This is Part 3 of my exploration of what is "quintessentially Midwestern" and a theme of flatness and lakes seems to be emerging. It's interesting to follow. I don't know that I'm any closer to an answer to this question, but perhaps by way of elimination some clarity will emerge. So far, what seems most true to me (in my limited knowledge) is that the defining characteristic of the Midwest is in fact a lack of defining characteristics. Is that unfair? Or is the label "Midwest" simply too limiting?
If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here. For Part 2, click here. Additional comments are welcome on this blog or via Facebook, and thanks to all who have contributed! If you recently sent a quote in, stay tuned for Part 4...
What is quintessentially Midwestern?
Professor and poet Darla Biel shared a quote from Michael Martone: "The flatness informs the writing of the Midwest. The flatness of the landscape can serve as a foil, the writing standing out, a kind of Blue Hotel, in opposition to the background. There is enough magical realism to go around here. A friend, Michael Wilkerson, goes so far as to call the Indiana Toll Road the Bermuda Triangle of Highway Travel. It's true. People who drive through the state have stories. They report mysterious breakdowns, extra-dimensional rest stops, the miraculous appearances of state troopers. In the white-out of the passage through the flatness, dreaming can take over. The dull colors richen. The corn in the field begins to sparkle like the cellophane corn on the set of the Wizard of Oz. And that movie with its film noir depiction of the Midwest suggests another way of capturing this place."
Writer and editor Lesley Weiss wrote: "There's a lack of pretension that sets the Midwest apart from other regions. But I don't think the ideas surrounding flatness or sameness can be said to apply here in Wisconsin--we have flat stretches, but we're pretty hilly and varied throughout."
Leann writes: "I grew up in a small paper mill town of about 20,000 in central Wisconsin and ended up in Minneapolis/St. Paul for college, until I moved to Asheville, NC in 2005...I tell people the town I grew up in was a cultural wasteland which is why I left and never went back--there is not much of a sense of history. Minneapolis/St. Paul is different, of course. I miss the landscape sometimes and I miss lakes, which don't really exist much in the Appalachian mountains."
Author Anne-Marie Oomen wrote: "Though Michigan gets lumped in the upper Midwest category, I think we are really part of the Great Lakes region/culture and I see us as different from other Midwestern states to the degree that we relate to water--I mean Big Water."
Teacher Katie W. wrote: "I do view Michigan as part of the Midwest, but a bit different. Same slower lifestyle, where we are not as hip as either coast. But maybe the lake boundary sets us apart?...I grew up in Northern Michigan...While living in Petoskey, Traverse City, and Interlochen, my home has always been less than two miles from a lake. When I fly home and catch a view of the bay, I can't imagine not living near water. Going to college in mid-Michigan was a very different experience because it was so flat and land-locked. I do feel like the lakes and rivers are in my blood."