A stranger in paradise

I moved to Asheville late in 2007, and I stand by my decision. I can’t say it turned out exactly the way I thought it would, but living here has taught me many lessons about myself and about society in general, which is really what I’d hoped for.

Admittedly this hasn’t come about in quite the manner I’d expected. I came here searching for authenticity, for something that was missing from my life during the four years I served in the military. Growing up nearby, I’d spent a lot of time in Asheville in my youth, and I recalled the town’s individualistic, expressive nature.

I was discharged from the military in September 2007 due to a gunshot wound I received in combat in Afghanistan. My time in the military was difficult, because my desire to think independently was not particularly welcome in the Army. This personality trait was already well defined early in my life—enough so that in high school, I was voted the “most individual” student in our senior class.

Don’t get me wrong: I was an outstanding soldier with an impeccable record, but my achievements were generally met with scorn or jealousy. As the organization saw it, my type B personality and love of pragmatism should have doomed me to failure, but I somehow managed to regularly outperform the more straight-laced and mindless people who have always been stereotypically deemed to make superior soldiers.

Once my combat wounds rendered me useless to the infantry, however, the military was more than happy to get me out of the way. So with a new lease on life, I packed up and headed to Asheville to pursue a life of liberal open-mindedness.

The first few months here felt like paradise. I grew out my hair and beard, and people still find it shocking to discover that I was once in the military. Coming from such a regimented environment, it was easy to see Asheville as a utopia full of open-minded folks who’d settled down here to pursue the authentic life, and I was certain I would thrive here. So, after a brief decompression period, I dusted myself off and once again began pursuing life.

As I immersed myself in the “I’m pursuing the authentic life” crowd, however, my enthusiasm quickly ran its course. Here they were, the very people who, at some point, had made an active decision to live a life of true and uncontaminated authenticity: to go against the grain, rage against the machine, fight the fight. But I soon realized that they were every bit as mindless and conforming as the soldiers who’d once ruthlessly persecuted me.

This became evident whenever someone discovered my military heritage. All of my previous lamenting aside, I’m tremendously proud of my service and of the Army I served in. Yet people who’d seemed interested in me as a person and in developing a friendship would promptly turn ice-cold. Suddenly, everything about me that had once seemed intriguing was now irrelevant.

Meanwhile, I would be peppered with questions that had definite right—and wrong—answers. “Did you refuse deployment, declaring moral objection on the grounds of illegal occupation?” “No” (wrong answer). “Did you participate in combat operations?” “Yes” (wrong answer).

And the clincher: “Do you disagree with the war now?” “I don’t agree with every part of it, but I had to do what I was told, and I never did anything personally that I had a moral conflict with. Anyway, Afghanistan is in a terrible mess, and we did a lot of good for the people over there that the media don’t report in this country” (really wrong answer: The liberal media are absolutely unbiased, good and completely factual 100 percent of the time, and the rest are all tools of the devil controlled by a right-wing conspiracy that aims to dominate the world).

This conversation played out over and over in various forms, but the result was almost always the same. Without any thought or consideration, people immediately and totally rejected everything I said.

So this was the authentic life—loudly and dramatically rejecting one set of ideals only to blindly adhere to another? Once an outcast in the blatantly conformist military society, I was now an outcast in the society of “freethinkers.”

Happily, however, the story doesn’t end there. Although I was in a position to pack up again and head elsewhere, Asheville also started showing me its other side. And as I grappled with my disappointment over my situation and came to terms with the post-traumatic stress disorder that was starting to show its face, people began materializing out of the Asheville landscape and assuming the role of friends—a luxury I haven’t always had.

Beneath the crust of well-meaning but chronically misguided Ashevilleans, I found an incredibly tight-knit community of sweet people sharing a common identity, to a degree that’s unusual in a town of this size.

Once again, the mountain scenery and the art in the streets began to look beautiful. And though I certainly still have my frustrations, the good side of Asheville has more than compensated for them, and I am very happy to be living here.

[Christopher Webb is a student at A-B Tech.]

