A Poverty of Imagination

My agency,  like most of the  Human Service Centers in my State, is understaffed.  We can’t seem to find any psychologists or psychiatrists or other mental health professionals  to come and work for us.  The problem is state-wide, even in the more urban areas.  There even is a paucity of private-sector mental health professionals in the western side of the State.

We certainly have tried to attract people, what with student loan forgiveness, great benefits, and competitive salaries.   No one wants to work in a rural state. My husband and I think people seem to have a poverty of imagination of what life could be like here.  I turn to the Baboons for suggestions.

How would you entice people to move to a remote, rural area to live and work?  What do you think are people’s misconceptions about rural life?  How would you speak to the realities of rural life?

57 thoughts on “A Poverty of Imagination”

  1. A concern I would have would be availability and access to the arts. If I want music, will I need to go to church on Sunday to hear the choir or are there (non-Country bar) alternatives? Will I have to drive to “the big city” to go to the theater? What about visual art?… I know these things exist away from the urban core – and some of the options are fantastic (the Shakespeare festival in Winona, Lakes Area Music Festival in Brainerd are two “outstate” ones I know about in MN). I just don’t think folks know where to look if it’s not a marquee name like The Guthrie or The Minnesota Orchestra or The Walker. Perhaps you don’t have something at your fingertips every weekend, but what is out there? And if there isn’t what they are looking for, what resources (human or otherwise) might be available to get something started if they are truly motivated?…

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      1. You haven’t actually offered any reasons why people should want to live in a sparsely populated conservative rural state, imagination or not.

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        1. In the conversation that generated the blog, I
          had used “poverty of imagination” as a cultural feature of the region where we live. This seems to persist even though people from several other cultures have come to live and settle here in the past several years. My proposition has been that it’s been difficult to attract psychologists and members of similar professions because they can’t see themselves living in a place the cultural amenities to which they’ve become accustomed are not available. I also believe that our region is perceived as lacking “scenery”. Even people, such as Kathleen Norris, who say they appreciate the region’s silence and endemic beauty, don’t choose to remain. The Desert Fathers may be admired, but are seldom emulated. We appreciate and welcome the various perspectives of the Baboons, which motivate us to be such faithful followers. Thank you, one and all.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. I wonder if people in more urban areas believe they have more opportunities, but don’t take advantage of them. Yes, there are malls in urban areas. How many people just shop on line? Yes, there are more culrural opportunities. How many people actually take advantage of them? I guess I think people’s lives wouldn’t be much different if they lived out here. Just less traffic and lower crime rates.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You may be right, Renee, that a lot of people don’t avail themselves of all the resources available to them all the time, but I think it’s important to know that they’re there when I want or need them.

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        2. If choosing a place to live, a place where you would be comfortable, were simply a matter of ticking off a list of common denominator amenities, the city, the suburbs and the exurbs wouldn’t be as polarized as they are. People want to live in a place they expect to be congenial to their sense of self. If you have trouble recruiting, it’s because the well-educated candidates have an impression of the region at odds with their values. Whether or not their impression is wholly accurate, it’s an impression the state doesn’t do much to contradict.

          I’d drop the notion of “poverty of imagination”. For one thing, it’s self-congratulatory, implying that those who choose to live in a rural area have richer, superior imaginations. For another thing, it’s entirely subjective. One could just as validly assert that those who choose to live in a rural area or choose to stay in one do so because of a failure of imagination.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. it reminds me of the lucy on the assembly line at the chocolate factory
          crazy manic behavior until you install a stop button at each station in case some one needs it
          it was discovered it never gets used but the speed and production can be increased way beyond what they could do with no buttons
          maybe no one would attend artsy stuff but knowing they were available would make like on the tundra imaginable

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Reminds me of Joe(l) Fleischmann in Northern Exposure, who was “indentured” there to help pay off his med school… I think one of the themes was that he discovered there was more in tiny town Alaska than met the eye (but in the end he left it for his Shangri-La, NYC).

    Having left urban for smallish town, I realize Winona is unusual in it arts offerrings, for a town of this size. When my sister (now from Bay Area CA) visits, she asks strange questions like: “Do businesses just shut down here when it gets this cold?” (Wish I could think of a better example.) She seems to think that away from urban life we are different somehow. But even Marshalltown, Iowa where we grew up had quite a lot going for it… community theater, a concert series at the new theater provided by a benefactor…

    Renee, I’d like to hear more about how you have found your place there – because you write fondly about the place and it seems you have found plenty to keep you busy and content. How big is your town (can’t think of its name)? What do you have in the way of arts and education, sports, etc?

