Friday, July 16, 2021

The #Midwessay: Jennifer Furner, Midwestern Work Ethic

We're back for round 3 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.


Midwestern Work Ethic

Jennifer Furner


My father worked 12-hour days at the transmission plant, slipping on the oily floors, damaging his hearing with the deafening humming of machines, inhaling machine dust for 37 years. The summer after high school graduation, I got an internship at his plant, just like my brother had, to help pay for college. While I waited for my mandatory hearing test, a 50-year-old man, who looked 70, elbowed me, leaned over and said, “You’re supposed to raise your hand when you hear the beep, but I can’t hear a damn thing anymore. I just raise my hand whenever I want to. I bet that confuses the hell outta ‘em.” And he chuckled, deep in his chest, and I heard a rattle in his lungs.
     I hadn’t wanted that internship in the first place. But my mother said, “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.” A credo of Midwestern Work Ethic, the one she lived by, working full-time at a travel agency and still handling all the domestic work, the budget balancing, the child rearing. And then, after her divorce, adding a part-time job on top of her full-time job to make ends meet.
     When I started college, I was an education major. A teacher was a good job for hard workers, and unionized to boot. But in my final year, I dropped education and got my degree solely in English. Then I was constantly asked my Midwestern Work Ethic family and friends, “What are you going to do with that?” Because of course I had to do something. Apparently writing wasn’t an acceptable option.
     But it’s that same Midwestern Work Ethic that has me getting up before everyone else in the house to make something with my own two hands, to put words on the page. I’m just as dedicated to this trade as my father was dedicated to his plant, only I want to be here, hoping I get 37 years or more of creating, of narrating, of sharing my experiences with the world.

Jennifer Furner has essays in the anthologies Art in the Time of Covid-19 and A Teenager's Guide to Feminism. I've been published in Motherwell, Folks, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Sammiches and Psych Meds, among others. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and daughter.

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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