Ever since I discovered Scott Russell Sanders a few years ago and read some of his books that extol the virtues of firmly planting oneself in a physical, geographical place, I’ve been thinking about my place: the Midwest.The suburban Midwest, no less.I’ve always wanted to try living elsewhere, to escape for a time, to see what it’s like away from the mild, vanilla landscape that surrounds me.Never have.Fortunately, I’ve been able to travel enough to get a taste of other cultures and a feel for locations boasting greater variations in topography. I even married into a multi-cultural family, some of whom grew up in such places as Africa, Ecuador, France, and Belgium; yet, like it or not, I remain firmly planted in the American Midwest.You saw how gray it was here on my birthday. I think I worry that somehow my life lived out under such gray skies might in some way turn out a bit gray, grim, void of color and interest. I have a hard time appreciating my place, especially when I read people saying midwesterners sound like “rubes” (see comment #3 on this post). It didn’t help matters that I had to look up “rube”; it only further reinforced my fear of becoming one.Scott Russell Sanders has pointed out that most writers famous for writing about the Midwest don’t write about it until they move away. They seem to need that distance to achieve perspective and appreciation:
If Midwestern places are so grim and gray, why do writers keep recalling them, sometimes after decades of living far away? What draws the imagination back across the miles and years? The chief lure is the country itself; the forests, fields, and prairies, the wandering rivers, wide skies, dramatic weather, the creekbeds lined with sycamores and limestone, the grasses and flowers, hawks and hickories, moths and cicadas and secretive deer. Again and again in literature about the Midwest you find a dismal, confining human realm – farm, village, or city – embedded in a mesmerizing countryside… By turns cruel and comforting, the land holds them, haunts them, lingers in their memory and bones.Scott Russell SandersWriting from the Center(as quoted in this online article)
While I’m concerned about the effect of the “dismal, confining human realm,” if it indeed exists, I have focused more on the “mesmerizing countryside.” I’m trying very hard to appreciate the sycamores and limestone, cicadas and secretive deer. I guess that’s why I write about worms, crawdads, and trees.And I suppose that these topics–this humble, rural subject matter–have exposed my obvious roots. I shouldn’t be surprised that people take note.For example, when Mom in Action delurked to wish me a Happy Birthday, she wrote, “Your writing evokes a midwestern charm and perspective that I miss. I’ve enjoyed connecting with my roots again through your writing.” I was at first delighted–we’ve discovered via e-mail that we have a mutual friend and ran track against each other in high school–but the fact that my writing “evokes a midwestern charm and perspective” also makes me wonder if I should be a little embarrassed, as if I’m exposed as the rube I may in fact be. Should I be aiming for a higher level of sophistication, or tickled that my writing feels like a safe little country cottage, glowing and warm from a bright fire crackling in the fireplace?Am I so obviously a midwestern blogger?As I’ve been reflecting on these things, I happened to be reading Chosen By a Horse, a memoir by Susan Richards. She had to transport a sick horse six hours away (one way) for treatment just before Christmas and needed someone to ride with her.
I got out my address book and started going through it. As soon as I came to Dorothy’s name I reached for the phone. She was the right friend for this trip. She didn’t know anything about horses, but she was kind and loving and strong. She was the only friend I had who was from the Midwest, and it showed. She was as sensible as a wool hat.”Sure,” she said without hesitating. “I’ll make corn bread.” (p. 170)
I stopped right on that line and re-read the passage. Dorothy was from the Midwest, and it showed, Richards wrote. Some of the adjectives she selected for Dorothy were “kind,” “loving” and “strong.”I guess I wouldn’t mind being known as kind, loving and strong.Richards also described her as sensible–as sensible as a wool hat.Sensible is good.Sensible is…safe.Sensible is….woolen.Sensible is….midwestern.And I do make good cornbread.I am a wool hat.I am Dorothy.I can’t get around it: I’m a Midwesterner.
|What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland
|The Inland North|
|What American accent do you have?
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And I’m dealing with it.