I was just at a wonderful conference where the main focus was Appalachian writing or being an Appalachian writer. This is a label that I've never felt or claimed. I feel like my whole life growing up in West Virginia was leading up to my big exit, poem by poem I was planning my escape. I finally left West Virginia in 1996 with a vow to never return. Some, I observed at the conference, look at the landscape and see this huge connection to the earth, this comfort, endless metaphor about existence, a real compassion for the landscape. I look at the landscape and see the backdrop to some of my greatest sadness, the landscape that witnessed the sadness, that kept me locked in, the world outside inaccessible. So, it's odd that I'm in year three of being back in West Virginia, teaching there, living right where I never thought I'd be again. I took the job for the teaching experience (you've seen the job market the last couple years) with a promise to myself that I'd leave after one year. Then one year became two, two became three and so on. This fall I will start my fourth year. I will see my first class all the way through. I can't completely say that I've stayed because of the market. I've definitely worked outside academia and (minus the summers off) found it mostly fine. But I think I've stayed so long because I've needed to make peace with something. I've needed to settle into my head some, which I found extremely difficult to do when I lived in New York (part of the reason I stayed there so long, I guess). Have I come back to make peace with the past, the landscape, the monsters that I've realized weren't really so big after all? I don't know. But I do know there are days when, despite the fact there is mostly nothing to do (and you won't catch me spending the day hiking) that I look at the stars out the back door, or the fog surrounding a moutain, and I think: not so bad. Maybe that's Appalachian, too? The going out, the coming back, the going back out again (which I'll do again eventually). I think of Mary Lee Settle's novel Charley Bland where she talks about wanting the angel to bless her, wanting her homeland to approve of her. I don't know if I need blessed, but I do know that every day I feel less and less afraid of whatever that sadness was I was running from. And maybe it's just as Appalachian to be conflicted, to escape, to hate it sometimes, and, at other times, to think: not so bad.