The Plight of Midwestern Exceptionalism

When I moved out to New York I thought I was hot shit. I came from a high school that told me I was the greatest, and college that told me that I was even better than that. Then I did the scary thing. The road less travelled by became the chip on my shoulder, as I flippantly dismissed my friends moving in together after college. “OH ME??” I would exclaim with the false modesty of Mrs. Bennet, “Well, as for me, I’m moving to New York”. I’m different, I’m brave, I’m an asshole. Why did no one slap me across the face? After the mediocrity of moving across the country with no connections, absolutely no money, and barely a semblence of passion in my improv classes, I chose to do the next hardest thing in my mind. I applied to all the best grad schools, and patted myself on the back continuing with my montra of, why go if you’re not going to the best schools.

My lifetime of private education afforded me the luxury of being around high achieving people. The weird cyclical (mostly fucked up) universe that our parents were exceptional in some way, so we play together at private school and tennis lessons and country clubs, then we too must create a path to our own exceptionality. We formed these small circles of the best of the best and we stayed within them. At Gustavus the same circle of people got everything. Maybe that’s because only those people wanted those things, and we did, but maybe it’s because the people who weren’t there, who didn’t get there, simply gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I have worked hard for every accolade on my resume (except for the privilege being a white, hetero, affluent female), but I’m not sure how deserved everything was.

What I have appreciated most about my move to New York is the earnestness. Being a Midwesterner has become one of my own punchlines, rather than a sense of wholeness, of retreat, to what is familiar. Maybe this is what happens when you grow up, but I am finding that I define myself less and less from the accolades that I gleaned over the past twenty-two years, and more from the hardships that I have earned over the past seven months. What my Midwestern Exceptionalism has given me is a false sense of confidence. What it has failed it give me is resiliency. I am immediately defeated by tasks that others acknowledge and then move on with their days. The idea that I could do everything, and be everything, that feeding my parent’s ego was the post important task, must be surrendered, otherwise life is going to be so hard.

When I got rejected from the top writer’s program in the country last week (THANKS IOWA), I wasn’t surprised, but I was defeated. I Regina George’d the letter and wrote “MAKE THEM REGRET THIS”, in a non-murdery way, and taped it too my door so I see it every damn day. My resilience has become the antithesis to my exceptionalism. I am not good enough for the best program in the country, and yes there are a million other arguments as to why I am not going there in the fall, but this is the cold hard truth . The idyllic nature of my Midwestern upbringing is what is keeping me from setting that letter on fire and moving back home with my parents. I was told that I would do something great, we all were, and I still believe that. I also believe that when my book gets published and it says some other school under my bio, or no school at all, Iowa is going to know that they missed out. Young people of the Midwest heed my warning, a lot more people are going to say no to you when you get out of there, than say yes, and that is something that you’re going to have to get used to. You’re going to cry yourself to sleep everyday for a month, and you’ll be tired as hell, but you’ll get through it. And at the end of the day you can remember that we let Donald Trump be our President, and there is no shittier feeling than that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s