Recent Work By Megan Tady

“I’ve never met anyone from Nebraska.”

Usual response when I tell people where I grew up. Then, “Where is that, up near Maine?” Followed by, “Did you have to draw water from a well?”

I say, “Yes, it’s near Maine, because ‘N’ comes after ‘M’ in the alphabet and that’s how all the states are arranged geographically.” And I say, “On the prairie, we didn’t drink water. Just gin. Which springs up from a well naturally, and is why we’re always drunk out there.”

When I first moved to Massachusetts, having driven across the country in a small black Honda Civic that wheezed at even the hint of an incline, I still had my Nebraska license plates on the car – a bright orange and red dramatization of the Midwest, with a fiery, setting sun in the upper corner and three geese artfully flying home. A few cattails garnished the corners. Somebody got carried away.

These plates shone ostentatiously in every parking lot, in every traffic jam, as if my car had worn an inappropriate dress to a party; they stunned people. I nearly ran some folks over because they lost all sense of time and place and human dignity and just stared. I once watched someone mouth the word, slowly, as if pronouncing it for the first time, “Ne-bra-ska,” and then elbow a friend and point at me in astonishment. I could have been a Lost Boy who escaped the Congo for wintry Minnesota. How did I ever survive there, or make it out alive?

A few weeks after I moved into an apartment, my neighbor trotted across the street to introduce himself. He was a teacher, and he was thinking of inviting me to speak to his class. I thought it was because I was a young, intrepid journalist who could inspire a stray kid to “stay in school.”

“Because you’re from Nebraska,” he said. “My students have never met anyone like you.” Exotic, corn-fed girl to give speech about the hard life on the Plains, her encounters with natives, tilling the soil, meeting boys at county fairs and then never seeing them again until they ride up on horseback to ask her papa for her hand, and the wonders of cooking with sorghum.

I’ve now been on the East Coast for over eight years and ditched those license plates long ago. I started to get weary that they read, “Rob me.” But after all this time, I’ve noticed there’s still some mass confusion, and dare I say – hysteria – about what it’s like growing up Nebraskan. So I thought I’d clear it up for y’all.

First, we don’t say y’all. Or at least I never did in my neck of the woods. We didn’t say “neck of the woods”, either. I did not walk for miles to get water. I did not tussle, barter, or give poisonous blankets to Indians. I learned about Native Americans the same way everyone else did – at a museum where I stood in a fake teepee and wondered where they went to the bathroom. My parents did not own a farm.

A lot of people know how to read. The state is flat, but not all flat. It’s in the middle of the country, surrounded by a group of states that make up what’s known as “the Midwest.” Wiki that for more. We didn’t own cows. Omaha Steaks really aren’t that amazing, even though they’re a prize on “Wheel of Fortune.” Also, not everyone from Nebraska is the nicest person you’ve ever met. I’m not that nice; I just come across that way. Finally, I probably don’t know the person you know who lives/lived in Iowa, Missouri or Kansas.

And yes, for god’s sake, yes, I’ve seen a tornado, and yes, it was scary.

So what was life like, on the prairie and all? No prairie – I lived in the suburbs of Omaha, in the town of Bellevue, where my dad worked as contractor for the military in the underground buildings at Offutt Air Force Base. I was told Bellevue would be the second place bombed if the U.S. was ever attacked; the first would be the White House. Sometimes I looked up at the sky and wondered if anyone was aiming for us.

I learned about the prairie and covered wagons and baking biscuits in iron skillets by reading Willa Cather. O pioneer, indeed! That sounds like it was hard. Once, my dad forced us to drive across the entire state on a family vacation on our way to the Badlands, and I liked the town of Valentine, Nebraska, only for it’s name. Its emptiness scared me. You could have called this trip, “The Trail of Tears,” but that joke might be too soon.

In high school, I was a Cornhusker fan like everyone else. I went to the stadium to watch a couple of games and got caught up in the eerie, nationalistic fervor as the Red Sea parted for our favorite players, like Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer (whose death in a plane accident made all the girls at school cry, including me). We won Orange Bowls and other fruit-type bowls, and head coach Tom Osborne became a congress member. I didn’t know his politics then, and didn’t care. No one did. He had led our team to victory, and somehow that made him a little like God.

Speaking of God, there was a lot of Him. Probably because there wasn’t a whole lot else left to do – God and football. So if you imagined this, you were right.

I did work on a farm for one summer when I was fourteen years old, de-tassling corn with a crew of child labor. We were bussed out to farms at five in the morning, our sleepy heads bouncing in the dark. Other than this experience, I didn’t grow up any closer to the land than a kid in Brooklyn. I ate a lot of Taco Bell.

See, it’s all pretty normal, growing up stuff. You and me, we’re not that different after all. The whole “Nebraska” thing doesn’t have to divide us anymore, or utterly confuse you.

