The Simple Life

Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness. — Seneca

Lac La Belle - Oconomowoc

Lac La Belle - Oconomowoc

Colin and I went to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin this weekend for our friend, Andy’s, ordination. Andy is married to Aimee, my best friend. Aimee and I were maid/matrons of honor at each other’s weddings.

After years in London and our life now on the hectic East Coast, it is always a pleasure to return to the Middle of the Country. Sure, globalization is trying to dissolve the individualization of everything– so Walgreens and Target are everywhere. But there is a real comfort and familiarity in the Midwest– the neatly ordered houses and yards, the wide flats open spaces, cut by creeks and rivers, then interrupted, suddenly, by a town or city, with its tallest buildings almost always, the church spires.

I am most enamored– in life and in imagination– of Wisconsin, of Kansas City where I lived for 10 years, and of my home state of Iowa.

The people of these place are pleasingly gentle, but straight forward.

They are neighbors. They say hello or good morning when you pass by them, even if they don’t know you. (You can never underestimate how a simple hello will change your mood.)

They aren’t looking for a big night out. They are more than happy to sit around in their comfy clothes, sip a beer or wine and talk. They prefer a porch or deck or patio on a nice day, but know the hour when mosquitoes bite.

A garage is just as fine a place to hang out as the living room.

They love to play games– board games and cards. Whole nights are organized around them. No wonder, when they are bored and lonely, you will find them in the casinos.

Nothing much better than a hearty breakfast– eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, fruit and coffee. Or maybe a stack of pancakes. And the price is right too. Breakfast out for four for less than $25. Roadfood was invented in the imagination of a Midwesterner, certainly, on a long drive to visit some farflung relative.

My neighbor here asked me about being from the Midwest. Well, it isn’t exciting, but it is lovely and simple. The weather is four seasons, and everything of fashion arrives there last, so you don’t have to worry about dressing up and looking nice. Jeans and sweatshirt with tennis shoes will do just fine.

I know there are a lot of people in the world that equate people living a simpler life with ignorance or with being “hicks.” No doubt that is true of some folk. But as I have traveled, I found this to be true everywhere — in the canals of Venice, in the tight-knit gay communities where I have many friends, to the snobbery of some¬† Londoners I knew, to the Westport-Fairfield money crowd and the suburban minivan Moms everywhere.

The upside to that is you can find strength, beauty and wisdom in the most remarkable places, in simple people and the smallest things.

  5 comments for “The Simple Life

  1. shakenbsis
    August 26, 2008 at 9:56 am

    You made me smile! (and giggle)
    Life is complicated these days…
    From Wisconsin (;

  2. Colin
    August 26, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Great post! You’ve made me wish I was still there instead of sitting at my desk in an office building on the East coast. Sigh.

  3. Lane
    August 29, 2008 at 10:21 am

    This Midwesterner’s big plans for Labor Day weekend involve hanging out in my garage a lot and sitting on the patio, sipping beer, and talking until the mosquitoes start to bite. You hit the nail on the head. There are some jerks here, too, and life sometimes gets complicated here, but at least we can deal with it in our jeans, comfy t-shirts, and tennies.

  4. August 29, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Did you buy some squeeky cheese curds while you were in the cheese-head state?
    I love that stuff… Here in Santa Fe it is the height of something called the “Hatch green chile season” – homemade roasters all over town, smokin’ the city with a heavenly scent. Yum.
    SO when is your trip OUT WEST planned?
    WE have a patio AND board games…
    Let us know… Marty R

  5. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » What I Learned From 2008 - Elizabeth Howard

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