Excuse me, But I’m From Ohio

A really wonderful column in today’s Washington Post about growing up in Ohio, missing Ohio, being annoyed with the rest of the nation’s stereotypes of Ohio (and much of the Midwest in general), being annoyed with oneself for leaving Ohio, and more.

I think the Midwest is a blank spot on the mental maps of many Americans who have no connection to it, blank spots that are filled in with caricatures of people and a lifestyle that is at best quaint and at worst derogatory.  It’s pieces like this that both explain why many Midwesterners have inferiority complexes when placed outside of their places of origins, or why they blather on about how lucky they are to have “gotten out” in order to placate a false idea that others hold that, surely, if there was ever some place in the states to escape from, this is it.

Some favorite paragraphs:

My flashes of insecurity were snuffed out as soon as someone mentioned their parents’ two-hour commutes or used the word “summer” as a verb. What I wonder now, two years out of college, is why so many people in Washington, the adopted home of nobodies from all over the country trying to make names for themselves, are so clueless about the Midwest. Take my boss. He’s a smart guy who has traveled around the world. Yet despite all my jabbering about Ohio, he has asked me more than once about my family back in . . . Iowa.

Of course, I’m not the only Ohioan to have mixed up Brooklyn and the Bronx. But the tendency to write off Midwesterners as a bunch of simpletons strikes me as plain unfair. I recently met a man who drives through Ohio every year on the way from Washington to his summer house in Canada; when he heard where I’m from, he hopped up on his high horse and announced that Ohioans “don’t take risks.” So he hasn’t run into any Evel Knievels there. That’s surprising, I wanted to say, because the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, and it took some gumption — now there’s a word Midwesterners like — to catapult themselves into the sky in their rickety contraptions. Another gutsy Ohioan: John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. And another: Neil Armstrong.

“No, no dreamers in Ohio,” I felt like replying. But my mother would have called that back-talk, so I let good old-fashioned Midwestern manners get the better of me and kept quiet.

Presidential candidates, in their efforts to look like regular folks, are among the chief purveyors of one of the most destructive stereotypes of Midwesterners: the working stiff who can’t work, thanks to the Rust Belt hemorrhaging all those jobs. During a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry set up shop outside a boarded-up building so that photos and television footage would show the city’s “ugly rump,” as the New York Times wrote, rather than the new office building across the street. No hard feelings, senator. The voters of Youngstown understood: It was easier for you to show that Ohioans needed your help if you pretended that they couldn’t help themselves.

I miss Ohio most when I hear other transplanted Midwesterners belittle their parents for being intimidated by subways that they have no occasion to ride, or mock the suburbs that seemed pretty great when they were running through sprinklers in their big backyards, or dump on cornfields and cows, especially when most of them spent their childhoods not on tractors but in minivans. But of course, I too have sinned by leaving Ohio, and there are days when I feel downright traitorous for having done so.

Read the whole article by clicking here.

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Reader Response

Have you read David J. Schwartz’s novella “The Sun Inside” published by me and my cohorts, Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl of Rabid Transit Press?  If not, take a look at one Justin Howe’s response over here.  Afterward, go order the book here.  Like Justin, I imagine you’ll be seeing David’s name on books and buildings everywhere you go after taking a trip to his version of Hollow Earth.

Evidence of Love in the new F&SF

If you haven’t got around to reading the October/November issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction yet, you should go out and get a copy, or subscribe or at least order the issue (it’s the best issue of almost any genre magazine each year, if you ask me, something about the season maybe?). M. Rickert’s short story, “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account” steals the show (and it is quite a show, featuring stories by Stephen King, Geoff Ryman, Carol Emshwiller, Michael Swanwick, Terry Bisson, and other excellent writers). I don’t think I have come across another story in recent months (years?) that seems so utterly to be perfect for both the James Tiptree Jr. Award (for fiction that expands our understanding of gender) and the new Shirley Jackson Award (because this story is a near future version of “The Lottery” if you ask me).

That one story is worth the price of the issue alone. But you do indeed get all those other stories by the authors I mentioned, and more, so do yourself a favor and get this issue, even if you don’t normally read this magazine. I highly recommend it.

