in-most-states may also face the prospect of taking an academic job in Cookeville/Johnson City/Norman/wherever, a place that's not only relatively lean on cultural opportunities but also very possibly hostile to us gays.

Alison said...

Indian restaurant burned down and was reincarnated in another location!

Kenneth--yes, homophobia is rampant in the South. It strikes me as being as much a problem in Charleston as in Cookeville, although in both locations there are small but dedicated (and visible) groups working for inclusion and cultural change. Tell Ereck I've talked with lots of LGBT faculty who are considering CofC, and I can give him the tips I give them.