Do I plan to ever move back? Are you crazy?! That state is as crazy as all get out. Never said “as all get out”, either.

I’m a writer, and I’m scared to write. I’m gun shy. I’m weak in the ankles. I’m on the diving board, and I can certainly dive, but the water down there — well, there might be something down there. Something I’m afraid to discover.

See, I write for a living, but it’s never really my words. It’s re-words. Every day, I try to find another way to re-work my employer’s mission statement, fine tuning the language in order to grab the person who wasn’t listening the last time. Before this, a journalist, my own words popping up just long enough to momentarily glance around at the big wide world before burrowing underneath my subject’s quote.

And in the in-between times, I write for myself. Snippets, poems, a sentence that could spark a book, if not a revolution. So I think. So I think, be a writer, really own it. I’ve come this far.

But when I received Brad Listi’s email about becoming a TNB contributor, I freaked out. I couldn’t even open the email for a day, and when I did, his instructions were in bold and everything was official and important. Like I was just drafted, or sent a visa acceptance from a foreign embassy. We ask that you post, bare minimum, once per month, he said. I gulped. Which is hard to do since I don’t have any salivary glands. Wow, that’s not even true. I’m just making stuff up because I need to write one post this month and I don’t know what to write about and I’m…

scared to write.

On the website, everyone just seems so witty and creative and more plugged into the indie literary scene than the indie literary scene itself. I can’t even remember what it was I wanted to write about when I first approached TNB with my spiffy bio. Now, faced with the opportunity to let my words run wild, I’d like another mission statement, please. I can make it look all sparkly and new and sell your story to the next person who wasn’t even planning to buy anything today. Just browsin’, thanks.

If only I hadn’t already published that piece about my colonic experience back in 2008. I could re-purpose it, but there I am, re-wording again. Re-wording my own words. But that could be seen as meta, and meta’s very “in,” I think. Potentially genius.

Maybe I need to go to a cabin faraway from home and write for 24 hours straight. Yeah, a cabin, with no running water, and I’ll sit in a wooden chair with a back so straight it’ll change the natural curvature of my spine overnight. And I’ll look at nature and “reflect back.” And the humping animals in the woods will remind me of lost love and I’ll write something forlorn and tinged with despair, but with a hopefulness at the end, like a new dawn. The dawn I’ll see every morning when I wake up with it. Oh, and I’ll have to drink something strong that makes my muscles ache, and my forhead slip from my palm to nearly hit the keyboard of my computer. Scratch that. Typewriter. Ice cubes that clink in a glass. Where will I get the ice cubes? Don’t think about that.

Also, how can I drink if I don’t have any salivary glands?

Oh, I’ve got something. I’ve got something; I’ve got something. And I didn’t write this at the fake cabin. I thought of it just now. Inappropriate Facebook statuses! Like, here’s one: “Megan Tady learned that role playing ‘getting a pap smear’ with a partner isn’t actually hot. Turns out the word ‘swab’ is a real mood killer.” But then I Googled “inappropriate Facebook statuses” and it turns out everybody’s doing them. There are even entire websites devoted to this. Probably frat brothers. So I’ll write about something else…

Like how about words that have probably never been uttered together in the same sentence? The other night while my boyfriend and I were cuddling, I said, “I see Chelsea Clinton dragging a port-a-potty into the woods.” And he said, “Oh my God, those words have probably never been said on this planet before.” We had been talking about Chelsea Clinton’s outlandish wedding and the port-a-potties that cost $15 grand. And then we do the cutest thing ever that any couple has probably ever done, oh you would love it, this little bedtime ritual, where we stare off into the distance and say that we see something random dragging something else random into the woods. Like a tumbleweed dragging a pencil. It’s sort of an inside joke and you sorta have to be there. Also, my boyfriend probably wouldn’t want me to share this because it’s sacred.

How did the Obama administration go from bravely shunning Fox News to presenting them with the front-row seat in the White House press room? Oooh, throwing in some politics.

But I’m beating around the bush. I’m turning on a dime. I’m using every cliche in the book to get me out of writing. Because, sigh, writing your own stuff really is scary. I have high expectations for myself. I want to write a post so grand that the comments in the comment section overflow and the webmaster has to call me and beg me to stop writing because the server simply can’t take the traffic. I want to write a post so heavy in analysis of modern day affairs that pundits instantly quit their jobs. I want to write a post that heaves up buried traumas so eloquently that even people who never owned dogs – in fact, hate pets in general – cry along with me. Oh, I want to write a post.

But I’ll start with this one. I’ll start by saying this is scary, yet I’m still going to try. It’s time I used my own voice, coaxed it out from hiding, let it dance a little.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m new here, so go easy.