Uncategorized | July 18, 2012

My father, Larry Strong, took this photo at Rocky Falls in Shannon County, MO, deep in the heart of the Ozarks.

In a seminar I took my senior year of college, I was assigned David Foster Wallace’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Surprisingly, my most vivid memory of it has nothing to do with the cruise that resulted in the titular essay, but of the moment in Wallace’s essay on the Iowa State Fair, “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” when Wallace realizes he is not from the Midwest anymore—that he is now “from” the East Coast. That passage is a huge presence in my mind these days. There have been a lot of transitions in my life over the last few years, and I’m getting ready for what feels like the biggest one yet:  leaving Columbia, MO and moving to Nashville for an MFA program.

I’m leaving a lot behind in Missouri. It’s not just Columbia I’m saying goodbye to. This is my native state, and my parents have lived in the Missouri Ozarks their whole lives. I’m leaving the Ozarks behind, too—but in many ways, I’ve already left them behind. Columbia feels more like my natural habitat now than my hometown does. And somehow, that realization feels like a betrayal, like I’m not grateful enough to be from where I’m from, to own that identity. I’m not sure I know how to be from the Ozarks anymore. Something has been lost. Something has changed or disappeared, and I don’t know how to get it back. I know it’s mostly out of my control, but I feel like my failure to hold on means I haven’t been loyal enough to that strange, difficult place I love. I haven’t done enough to make it love me back. I could have gone back and studied creative writing there, but I chose to leave. I chose to go farther away than ever before because that’s what I felt like I needed to do.

I’ve decided this sense of displacement, of not being quite settled, of not quite belonging in a place yet having a claim to it, isn’t necessarily a bad one for my writing. In fact, right now, I feel like it’s incredibly important for me to be a bit uncomfortable. I can’t avoid this discomfort; I think I’ll have to explore it to grow beyond it. I don’t know if that’s a symptom of being young or a symptom of being a writer or a symptom of being, possibly, insane; all I know is it keeps me looking for a groove, for some sense of rightness to burrow tightly into and cling to with everything I’ve got.