I have to say that I am so very, very, very sick of blogging about dead children. This world.
This time last year, I did a series of memoir posts about my home state, Oklahoma, a land of contradictions so huge they make your heart burst. It started with a post about living in tornado alley, “Stormchaser:”
In Oklahoma, you lose those touchstones. Everything sort of runs together in “coldish and brown” or “greenish and fucking hot” with no transition. Leaves go from green straight to dead: sometime in late October a switch flips. Similarly, it feels springish about half the time in February (the other half it’s just nasty) and by April the sirens are being tested and you’re making sure the batteries in your weather radio are still working.
Severe weather terrified me: things could turn on a dime and a day could go from bright and pleasant to a boiling green sky and fearing for your life. Live in Oklahoma long enough and you become resistant to weather scares, even though every other night from mid-April to late September, So You Think You Can Dance is pre-empted so Gary England can make sure you don’t die. My husband’s first instinct is still to walk outside and take a look when a siren goes off: he’s a millionth generation Oklahoman. My instinct is to carry everyone and everything we love into the basement and hide under a mattress for four hours. (OK: experience has mitigated that somewhat, but I’m still edgy until things clear up.)
I fell in love with Oklahoma while attending college in Norman, OK, which is about 10 miles south of Moore. (Our relatives live in northeast Oklahoma, which dodged the bullet, at least for now.) An infamously bad tornado struck Moore just the year before I started college, and you could still see the path of destruction crossing the highway for the next several years as I took I-35 north and south and north again to go home for weekends.
I can smell the heat, the humidity.
Yesterday’s storm was far worse. Far far worse. The funnel was so broad that chasers couldn’t fit it in their viewfinders. It decimated two elementary schools, killing many many babies. It sucked up a town and spit it out. These good people need our help. Throw some money and help down south and help this town rise like a phoenix again, and not for the last time. My friends, my former rugby teammates, my teachers and neighbors — they’re already there passing out blankets and water. Pitch in.
I’m scheduling some posts in advance while we travel to Oklahoma for a much-needed break.
For anyone new to our blog (thanks to Jen’s fearless NaBloPoMo-ing!), I wrote a series of posts this summer about my conflicted relationship with my home state, Oklahoma (A Tulsa Memoir). It’s been about 6 months since I made that exploratory trip, before I got my current job, when moving there seemed like more of an imminent possibility.
The election offers a nice study in contrasts between our home now (Iowa) and our home then (Oklahoma).
Iowa ultimately went for Obama, but it’s a fairly even mix of red and blue counties. And many, many Iowa counties were closely divided (49/49, or 51/48).
Every single county in Oklahoma went for Romney. Even in counties considered more diverse and liberal (Tulsa, Cleveland) went for Romney 2:1.
It’s not that conservatism is bad. It’s just such a monoculture down there. And Oklahoma seems to need to be dragged into the future kicking and screaming. It’s hard to imagine progress when it happens at a glacial pace. I very much admire activists who keep the fire burning when facing such immense obstacles.
As I wrote then, it’s hard to give up an amazing, progressive state for a state with horrible weather and a culture largely organized against everything we value and believe. But we love so many people there. And there are still days when I think, if the right job came along…
It could happen.
PS — There are two petitions for Oklahoma to secede from the union following Obama’s election.
Five years ago, I caucused in Iowa for the first time. It was a heady experience: we’re from a red state that’s gone Republican for every election since the dawn of time (maybe Roosevelt is the exception?) so even the right wing candidates skip it because, well, you just know how Oklahoma’s gonna fly. But Iowa is always a swing state, and always a game changer, and in 2008 obviously it was The Place To Be if you wanted to get 20 phone calls a day. We saw every Democratic candidate speak except Clinton, and met Joe Biden and his wife (really nice). I saw Obama speak in a hotel conference room and liked the cut of his jib, but we ended up caucusing for Edwards (before we knew he was full of complete shit) because we didn’t want him counted out when his platform was the most progressive of all the candidates. At our caucus, the Obama supporters filled over half of the auditorium. Edwards had about half of half, and the rest were scattered about in clumps. The Clinton supporters were annexed in this weird hallway and most of the time was spent seeing who was going to get the supporters of the groups too small to “count” for a delegate. In a surprise move, the Richardson folks threw their weight in with the Edwards people, and suddenly there was a bit of a coup. Our precinct was a microcosm of how the state went and part of Obama’s rush to victory.