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16 thoughts on “A stranger in paradise

  1. hauntedheadnc

    Oh. My. God.

    I don’t want to insult anyone, let alone a soldier who has seen and done worse things than most of us can imagine, but I can’t believe…

    You could go to any town, anywhere, and expect the people there to be somehow more “evolved” than people anywhere else? Are you kidding me? People are beasts the world over. Everyone everywhere cherishes a bigotry, a hatred, an overzealousness, a stupidity.

    How unbelievably stupid of anyone to go to a city and expect its people to have evolved past humanity.

  2. who

    Thanks for the letter Christopher. Real authenticity can often be a lonely place. Authenticity doesn’t have a lockstep set of particular political beliefs: one might have stripes that don’t fit into any particular group think. There is alot of naiveness and inexperience on the far left and far right. It is average to be extreme. Looking through the lense from an extreme point of view gives to a skewed world view and self view with a blind eye that rejects all variables.

  3. John Smolkin

    Welcome to Asheville Chris. Thank you for your service. Good luck at AB-Tech and beyond. God bless.

  4. Mysterylogger

    Hey its the type of Smoke dream that people keep blowing about how diverse this town is. And when they find out something that doesnt fall in their lockstep they get their underwear in a wad.

    So much for all that diversity that some folk claim that Asheville is brimming with.

    Thank you for your service and stick around, This town isn’t too bad if you don’t let the tragically hip get to you.

  5. Piffy!

    so, are you saying you want “lockstep diversity”, mystery turd?

  6. travelah

    I think that is what he is stating already exists, for those who think themselves diversity minded.

  7. Mysterylogger

    Nope but when you step out and show some diversity in this area you get slapped for stepping out of the such narrow minded lock step mindstep that Asheville has.

    This town has alot to learn about diversity.

  8. Piffy!

    you are speaking in grand vagaries, mysteryloggr.

    Care to elaborate with some specifics? What kind of diversity have you shown that has been slapped down by Asheville’s narrow-minded lock-stepness?

  9. Mysterylogger

    The so called diversity in this town seems to claim but fails on an epic level.

    The Original letter writer proves it right, He’s all cool until he reveals he’s former military then he’s the enemy. This town is great as long as you prentend to go along with things, be actually open minded and people get their panties in a wad.

    Or if the town was so diverse where is it? A town where things look alike and everyone thinks alike is not Diversity thats called status quo.

  10. Piffy!

    you are still speaking in vagaries, MystyLog.

    Without any specifics as per your personal experience, you might as well be speaking of any town anywhere in the USA, if not the world.

  11. John Smolkin

    “How unbelievably stupid of anyone to go to a city and expect its people to have evolved past humanity.” Wow hhNC, talk about raining on someone’s parade. Just some more of your New Joisey transplant pessimism on display. Mellow dude and tune into the Asheville good vibes.

    Chris, Asheville is above the average town as far as friendliness and respect for each other’s differences. Pay no attention to hauntedheadNC. He immigrated here from the armpit of America, New Joisey, and has brought his Joisey bad attitude with him. HauntedheadNC, stop being haunted by your yankee cultural upbringing and embrace wonderful Asheville!

  12. hauntedheadnc

    You appear to have me confused with someone else, Smolkin, my good man. I believe I’ve explained to you — what, three, four times now? — that I was born about ten miles down the road in Fletcher.

  13. Piffy!

    Stop ruining his pre-conceived notions with pesky facts!!

    The poor guy might have a heart-attack.

    We certainly dont want that!

  14. John A.Smolkin

    Chris, Asheville is a special place, you were not wrong in coming. However we have our useful idiots to remind us that the majority here are the kind of folks who smile and say good morning to strangers. Gotta live with the good and bad.

    PFK, you know you do. By the way, I don’t get worked up here. I post for fun,and don’t expect an intelligent non-troll response from most. So you can relax about the heat attack. Actually,my heart is in great shape. I am a vegetarian and exercise regularly.


  15. john

    Thanks Chris, for your honesty and service to our country. BTW, I call ’em ‘Fundamentalist Liberals’— judgemental, intolerant and close-minded.

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