How to approach my videos of Appalachia in the year of the pandemic…

Last April, at age 73, I fled my subsidized senior apartment building in Asheville, North Carolina to prevent being quarantined in that building.

I spent the next week living out of my car in Asheville. I posted information about the events of that week on Facebook. At the end of that week, a good friend of mine – concerned about me from what she was seeing about me on Facebook – texted me that she had a little walk-in basement apartment in her own home out in the mountains, and that I should come out there to get away from the mean streets of pandemic Asheville.

My little dog Panchita and I spent six weeks out at Petula’s house in the mountains. (I have given her the name “Petula” to protect her privacy.)

On day 2 out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy in Asheville. “I was meant to be living out in the mountains all along!”

The power of nature out in the Appalachian Mountains transformed me – and my little chihuahua – in the next few weeks.

When it was time to leave my friend’s home, Pancho and I pushed farther north – in search of a new home. We first went to Marshall, NC, a very sweet town nestled on the beautiful French Broad River – full of artists displaced by the steeply-rising studio rents in boom-town Asheville.

Pancho the wonder-Chihuahua

From there, we pushed further north to Burnsville and Bakersville – then over the sacred Roan Mountain to the sleepy little town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Several people now have told me that when I finally settle somewhere out in the north country, I should consider the Toe River area and the Celo community. I’ve got a hunch that’s going to turn out to be accurate.

Four months before the Covid hit America, I had left my “retirement job” as a grocery store cashier to pursue my creative vision of an innovative consulting and coaching practice – that would be driven equally by my lifelong passions of storytelling and dance.

The pandemic made sure that there was no chance of getting this new business off the ground. My Social Security check never covers our expenses for the whole month – and often we have spent the second half of the month being quite poor.

I worked for years in a black VA hospital, raised a black son – and have been generally sculpted to have a special relationship with people of color. The “summer of racial reckoning” has figured heavily in my experience of the last eight months.

Driving a big, very old van which we park in random places has naturally drawn the attention of local police, in every town where we have spent much time. I have had almost entirely great experiences with police.

I never can know how much of that very positive experience with police has to do with me being white, but I have yet to encounter a country cop who I could spot as being more racist than the rest of us white people. I have had extraordinary conversations with several police officers about the dialectic between laws or rules and personal freedom.

And then there has been the constant specter of our 45th president, that has cast such a giant shadow on our country.

One of my central experiences has been to fall in love with the people of Appalachia – who are mostly not unusually racist, but suffer from lack of experience with diversity. Although they mostly support our current president, they are not stupid at all – but suffer from a radical lack of good information.

The serious lack of good broadband coverage in rural America is a very significant civil rights issue of our time. (I have spent extraordinary amounts of time hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal.)

Along the way, a generous $5000 grant from a good friend allowed me to move up from the little Suzuki mini SUV – which had been a torture chamber to attempt to sleep in, and after two months of very little sleep had left me toxically exhausted – to a very old Ford Econoline camper van.

I dubbed my cargo truck Narwal the Whale in honor of her 6000 pound weight – and “A turning radius like an ocean liner”.

Narwal has been a central figure in our journey. She has had a world of electrical problems and tends to run out of gas because of a broken gas gauge.

But she has a bed, she is virtually indestructible, she has gotten us down roads that she never should have – and even though she has sometimes gotten stuck, we have always gotten out before the end of the day.

Narwal the Whale – ’88 Ford Econoline camper van

At this point, we are taking shelter for the winter – out of our camper van – in a little apartment way up in the mountains north of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But we are committed to our mobile lifestyle and will go back out on the open road in Narwal the Whale come spring. I love asking my little dog Pancho, at the beginning of each day, “Where shall we live tomorrow?”

I started our adventure as a writer. I guess I am still a writer, but I have also morphed into a videographer. Most of my writing these days consists of my spontaneous observations while I am videotaping the towns and countryside of the Appalachian mountains.

At this point, I have well upwards of 200 videos – which I cherish as documentation of our journey of personal transformation – and many of which I think may be helpful to other people.

I have learned a lot out in these mountains, especially about myself and my dog – but my background as a psychologist and a management consultant has caused me to muse about topics including “the demise of humanistic capitalism in America”, “the ongoing rape of Appalachia”, “the systematic oppression of homeless people”, “why alpha dogs make bad cops and women make good ones” and other topics.

My personal background includes a lifelong passion for and commitment to personal growth and healing – and 30 years of being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and being heavily drugged with psychotropic medications during that whole period.

You will hear in many of these videos how totally thrilled I am to be drug-free and fully alive. And I do have many things to say about “the problem of pain”.

I now believe that most of psychology and psychiatry can be boiled down to “What do we do with our human pain?” Philosophers have mused about this question through the ages – and the Buddha’s first principle is that “life is suffering”.

I have many pointed things to say about what I consider to be an out-of-control psychiatry industry.

Several of my posts deal with an event that occurred last June back in Asheville. I had been punched in the face and reported to the big, newly-“for-profit” hospital – asking to be treated for a possible concussion and/or broken nose. I also reported that “I think I’m kind of delirious.”

The ER intake team saw in my records my background of psych hospitalizations and locked me up on a psych unit. They never treated me for a concussion or a broken nose – both of which their own ER later confirmed that I had. My discharge summary from the hospital, after 48 hours, made no mention of any medical complaints.

In this post I offer two videos;

The first video suggests ideas about how to make fruitful use of my videos.

I shot the second video about 15 minutes after the first one. It deals with the topic of “good things and bad things”. It flows naturally out of that first video, because the first video ends with me discovering that I have left my car lights on and that my battery is dead.

One might think that having a broken-down car would be a bad thing, but maybe not….

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0tM5igZh_nitvKwmNvEVP3nIw

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0mJIjgynkr5xZz9N8zC_ZPj5A

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Majo

These days all of my identities are converging: whether I am offering a blessing in the grocery store checkout line, offering a prayer in a poem or experiencing the kinship with all life while walking my or a client's dog - it's all the same. It's all Life.

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