Thursday, July 1, 2021

The #Midwessay: Aislin Neufeldt, A Place That Is Another Place


A Place That Is Another Place

Aislin Neufeldt


Oz park is about two miles south of me. I know this because when I run there and back it’s four miles. There and back is a tracing, an act of going and returning, where going there is predicated on returning back
     Oz is a place that is another place. When Dorothy and Toto are swept up in a Kansas twister and placed there in Oz, Oz might not be separate from Kansas, but maybe a reimagining of the state; Kansas farm hands are recast as fantastical characters, and Dorothy carries back the remembrance of Oz.
     Before I knew Oz Park had a name, I knew it had a hill. I’m from the Flint Hills region of Kansas, now in Chicago. I don’t find hills here often, and the one in that park was the first I saw: one small lump, catching my peripheral eye as my bus passes going down Halsted.
     There matters. Sara Ahmed says in Queer Phenomenology, “[i]t matters how we arrive at the places we do.” I consider there because of this quote, but seldom view returning back as being part of arrival.
I love The Wizard of Oz: it was a favorite tale of mine growing up. It’s infamously rendered Kansas visible, and because I’m some iteration of a “friend of Dorothy.” Being from Kansas and being queer makes being a “friend” deliciously poetic for me, especially as running there and back on Flint Hills somehow allowed my queerness to distill, burgeon: to come forth.
     Oz is about a place that is another place, and so is Oz Park. Whether Oz or the park, I still think they are about Kansas. Neither nearly resemble that almost-rectangle in the heartland, but Oz Park is that of Kansas for me: it doesn’t have multiple hills, its hill isn’t even close to being as tall, but it’s my appropriative memorial, a site where a ‘friend of Dorothy’ can be in a place that is another place. 
     I seldom view returning back as part of arrival. I think this is because such a return doesn’t always feel possible. The there and back of running Flint Hills stopped as I went there: Chicago. I wonder about the ways I can go back.
     Oz is about who can run there and back, who can remember Oz and Kansas, who is reimagined in a world of yellow pavers and emerald infrastructure, and who simply remains in one place; I don’t know if I’m Dorothy, the Scarecrow, or Auntie Em. Maybe I’m just a “friend.”
     From my studio to Oz Park to my studio is my literal there and back, but I still go to Kansas in this way, climbing that one small hill in the park, expecting to see valleys creased by the other Flint Hills but instead, not being able to gaze over the brownstone buildings of northern Chicago. It’s still my Kansas memorial though: my place that is another place. Kansas, my Oz: to which I go there and back.


Originally from Kansas, Ash lives, works, and writes in Chicago. As a queer and trans person, they explore ideas of embodiment, relationship to space, and identity through writing—wondering about the ways these ideas interact, what happens when they are pushed together, and what happens when they are pulled apart. They have forthcoming work that will appear in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and a zine-style anthology, A Day is a Struggle.

Fire season in Kansas begins in late winter, when frozen ground thaws and its dampness retards the pace of a creeping fire line. Ranchers set fire to pasture’s dry grasses and seedlings on the most calm day possible. Winds are a threat, sweeping from the Colorado Rockies across foothills, through the high plains, and across—and downward from—the high country. The scent of fired grasses blows east to the more populated towns, the sweet smell of grasses burning, an incense. This process, learned from Indigenous friends and relatives (before they were sold out to railroad companies and real estate brokers), sustains the pastureland for bison, cattle, horses, and deer who sometimes graze with cattle herds.
     In this season no person, writer or not, cannot help but be moved by the epic scale of the landscape. I am reminded of this as the season turns to this mode, particular to the grasslands. Once I drove through the Flint Hills after dark when fires still burned, snaking under a full moon, and then a spring snowstorm began. The gleam of blue moonlight on snow streaked with dendritic fire rivulets stunned me. How could I ever imagine my small life as central to the cosmos?
     All the writers’ works that represent Kansas essays in this collection live with this simple fact—the seasons and its weather will overwhelm any human enterprise, and even egos. Many of these writers’ work is new to me, and without question, I know there will be an underlying humility, even from those not born and raised in the Sunflower State. Survive a few ice storms, snow, high winds, and burning heat—and you are a member of the Kansas club. August and September are the months when fields of “weeds” are yellow with wild and a few cultivated sunflower crops. That is another marker of seasons that proceeds outside of people’s management.
     Other factors encourage the Kansas writers. A slower pace leaves time for reflection, reading, book clubs (High Plains Radio’s ambitious series, for example) and literary communities. I would guess there are more writers per capita than most places. Isolation leaves time for individuals to write, without distractions or traffic-filled commutes.
     No, the state is not all flat, nor all black-and-white as in The Wizard of Oz. But what if it were? Even more occasion for a good story. Denise LowKansas Coordinator.

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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