semper liberi

I’m going to take a break from librarying for a moment to talk about basketball.

I’m a Morgantown girl born and raised, 17 years. When I was young my dad and I had season tickets to WVU men’s basketball. Of course it’s been a while, and I haven’t seen much basketball since, but I was utterly thrilled to see WVU in the Final Four. Not something, let’s say, that ever seemed likely back when I watched them live.

Well, we got totally dismantled in the game. And our big star did something awful to his knee, bad enough it hurt just to watch him writhing on the court. But none of that is quite why this Yahoo column, or this article out of Wheeling, had me on the verge of tears.

“West Virginia, usually near the top only in things like obesity and poverty, captured the attention of the nation in a positive way this time…”

When we’re in the news, it’s generally some totally ghastly story like today’s mine explosion (may they find the missing, and something console the families of the dead). Or it’s state corruption or it’s poor health or poor education. Something miserable.

And what it comes down to is this. When you say you’re from West Virginia — if you’re very lucky, you’re talking to a college sports fan, who knows WVU or Marshall. Or maybe someone who’s driven through sometime, I-68 or something, and knows that you’re from the most beautiful place on earth. Good chance, though, that you get someone all excited because they have a cousin in Richmond. (I’ve never been to Richmond. I have only a vague idea where it is. In Virginia. A state which we seceded from. In 1863. FYI.) More likely you get some kind of incest joke.

Which — in case you somehow did not know this? — is not funny. It’s inherently not funny. But mostly it’s not funny when you hear it time after time. When the message you get, from the media, from practically anyone you talk to outside of your state, is that the only thing West Virginia is good for is tragedy and insult. If I tell people I’m from Massachusetts, they might think I’m a godless commie, but they might also think I’m educated or cultured or what-have-you. People may assume limits on my morals if I come from Massachusetts, they may assume my cultural perspective, but they never assume limits on my potential. But I tell people I’m from West Virginia and…and am grateful if they know it is a state.

And this is why I stayed up too late watching the game, all to its bitter end, and still get teary-eyed thinking about it. Because for once, for once, my state is on the national scene for a reason that is wholly good. For once people look at us and see something to cheer for. (For once, we look at ourselves and see something to cheer for. Because, sad to say, no one puts limits on West Virginians’ potential so severely as we ourselves do…)

You probably haven’t been to my hometown. So, just so you know: We were profiled by NPR for having had the lowest unemployment rate in the country recently. We have, of course, a sizable university, which filled my childhood with viola lessons, community orchestra, volunteer chemistry research, famous guest speakers, touring musicals all summer (as well as basketball). We have our very own monorail — no, really — driverless electric cars which show up on command and handle much of the students’ transit needs, as well as many residents’. (We have a bus system, too, for all you public transit fans.) We have one of my favorite indie coffeehouses ever, which has been thriving since I was in high school, and doesn’t just cater to students or musicians or stay-at-home moms or retirees or businesspeople, but everybody. We have a bike path and a Japanese restaurant I still get intense cravings for a few times a year. And it really, truly is the most beautiful state in the world. The green and hills and rolling lushness get into your bloodstream and define what land is supposed to be and I love my adopted city but sometimes I look around and feel lonely for the hills; everything is flat and desolate, not half green enough. Missing the way that land should be.

If I were from any other state, would I feel the need to write an apologia for it? But then again, would you know enough I didn’t have to?