My Flyover Country
Between my junior and senior years of college, I packed up a suitcase and worked as a camp counselor along the Maryland shores of the Chesapeake Bay. It was one of the best summers of my life, surrounded as I was with newness and adventure—two things I’ve always valued. So it's interesting to me that, when I look back on all the conversations I had that summer with the other counselors who came from mostly eastern seaboard states or European countries, one of the comments I remember most was from a native Marylander.
“Where’s Minnesota, again? I just know it’s really cold.”
I laughed genially—of course I did—immediately excusing her ignorance. It wasn’t like my homeplace held New York City, the weekend destination we were then exploring; it wasn’t like it held Paris or Tokyo or Acapulco, places people actually vacationed. It was the Midwest, for goodness’ sake. There were so many states between the coasts; I couldn’t fault her for forgetting mine.
Or could I? I spent other moments that summer embarking on what I now can recognize as a kind of missionary work for Minnesota. Whenever we were in cars, I opened atlases, pointed out all the green, all the blue, talked about the theater and the music and the locations of my childhood. Sometimes my fellow counselors would get excited; a friend they knew had raved about the Boundary Waters or another had grandparents with a big Northwoods cabin. But most of the time—they forgot. Later they’d repeat their simple questions. They would always speak about snow.
All of this is to say that when I found myself within my third MFA semester writing story after story about Minnesota and its people and wanting so desperately to get it right, I felt an important click, a sliding into place. I don’t know if this will be my material forever, but it’s my material for now, and I won’t stop until I’ve formed a collection of stories that serve as some visage of what I wanted that Maryland girl to not just see but understand.
I graduate in a month, and as the dependability of deadlines pass from my life, I will use this blog as both my exacting professor and my unschooled friend. The homework? To show up and walk around in this greenredgoldwhitebrownblueandgreenagain classroom. To report what I discover. The purpose? To find the details that will help Miss Maryland remember. To explore how I might create stories that render my corner of the world as not flyover country, but as a place to land. A place that can be called believably home.
Hope you’ll join me—especially if Minnesota isn’t on your map.