I was 8 months pregnant with Robin.
In November, she was 8 months old and I kept thinking about how she’d be asking me about this experience for a report in History class someday. I voted early with a mail-in ballot, and spent voting day driving around high on the energy. Our polling place was a rec center packed with people, lines around the corner.
I had to write it in soap.
Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day in an office, seeing something like 80 students (exagerration: nevertheless, I inadvertently booked myself solid with only 2 20 minute breaks during the day). I’ll have to feel the buzz vicariously through feverishly updated Facebook and CNN homepages.
Tonight the girls and I held an election. I told them that everyone in our country has the responsibility to vote. I made ballots, and I told them they could vote for whomever they wanted. Our house went to the Obama-Holly-Robin team (versus Romney-Ryan — I should probably have added a fairy or princess to their side to balance the ticket), 100%, but who knows. When I was eight, I voted for George HW Bush because his name reminded me of Busch beer commercials (head for the mountain!), and when I was 18, I voted for his son in my first Presidential election so I could impress a boy. LAMEZ0RS.
I hope you vote. I hope you vote for Obama, but mostly, I hope you vote.
Posted in Memoir, Mothering, Politics
Tagged 2012, caucus, civic duty, election, election 2008, election day, Iowa, iowa caucus 2008, memoir, mothering, obama for president, Oklahoma, presidential election, voting, yes we can
As noted, I tend to get going on a topic and then trail off (I never did wrap up my commentary on the Feminine Mystique; I never did follow through with all the Big Ideas I had for “This is Not a Lifestyle Blog” – but this is a blog, and there’s time!). Before it gets too far from my memory, I wanted to wrap up my series about growing up in the conservative south and my recent trip back “home.” (Read the rest here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)
When I last wrote, I’d been pretty thoroughly alienated from mainstream culture in Tulsa by a series of extremely negative interactions with conservative Christianity. Between that and poky grass, I was pretty much planning to get out of this place as quickly as humanly possibly. I began to elevate and romanticize the Midwest as the ideal and preferable alternative to the south. By age 15, I was using road atlases to plot an escape route and writing romance stories set on farms.
So what changed? Continue reading
Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized
Tagged Admiral Twin, home, identity, Iowa, Lou Reed, memoir, Midwest, Midwestern United States, Neil Young, norman ok, Oklahoma, tulsa, Tulsa Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma
1168 — miles driven.
8 — days of travel.
170 — dollars spent on gas.
-1 — fantastic landmarks on the way out of Iowa. So long, Terrible’s sign.
I’m posting this from a library in south Tulsa, where my youngest is screaming and kicking because this library doesn’t have a slide! The nerve! I wrote this post a few nights ago. I have very spotty internet access, so I’m sorry I haven’t been updating at my usual breakneck pace.
Interwebz!! I’ve missed you so much!
I’m writing this in my in-law’s living room in East Tulsa. It’s dark: my in-laws have left to go to a dance at the American Legion; the girls are finally asleep after an evening playdate with high school friends and their kids; and for the first time in days, I’m alone. The TV is playing something called Sonic Tap 814: Modern Country. I believe I just heard a song called “Redneck Yacht Club.” I could turn it off, but it’s fitting.
Its only day 3 of our epic trip and so far it’s been really lovely. The girls are great little travelers and have settled into our gypsy life with relative ease. Nothing feels very far away in Tulsa, so we’ve been all over creation, zipping from point A to point B so fast, and with so much to look at! We’re used to long and winding country highways with cows and fields: here, there’s something on every corner and in between. Today, while driving out of midtown on 41st Street, Robin said, “Mom, I love this neighborhood. It is just so beautiful.” We were surrounded by muffler places, shops and restaurants. They’re even sleeping well: snoring all night and not waking once.
I’m not sleeping well. For whatever reason, I can’t settle into deep sleep (blame the beds? blame the snoring?). Continue reading
This is part 4 of my series about growing up in Oklahoma. Read parts 1, 2, and 3. I’ll actually be visiting the old homestead next week to see my HS BFF before she moves to Texas and hang with my AWESOME SISTER, so the timing is good. I’m kind of knee-deep in portfolio grading, so hang tight for more non-memoir, normal, regular stuff to resume when FINALS WEEK IS OVERRRR.
It wasn’t just the crazy weather and freakish, Martian landscape that weirded me out about my new home. It was also church.
