Letter From thenHeartlandnby Jane GreernYou can tell Midwesterners from othernfolks by the way they poke public funnat the Midwest. Iowa recently held ancontest to find a state license-platenslogan, and the entry generating thenmost attention was “Iowa: Gateway tonNebraska.” North Dakota has erectedna series of billboards along its highways,namong them “Stay in NorthnDakota: Minnesota’s Closed” andn”Stay in North Dakota: Custer WasnHealthy When He Left.” Wall Drugnsigns, advertising the tiny South DakotanBadlands tourist meccas, stretch thenlength of red London double-deckernbuses.nThe national nightly news carriesnno evidence of similar self-effacementnin other parts of the country. Still, thisnis our public amusement (we are easily,ndesperately amused; bear in mindnour endless winters). In private, eachnMidwesterner, if he considers himselfna Midwesterner, is an awkward, taciturnnimmigrant, fresh off the ox-cart,ndetermined to contend successfullynwith landscape and weather. Our pridenhas sweat behind it, although thatnsweat may simply be part of our childhoodnor racial memory (from our parents’nor grandparents’ stories) or of thencollective unconscious (if we camenhere from Tijuana or the Bronx). Thensweat of those who came before, andnthose who labor still, is passed on withnthe land. (Now that’s a conservativenthought.)nOn the other hand, while outsidersnmay snicker at us, Boston matronsnlooking for reliable live-in nannies advertisenin the Rockford Register-Starnand the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.nPollsters turn to Omaha and DesnMoines to learn who the next Presidentnwill probably be. Radio announcersnacross the country try to “imitate”nspeech sound-patterns that don’t existnbut are called “Midwestern.” Why?nI have no proof, but I think it mightnbe the wind. It grazes over the Rockiesnbefore rampaging like a great ghostherdnof buflFalo across the plains, slowingnover Iowa, nearly docile a state orntwo farther on. In between, there isnliterally nothing to stop it, and the daysn461 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnit lets up during a year, especially innthe northernmost states, can be countednon the fingers of two hands.nThrough bone-shattering cold, blindingnheat, and those subtle, brief, glorious,nintermediate moments jokinglyncalled “spring” and “fall” by the peoplenwho live here, the merciless windnscours from us most of what is unnecessary.n(Another sure sign that someonenis a Midwesterner is that he’llnbring up the weather when you’re notnexpecting it. He may gripe or affectnresignahon, but by God you can tellnhe enjoys matching wits with droughtnand blizzard!)nMostly, though, Midwesterners arennot pushy about the things they’d likento say. Oh, occasionally some Midwesternnpolitician will rise to fame innthe U.S. House or Senate, but bynthen, of course, he’s so far gone thatnhe’s useless to us. And it’s not thatnwe’d all like to say the same things;nthere is possibly more diversity in thenMidwest than on either coast, wherenfashion carries a bigger stick than thenaverage person’s independence ofnthought can easily withstand. It’s justnthat it’s very hard to claim fame ornmake your mark on the world in thenMidwest, even—hold your hate mailn— in Chicago or Kansas City ornMinneapolis/St. Paul. Tom Brokawncan’t even spell them. Johnny Carson,nHerbert Hoover, Jessica Lange, WalternMondale, Peggy Lee—they all had tongo somewhere else from here to makengood. Midwesterners understand thisnfact of life and have learned not tonmake scenes: no one will be watching.nBut some scenes are worth making,nand when a national magazine likenChronicles of Culture, proudly situatednin the Midwest, offers space so thatnthese very nice folks settin’ out here onnthe steppe can have their day, thatnmagazine’s pioneering spirit shouldnnnnot go unrewarded. A lifelong Midwesterner,nI want those unfortunatenenough to live elsewhere to understand,nfinally, what beats here in thenheartland. We have our share of craziesn(just fewer per square mile), butnwe are also a rich repository of whatnhas always been best about this country:nlove of hard work; respect fornhuman institutions; liberal acceptancenof human foolishness and frailty, temperednwith a stubborn Old World viewnof God, responsibility, and sin; andnappreciation of the smallest goodnthings in life. Fads take about two yearsnto get here from their coastal hatcheries,nand by then they’re nearly harmless.nWe like what we are and aim tonstay that way—there is no regionalnangst to speak of—and that seemsnworth trying to illustrate.nMy impudence in taking this tasknupon myself embarrasses me, until Inremember that in my impudence I’mnin pretty classy company with othernwriters from other regions over thencenturies. I intend to examine manynplaces and phenomena, and one ofnthose places will be Plainfield (innPlainfield County), population, oh,nlet’s say 60,000, state capital, collegentown, where common sense is at leastntrying to prevail.nIn case you’re not convinced yet:nZero Population Growth recently did anstudy of the most- and least-stressfulnU.S. cities, taking into account 11ncriteria, including violent crime, individualnand community economics, education,nand pollution. Fargo, NorthnDakota, was found to be the leastnstressful city in the nation. (The groupngave high points for a low birthrate,nnaturally, but the AP out of Washingtonnsaid the Fargo climate, “marked bynlong and bitterly cold winters, was notntaken into account.” When is someonengoing to investigate the disproportionatennumber of October births innFargo?) Nine of the 13 cihes ranked asnworst were in California, Florida, andnNew Jersey, and ZPG found that thenmost stressful city in the country isnMiami. What did I tell you? Thosenpeople could use some of what we innthe Midwest call “weather.” ccnJane Greer edits and publishes PlainsnPoetry Journal.n