Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Defense of Wisconsin

In light of all the anger being directed toward the Midwest--and Wisconsin, in particular--I rush to our defense. (Not that we care what you think, but being from the East Coast, I do.)

When I arrived in this suburb of Madison in 2006, I didn't know the geography. What is the Upper Peninsula? What is the difference between Iowa and Idaho? How can Lake Michigan border Chicago and Milwaukee and Michigan? Where is the Mississippi River?

That was my coastal perspective, shamelessly ignorant of somewhere that just didn't count.

On the other hand, I understand how stressed out you all are back East. I left because--honestly--I could not figure out how to make my life work.

Boston is fine, if you can live in an apartment with a roommate in the city and take a train or a bus to work.  (I did that for several years, and it was great.)

Our first house was 35 miles south of Boston, at the very end of the Commuter Rail line. I drove two miles to the Commuter Rail, rode the train for an hour, took the subway across to Cambridge, and voila! there I was, more or less, at my office.

I didn't mind. I read books on the train.

But when I had a baby, I didn't want to be away from him for eleven hours a day, five days a week. (Three hours commuting, eight hours at work.) But we couldn't afford to live any closer, the prices just kept going up.

This is what people did in our town: They took the 4:30 am train to get home by four pm. Or, one parent took the early train, while the other parent got the kids off to school, took the 7:30 train into Boston, and returned home late.

Everyone worked, husband and wife, because life was expensive out there.  I tried freelancing from home, and I got a lot of hours, but it still wasn't enough. Our boat sprung a leak. We were bailing as fast as we could.

So, we came to Wisconsin, where my husband got a job that paid better than another offer for similar work in Boston. (And yet, it's cheaper here. How do they expect people to live out there?)

Instead of a three-hour commute, he drives half an hour (no traffic) to the office.

I continued to work freelance from home. I can afford to reduce my hours, if needed.

We bought a hundred-year-old Arts and Crafts home eight miles south of Madison, a jewel of a city.

In Massachusetts, our choices of local restaurants were "La Garlic" or "Lorenzo's." Otherwise, there was New Bedford and Fall River--interesting old cities perennially clawing their way back into relevance (and failing) while maintaining a stalwart charm.

You can't tell me that New Bedford or Fall River--God bless them--are so much more sophisticated than Madison (no way!) or even...Milwaukee. (I'd put them on a par with La Crosse and Waukesha.)

The public schools in the entire Madison area and beyond--way, way beyond--are consistently good, and consistently better, school for school, than the public school offerings in the entire Boston area (and beyond), where the quality correlates (almost without exception) directly to the affluence of the community.  (The one exception is Reading, Massachusetts--a squarely middle-class town, last I knew, with a respectable public school system.)

Wisconsin is currently under the boot of Gov. Walker. But you can't look at our recent political history (which includes Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold) and conclude that we're entirely Republican.

You may recall headlines from when we rose in force against Walker, occupied the capitol, and tried to recall him ourselves.

(Trump is from New York.)

But you paint us with broad strokes, and the brushes are bigger than ever.

You know what I like about Wisconsin?

It's beautiful. There's lots of green and open space.

It's ranked number three in the country for bicycling.

We have lakes, rolling hills, and plunging valleys to break your heart.

It's working land, well organized, a patchwork quilt.  It may look flat in the harsh light of day, but in morning and evening light it transforms, undeniably lovely.

It's an unassuming place that doesn't dress up for lunch.

And nor do the people dress to impress. You don't have to think twice before walking out the door. No need to check makeup, or rethink your shoes (unless they're particularly impractical).

You don't have to be witty or clever or rich. You don't have to go to the right schools.  It helps, in some corners, to have deep rotting roots-- no different from the entrenched flavors and accents of old Boston neighborhoods.

This is a good place to raise your kids. The schools are good. You can be home for supper. You can afford to live within striking distance of some kind of civilization.

You got Chicago to the south (a couple of hours).

You got Lake Michigan that looks like an ocean (over there).

You don't feel like you have to prove yourself all the time. It's a place that nurtures process. You don't have to race to finish.

You can find a quiet place to think--there are parks all around.

A lot of good people come from the Midwest. Georgia O'Keefe was born to Irish homesteaders in Sun Prairie--fifteen minutes east of Madison. Laura Ingalls and Marguerite Henry were both from Wisconsin...Willem Dafoe, Gene Wilder, Spencer Tracy, Gena Rowlands, Orson Welles, Frank Lloyd Wright...

If you're going to blame Wisconsin, you may as well blame me--I didn't canvas or cold-call anyone. I bought and delivered a bunch of signs for friends. I wrote posts and posted on FB. I voted for Clinton. I could have done more.

So you could blame me, or you could blame Republican gerrymandering. You could blame Putin or Wikileaks or Comey. You could blame Facebook for fake news or those who believed it. You could blame people who are sexist and those who hate grannies.

There's something rotten in Denmark, of that much I'm sure. It may be in Wisconsin, but it is metastatic--the cancer is from New York--a mutation, a malignancy, a pock on our houses.

I say we fight together, and not amongst ourselves.

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