Works in progress

It is muggy hot today here in Ytown, and I just spent hours and hours being oriented as new faculty to the university (new full time faculty, that is, I’d been teaching part time here for the past couple of years) and filling out form after form after form after…yes, form.

Tomorrow is the English department’s beginning of the year workshop, so it will be another day of meetings and seminars.

Saturday is the Northeast Ohio MFA program’s student orientation day, held at Kent State, another day of panels and discussion. Afterwards, the Oakland Center for the Art’s Annual Open House.

I will thankfully have Sunday to reconstitute myself and try to focus for the first day of classes. I’m teaching four courses, two freshmen writing courses, and two introductory fiction writing workshops for undergraduates.

Continuing to work on the third novel, inch by inch it feels like, some days.

I’m reading Edward Carey’s novel, Observatory Mansions, which is really quirky and strange and lovely. I hope I like it all the way till the end.

And now I need to eat, and relax, before tomorrow begins.

Oakland Center Open House

The Oakland Center for the Arts announces its Second Annual Free Open House and Season preview Party on Saturday, August 23, from 6-9 pm. Festivities will be held at the theater, 220 W. Boardman St. in downtown Youngstown. Free parking surrounds the theater.

Guests are invited to mingle with Oakland board members, volunteers, and performers in the Star Gallery. Free food and beverages will be served. Posters from the past 22 years of Oakland productions will decorate the gallery, and photos of past productions and performers will also be available for viewing.

A free performance highlighting the play selections of the 2008-2009 Season will be presented at 7:30 pm. Host Ellen Licitra will narrate the show, which will include performances from Night of the Living Dead, How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas, Bug, Reefer Madness, and Rabbit Hole.

Oakland Season Flexpasses will be available for sale. There is no charge to attend the event. The Open House and Season Preview is the Oakland’s way of saying thanks to all its patrons, past and present. If you’re a loyal Oakland fan or just curious to find out what the buzz is all about, stop by the Oakland on August 23 for a night of friends and fun.

Call 330.718.5515, visit myspace.com/oaklandcenter, or email oaklandopenmic@gmail.com for more information.

Recommendations?

I’m going through a little dry spell lately with coming across a magical book. You know, the sort of book that, when you’re reading it, makes you feel transported, and which afterwards comes to almost signify a particular period or point in your life simply because of your strong attachment to the reading experience mixed in with and yet somehow highlighting other aspects of being alive. If you know what sort of feeling I’m talking about, and have a book that made you feel that way at some point, new or old, leave me a recommendation in the comments section. I’d love to collect a list of books that made ridiculous impressions on others, and see if that might not help with my search for something just like that right now.

Thanks in advance.

Perspectives on class

A great new website from YSU’s own Sherry Linkon, including this new blog in its contents: Working Class Perspectives. If you’re at all interested in understanding class in America, Sherry Linkon has been one of the leaders in academia on this subject for years now. As the blog editor, she has gathered together an impressive list of contributors.

From a university update I received just today:

The new website, Working–Class Perspectives , will include a blog, links to recent news stories and information on how Center affiliates can help journalists contact real people to get the story right, said Sherry Linkon, co–director of the CWCS.

“With all of the attention focused on the working class in this year’s election, and the complex nature of working–class culture, we knew it was time to join the discussion,” Linkon said.

John Russo, the other co–director of the CWCS, said the Center’s affiliates have been monitoring how the media has been covering the working class. “So much of the coverage of working class reduces these people to little more than a simple phrase. We believe we can help journalists by sharing our insights and by helping reporters find real people to talk to,” Russo said.

The blog, “Working–Class Perspectives,” will feature weekly commentaries about politics, the economy, the media, education and other issues.

The inaugural entry of Working–Class Perspectives finally offers a clear definition of who are the working class today, Linkon said. “It”s not just blue–collar workers,” she said.

Russo said the Center has been engaged in research about working–class voters, labor issues, economic change and a variety of other topics for more than 10 years. “We want to share this expertise,” he said.

The Center for Working–Class Studies at YSU was the first interdisciplinary academic center in the country devoted to understanding and making visible working–class culture. Its 13 faculty affiliates teach, conduct research, and work with community organizations on a wide variety of topics.

Sounds like a necessary contribution to the internet. I myself am looking forward to reading the information and perspectives that the site promises. If any Wiscon readers concerned with class are reading this, you might be too.