As a kid, no one talked to me about religion before. I mean, not even my parents openly articulated our belief system to me: I intuited, through the skills of reading and intense listening, that we were Catholic (off and on), believed in (a?) God, and therefore in Heaven. For a brief period, when we lived in South Bend, we attended church services regularly, and I even became familiar with a few hymns. But, in a very Midwestern way, religion wasn’t openly discussed or acknowledged. We absorbed it by osmosis and it was made somehow clear that religion was something you worked out through practice and a lot of sideways glancing, mumbling, and copying the people in the pew in front of you. Church was really more of something you “did,” not a group of people you knew, or a “belief.”
When we moved there, at age 11, I was a bit startled that it was a general getting-to-know-you kind of thing in Tulsa. “Where do you go to church?” or, even more strange to my ears, “Do you have a church home?” This was often the second or third question asked of me when I met someone new. Because I was completely naïve about religion in general, and about conservative, Protestant branches of Christianity in specific, I had no idea that telling people I was Catholic was akin to saying I was a Satanist. I immediately marked myself as someone in need of saving. Early in seventh grade, several of the nicest people in the world invited me to a Christian Student Bible Meeting Fellowship Fun Group, and I accepted. I mean, I was desperate for friends and I was a bit of a goody-goody. Christian kids were probably nice, right? Continue reading
Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized
Tagged Carman, Christian, Christianity, culture, Dr Pepper, faith, funny, God, Humor, Jesus, Lord, memoir, Oklahoma, Prayer, tulsa, youth group
This is part 3 of my series about growing up in Oklahoma, my love affair with the midwest, and other stuff. Read part 1 here and part 2 here. BTW, Jen and I are both in the throes of finals over the next week or two, so bear with us if updates aren’t as frequent!
I spent my entire life in Oklahoma defining myself as a not-Oklahoman. I knew my stay there was temporary, but I wasn’t sure how long my sentence would last. Five years? Ten? As we drove south through Illinois and then across the vast girth of Missouri to get to Tulsa for the first time, I wondered about this new place. I thought Oklahoma would be flat, dusty, and full of horses. I imagined that everyone wore cowboy hats, and tumbleweeds would bounce down my street.
But, the Tulsa I lived in looked more like this: Continue reading
Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized
Tagged Arkansas River, geography, Green Country (Oklahoma), history, home, memoir, Midwestern United States, moving, Oklahoma, southern culture, tulsa, wayfinding
This is part 2 of a series of posts about moving around as a kid and spending a lot of time living in Oklahoma. Check out part 1 here.
Of my immediate family, only my sister still lives in Oklahoma: my parents finally made their escape just two years after I moved away, and now live in Kansas City. Whenever I think about how much I love living in Iowa, I recall a passage from the novel Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. Shoeless Joe inspired the film Field of Dreams, and was written by a grad student at the University of Iowa, where I’ve been teaching and attending for eight years.
“It was near noon on a gentle Sunday when I walked out to that garden. The soil was soft and my shoes disappeared as I plodded until I was near the center. There I knelt, the soil cool on my knees. I looked up at the low gray sky; the rain had stopped and the only sound was the surrounding trees dripping fragrantly. Suddenly I plunged my hands wrist-deep in the snuffy-black earth. The air was pure. All around me the clean smell of earth and water. Keeping my hands buried I stirred the earth with my fingers and I knew I loved Iowa as much as a man could love a piece of earth.”
I bought Shoeless Joe in early 1994: I know this because the dated sticker from the used bookstore is still on the cover, a 1982, pre-Field of Dreams mass-market paperback edition. I bought it because I’d loved the movie and considered myself a Midwestern ex-pat. I wanted to connect to the place I considered my true home and my ultimate destiny. I was fourteen years old and I’d been living in Tulsa for two years. I read that passage and thought, I want to go to there. Continue reading
Posted in Books, Memoir, Pop Culture, Uncategorized
Tagged books, coming of age, family, Field of Dreams, home, Iowa, memoir, Midwest, Midwestern United States, Oklahoma, Shoeless Joe, tulsa
Jen and I chatted this week about sisterhood, family, and babies. Conclusion: sisters are awesome. So is Eight is Enough.
Posted in Jen & Lauren Chat, Memoir, Mothering, Pop Culture, TV & Film
Tagged best friends, Birth order, cheaper by the dozen, coming of age, eight is enough, family, home, Iowa, kids, Life, motherhood, mothering, Oklahoma, parenting, Sibling, sisterhood, sisters, tulsa, yours mine and ours