above your station

This article resonated with me, because I understand why the author feels the way she does.

Believe me when I tell you this – and I tell you this not to elicit sympathy (as I recognize that I have had it so, so much easier than so many people) nor to brag or humblebrag: When you grow up academically-inclined in an area that is not particularly understanding of or sympathetic to those who are so inclined, you fight these battles. There are many, many things about my hometown and my upbringing that I love, and I would not be the successful, mostly-stable person that I am today without those aspects (including an informed love of country, a strong moral code and a thorough grounding in basic education).

However, no one would ever mistake Bedford, Indiana for a place that nurtured young scholars. It is a decent enough small town and county seat, and if one knew where to look one could find a support network to indulge academic whims. But one must know where to look, and the community does not go out of its way to help you in that particular search. I am lucky in that I found that network, and there are teachers (some of whom I will now mention by name, because they deserve it; if your name isn’t listed and you feel it should be, I do apologize – Jane Goodwin, Loretta Bailey, Paul Hinman, Bill Tatom, Jo Stuckey, Dennis Whitaker) who encouraged academic rigor and success by their examples. I am also lucky that I had a family who tried to get it, though to be fair, they didn’t always. I don’t begrudge them for those occasional failings, as even people who have been around academia their entire lives often fail to get it. Still, explaining to people who think in terms of grommet bearings and socket sets that the work I do, while not physically taxing, is incredibly challenging and rewarding in its way is usually an exercise in futility. I take as much blame for that as anyone else, for there are times I failed to recognize that grommet bearings and socket sets are vital and important as well.

Some people are content to be where they are, and I envy them that contentment. Others must flee the nest, and I was very much part of that group. When “nerd,” “geek,” “smarty-pants” “too big for your britches” and the like are the words most people use to describe you, and your only crime has been liking books more than basketball*, it does tend to sour one on a location. I fought back with the tools at my arsenal. I developed a quick wit – some would say “biting” – at an early age, and I will cop to a certain smug superior attitude at different times. It took a long time to accept that, while it will always be where I’m from, it is probably best for all involved that I’m not living there.

I’ve made my peace with Bedford, and I keep that peace primarily by minimizing interactions, but it will likely be an uneasy peace for my entire life. I love my home and my family, and as many of you know they are inexorably tied to the community (though Dad did say if he was a few years younger, he would be looking to buy some land up here in Minnesota, as the soil is so rich and black); because I love them, I feel it necessary to stay away most of the time, lest old wounds with the community be reopened and my bitterness spill over into relationships that I value.

Wow. This was harder to write than I thought, and it also turned out longer than I thought.

For further reading: William Pannapacker’s stimulating “A Class Traitor in Academe” and Alfred Lubrano’s Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams.

*In Indiana, this is a capital crime.

WF

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2 Responses to above your station

  1. Rebecca says:

    I think I understand this well, because I have a very similar background. I’ve often found it very hard to relate to my family (even the ones who’ve have left), and they to me, not only because I’m an academic, but because of sexual orientation as well. And I have the same ambivalence toward my tiny home town. But do realize that your parents won’t be around forever. When they are gone, it changes a lot about the way you understand this complicated dynamic. I’ve realized that distances that once seemed so great and issues that once seemed complicated weren’t as important or complex as I’d thought. It’s good to reconcile all these issues as much as you can while they are still alive, at least in your own heart and mind. It’s not always possible to do so completely, but it’s important to try.

  2. I do try to spend as much time with my parents and my family as I can. I go home when I can, and sometimes we meet halfway or they come up here; I just minimize my interactions with the rest of the town.

    WF

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