It’s been nearly a year since moving to Asheville, and besides the fact that the weather is consistently warmer, I haven’t noticed too many differences between northern and southern living. One would think it may be the number of confederate flags you see when you leave the Asheville city limits, but those sadly aren’t an anomaly in rural Pennsylvania.
There are little things, of course. There’s certain foods I can’t get down here (Turkey Hill chocolate milk) or can’t get high quality of down here (chicken parm sandwiches, pierogies), but that happens anytime you move. I don’t understand boiled peanuts. I don’t know why you’d want to take crunchy, salty goodness and make it hot and slimy. On the other hand, big pimento cheese fan. One of the non-food related southern idiosyncrasies that stands out to me is the predilection for using “you good?” as a polite greeting.
Back where I come from, if a stranger says “you good?” it’s not to be polite. I’d consider it borderline rude, patronizing, and confrontational. In fact, I typically associate “you good” with surly bartenders passive-aggressively telling me I’ve been overserved. Now, I’ve been overserved a time or two in my life. Maybe more than that, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve also been blessed with a set of eyes that simply don’t open very wide. It can be the middle of the day, I could be full of life and energy, and my eyes can still project an aura of f**ked-upness.
Strangers referencing my sleepy eyes can be amusing when say, the clerk at the convenience store you frequent keeps asking you, “man, where do you get the good shit?” which is what the cashier of the Turkey Hill I visited before school every day when I was still teaching regularly did. Strangers referencing my sleepy eyes gets annoying when you’re denied entry into a bar with your friends because the bouncer deems you “too f**ked up,” even though you only had one beer at dinner before entering. When you argue with said bouncer, they point out how “you can barely keep your eyes open.” Welcome to my life sir, but if you say so. Do I seem a little bit defensive? I am. I can’t help still answering, “you good?” with a defensive, “I’m fine.”
One northern stereotype about the south I haven’t really noticed is a slower-paced life, although I find myself slowing down and being more relaxed in Asheville than I have in a long time. I think a part of that is finally being content at my job and not feeling like I need to always be hustling to find a better one. But maybe it’s also the culture.
If you read my about me, I talked about how I worked in sales for the past couple of years, how I was not an ideal salesperson, and how I found it to be a soul-crushing occupation. I knew I always wanted to be a writer, professionally ideally, so I spent a ton of my free time taking writing courses, pitching freelance opportunities, and applying for writing positions. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be someone who “rised and grinded” 24 hours a day/7 days a week. I’ve always taken advantage of my leisure time. But for years, I felt bad if I wasn’t “doing something.” So if I wasn’t traveling or out with friends, I was writing, pitching, etc. I’d say I went a good three years where I didn’t do much relaxing. I didn’t just come home and read/watch TV/cook/”chill,” or if I did, I then guilt-tripped myself for not using my time to be productive. I rationalized that I can’t bitch about my job if I’m not doing everything I can to get a new one.
Part of me is still that way. I think part of me will always be. I’m frequently the first one in my office. I’ll fire up my work laptop on Saturday mornings. I’ll wake up on Sunday at 5:00 AM to write uninterrupted on personal projects like this for five hours, or just complete writing exercises to better myself. And this isn’t supposed to be a humble brag about what a hard worker I am—quite the contrary. Sometimes I need to slow down and realize that if I’m not doing something “productive,” that’s ok. The good news is I’ve started relaxing more and more since I’ve been down here. In that sense, I think both the move and quarantine have been good for me. I spent full weekends during the depths of lockdown just laying on the couch and reading all weekend. I spent quite a bit of time this summer just laying out in the sun on my patio listening to music. I spent full weekends doing nothing productive and was perfectly happy.
I’ve also found myself being much more of a homebody. I don’t know if that’s because the pandemic’s sort of forced it, or it’s just me getting older and having a firmer grasp on what I’d like. Not only am I more relaxed, but I look forward to a more relaxed future. If you’d asked me a year ago, when I was gearing up to move down here, what I’d be looking forward to most in the next year, I would’ve rattled off all the southern road trips I wanted to take. I don’t even think it’s the pandemic’s travel restrictions that changed my mind. While I’m still excited to travel when that’s an option again, I also find myself being excited about a future that includes more lazy afternoons hanging out, quieter nights in cooking, and maybe even finding someone that wants to join me on leisurely Sunday drives…as long as they don’t include any boiled peanuts. Editor’s note: I’m going to really regret including that last bit and providing my mother the fodder to excitedly text me, “I knew you wanted to find someone special and finally settle down!”
Last Sunday afternoon, I thought about all the unwritten blogs, short stories, and work assignments I could be working on. Instead, I downloaded Tana French’s The Secret Place (which I highly recommend if you’ve yet to check out Ms. French) onto my kindle, grabbed my hammock, and drove 15 minutes up the road to Turgua Brewing. I got a beer, set up my hammock, and spent the afternoon sipping, reading, and intermittingly just sort of dozing and swaying. After a couple of hours, right before I left to head home, eat dinner, and write this post, I remember just looking around and thinking, “You know what? I’m good.”