I am from a small town: Hillsdale, MI. Population about 8-9,000. Home of Hillsdale College, named the Most Conservative College in the country by Newsweek. Most people drive pick up trucks. There are a few confederate flags still in people’s yards. My high school graduation took place in our gym. My junior prom was at the local senior center. A kid once drove a lawn mower to school. It’s home to a pretty expansive fairgrounds that hosts the annual “Most Popular Fair on Earth” according to what’s painted on our grandstands.
I used to hate Hillsdale, now I love it. I cannot wait to go home for breaks. There are a lot of things about rural culture and small town life that I do not like/disagree with and I’ve always had a hard time reconciling my feelings towards Hillsdale. When trying to explain my Hillsdale sentiments to others, I was afraid of coming off condescending, like I was too good for my hometown, which is not at all the case. I also hate when people who are not from small towns rip on rural culture as being ignorant or backwoods or “hick.” The irony: I, myself, frequently say these things. But it’s sort of like a little brother complex. I can pick on him because he’s my little brother, it’s our dynamic. The next guy can’t say anything because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Same thing with Hillsdale.
And then I read “Getting away from pretty much already being away from it all” by David Foster Wallace.
I had to read this essay for my English 325 class and my lecturer (who is actually from one of the small towns around me) is quite the supporter of David Foster Wallace (DFW). Apparently, his dad was a philosophy professor at Indiana University and DFW as an undergrad was a double major in English and Philosophy. His undergraduate work was so good that other philosophy professors would read his papers and were actually all set to name him the first true American philosopher.
And then he decided to pursue creative writing, which upset a lot of people in the philosophy world. DFW was the recipient of the 1997 MacArthur Foundation Grant, the so-called “Genius Grant.” This particular essay he wrote absolutely struck a cord with me. He was describing the Illinois State Fair and it was like he perfectly articulated observations, feelings, sentiments that I had ever had about where I grew up. The Illinois State Fair could have easily been my Hillsdale County Fair. Even things that I didn’t consciously observe, he had down there, in print, beautifully written. It was a really great piece of writing and inspired me to look into more of his works.
The last thing I learned about him was that he committed suicide in 2008.