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  • Writer's pictureAlice Wyatt

Thoughts on This or That

In 2016, as a new resident of Sierra County, three questions were continually tossed my way: Where are you from? How in the world did you end up here? What astrological sign are you? Now, the first two make sense, but the last one? What? Why would you want to know my astrological sign? I would answer, “I think I am a Scorpio. November 6th?”

They would step back, chin in hand, and reply, “Oh yes, I sensed that immediately. A Scorpio. That explains a lot.” What? Explains what? As someone who does not tie into my horoscope, this was random information, good for nothing but sending me a birthday card.

Compare this to my arrival in the mountains of rural North Carolina in 2003. The questions were different: Where are you from? How many kids do you have? Where do you go to church?” The assumption was I had kids and I went to church because everyone has kids and goes to church, don’t they?

Comparing these two sets of questions, I decided people in T or C were A LOT different from those in rural Appalachia! That’s not true, though. People are people, no matter where they live. You can’t know someone based on three questions. All you can do is think you know someone and make prejudiced assumptions.

People make grand assumptions about EVERYTHING. As a young mother, I decided baby formula was poison, and those other parents were awful to give their child a bottle of the stuff. Then I had a colicky baby who screamed from midnight - 3:00 am. The formula helped her sleep through the night, so I bought it by the case!

I have been married for 34 years; I still turn to my high school sweetheart and say, “What? I didn’t know that about you!” or, “I had no idea you felt that way. You know what they say about assumptions; they make an Ass out of U and Me.

We live in a world focused on division along every possible topic. COVID created a ravenous beast of divisiveness that the last two election cycles have spoon-fed nonstop. Too many of us now think we know exactly what a person with a particular bumper sticker must think. We are sure a public servant who voted YES on a specific issue must undoubtedly disagree with us on everything else. Don’t bet on it!

As a story curator for T or C Story Lab, a monthly storytelling event at the El Cortez Theater from October to March, over 100 Sierra County residents have welcomed me into their homes to help them craft a personal story for the event. The stories I hear often have nothing to do with someone's age, gender, ethnicity, economic bracket, or occupation. Those details might be the framework, but the heart of their stories is universal to the human condition: loss, fear, joy, overcoming hardship, working through grief, finding a sense of self, achieving things only dreamed of, and falling in love.

On the second Sunday of the month, I love introducing diverse segments of Sierra County to each other. When someone is brave enough to share their story, respect and connection are the sweet fruit. The buzz in the lobby of the theater afterward warms my heart. People stand around visiting with someone they may have made incorrect assumptions about just an hour ago. It is a good reminder that there is no OTHER; there is just US.

Positive change for Sierra County is anchored in its citizens. Good things will come when we work together towards common goals. This will take more than asking three rote questions, though. Yes, that tourist may have broken down. Yes, they may have been sucked in by the vortex and just bought a house. They might even share your astrological sign. But if you want to build community, be part of combating the poison of assumptions and thoughts of OTHER, ask them to tell you their story. Trust me; you are in for a treat.

PS Our little town still has a weekly, locally-owned paper. This is astonishing, to say the least. The owner wanted to start off 2024 with a revamp of the community section of the paper. She was one of my storytellers for January's T or C Story Lab and was wowed by the crowd and the experience. We sat down to talk the next week, and an opportunity to write for the paper was presented. I did what I always do: said, "YES!" then went home and had second, third, and fourth thoughts and several sleepless nights. No backsies, though. I said I would do it, and so I shall.

One column will be T or C Stories, a reworking of Story Lab stories for the newspaper format. The other is anything I feel like talking about, so I called it Thoughts on This or That. My goal is under 750 words, upbeat, community-related, and hopefully thought-provoking. This is only my first one, so the jury is still out. I will let you know if my newspaper writing career is a boom or bust!

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