Iowa Writes

From Letters to a Young Iowan

Dear Young Iowan:

You are lucky enough to be a member of the Hawkeye State. That membership comes with certain expectations. I will try to give you a few clues.

There is not really a fraternity handshake, but a certain talent for watching your feet intently as your toes dig arcs in the dust and your heels dig solid little holes inside those same arcs during conversation seems to be native to real Iowans. You can vary the pattern as you gain mastery, but this basic procedure will get you by. The skill that must be learned to accompany this ritual is to properly mumble unintelligible replies to any difficult question in such a way as to sound too ignorant for the questioner to believe there could be any gain from continuing the inquisition. This is important multitasking to accomplish if you wish to seem authentic to older Iowans.

It will also be necessary for you to learn long-distance spitting. One fine point of that is checking the wind direction before the first salvo. This is an important skill because an experienced Iowa spitter conveys most of the emotional content of conversations, especially negotiations, with the distance and timing of spit shots….

The last essential thing for you to know is that you must learn to be obsessed with the weather. That is the real trademark of a true Iowan. In other states the weather is a fleeting thing passing almost unnoticed. In Iowa the weather is more important than what's for dinner? You can be right or wrong. You can like heat or cold. You can be optimistic or pessimistic. But you cannot be indifferent. You must take a position and defend it passionately and listen just as passionately to everyone else's position.

A simple rule of thumb is that, in Iowa, the weather occupies the same importance as film stars always have in Hollywood.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Myrna Sandvik grew up on a traditional family farm near Lake City and taught high school English, speech, and French for much of her adult life. Currently she teaches adult creative writing at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls.

Editor Zachary Michael Jack compiled Letters to a Young Iowan (Ice Cube Press, 2007) by inviting prominent Iowans to contribute their advice to the next generation.

Ice Cube Press

This page was first displayed
on February 08, 2008

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