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    1. We have about 25,000 residents. There is a small college that has a theatre department. There are concerts in the summer out of doors down town. Teddy Roosevelt National park is 30 miles away. There is fishing and hunting. Bismarck is 90 miles away and there is a symphony and theatre and concerts there. We have a nice public library and a very nice rec center with walking trails swimming pools, climbing walls, work out equipment, weights, handball, tennis. We have an indoor hockey and ice skating rink.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. how many people were there before the oil people rewrote the census counts
        i know my fargo artist cousin discussed how sad many western north dakota artists were , left without a place to live when oil workers came in and rent went up 400%

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    2. Barbara, despite the amenities you list for Marshalltown and even for Winona, the fact remains that for your working life, which is really the point here, you chose to live in the city.

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    3. We will leave because we need to place a boundary between us and the people we have treated and our new identities as retired people. I don’t want to be accosted in the grocery store about behavioral interventions for our former clients.

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    OT–We arrived in AZ on Wednesday late afternoon, then immediately fell asleep after a celebratory rum and grapefruit juice. I slept until 8 am the next morning. AAAAhhh. I won’t mention the sunny, 80 degree day our first day turned into. (Bad Jacque, Bad Jacque. I just read yesterday’s post about Naughty Dog. Yes I am naughtier. There are few consequences at my age.)

    To the topic at hand: Rural life. Having grown up in a place similar to where you live Renae, I am a nay-sayer who cannot help you much. The last time I lived in a rural place, I had a very negative experience that included non-stop sexual harassment without consequences for the harasser(s) and a grown-up Mean Girl. Unfortunately, what that means for me is that many “misconceptions” were not “mis” at all, but rather my real experience. There was/is no amount of pay that would convince me to move to such a place as an adult.

    I actually have come to believe that the answer to rural mental health problem is tele-health, which we, in my clinic, are investing in heavily. If you would like to talk with me about that, let me know. I think that is far more realistic a solution than getting MH professionals to move there. I would gladly schedule regular visits to a remote place, then supplement this with on-line sessions.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We have a psychologist in Florida who does one evaluation a week for us via telehealth. I helped set up the system and procedures for it, and it
      is an absolute pain in the a** to manage. It takes almost twice the number of employees to produce one telehealth evaluation compared to one from an in-house psychologist. It also isn’t possible to give some tests unless you are face to face. I think it would better for therapy/counselling.

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    2. excellent solution jacque
      gunslinging psychologists inter netting theirs at through all the back woods hick towns out there in the world
      when your work load hits a max you could set up online holds like ebay or amazon does and also have a great many online chats with lay folk

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  4. I have a busy day ahead of me so not a lot of time to think this over, but I bet I can come up with some ideas. They will have to wait until later in the day, or if my brain does its usual slow thinking thing, in a day or two.

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        1. bill you seem particularly negative on this topic
          i happen to agree it is posed like a move to bum fux north dakota ad but i guess it goes without saying rural wherever is very different from rural everywhere else
          mississippi, oklahoma, south dakota
          montana alaska all very different
          25000 ver different from 250 or 2000 instead

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      1. It can have a lot going for it, but like cities, there are levels of quality to the experience. Often a small college nearby can make a difference because colleges attract many high- quality people and experiences that manufacturing towns do not attract. .

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve always thought it was valuable to live close to a bus route – public transit ranks moderately high in my list of must-haves. In my youth, transportation was limited – my mother never had a driver’s license and my father, while he was living, was fairly impaired by Parkinson’s, so my sister and I walked everywhere we wanted to go. I didn’t get a driver’s license myself until I was 20. My sister still does not have one.

    Today my car is in the shop, has been since Tuesday. The cold apparently froze up and damaged a hose. I haven’t had a vehicle since last Saturday. I do, however, have a bus card and an HourCar membership, so I’ve been getting around without too much trouble.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I guess the conception in this is that you’re more dependent on vehicle in rural areas, and more stranded if you don’t have one or something goes wrong with it. Is that a misconception? What do you do if your car is broken down – do your friends give you rides?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Waiting for the bus in cold weather is one of the coldest things on this earth. Stay warm, Linda, and sorry for your car troubles. I hope the car gets fixed soon.

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  6. I’m probably not going to be much help either. I lived in a small college town for a couple of years when I was younger and I didn’t enjoy it much. During the school year there were things to do and I was young so I fit in with the college crowd if I needed to. In the summer however was Dead. One movie theater. No other arts or entertainment to be had. In thinking about my life now I can’t imagine moving to a rural area. Partly because I can’t evision ripping up these roots and then trying to plant them elsewhere at this time of my life.

