11 September 2008

dakota, a spiritual geography

A number of years ago, DAKOTA: A Spiritual Geography thoroughly took hold of me. Briefly mentioned by a Professor I fell for (and later cajoled into dating me for a year-) I purchased it the Summer after I took his course and studied the book: intently. My annotated copy still rests on my NYC bookshelf. The curious thing is- he probably never knew the profound affect that this book had on me- or how it continued to weave itself into my literary considerations, as well as life practices over the years.

To get into particulars: Norris delves into the mentality of a small town that does not step out of it's core- and how this shapes the people. From Norris' words, I drew key values in my own life: separate yourself from the comfort of the familiar, do not be afraid of losing the safety net of your friends and family. In fact, I've only been home once since I moved to New York and I feel this,

"Because you can't look outward, the town begins to turn on itself, and a schismatic, ultimately self-defeating dynamic takes hold" (51).

Many of the people who I return to are still wrapped in tired, meaningless gossip. I think of a time, the time- when I relished this. I wonder how people can still cling to these details- perhaps it's a turning on itself? It is what it is, and in its own right a comfort. Like the Museum that we return to, because we know it hasn't changed, and that comforts us- that constant in our lives.

---But enough of that, I'd like to open up a few of my favored passages:

"Change means failure; it is a containment brought in by outside elements...Failure is important in Dakota, but we don't talk about it. Failure surrounds us in boarded-up Main streets and three generations of abandoned farmhouses scattered in the countryside" (135).

"It's a dangerous place, this vast ocean of prairie. Something happens to us here" (153).

"To understand the real meaning of Jell-O in Dakota, one has to think in terms of status. Status and electricity. It wasn't until the advent of electric refrigeration that Jell-O became a staple at the potluck supper or women's club luncheon, and that meant town women could serve Jell-O long before country women" (136).

"The severe climate of Dakota forces us to see that no one can control this land. The largeness of the land and sky is humbling, putting humankind in proper perspective" (128).

"I'm invigorated by the harsh beauty of the land and feel a need to tell the stories that came from this soil" (79).

" 'Take a good look,' a rancher said, 'you may not get to see anything like this in your lifetime again' " (18).

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