The first thing you’ll notice about barista Jennifer Cooper as she stands behind the counter of a local coffee shop is that she’s not very tall — and the second is that height is no indicator of insight or passion.
A resident of the Verde Valley “on and off for four years,” Cooper calls herself a “closet artist” who found her way to Arizona almost by chance.
Though soft-spoken, she has no trouble expressing herself. Smiles come openly and often.
As to why she came to reside in Cottonwood?
“Because it’s not Alabama,” Cooper answered. “Arizona popped into my head.”
As the “on and off” suggests, Cooper’s tenure in the Verde Valley has been punctuated by time elsewhere: Nearly a year in Colorado, with briefer stints back in her home states of Michigan and Tennessee — because, in her words, “she got bored.”
By her own admittance, Cooper becomes easily bored with her surroundings. “It’s hard not to get bored,” she said, leaning her forearms on the counter, pausing to consider her words. “I kind of like going away and coming back.”
According to Cooper, the small-town identity of the cities and towns of the Verde Valley are both a feature and a bug — a selling point and an aspect that limits the potential of area residents. Conservative viewpoints, in particular, can become irksome, she said.
Of course, having grown up among many conservative-minded people in the south, she’s used to it. Going back home to Tennessee, she reported, is “like traveling back 50 years in time .... But I’m used to other people not having the same opinions as me.”
Regardless of any criticism, Cooper praised local residents of the Verde Valley, saying that — despite how at odds their stated beliefs might be to her own — they are some of the kinder and more accepting people she has met.
The biggest commonality between people, Cooper added, is that one’s history need not define you. She admitted that her own life had been full of “negative influences,” but that she hadn’t caved or let herself be overcome.
“I haven’t let negativity drag me down,” Cooper said. “I want most people to know that no matter where you’re from, what you’ve gone through, what you’ve heard, you can be a happy person .... It’s you holding yourself back. The best thing you can do is believe in yourself.”