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  7. Well, this one is right up my alley.
    First, Renee, THANK YOU for the work you and your husband are doing. It’s a valuable service.

    One of the things we deal with on the townboard is zoning. And along those lines, urban sprawl. My township, Haverhill, is on the NE corner of Rochester. Of the four townships surrounding Rochester, the other three are much more urban than we are. (A township is 6 square miles consisting of 36 sections that are each a mile square) Rochester at this point has only intruded into parts of 4 sections on the West side.

    Benefits of living in the rural areas include not having neighbors right next door. You can see the stars! You can smell fresh air! It’s quiet! You may see wildlife. More often than not, people wave as you pass them.
    Disadvantages include gravel roads and dust. (some people don’t like that. But ‘no’, we’re not going to pave all the roads for you.)
    You may live next door to a farm. Sometimes there will be machinery working at night. There may be manure smells. The wildlife may eat your flowers. It becomes a problem when people start to complain about the things that have been there for a long time before they moved in. You know, you can’t build a house next to a train and then complain about the train. I mean you *shouldn’t* complain about the train. You can if you want… but don’t expect the train to stop just because you’re there now.

    There is still art out there. But they may have to drive for it now. Look at the popularity of Lanesboro’s Commonweal theater? It’s a drive. But it’s a nice drive through some nice countryside.

    Be prepared to blow your own snow. We have pretty good service from the county clearing our roads. I know the plow truck driver on a first name basis. But there are days when you might need to stay home.
    Sometimes there might be a tree across the road. Get to know your townboard people. They’ll cut up the tree, but you might be inconvenienced for a bit. The more self-sufficient you can be, the better. Sometimes internet coverage is limited. You may or may not have high enough speed.

    There are always pros and cons. Each person will have to decide… but I sure wouldn’t trade it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. PS: I was at a dairy coop meeting years ago. I had one of the ‘Arts over Aids’ ribbons on my lapel. So it’s a room full of mostly 50 -80 yr old farmers
      A guy asked me what my ribbon was. I said it was to support Arts over Aids. He said what’s that? I said ‘AIDS, Acquired immune deficiency Syndrome. Yeah yeah, he knew that. What’s ARTS he asked.
      Sigh.
      Music, theater, painting…
      “Oh! Arts!” he says. So he knew it… just had to get the context…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Ben’s answer resonates with me. I’d would like to point out, however, that he also has the best of both worlds: access to a couple of big cities within a reasonable drive, and simultaneously enjoy the peace and quiet of a beautiful, serene rural setting.

        When I look at the photo in the header, Renee, I draw a sigh of relief and feel a sense of freedom. I love the wide open spaces. Having lived a couple of years in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I came to appreciate the unique beauty of the sparse, rugged landscape that surrounded it. I knew I was only going to be there for a few years, so set out to explore as much of it as we could. I adapt easily to new places, especially if I hook up with a tribe of kindred spirits, and I was lucky enough to do that.That said, Cheyenne was never a place I considered moving back to when looking to start my career.

        I’m afraid that like most of the baboons who have chimed in on this, I have nothing to offer you. What comes to my mind when I think of the questions you’ve posed above, are all of the reasons I can think of for NOT moving there. Simultaneously, I know that if I had to live there for, say, five years or so, I’d sure get busy finding all the things that would make it worthwhile. And, who knows, by the end of the five years, I may have come to love it enough to stay? I know several people who grew up in North Dakota and who have spent most of their working careers in the Twin Cities who moved “back home” when they retired.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I recently stopped for lunch in Cheyenne and thought it was the most godforsaken place on earth 😮. I’ve enjoyed visiting several smaller Wyoming towns, though. Could it be subjective?🙃

          Liked by 1 person

        2. It’s definitely subjective, Chris. Cheyenne itself isn’t much of a town, but it’s within an easy drive to so many beautiful areas to explore and camp in. It was the first place I lived after arriving in the US, and as you can imagine, it was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Wasband was from Long Island, and he hated it there, but for me it was filled with fascinating people and places. Guess I was determined to make the best of it. It was there I made my first American friend, and we’re still in touch and see each other with some regularity. She now lives in Sheridan.

