It’s a good thing the snow came early this year. It provides a much needed safe topic for the fraught conversations we’ve been forced to have. And we here in Iowa don’t like fraught conversations. Three months ago, I saw a man kicked out of a Cedar Rapids bar for saying very loudly that in his opinion our president was “crappy at his job.”
In contrast, during the Obama administration, people bought me drinks after I shouted at a man at a bar in Boston. I overheard a man disparaged the president’s birth certificate. Fueled by rum and rage, I stepped up to him and began to tell him that he was he was dumber than a vegetable and a less reliable source of vitamins and minerals. He laughed, patted me on the head, and bought me more rum, so did his friends.
In Iowa, we excel at talking without saying anything at all. Our politicians are adept at it. Just try calling the governor’s office for clarity on any issue. Getting words out Pat Garrett is like getting soybean oil out of corn. Which is telling since Garrett’s title is communications director. The silence a clear indication of the strength of those communications. And it’s not just the governor’s office. Try asking our county supervisors about why they won’t chip in for flood protection. It’s a conspiracy of nervous silences that only benefit the status quo—rewarding dithering over action.
Even our families are adept at this skill. I once sat through an entire Thanksgiving dinner in Tama, where the only topic that was discussed was if you should salt store-bought chicken, because, you know, they are injected with so much salt anyway. My firm, “season your food!” stance was determined too aggressive. I was made to wash dishes.
Right now, every topic of conversation in Iowa that once used to be safe is no longer—Busch Light, football, hospitals, or even our health since most of us have no way to pay for our doctors or insurance anyway. Each and every one of these issues hits on our raw political nerves. And we avoid them, because talking about real issues could cause that that horrifying situation that strikes fear in all Midwesterners: Being aggressively frowned at.
All we have is the snow. That glorious and apolitical white space that provides so many conversational avenues for us to talk without saying anything at all. Snow removal, coats, the status of our lawns, the coldness of our toes. Riveting conversational outlets that will fill those awkward moments when we are force to interact with other humans—feeding times, business meetings, the excruciating moments on phone calls when we feel compelled to exchange pleasantries instead of just saying why we called in the first place.
In Iowa, we are defined by our silences. The gaping holes of our conversations say more about who we are than the things we actually say. Impeachment, racism, the cultural distain for journalism, all of those pulsing boils on the skin of our state that would just heal if we properly lanced and bandaged them. But that would involve honesty, that would involve talking, that would involve people getting upset and grappling with their own complicity. Their own silences. Silence is a privilege. Silence is political. Thank goodness for the snow.
Just don’t bring up it’s relation to climate change.
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