I'm proud of where I'm from. Northwest Arkansas is beautiful. My university town is progressive, friendly, makes the "best place to live" lists every year, and offers culture on par with many big cities. In just the next few months, we'll have visits from Pulitzer prize winners, Broadway shows and spiritual leaders.
But. It's Arkansas. So you know what that means.
- "Y'all wear shoes down there?"
- "You have all your teeth? Really?"
- "How many pairs of overalls do you have?"
- "Have you slept with Bill Clinton?"
- "Walmart is evil."
- "Thank god for Walmart."
- insert some slam on Hillary Clinton and/or Mike Huckabee
- "Oh! 19 Kids and Counting! I love that show!"
- "Oh! 19 Kids and Counting! I hate those people!"*
But a little voice in my brain, based in part on experience, worries that my degree means less in the eyes of others because I got it here. That agents will see my address and immediately tally points against me. That future editors will roll their eyes and insist I use "proper" diction in my dialogue. That future readers will criticize my book not based on its merits and faults, but on the fact that I unapologetically say "y'all" and "fixin' to."
I know. If I'm looking for it, I'll find it. I try not to, honestly, and no, I'm not using my residence as an excuse for query rejections. Furthermore, I know no matter where you're from, you have these issues to an extent. Every state has its stereotypes... and you might know the Arkansas state motto: "At least we're not Mississippi!"**
|Yes, this is real. |
I so wish I were kidding.
So I found editor Molly O'Neill's recent post "On Belonging" very interesting. At the end, she asks, "Who or what or where do you belong to, in a way that transforms you, that makes you your best self, that makes you more whole?"
It brought to mind a recent car trip. The road climbed up through the hills around the Verdigris River in Oklahoma, and I told my mom, "I don't know why, but I'm a hill person." I was born in Tulsa and went to elementary school in St. Louis. I love all kinds of landscapes: New Mexico deserts, Wyoming mountains, Oklahoma plains, Central American cloud forests, beaches anywhere.
But at heart, I'm a hill person. Something in my soul settles down in the valleys. The Ozarks, the Ouachitas, the Kiamichis-- those are that place that make me whole. As Molly put it, "Ownership. Belonging. You could call it connectedness, too."
And that's why I donated to support flood relief in Tennessee. We lived in Nashville for just a year, and moved there in part because of the hills. It's been five or six years since we lived there, but I still felt connected-- and furious at the lack of media coverage.
It made me realize that chip on my shoulder has a different shape than I thought. It's not defined by borders, or topography, or region. It's defined by the feeling that your home is less important. That according to the national media, severe weather goes from Texas to Illinois, mysteriously missing five states in between. That you live in a "flyover state."
And it's not just a southern thing. At risk of playing the Katrina card, it's the feeling that because you are "wrong" in some way-- education, economic level, accent, race, whatever-- you're less worthy of news coverage.*** That feeling affects everyone, everywhere, at some point, and sometimes, it brings you together. Case in point?
The writing community's amazing reaction.
Almost $60,000 in flood relief funds have been raised by the generosity of writers, agents, editors, and fans.
Where the media failed to move the chip on my shoulder, the writing community has succeeded.
Regardless of physical location, regardless of "standing" in the publishing business, regardless of race, color or creed, the writing community is just that: a community. It's an important place that transforms us, that makes us our best selves, that makes us "more whole."
Even as a tiny unpublished piece of it, I'm happy to belong.
Do The Write Thing For Nashville is still going strong. Head on over, bid high and bid often-- and tell Myra, Amanda and Victoria what amazing people they are for organizing it.
*Yep. I live a mile from the Duggars. I couldn't care less about their procreation-- but really, does having a public spokesman named Jim Bob really help our rep? Not so much. (I won't get started on his politics, but suffice to say, I don't like them.) I hear, however, that Michelle is a genuinely nice person.
**With requisite apology to my family in Mississippi.
***I don't have room to address the neglect of people in other countries, but yes, I'm cognizant of the fact that the problem is even bigger than I frame here.