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
“You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.
|The Inland North||
|What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
And I’m dealing with it.
Hello from another Midland-er.
Who gets the credit for my not having an accent either? Public speakers in my family tree? Mom and Grandparents who insisted I speak clearly? Nebraska and Colorado home addresses before I exported myself to Michigan for college?
I’m not sure. I do know this; I LIKE being a mid-westerner. If Garrison Keillor can write of it with such charm and insight, there might be room for a few more of us to do similarly.
Great thoughts and insights, Ann. Loved today’s post! (and that rhymes with toast in these parts). 😀
Karen Hossink says
OK, so I’m a “rube,” too. (Thanks for including the link to the definition so I could stay lazily in my chair and find out what it meant. I may be unsophisticated, but I’m learning how to use the computer!)
Seriously, I’ve lived in Michigan all my life. Mid-Michigan for all but four years, when I wandered south and west a spell for college. Though I complain about the cold at times, I love the change in seasons. Other places are nice to visit, but this Midwesterner can’t imagine calling any other place “home.”
I love it here!
Mom In Action says
I’ve lived in the east for nearly 20 years and I wish I was surrounded by more “wool hats.” There is a warmth and sensibility about midwesterners that just can’t be found in other parts of the country. Embrace it! It’s a good thing.
Phil: Wow, if I could write anything like Garrison Keillor, I’d willingly dedicate myself to being a Midwestern writer!
Karen: When I linked to dictionary.com, I actually thought of you! I remembered your comment from before that made me laugh–it was something I would have done! See how smooth and clever you are? Surely you’re an urban girl? You’re a lifelong Michiganer just as I’m a lifelong Hoosier. People from Michigan love their state and all that snow, though; people from Indiana are less enthusiastic and proud. Or maybe it’s just me? (No, seriously, we don’t know what to do with a compliment about our state. “You like our downtown? Really?” Though the Colts win of the Superbowl has boosted our pride considerably…)
Mom In Action: You know, I got to thinking about it–I probably should have asked permission before highlighting you so significantly in this post! I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that your comment made me analyze myself and my writing so much, it all just tumbled out. I’m trying to be positive. Resisting my midwestern-ness is probably as futile as trying to change the shape of my face–it would require reconstructive surgery and would never look quite right. I might as well do as you say and simply embrace it.
🙂 Seems I recall someone else, long ago, who may have stood to his full height when he heard someone sneer at his hometown,
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?!”
and may have breathed a quiet “Got THAT right!”
We’re still talking about Him!
I say embrace your Midwestern self the way that we do. It’s part of who you are and what has helped to define you.
I’m from the Midwest too, Kansas to be exact. I don’t know if it shows or not, but I don’t mind telling others that I live in a place where people still talk to each other, help each other and basically don’t try to live life all on their own. And that’s a plus in my book.
As far as accents go, I’m as messed up a messed up can be. I was raised in TN with no accent to give the tell-tale signs of such a wonderful upbrining – save for the yes ma’ams that still proceed from my mouth. I went to college in AR, moved to NE and then to KS to round out my Midwest experience. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Well, maybe some great Memphis BBQ, but that’s it!
christmas songs lyrics says
That was a awesome read,You discover something new every day.