Monday, May 10, 2021

The #Midwessay: Matthew Medendorp, "A Michigan Essay"

We're back for round 2 of #Midwessay coverage starting back up this week, in which we re/visit essays and essayists from Midwestern states and those of us still in Midwestern states even if we live elsewhere. In our first round we published one week in each state, and now we're swinging back through to continue. Up this week is Michigan, coordinated by Ander Monson. Are you a Michigander? A Michiganian? Do you have thoughts or feelings about our fair water-bordered state and its literature? If an essay captures the workings of the mind, what is the mind of Michigan? Be in touch and send us something.


A Michigan Essay

Matthew Medendorp


A Michigan Essay takes water for granted, treats it an inevitability, as regular and dependable as Tim Allen wearing a collegiate Michigan sweatshirt on reruns of Home Improvement. As inevitable as the fact that when you bring up Tim Allen, someone in the room will bring up his mugshot, his cocaine trafficking conviction, and his time in a Kalamazoo penitentiary. Kalamazoo is the town my Dad grew up in and doesn’t like to go back to, even though it’s better than it used to be. A Michigan Essay will tell you where its family is from. A Michigan Essay likes to do this by pointing to the upturned palm of its right hand, or, if its feeling cheeky, the back of its left hand, because a Michigan Essay is shaped like a mitten. Kalamazoo is on the lower left palm line and is where my Dad’s parents still live. Well, that’s not strictly true, they live in Three Rivers, outside of Kalamazoo, in a double wide next to a small lake that gets its tap water from a bigger lake, the big lake, Lake Michigan. A Michigan Essay likes to talk about the fact that it has access to four out of the five Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Superior, and Michigan itself. Sometimes, a Michigan Essay wears a tee-shirt about this. Most of the time when my grandparents aren’t in Michigan, they’re in Florida, at another trailer park that gets its water from a well, or someplace else. I don’t know, I’m guessing, but it doesn’t get its water from a lake, or a marsh, or the ocean, since that would be salty. It does get some sunshine. In the winter a Michigan Essay tries to get out when it can, to a place where there’s a bit of sun to go around. Or a Michigan Essay gets salt stains on its undercarriage. A Michigan Essay decides to be obstinate, proud of cold temperatures and gray skies, drink a lot of stouts and double IPAs, put on fifteen pounds of hibernation weight, and pray that when the spring melts the ice that increasingly doesn’t cover the lake, it also melts away the safety blanket of a beer gut. Usually, it doesn’t. A Michigan Essay is Reformed, believes in original sin as an immutable foundation, believes in it like it knows steelhead will run in the Manistee each spring. A Michigan Essay has a damp crumbling basement and an attic it annexed from Ohio. A Michigan Essay prefers not to talk about Ohio. In the summer, a Michigan essay waterskies on the weekends. Two things I’ve hidden from my Ann Arbor in-laws: I was born in Ohio, and I don’t waterski. They know about the Ohio thing, but I think they’ve forgot. They don’t know about the waterskiing, but I suppose they might know about it now. Also in the summer, a Michigan Essay likes to eat cherries, or likes to pretend to like to eat cherries and pick blueberries in a bluebird sky. When the weather turns, a Michigan Essay takes a color tour in Traverse City and there are two weeks to wear light jackets and pick apples and drive around the wineries of Old Mission. Even though it’s autumn, a Michigan Essay like to dip its toes in the big lake, because a Michigan Essay always ends back in the water, as surely as a Michigan radio will play a Pure Michigan advertisement, with Tim Allen’s clear, dulcet voice reminding you that, “if you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Born in Ohio, raised outside of Chicago, and at home in Michigan, Matthew Medendorp is a poet, essayist, and an MFA candidate at Northern Arizona University. You can read more of his work in HAD, Up North Lit, and at

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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