Being a Nebraskan, I have within me a juxtaposition of pride and humility. I know I am capable – every Nebraskan is capable. Our state motto could be “Nebraska: we just get things done.” (Probably wouldn’t make for good tourism marketing.) I am proud of my accomplishments.
But at the same time, I believe I’m nothing special. This is part of the Nebraskan identity. (Nebraska: It’s nothing special, but we’re glad you’re here” would also make an honest, but terrible slogan.)
I think this is why it’s taken me so long to publish my writing. I assumed others wouldn’t be interested, just like the average Nebraskan assumes people aren’t much interested in our state.
For anyone who’s moved into Nebraska, they’ve likely met several life-long residents who, upon learning the transplanted individual chose to move to Nebraska, exhibited something akin to surprise – even skepticism.
“I just moved from San Diego.”
“Oh, really? What brought you here?”
(Many times, people will be more blunt, saying, “Why are you here?” or “Why’d you choose to come here?”)
It’s as though Nebraskans collectively believe there has to be some outside force pushing a person into this state. We are well aware that our cold winters, hot and muggy summers, low population density and (let’s be honest) lack of professional sporting teams can make our state a tough pill to swallow. Nebraska is part of the “flyover states” – the middle of nowhere.
This mix of pride and humility can also make Nebraskans tough nuts to crack. We’re surprised you’re here, happy even, but we don’t trust that you’ll stick around. This is the reason some believe “Nebraska Nice” is superficial, phoney even. True, Nebraskans like their space (we have a lot of it in the state) and struggle with change other than the weather.
I think the reason Nebraskans are nice, but not overly hospitable, is because of that humility.. We’ve heard we’re the “middle of nowhere” and “flyover country” and “backwards”. We assume others think we’re nothing special and will probably move on.
Okay, so maybe that humility is actually insecurity.
Humility, insecurity, whatever you want to call it, my believing that I was “nothing special” was probably the main reason I didn’t invest more in my writing the first 10 years I spent in the Writing Project.
I saw myself as a writer, but I wrote for the sake of the students I taught, rarely for myself.
Then, the Pandemic happened, and it opened a door I didn’t expect.
I was invited to write my story, or more accurately, the stories of the people who were working with me on a national study that examined a professional development program and its impact on teachers and students in writing. I met with a working group online, and we wrote and shared our stories. We took several moments to consider what of our stories were worth telling – and what it would look like to tell them to a larger audience. It had been a long time since I sat down to seriously write like this – to write something important to me. I went into the writing workshop more than a little apprehensive. I thought my story would be too commonplace, too banal or boring. It was nothing special; many teachers have the same stories.
The feedback I received for my group shifted my perspective. The positive feedback blew me away. They wanted to hear more.
In the past, my humility (okay, insecurity) caused me to question the worth of my stories. After this writing workshop, I realized that what I thought was a weakness could actually be a great strength.
My stories are the stories of many teachers.
By giving voice to my struggles and successes, my exhaustion and elation in teaching, I could give many teachers a voice. I could say that my experiences were worth writing about, and invite other teachers to write as well.
So now, I’m going to take more time to write my stories.
In this writing, I’m not seeking any sort of revelation about myself, my experiences, or my profession. Maybe those will come out, but my Nebraska nature doubts it. In this writing, I am taking a moment to pause, and to consider what it would look like to do as Bess Streeter Aldrich advises and “write the thing which lies close your heart.”
Nebraska: we all have stories worth hearing – if we’d take the time to sit and write them.