Monday, January 08, 2007

Golly, Thanks for the Swell Party

Hi, I was the guy you met Saturday; you know, the "really polite" Midwestern boy with corn growing out of his ears? When you learned I was from Indiana, you reacted the way a lot of East Coasters did; you basically expressed condolences. You assumed I had fled the arid wastelands and small-mindedness of my home as soon as I was of age, barely escaping with my life, emotional well-being and creativity intact. Finding out that I first went to Seattle, you assumed this was some sort of half-way house process; I needed to spend time in a sleepy place that was at least a liberal haven with SOME nascent culture while I nursed my emotional wounds and prepared for the big time, here at the center of the universe. New York City, the place that you were lucky enough to be born into, and have never left, except for an occasional excursion to LA ("SO plastic, SO fake!") or a brief jaunt to Europe ("god, I couldn't find decent pizza ANYWHERE.") The idea of visiting the 'flyover zone' of my hometown strikes real fear in your hearts. "All those rednecks, Klansmen, Republicans, and inbred Deliverance rejects! Not a decent theatre, restaurant, newspaper or bagel for miles! However did you survive? And you do theatre? You read books? You know a little bit about classical music and art? You actually played in an orchestra? In High School? You must have felt like you were lost in the wilderness! You poor poor thing."

By now the intended sympathy has become a condescension I find almost delicious, it amuses me so much, but I'm sure you haven't a clue. I could explain that I was the son of academics and writers involved in a well-regarded small college that has been showing up on 'Best Kept Secrets' lists since the early 80s. I could explain it is populated by world class intellectuals who teach there because they valued the ethos and rigor of the place, including the fact that it values teaching more than 'publish or perish'. I could point out that many members of the faculty do publish anyway, and could eat your pseudo-intellectualism without breaking a sweat. I could explain that said college, while suffering from the dogmatism that affects anyplace populated largely by teenagers (and this place skews far left, by the way), nonetheless works with some success to increase discourse, critical thinking, and a sense of political responsibility in the world. I could explain that working there allowed my father sabbaticals every seven years, during which time we usually lived in London, enjoying theatre, opera, art galleries, museums, fine restaurants and excursions to some of the most beautiful place in the world. I could tell you about all the world class poets, novelists, political activists, musicians and artists I got to hear speak, often while serving them tea in my parents' living room. I could, in fact, condescend to you until (forgive me) the cows come home.
But I don't. Somehow that isn't the point I want to make. I don't want to play your game. I don't feel like convincing you that other parts of the world have things to offer, are in fact quite fine places to live. I don't feel like reminding you of the gay-bashings (including one murder) we've had here in the last year. I don't feel like telling you about the Guthrie, Goodman or Steppenwolf theatres, Midwestern all of them. I don't even feel like pointing out that your penchant for saying every single thought that comes into your head, the ruder the better, isn't being "refreshingly honest." It's called Tourette's and they have medication for it.

No, I don't feel the need to beat you at your own game. Frankly I doubt you'd really get it if I tried. Your world view is cast in iron. I just want to point out this; your belief that you live in the center of the world, and it's your privilege, duty even to ignore or sneer at the rest of the planet? There's a word for that too. It's called provincialism, and I've met more people who suffer from it (or do I mean revel in it?) here than any other place I've lived. Nowhere, not small town Indiana, Ireland, Vermont, nor big town Seattle or Dublin has come close. Well, okay, many Londoners came close, but still, they didn't surpass you. Yet another way New Yorkers excel. Ounce for ounce you are the most unapologetically provincial people I have ever met. You should be very proud.

1 comment:

Jeff Wills said...

You are the funniest midwesterner alive.