The Great Middle America Motion Picture Show
Take this text; I’ve been working on it in fits and starts. All the notes have run together; we’ve been traveling at high speeds. The pockets of my knapsack are jam-packed with bits I didn’t want to forget, had to put words to, had hold still. In a thrift store. On the train. Window-seat of an aeroplane. Waiting in lines. Waiting on a wooden pier in the afternoon sun. Waiting for the weather to clear. Shotgun seat in a pickup truck barreling up the eastern seaboard. From a boat in the ocean, from the backseat of a car on a turnpike, by flashlight, from my tent, on an island, in the fog. Today, in a bakery, in a mid-size city in Michigan. Tomorrow, the coastline. Next week, the moon. Centrifugal motion.
The Great Middle America Motion Picture Show. The landscape at 55mph from a benchseat in a passenger van. Birdwatching out a car window because flight patterns are the easiest to learn and recognize. Noticing the weather, calling out the clouds. Choose any horizon and it tells a story. Those sandhills, that fence-post, these prairie potholes. We’ve got to keep learning, keep listening, keep looking after one another.
State borders, county lines, passing lanes. Edgelands. Periphery as defined by our own bodies, periphery as defined by proximity to an interstate, to a city, to a town, to a person. How there is no big empty, instead an endless overflowing fullness to any chosen here. None of these places are on the way, but none of these places are out of the way either. They are in our way, at the edge of what we’re taught is center. Centrifugal motion.
The Great Middle America Motion Picture Show. Elbow out a window, one hand riding a wind-wave, parking lot picnic gourmet. Scan the radio and listen to the swap meet. New country or old Americana, talk radio or open lines. Static. Commercials. A regional identity built from broadcast, from airwaves, from listening a little more closely to what’s already being said.
When I talk to people from the city, I try to explain that the small town isn’t the other, it’s the us. It’s like taking everyone that lives on your one city block, getting to know them regardless of differences, and learning to work together. There is a lot to learn from the agrarian necessity for community living and the kinship between neighbors living miles apart. We all need one another. Centripetal motion.
The Great Middle America Motion Picture Show. My america is not your america; America isn’t ours at all. The rural isn’t an empty space or an in-between. Land used, abused, and celebrated. Land taken and land left behind. Neighbors. Strangers. Passers-by. Places. Tall tales and short sentences. You can build a slow practice, even at high speeds. Field School isn’t about the obscure constellation of points on our map; it’s about the miles between, the steady gaze out a window, the paper atlas, the landscape alive and running alongside, the hum of the engine, the poetry over a loudspeaker. The long way home.