It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation.
To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say.
We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com
I am walking Atwater Beach the morning after a summer storm just to watch the steam detach itself from the sand. As the particles celebrate splendid mid-air reunions, they shroud the view in secrecy, obscuring the toddling child from her mother’s watch.
The call of the lone gull rattles me out of my head in metallic screeches, unpleasant to the ear except when accompanied by the soft slaps of a crashing Great Lake wave. Some force has shaken a pier free of her white-winged squatters, and one gull roams alone, having lost the flock.
How do so many of them know to move in unison? I wonder. A school of fish heard over yonder? The precise angle of the sun that told them it was time? An internal thermometer that hit its mark and rang the alarm? Or maybe just the whimsy of an alpha male. But they are gone, having left their post while their cousins sit, statuesque and two piers over. “Pier Closed” rises crooked from jutty heaps of rock strewn haphazardly out from shore.
Beyond the rocks, the waves flow and tilt and lilt, shooting straight across and curling back into the horizon. I, landlocked city dweller, don’t get to see the horizon like this, don’t get to stare into uncertainty like the boys from that Hopper painting, Ground Swell. Sometimes, I go to the National Gallery to look at those boys, topless and waifish, the blonde’s single smile of hope dashed on a canvas rippling with dread. I bob with them, red bonnet billowing as the wind blows out fixations.
There are no endless lines in the capital, not even a skyscraper. It’s all pillars and street grids and rail lines, abundant only in finitude. It makes me miss the lake. I miss the cerulean and the turquoise and the seafoam green, miss the idea that the world goes beyond what I can see—that the horizon is a neat, arbitrary, and temporary punctuation mark lent syntax only by the self. I much prefer a hazy day at the beach. The clouds create mosaics on the sand and in the sky, cosmic tessellations that make the sun’s impact so much clearer.
In the city, I don’t see the sun. Too blind from village fever. Obsessed with social dynamics, enclosed in a world with a fuse burning in. People crash in mad rotations. They pull out from their center, attack the hold of the whole. It is a particle collider running at full speed, exploding into all-night raves, sex parties, drag shows, bullet trains. At the beach, the pressure releases itself in subtler patterns, meditative breaths. I breathe, too.
I’m standing now, on top of the bench in the park that overlooks the beach, limbs loose and tongue lolled. The distance has changed the sound of the waves to a long brushstroke, smoother. Spoken from the stomach instead of the throat. The lone gull flaps back out to the water in sinewy silhouette. I start to turn back to the city to grab a coffee, to hold stimulants and conversation with an old friend. I think of Hopper’s boys and hear them whisper through the waves, whim and warning all the same.
Jordan Megna (he/him) has previously been published in Entropy Mag and Seed zine. He recently moved from DC to Chicago, where he spends his days working at a museum. You can find him on Instagram @jmegzz.
What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond. These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors
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