Thursday, March 19, 2009

So THAT'S why I didn't fit in in school!*

When I was in college I worked on the campus television morning program. We were virtually ignored by most of the University community unless we were asking to interview somebody, in which case that department watched the show that week and then forgot about us again.

The student newspaper was the exact opposite. Even though there was a common derisive nickname for it, everybody read it. A lot of people I knew read it for a column by a guy named Chuck Klosterman. I met Chuck once or twice but I remember little about it and I am certain he has no idea who I am and would have no memory of said meetings. In college I was there to go to class, study, work, and if I could find a little spare change I went to see Rob where he was going to school. (Which reminds me: ask me about the fraternity prank in which my very small car was picked up by several frat boys and deposited somewhere where it could not logically have gotten by itself. Hysterical. Freakin' redneck frat boys. But I digress.)

Anyway, Chuck wrote a column for the paper and though he was pretty much my opposite in terms of interests and philosophy of life, he was an interesting guy with a wry sense of humor, a knack for a clever turn of phrase, and I looked forward to reading his column.

Fast forward a number of years and Chuck is a published author, he writes for national magazines, and he is doing very well. He has even inspired an acquaintance of mine to begin searching for her own personal Chuck.

When I read Maggie's blog I decided I really should read at least one of Chuck's books. So I went to the library and checked out Fargo Rock City. I never expected to find a passage that would resonate so deeply within me in a book about heavy metal music, but I did. I grew up in a slightly larger town in North Dakota, but other than that my story is similar.

Where I grew up, there were not a lot of people. In fact, there are currently more people in my apartment complex than there were in my hometown. There were no black people, no Hispanic people, no Asian people, no openly gay people, and everyone thought the same way about everything (the exception being that "Ford v. Chevy" thing). Now, this does not mean that rural North Dakotans are not smart; in fact, the opposite is true. I generally find that midwesterners have far more practical sensibility than people from metropolitan areas; they seem to have a better sense of themselves, and the general education level is higher(this is mostly due to the fact that virtually no one ever drops out of school in a small town and cutting class is almost impossible, so even the least-educated people have spent twelve years behind a desk). In a lot of ways, I loved growing up in Wyndmere. But what the culture lacked (and still lacks) is an emphasis on ideas-- especially ideas that don't serve a practical or tangible purpose. In North Dakota, life is about work. Everything is based on working hard, regardless of what it earns you. If you're spending a lot of time mulling over the state of the universe (or even the state of your own life), you're obviously not working. You probably need to get back to work. And when that work is over, you will watch network TV, or you will get drunk (or both). Even in moments of freedom, you're never dealing with ideas.

Growing up in this kind of atmosphere is incredibly frustrating for anyone who's interested in anything stretching beyond the conversation at the local Cenex convenience store. If you want to consciously be absurd (which is what I wanted to do all the time) there simply aren't too many like-minded people to talk to. The big-city stereotype surrounding redneck intellectuals is that they eventually go to college and are amazed by all the different people they meet. I actually had the opposite experience; I was shocked to find people who were like me.

I am still a little dazzled by that. I won't expand on it right now but I have to return the book and I wanted to be sure I had those words so that I can go back to them.

*Upon further reflection, clearly this was not the ONLY reason I didn't fit in. But it goes a long way toward explaining a key difference I felt but couldn't put into words.

1 comment:

  1. Having grown up in a small town, I can see why this resonates with you.

    I personally agree very much with his last line, not only that I was surprised to find people who were like me, but also that they liked me for me, not just because I was there.

    I am married to a city boy who graduated with more people than I had in my 9-12 high school altogether. He is learning about how it works with small town we're often more like siblings than friends. In my school most of us had been together almost all the way through our 13 years. We had that same relationship you often have with family...."I love you because you're part of me, but if I had much of a choice, I wouldn't spend a lot of time with you, if any."

    As opposed to his friends from HS who were actually friends to him because they chose to be. I was friends with my classmates because they were there.

    The upside is, most of the people I still talk to from HS, I genuinely want to talk to. I finally got out from under the idea that those I didn't want to talk to even mattered. That was a good feeling.

    I'm going to cross post this comment on my own blog since I've been so remiss! Good thoughts to think on tonight, thanks!