Monday, November 5, 2012

Swing State Syndrome and Why This Writer Guy can Piss Off

For those of you just catching up, I recently moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Wilmington, North Carolina to go back to school for creative writing. This has, therefore, been an extremely painful yet cynically entertaining  election cycle for me. One swing state to another, not much changes. I registered to vote here in NC as soon as the campus drives started, and since then I've been bombarded with fliers, phone calls, Hulu ads. I've had an Obama volunteer knocking on my door looking for me every day for the past two weeks. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood, so the Romney volunteers have been noticeably absent.

The only people who cared more about early voting than Ohio were North Carolinians. I'm one of those perverts who enjoys going to the community center on Election Day and making a whole ritual of it, and it got to the point where I was lying to the volunteers and telling them I had already voted, just so they would stop trying to give me directions to the library.

This morning I was laying in bed, contemplating my very non-political thoughts, and as I hopped on Twitter to post my deep musings about the correlation between my vibrator and my teddy bear, I saw THIS ESSAY linked to by my friend Angie. I have a lot to say about this, so you'd better go read it first, even though I absolutely hate to give this guy the page views.

First of all, fuck you. Just had to get that out there.
Alright. Let's try this again.

First of all, Ohio didn't choose to be the lynch pin of the electoral process. It's not like years ago, we somehow bid on it, somehow lobbied to be the place where every four years campaign strategists cum on our faces with 300 political ads a day and tie up our cellphones with blocked numbers just because one time we decided to sign that Move On petition. Oh yes, Ohio has email, can you believe it? No wait, actually some parts of Ohio DON'T have DSL, because not a single one of these candidates blowing their coffer loads here comes back in between elections to help us out with real issues - like accessibility of internet services, alternative energy sources, or a governor that's trying to frack us all into a giant hell pit. We are not rubes, we are very well aware of the disparity and the abuse we suffer at the hands of these invaders. There are not a bunch of Ohioans walking around going "Oh man, I'm so special and important, I'm the future of America." No, instead we're sitting in our finished basements, being pissed off that we can't watch our Black Key's youtube video without first having to sit through our 17th Romney ad of the hour.

Second, let's address this idea you posit that all human beings of vitality and vision leave Ohio as soon as they are able to crawl. It's painfully obvious that you consider yourself one of these visionaries. Let me assure you, your style is mediocre David Foster Wallace rip off at best, so tone it down a bit Chump. I mean, I sympathize, because I am obviously one of these glowing talents as well, and yes, I too ran far away from Ohio. To an even smaller town, in the Bible Belt, where grown men regularly call me honey and the job market is so slow I've been considering selling "used" underwear on Craiglist just to make rent. Look, I grew up in Revitalized Cleveland, so I'm well aware of the concept of "Ohio good", and I am not a fan of the legions of cheerleaders whose sole mission in life seems to be to convince me that Ohio is the very best place to live in the entire world because we have a restaurant with weird grilled cheese sandwiches.

But, and I'm going to go ahead and siphon off some of your ego here, I'm a good writer. The reason I am a good writer is not because I somehow had the far reaching vision to escape Ohio, but because I stayed there. I lived there for my entire formative twenties. That means I had to find jobs in Ohio, entertainment in Ohio, love in Ohio, and confidence in Ohio. In order to accomplish any of that, I was required to learn perspective.  You dismissively call Ohio "our republic in a can", and that's right. A lot of rednecks, some lone outposts of urban minorities, a thin icing of college educated professionals. That's absolutely correct, that's our country. Growing up in that microcosm, I am now able to live wherever I want in the country, even this weird little coastal town full of Republicans, and get along with people. I can even genuinely like them. I am capable of having an opinion about people with opposing viewpoints that doesn't involve degrading or vilifying  them. Those famous writers you cite, Anderson and Thurber and Crane, you know what they had that you don't have? They LIKED people. They were INTERESTED in people. They didn't just immediately dismiss anyone who didn't go to Princeton as intellectually inferior to them, or maybe if they did, they understood that intellect isn't necessarily the mark of a good man.

I was going to write a snarky little paragraph here about how you must have come from some beige little suburb town, and how the deeper subject of your essay is obviously your own unresolved bitterness towards your hometown. But then I tried googling your biography, and there wasn't much to find, except maybe you converted to Mormonism as a teenager once? Here's what being an Ohioan has done for me - I read that and immediately felt this pang of sympathy for your childhood. In my head those sugars converted to "oh, he probably just doesn't know any better" and now I've completely lost steam to make fun of you because I just feel bad that you think of your country as someplace to escape from, instead of the unending weird and interesting place it actually is. I mean, if you've made a career out of non-fiction writing, you must know this too, at least intellectually if not viscerally.

