Midwest Remembering and Knowing and Lee Iacocca
Meghan O'Gieblyn’s 2018 book Interior States changed how I see the Midwest and midwessays, especially “Midwesternworld.” While she takes in the living history museum Greenfield Village in Dearborn with her sisters and their children, “Victorian cheeriness” begins to “seem sinister” in oppressive heat. The whip-smart friend I’d love to visit a museum with, O'Gieblyn turns this quintessential Midwest experience in her hands, asking what it is for: “If the park still persisted as a site of nostalgia, it was because it satisfied a more contemporary desire: to see...a world in which one’s labor resulted in predictable outcomes…” But by the end of the essay, O'Gieblyn concludes that that desire was crushed in 2013, when Detroit declared bankruptcy, and the Village's enshrinement of candlemaking and other simple labor became problematic: “There was an uneasiness here, a needling suspicion that...prosperity, envisioned by Diego Rivera as an endless collaborative assembly line stretching into the future, is now a closed loop that ordinary people are locked out of.”
I will never be able to deftly pivot between a philosophical discussion of types of nostalgia and how restorative nostalgia can have totalitarian impulse when practiced in times of economic turbulence the way O'Gieblyn does. But she lifted the stakes of my Midwest knowing and remembering, especially when she mused about what exactly the Greenfield Village experience might pass on to the children around her. In fact, O'Gieblyn probably helped me to become a little obsessed with Lee Iacocca the night I had insomnia and found out he recently died. I couldn’t sleep because it was the Fourth of July and glitter bombs had just dropped beyond my middle-class trees in Grand Rapids. Why wasn't I happy? The noise had not woken my three-year-old up, so I Wikipediaed Iacocca, who I knew very little about, found out he endorsed George W., then Kerry, then in ‘07 called out the “bozos” who couldn’t build a hybrid. Romantic but not true, he said, of the rumor that he had been christened Lido after his parent’s honeymoon in the Lido region of Italy. That night, I wanted to tell Iacocca about how I totaled my K Car at age sixteen, ask him about the golden ratio, bankruptcy, how he knew Chrysler would eventually come back. Or have him take me back to ‘93, to that olive oil-based margarine product he founded: in the boardroom, taking Olivo on a spoon, prepping to appear on TV, the faint aftertaste on the roof of his mouth.
Natalie Tomlin’s writing appears in Belt Magazine, Dunes Review, The Hopper, Midwestern Gothic, Split Rock Review, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction was selected as notable in The Best American Essays 2018. She was born in Port Huron, Michigan.
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.
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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