I was reading the latest issue of the North Dakota Humanities Council Magazine, On Second Thought.
I felt a bit down.
This is what a magazine ought to be, I thought, a magazine for intelligent people, anyway.
It was filled with long, scholarly, erudite articles and fine art, referencing history and literature and Native Americans, with authors whose italicized bios at the end of the article were filled with experiences of working for Big Name publications and NPR and academia and grants. My own attempts at a magazine have few similarities.
I continued to read the magazine aloud to my friend as we were driving west in I94, back to Bismarck. I paused, and put the magazine down in my lap after reading Taylor Brorby’s article “Writing The Prairie: Can You Really Do That Here?”.
“It’s possible I’m a colossal failure,” I said to my friend.
Brorby’s article suggested that many North Dakota writers were successful because they left to exotic places like L.A. and N.Y.C. and New Jersey. After college in the exotic land of Moorhead, Minnesota, I came back and lived at home on the farm for ten years.
“Maybe I’m ten years behind everyone. It’s like I lost ten years while everyone did impressive things.” As proof, I read aloud Brorby’s bio in the magazine:
A native of Center, North Dakota, Taylor Brorby is a writer and environmentalist based in Minneapolis, MN. He has received grants and fellowships from Hamline University and St. Olaf College. His work has appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, in the journal Rock, Paper, Scissors, Augsburg Fortress Press, in newspapers, and The Huffington Post, where he writes on education.
I guess I’ve appeared in newspapers, too. I was a reporter for the Cavalier County Republican. And I’m a serious environmentalist, as I’ve proven before, even bringing dead animals back to life. But I’ve never received grants, fellowships, and prestigious recognition from private colleges.
My friend tried to rally me. “Those ten years were not wasted! You did important things that really matter, such as build a very good relationship with your parents and learning to work hard and being there for your family.”
“Those don’t translate into bios very well,” I said. “And when I write, I don’t reference Bill Roorbach, like Brorby, but I reference The Hardy Boys.” I thought about the humanities magazine, and another new magazine featuring arts and ideas of the plains, both of which seemed very highbrow and lovely. “The stuff I make is just weird. Not cool. But weird.”
This writer fellow Brorby writes beautifully and ironically about the Enchanted Highway and our lack or writing programs in the state and somehow wraps it all up into a brainy bow. What would I say about the Enchanted Highway?
I would say that I tried for a Bush Artist Fellowship the same year Gary Greff did (the artist who made the metal sculptures on the highway), and he got it and I didn’t, and that when I finally did traverse down the highway, I had my sister take a photo of me looking up the metal skirt of a female figure because that seemed funny.
That kind of thing doesn’t make it into humanities magazines.
“Your stuff isn’t weird,” my friend said. “It’s you. It’s the way you think. It’s not weird. People get tired of the kind of stuff in that magazine after a while, anyway.”
But. I felt like ought to think and write more eloquently about the abandoned prairies and use perceptive adjectives that could correctly comprehend a North Dakota sunset and contemplate the impact Lewis and Clark had on my existence and think repeatedly about how I could shoot a better photo of a prairie church.
But. I like a good laugh. And a good cry. They work the abs about the same. And not everything has to have such a deep and greater meaning because some days, that’s just too heavy to lift. And I think of Bill Watterson and his idea that when you take a job (or path in life) that isn’t too demanding because it lets you pursue the things you really love, you’re not kindly looked at.
And that ten years, where I lived at home on the farm and went for walks around the farm landscape and blogged and worked and re-acquainted myself with my parents?
It’s not sexy. But my friend is right: it’s more valuable in the scheme of things that actually matter.
“I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing,” I said, and put the humanities magazine back in my bag.