just a small town girl.

One of my housemates recommended the book American Wife to me recently, and the following passage from it encapsulates so much of how I feel about Missouri and growing up in a small, Midwestern town. There are some things I love about the East Coast and especially Boston, but I think the Midwest will always be where I feel most like myself.

“Then we were back in Wisconsin, a place that in late summer is thrillingly beautiful. When I was young, this was knowledge shared by everyone around me; as an adult, I’ve never stopped being surprised by how few of the people with whom I interact have any true sense of the states between Pennsylvania and Colorado. Some of these people have even spent weeks and months working in such states, but unless they’re midwesterners, too, to them the region is nothing but polling numbers and caucuses, towns or cities where they stay in hotels […] 

Admittedly, the area possesses a certain dowdiness I personally have always found comforting, but to think of Wisconsin specifically or the Midwest as a whole as anything other than beautiful is to ignore the extraordinary power of the land. The lushness of the grass and trees in August, the roll of the hills (far less of the Midwest is flat than outsiders seem to imagine), that rich smell of soil, the evening sunlight over a field of wheat, or the crickets chirping at dusk on a residential street: All of it, it has always made me feel at peace. There is room to breathe, there is a realness of place. The seasons are extreme, but they pass and return, pass and return, and the world seems far steadier than it does from the vantage point of a coastal city. 

Certainly picturesque towns can be found in New England or California or the Pacific Northwest, but I can’t shake the sense that they’re too picturesque. On the East Coast, especially, these places–Princeton, New Jersey, say, or Farmington, Connecticut–seem to me aggressively quaint, unbecomingly smug, and even xenophobic, downright paranoid in their wariness of those who might someone infringe upon the local charm. I suspect this wariness is tied to the night cost of real estate, the fear that there might now be enough space or money and what there is both must be clung to and defended. The West Coast, I think, has a similar self-regard–all that talk of proximity to the ocean and the mountains–and a beauty that I can’t help seeing as show-offy. But the Midwest: It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on. It is the place I am calmest and most myself.”

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

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