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  8. Renee, maybe you would know something about this.
    A treatment center opened in the township. It used to be a center for alcoholic priests; was in operation for years and never caused any issues.
    The new center is for chemical dependency. It’s a residential / inpatient facility and by it’s nature, is open to the point clients sometimes decide to walk away. The neighborhood residents are not too happy when a client is found at their garage or on their property.
    Understandably.
    It’s partially fear of the unknown. And partially, given the issue these clients are being treated for, we presume they may not be acting in a “normal” manner.
    No one on the townboard is denying there’s a need for this type of center. But beyond that, we don’t know anything about how these places normally operate.
    It’s out in the country. Walking to town – to a business- is roughly 6 miles. We don’t want someone wandering off and freezing to death. Or being struck by a car or being confronted by a neighbor.
    The local administrator has come to one of our meetings and is coming back in a few weeks hopefully with some idea or plans to help curtail this issue. So they are working with the township.
    But I’m not sure it’s an issue that CAN be curtailed? If you’re going to have an open setting, is it common for clients to leave? How long should they be gone before law enforcement is called. At the same time, a deputy can’t exactly force them into the car if they don’t want to go.
    I’m not sure there are easy answers to this.
    Thoughts people?

    *Something else about living in the country you didn’t anticipate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sad fact is that people walk away from such facilities all the time. Unless they are legally committed there, I would hope the agency would tell them that they will arrange for transport if they want to leave so patients don’t sneak away in the night snd freeze and/or cause mischief.

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  9. Some things I love about my small town:
    – being able to get anywhere in under 10 minutes (unless you hit a train), even at rush hour
    – easy-to-find parking at most events
    – didn’t take long after moving here to find lots of like-minded people
    – lots of volunteer options (probably true anywhere, but again, these are easy to get to)
    – lots of information available by word-of-mouth, and you can check all the major bulleting boards within a few stops

    Disadvantages of small town life:
    – can’t always find what you want (without going online)
    – not enough book stores
    – no Fix-It Clinic (but it probably wouldn’t be impossible to start one up)
    – have to drive elsewhere for good ethnic restaurants

    …thinking…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For me, one of the advantages in living in the country is seeing the unique beauty that is all around you FIRSTHAND. We’ve probably all seen photos of the Milky Way or the northern lights, and those are beautiful, but it is not the same as being there yourself – because you also experience the crisp (or cold) air, perhaps the smell of pine trees, the slap of waves on the shore, etc.

    Other positives of ND living: certain urban stresses such as rush hour traffic are minimal or nonexistent. Star watching is probably good due to having such a good view of the sky. Less city noises. Slower pace of life. These can be all good things for people who value things like quietness and calmness.

    I’ve lived in Minneapolis for quite a while now and I’ve not taken good advantages of the many urban advantages here, except for riding the bus and once in a while going to MIA. I don’t go to the theater or concerts or even the movies (well, once in a while I go to the cheap theater but it’s been a couple years) and I hate malls and shopping in general. If there are mental health professionals who, like me, prefer to seek out nature and quiet spots and shy away from crowds and noise, then maybe you can appeal to that part of them. Some people really do like life without all the urban trappings.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. If my State had the same temperatures as Arizona, I bet people would move here in droves. I really believe it is the weather. Warm temps would make up for whatever is lacking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If your winter temperatures were the same as Arizona’s, Renee, you’d be overrun by Minnesotans three months of the year, but I think you’d still have a dearth of mental health professionals.

      This has been fun to think about. I’m especially intrigued by Bill’s comments about conceptions vs misconceptions. I’m wondering about how my notions of what life is like in Dickinson would change if I actually lived there. You and your husband have obviously carved out a satisfying life for your family there, yet both of your grown children have moved away, and you and your husband plan to do the same when you retire.

      Hans and I are often asked whether we would consider moving back to Denmark, and we have discussed it with several of our Danish friends who also live here. For us the answer is no. We have changed while living in the states for so many years, and the Denmark we knew when we lived there has changed tremendously as well, we wouldn’t be returning “home.” Banana Republics here I come:

      Liked by 2 people

  12. i think there are analytic tests that would show you what people would like to live in your part of the world renee
    i know they exist
    then you all just explain to those people what you will do for them and only breach out to people who get it when it comes to the offering
    ben gets it
    go find 20 bens in the entire country and load the offering with perks to suck them on and allow the courtship to begin
    erect a chain of theaters to show concerts and symphonies on the live feed or recordings to offer a culture like substitute for artsy farts you want to sprinkle throughout and remover the story about the art bus that burned? not a bad idea
    have art pull into the walmart parking lot or the library

    oh by the way instead of closing the libraries on martin luther king day wouldn’t it make sense to offer a day of celebration and educational programming when all the kids have school off?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. In my personal opinion, I believe that it would be more expensive to live in a rural area. As in buying a house and what not, But easier to live there as you would have to travel to go to the shops so you may save money.

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  14. I am just curious how to attract students (like myself) to this kind of work. What do I have to do and how do I do it? There are a lot of people out there like myself who want to help but don’t know their options or how to get into a field.

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