Saturday, November 24, 2007


As folks who read this blog know, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Northwoods. I'm uncomfortable with the conservativism, the overwhelming whiteness, and the pervasive religiousity here. I miss museums of other than logging, a variety of familiar landscapes, a variety of foods and people. On the other hand, I'm grateful for a job, a home I can afford on my academic salary, and for mostly good, interesting students and colleagues.

For the past couple days, I've been listening to endless little digs about the Northwoods. Jokes about broken down barns and tiny airports. Comments about two-lane highways. Questions about how people in small towns bear to live there, and fingers pointed at people in blaze orange.

If I unabashedly loved the Northwoods, I'd comment back. But I don't.

If I hated everything about the Northwoods, I'd join in the bashing, I guess. But I don't.

I'm ambivalent, and it hurts to hear my home put down, especially by someone who doesn't live here. I mean, it's one thing for a local to comment on the pervasive deer yard art, but another thing when an outsider does.

To the locals, of course, I'll never belong here. I can never comment on the deer yard art as a Northwoodsian to a true Northwoodsian.


When I was a kid, I had a nickname I loathed. And when I say loathed, I mean loathed, detested, abhored. You get the point. When I was in college, I changed the name I used, both because I also hated my given name, and because I was trying to avert a lifetime of the loathed nickname.

The nickname hasn't really been used for 20 years now.

Except, it seems to have reappeared.

So what's the point of pointedly using a nickname you know someone loathes? I mean, why would you do it to a kid? And why would you do it to an adult after so many years?

Seriously, it's not that funny.

And why do I still loathe the nickname? (Other than that it's butt-ugly? I mean, really, it's hard to think of an uglier combination of sounds.) But I still have the same strong, gut-wrenching angry feelings when I hear it.

There is not enough bourbon. (And yet, compared to most Shakespearean families, mine's a gem.)


  1. I get the ambivalence. I get a lot of grief about being from Indiana from friends from the coasts. It is difficult to hear someone trash your home (or express pity) when that person's only experience with the state is driving on the toll road. We don't have deer yard art, but there are parallels. It can be difficult to criticize where I'm from when I know that others are all too happy to hear it. Interestingly or not, my father grew up 20 minutes from where I grew up and the old-time hometown folks will never see him as a native. He will always be from out of town to them.

    I don't have the nickname thing, but it sounds unpleasant. I don't understand why some people insist on referring to someone else with something other than that person's preferred name. It's just rude.

  2. Although I love BN state, I can understand your ambivilance... as that is how I feel about Red State.

    It especially irritates me to hear people in BN state bash Red State. Most of them have never been there and really don't get it. On the other hand, I'm kind of happy when their football team loses and I do mock the 'locals' for calling ponds "lakes" and being proud of being good football fans.

    As for the nickname, I'd probably be up-front and tell them that you didn't like that name as a child and if they'd please stop calling you that, you won't bring up their least favorate things about being a kid...

  3. Anonymous6:40 PM

    LOL! It's nice to know that your family compares favorably with the Lears, the Macbeths, the royal family of Sicilia, the royal family of Denmark, etc. By that scale, most of our families probably look pretty decent. (grin)

  4. Talk about damning with faint praise... "much better than Shakespeare's" is hardly a glowing description of your family get-together. Hope you get your own home (however ambivalently you feel about it) back soon!

  5. Ahhh, the resurgence of nicknames, behaviors, naggings, annoyances, years after you thought they had been put to rest or at least forgotten (and definitely mentioned and fought over long ago) ... I can sure recognize that.

    Happy bourbon and I hope you have some pie left to finish off ... remember all visits come to an end, which is both good and bad.

  6. What I tend to do is to think something like this (but not say it): "Are you employed? Are you employed doing anything that I would conceivably like to do? No? Then shut up." This keeps a smile on my face, sort of.

    What do you say to them when they bring up the nickname? If it's relatives calling you by it, good luck getting them to stop. Mine couldn't tell you where I live or what I do now, but they could revisit any excruciatingly embarrassing moment from my past at the drop of a hat. Goes with the territory, I guess. Have you asked them to stop, and do they stop?

  7. K8, Alas, I probably would have been one of those rude people before I moved to the midwest. Apologies for all the folks I hurt by being stupid.

    Philosophy Factory, Thanks :) At this point, I give the "look o' death" and get a quick apology. I think the nickname thing was more a reversion from not seeing me in ages?

    Meansomething, Right! It's good to keep perspective! Compared to the Andronicii, my family folks are totally wonderful!

    Kermit, I know. :( I'm naughty and ungrateful.

    Sisyphus, Yes! You're right!

    Undine, I'm beginning to think the nickname thing was an honest mistake, because it wasn't pursued, and has stopped. Yay!

  8. That's ok. It was just a jolt when, upon first meeting someone and answering the "where are you from" question to hear "Oh! You must be sooo glad to get out of there." As if grad school was the only way to move if I had actually wanted to move. [mini-rant that doesn't implicate anyone here] What I find more distressing, though, is the way some of my fellow TAs (and some professors) characterize the students here in Madison. There is this assumption that most of them are from impoverished small towns and farms, and thus must be carefully guided towards more worldly ways. In actuality, most I've encountered are from suburbs and cities, and fairly well-off. But, even if they were raised on dairy farms, they don't deserve to be the recipients of that attitude.

    Obviously, it strikes a raw nerve or two.

  9. Most of my family who moved to small rural areas manages to find a core of hippie/artists who are there too. I'd say that was just Northern California, but some of them lived in the Deep South and pulled it off. It sucks to live in a place where you are totally differently-minded than everyone, but on the other hand, I really really hated living in Berkeley. More than in Folsom of Folsom Prison Blues (and that was way before it yuppiefied).

  10. K8, We get the same thing here, sometimes. My favorite are the upper class liberals who are shocked, SHOCKED that their students aren't sophisticated like the kids they see on the island where they summer out east.

    MSILF, There are pockets here, but we're well hidden and sort of scared. I'd give a lot for Moe's, though!