I read the Post article with mild surprise, since I also had no idea about the Deeds divorce. And it was clear that the Post had an agenda — to portray Deeds in a particular way, which was not terribly positive. I have no idea how long or how much of the interview was printed, but it seemed to me that the Post went out of its way to make sure a quote like “I still got things to do” and “doggone” were chosen to be included. (How colorful!) If I had any doubts about what they were trying to do, those doubts were removed when I actually read the article a second time on my computer and saw the picture they selected to accompany the article — a picture of a man breaking down.
But that’s not what I read in the article. I read a man who is in mourning. He’s in mourning for his marriage, obviously. I have never been divorced but I’m old enough to have seen many marriages of dear friends fall apart, and there is a mourning process involved. Especially the long marriages that began when you were quite young (I’m someone who married young) — who you are in relation to your spouse is formed before most other ways of defining yourself (through your work for instance.)
He’s also mourning his ambitions. Deeds isn’t a stupid man — he had a shot at something really big. It was always a long shot, and he knew that, but it was a real shot. How many shots do most people (even ambitious, intelligent people) get in one lifetime? It’s hard enough to reach middle age realizing that certain things that you wanted and fought for in your life aren’t going to happen for you. It’s a whole other struggle when you realize that you actually had a chance for those things, but it didn’t happen.
The other thing I read in the article is a defiance. It’s a quiet defiance, and to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s a defiance that comes across to someone who isn’t mountain born. This may sound strange, but when I read the quote: “What choice do I have? You either live, or you die. If you die, you’re dead. If you live, you’ve got a responsibility to keep moving, keep working, keep fighting. The struggle goes on. That’s the position I’m in.” I actually laughed out loud. Not because it’s funny, but there’s a black humor familiarity that anyone from Appalachia recognizes. I’ve said things like this myself, in hard times in my life. It’s something said over and over at every funeral in WV I’ve been to. It’s being said, I guarantee it, to the miner’s families this week in Montcoal.
In my novel THE MINER’S DAUGHTER, I touch upon this quiet, even desperate defiance. The father tells his daughter, “You always have a choice.” That choice may be as stark as living or dying, but it does a human being psychological good to know they have SOME choice and aren’t victims of fate, (which, quite frankly, people from Appalachia often become, but that’s another post) and not someone who will be defined by their hard times, contrary to how “outsiders” (such as the WashPost) see them. In many ways, this comment sort of sums up Appalachian thought more succinctly than any novel I could write.
This was a petty article. As others have said, the “real story” (about the divorce) could have been written in a few paragraphs at most. (And the divorce IS news, as difficult as that may be for the Deeds family.) When I read the story I couldn’t help but think that the WashPost maybe was having a moment of guilt itself — they know the role they played in helping Deeds in Northern VA during the primary. Many of the people who write and produce the Post live in Northern VA. There was also the oh-so-helpful editorials about how Deeds was going to raise taxes. (It’s true, but blaring this certainly wasn’t helpful.) I know it sounds silly to say that a newspaper may be feeling pangs of guilt (sort of like calling a corporation a person), but newspapers are written and produced by people. Perhaps some of the defeatist attitude they were putting on Deeds is a projection of their own guilt.
Anyway, I knew this would be a long post, and I apologize again at the end. By all means, let’s figure out what went wrong last fall so it doesn’t happen again. But we can do that (and have done that) while giving a good man and his family some time and space to grieve in peace.