Here's what you did in this essay. You saw a week of the country crowing about the Impressive Mediocrity of Ohio, the Breadbasket of the Boring Modern Man, and you somehow felt compelled to scream against it. Nevermind that it only happens once every four years, and it isn't fooling anyone. You said to yourself "Stupid Ohio thinks it's so fucking special, it's time I remind the rest of this high school who the real cool kids are" and then you tried to pants us. So good for you, you reminded your peers that Ohio is fat and unemployed and stupid, that's awesome. We totally deserved that right? Cause god forbid, anyone pay attention to an entire section of the country that needs jobs and education and love. That isn't what politics is about at all, right? No, politics is about proving you're smarter than everyone else. Way to be a visionary there. And I hope, when Ohio goes blue tomorrow, you have a follow up essay prepared about how that doesn't really matter, because being a normal mediocre person still sucks. That will for sure help the effort to convince the "rednecks" here that they should vote with compassion towards their fellow man.


  1. Ohio. The thing about how this fellow is right is what interests me and what I'm always interested in noticing, documenting - and that's just how representative Ohio is of the country. You've got Rust-Belt Vs. Sun-Belt Vs. River-Town all here, the old remain in Cleveland the young congregate in Columbus, just Detroit and Charlotte and New Orleans in microcosm with just the one highway to connect them. Now we've got our energy boom - so we're like Texas or Oklahoma - extractive industries oh-my. Financial and Healthcare - the Cadillacs of the service economy both prosper in the suburbs, of which we've an abundance while extractive copper mining flourishes in the cities. And demographically we're right in the middle of it.

    The thing I like though is how this was once a dreamworld - the Township system and the first inkling of manifest destiny - all the great ambitions of the revolutionary war - all brought to life.

    Which is to say - it's not as if, in the effulgence of our rising star of perfect, miniature representation - that we don't have a proportional share of geniuses, wizards, mormons, assholes, saints and fuckups - heck we've got them in the exactly the proportions you'd expect us to have, as the perfectly realized miniature America.

    Except, as you know, ours are better.

  2. This is a comment my friend Christine left on the FB link, that I think is a very good point and should be here...

    "since the author (whose overall argument is pretty tired) brought it up, it's good to remember that the response creative people have to the Midwest (all right, he says Ohio, but we all know he just means flyover country) is not always "OMG get me out of here - I can't wait to make fun of this place from the coast, mwahaha!" They may leave physically, but the Midwest is always their creative landscape and the decision to leave is (as you know) fraught with mixed emotion. The vast majority of American Nobel prize winners in Literature were from (and wrote about) the Midwest, and there's no doubting the deep connection Bradbury, Vonnegut, and even Sinclair Lewis (who was virtually run out of town on a rail after Main Street) felt toward the Midwest. David Foster Wallace lived in the Midwest, he liked the Midwest and he liked Midwestern people, so full of himself or not, love him or hate him, he's proof that Kirn's argument is overly simplistic. Also: Sherwood Anderson based the characters in Winesburg, Ohio, on people he met in the boarding house where he lived in Chicago. So there's also that."

  3. It is tired isn't it, ripping on the midwest? I was surprised by how many comments in the original article were praising how "clever" the writer was, as if it takes a genius to take pot shots.
    The author could have better spent his time talking about how ridiculous the electoral college is.

    1. My favorite comment though was the one where someone was like "Ohio, is totally like this, except Columbus which is amazing" and all I could think was "Man, that is not what the rest of Ohio thinks about Columbus."

  4. I really wish Walter Kirn wouldn't keep saying he's from here. He is like a brown streak on white underwear - it is not our greatest shame, but it is also not something we want to be reminded of.

  5. Well if he stopped reminding people where he was from, he wouldn't be able to capitalize on his "midwest insight".

  6. Mr. Kirn is angry at what he perceives to be an unfair process and he's having his little tantrum with plenty of stereotypes and name calling. Fine. I'm above it.

    I inhale. I exhale. I eat and sleep and defecate. Mr. Kirn and I have these things in common. I understand the soul of a Hulett ore unloader. Mr. Kirn understands name calling.

    I win. He loses. Simple math.

    Funny thing is that I read Kirn's essay via another friend before dropping in over here. It infuriated me at first. Then I came to this, "But then I tried googling your biography, and there wasn't much to find, except maybe you converted to Mormonism as a teenager once?" My lips split into a toothy grin. That was my reaction as well--to google him and try to find out who the hell Kirn is. Just like you, I came up with nuttin' other than that LDS essay. This silly jamoke sure has a lot of opinions about us, but how much experience does he have?

    We think alike, Callahan, so keep on keepin' on.

    Yeah, yeah.


Who wants to fuck the Editors?