June 6, 2010

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.

:) 
Emily

5 comments:

  1. A woman after my own heart.
    Of all the different places I've lived or visited over my 33 years on this earth, nothing compares to Minnesota, its culture, or its people. Minnesotans are a breed, nationality, heritage, country all of our own. I'm not sure if we even recognize it until we've lived in another state and are able to see the vast differences in day to day living.

    In Minnesota, males of any age will hold a door open for a lady of any age more times than not. This custom and sign of respect has been passed down through generations and It doesn't surprise me when a "rebel" (take that how you will) of a teenage boy instinctively and willingly opens and holds a door open for a woman. This isn't common practice any where else I've lived or visited. This being just one small example of course, but an important one that speaks of why Minnesota is great. I think Minnesotans as a whole decided long ago that the Golden Rule are words to live by. Sure, there are ppl here who don't fit this generalization, but the big picture shows it to be true.

    Well, I was just going to encourage you on this venture and didn't mean to write a short opinion column, but like I alluded to earlier, we share a love for our State and all that are within its boundaries. :)

    Take care my friend!

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  2. Jayne--thanks so much for the kind words. They are a true encouragement. And I have to ask: do I know you? :) If not, so glad you stumbled across the site. Hope you keep reading!

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  3. Emily, this blog is beautiful - the writing first and foremost, the photos and the subject. I remember when I was living in Europe, when I told people I was from Minnesota, no one had any idea where in the U.S. it was. So I finally learned to say that it was half way between Los Angeles and New York on the Canadian border and they would nod like they knew. Uh huh. So thanks for this attempt to share the incredible beauty and diversity of my home state. Sorry, don't recognize the plant.
    - Diane. See you in Minnie in August.

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  4. In so many ways the places we live choose us (they call us to live inside their borders) and because we have been chosen we are bound to them with devotion. We are compelled to to protect them and speak for them and help them to grow. This is a wonderful blog, Emily. I am so glad I found the link to this at the bottom of your email message today! And congrats on your first post-MFA draft!

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  5. Thanks, my Philly friend! I know you know what I'm talking about. xoxo!

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