Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The #Midwessay: Grace Roberson on Ohio

On Ohio

Grace Roberson


Ohio is the quintessential setting in any fictional landscape: it establishes enough humility for a protagonist to excuse any forthcoming pretentiousness. It’s where main characters go to die. Think Ruby Sparks (2012), a film about a writer who constructs a girlfriend from his imagination, only to have the relationship turn sour. He chooses Dayton as her hometown. Why? “Because it’s romantic.” 
     A side effect of living in the Midwest is that it makes you a contrarian by default. If you live in a suburb thirty minutes west of the nearest city, you choose the city as the answer to the inevitable where-are-you-from-first-date-question, or the location setting in your Twitter bio. 
     In high school, I scoured my family’s apartment for loose change, checking coat pockets and couch cushions so I could walk into class with gas station iced coffee that always left a sour taste in my mouth: you can never escape where you’re from. 
     During my last semester of college, I took an introductory Linguistics course. The most common of Northern Ohio dialects is inland, in which vowels are shifted. After midterms, I boarded an eight-hour Greyhound bus from Cleveland, did my makeup in the Port Authority bathroom, and bought a MetroCard. I grinned knowing that no one else on the subway knew where I came from. The illusion shattered when I bought an apple at a bodega and said “I don’t need a bee-ag.

Grace Roberson is an emerging nonfiction writer and editor based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her work can be found in Literary Hub, The Rumpus, BARNHOUSE journal, and her blog graceuninterrupted.com

There's one story that I keep returning to, over and over, writing and rewriting, turning it and tilting it this way and that so I can examine it from every possible angle. It's this story of growing up in Vandalia, Ohio, the "Crossroads of America". 
     I’m always at those crossroads, figuratively and literally. I’ve been there all my life. Sometimes it consumes me. Sometimes it plagues me. I’m there physically, psychologically, emotionally. My history is there. It’s where I’m most comfortable. 
     The crossroads are where East meets West and North meets South. It’s where Route 40 crosses Route 25 and where I-70 crosses I-75. If I did dare to leave, which direction should I go? Which path should I choose? Or, is the ideal path to stay put? Should I continue to live at the Crossroads, facing every direction but moving in no direction at all? What good is a crossroad if you don’t choose a path?
     All of the Ohio essayists seem to share this strange sense of wanting to leave or, for those who did leave, wanting to return. What is it about this place that makes people want to escape but then, draws them back? Read this weeks' essays to find out.
     Ohioans: We'd love to have more essays in conversation with the #Midwessay. Email your take on the subject to Beeda.Speis@gmail.com and I'll get your words turned in to the Powers-That-Be. —Beeda Speis, Ohio 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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