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
The #Midwessay: Dev Murphy, There is Something Sinister about the Land I Love, or How to Write About Ohio
Four major crops: corn, soybean, astronaut, president. People who aren’t from Ohio say, “What is it about your state that makes people want to leave the planet?” I think of northeast Ohio as quiet but loud, by which I mean not whispering loudly, but shouting with a pillow over your face. Expect my lower middle-class parents’ rural acre with my father’s MAGA signs out front, by my mother’s lilac bushes. It is the lip of the lip of the Midwest and it is average land: flat but not too; corn and soybean, unextraordinary staples; swing state; occasional tornadoes, not too devastating, but don’t expect safety. Expect waking up to a boom in the middle of the night because the neighbors’ house blew up when a propane pipe leaked. Viral memes suggest Ohio—inconspicuous and vaguely heart-shaped, but seething—will take over the world. One astronaut looks at the Earth and says, “It’s all Ohio?” Another astronaut points a gun at the back of his head and says, “Always has been.” The truth is there’s no fleeing this rural ache. People passing through know Hell Is Real and Grandpa’s Cheesebarn. If you haven’t been to Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, you’re missing out. I could make a joke about Ohio being Hell, but I won’t, because it isn’t. The neighbors’ family rebuilt the house of the dead as a lighthouse in the middle of the field. But what I think of when I think of Ohio is low ceilings and an angry person who wants more attention than they’re getting. I thought I was talking about my father but maybe I mean me. Ohio isn’t hell, but there is something sinister about the land I love. // How to turn all this into an essay? I say How to turn as if I am looking for a way when what I am really looking for is How to describe how I turn, because before now I had written no essays that could be blurbed as being “about Ohio,” and yet they are all about Ohio, this land of swelling sadness passed by and through. When I am writing in another state everything is written through the lens of what it is not, which is Ohio. I write about the church and I am writing about Ohio; I write about Pittsburgh and I am not writing about Pittsburgh, I am writing about not Ohio. “My new apartment has such high ceilings,” I say, and my Pittsburgh-born partner responds: “These ceilings are a standard height.” Everything I pen and everything I feel is through the lens of this perfectly ordinary Midwest pain, perfectly passive and passive-aggressive white women with fathers and husbands and brothers and sons who rage in easy chairs while wind moves lace curtains. It’s the love of cornfields and cloudy skies, the love of porches and family reunions. It’s waking up in the dark from dreams of death and hellfire. It’s be grateful for what you’ve got, it’s family is everything. It’s mourning a society you’ve outgrown but can’t forget, can’t lose hope for—am losing hope for. It’s all love and loss, it’s all low ceilings. It’s all Ohio, always has been.
Dev Murphy’s writing and art have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Guardian, Arcturus Magazine, Passages North, The Rupture, ANMLY, and elsewhere. She is a reader for CRAFT Literary. Originally from Suffield, Ohio, she now lives in Pittsburgh with her cat, Nick.
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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