Welcome to the Boonies
Selena Lauterer, President of Artemis Independent
“Does your mother wear shoes?” “Do you have running water?” “Do you eat possum?” These weren’t mean questions. She was merely curious about this Southerner. Like I was a rare, splendiferous specimen worthy of a microscope. The woman seated next to me at the dinner party was just doing her research.
That was in the 90’s. In Portland, Oregon. When we really did wear ratty flannel shirts, ripped jeans and blown-out Birkenstocks.
I’d traveled before. All self-funded. To England for a summer after high school. Prague for a year teaching English. But nothing quite prepared me for the perception of what Southerners are to the rest of our country like living in the West.
So what was a girl from the hollar doing in the coffee-and-hop-infused folds of the Northwest? I’d like to say it was for unfettered, youthful adventure but the truth was I was running away.
My mother had just finished a bloody battle of a congressional race in the 11th district in North Carolina — the first woman to run...and lose — and it was ugly. I needed to evacuate. To forget who I was and where I came from. To say that politics in the Appalachian mountains is fierce and personal - especially when gun control and pro-choice/life is on the line — is a steep understatement. As we like to say in these parts, it weren’t good. So I left.
Living outside of the South in my new home, I learned to drop my accent. Real quick. Or else be teased - and to a 20-something insecure woman who wanted more than anything to be accepted and God-forbid maybe even admired, ain’t nothing I was going to do to tip the scale to disfavor. The uncomfortable truth was my accent equated being dumb. Slow. Lost in some fizzy, humid dream of the “wawah” (that’d be the Civil), where we had nothing so made velvet ball gowns out of curtains. We just didn’t know no better, bless our hearts.
I learned there was an idea out in America that Southerners were so close to being basic in our needs that we matched a caricature, a Li’l Abner cartoon cutout — grinning like a toothless wonder, swilling down liquid white and clear from a chipped brown jug with XXX scrawled over it, one strap overalls and no shoes. If you were a man. (A woman’s depiction is quite another story and for another time. Believe me - I’ll get to that one day.)
Race plays a colossal role in the definition of what it means to be Southern. I grew up with parents who marched for the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and was taught we were all equal. As a little white child growing up in the 70s with hippie parents, I simply didn’t understand discrimination or why anyone would hurt another human being because of the color of their skin. I still don’t. And when I encountered folks in Oregon who thought I thought otherwise, I was incensed.
Fast forward to now. I’m 49. Have my own business in public media. A family. And after 11 years in Oregon, the siren call of raising children amongst kinfolk finally won out and I moved back home. In the years since the West Coast, I’ve wrestled with what it means to be from the South. Being in particular from the mountains, where it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful that if you look - I mean really look -- at the Blue Ridge from a high view, with the cascading lines of lavender, gray-blue, indigo, black and let’s say you’ve been doubly blessed by a pair of hawks circling overhead calling out to one another in the wild, open sky...if you are lucky enough to be there and open your eyes and see (put your cell phone down please), you’ve just met heaven.
So I decided I felt lucky being back home. We may be poor (40% of our school kids in my county of Watauga qualify for assisted/free lunches) but we have an ironwood pride of being from Appalachia. Our families have been here for decades. Mine since the 1700s. Folks here came with hardly nothing. And they made something.
That’s what Boonies is about. It’s telling the story of our people making something. Making their lives in a place still remote to most city centers. Boone’s under two hours to Charlotte or Asheville. If you want a Target or an Apple Store, drive on my son. But if you want true grit and spit shine, people who know how to thrive, here you are.
We’re also about helping dispel the misperception of who Southerners are. We may be many things and please go crazy on what you think that is, but this is who I know we are: smart, resourceful, kind, and clever with a razor sharp wit. And generous. I don’t care what bumper stickers you have on your vehicle, if you’re broke down, we’ll pull over and help.
Boonies has two arms. One is the video series that will launch in 2019. Second is social media happening right now. Both highlight the small business owners and quality of living in the High Country. This is our way of introducing the world to this unique community and warm-hearted entrepreneurs who have chosen to respect and call these beautiful Appalachian Mountains home.
A few of our crew are freshly graduated from Appalachian State University. My husband and co-creator of the series, Dr. Kelly Davis, is a professor at ASU.
We’ve been working on this concept for about five years and our pilot subject, Jesse Miller, was our inspiration — he’s a volunteer auctioneer for nonprofits around here and has raised over one million dollars for the greater good.
I’ll never get back the money I’ve put into the project. To the folks that say it might be for personal gain, they’d be wrong. I’ve put in $180,000 worth of my time into the project and might see $4,000 of that. If that ain’t love, don't know what is.
We’ve never crowdfunded before. Fun times! If you are thinking of doing this — please, come see us — we have feedback. (Thank you to James Bance, Jeffery Scott, Erich Schlenker, Sara Figlow and Chris Grasinger for your invaluable guidance.)
I was asked for this blog what new tech has helped us. Instagram. 100%. This platform has been an incredible engine to reach out to High Country small business owners and communicate with our potential base. Facebook hasn’t proved itself yet to be as powerful. We shall see if that changes.
We're currently raising funds for the series. Find out how you can help support our work through Indigogo, and please follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks, y’all!
Our website: http://www.artemisindependent.com/boonies/
Our Indigogo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/boonies/coming_soon/a/x/19113186
President, Artemis Independent
Lauterer is a producer/promoter for public television and owns Artemis Independent located in downtown Boone, NC. Her works include Emmy & Peabody Award Winning A Chef’s Life, A Craftsman’s Legacy, Reel South, Roadtrip Nation, etc. . To see more about her work and background, visit: http://www.artemisindependent.com/testimonials/