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Spring Break in Candy Land
March 25, 2010 - 1:02am

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The whole family off from school at the same time leads to new understandings. Did you know, for example, that Candy Land is a metaphor for hell? Stripped of agency by random card-draws, players make an endless pilgrimage on a twisted path to nowhere, suffering arbitrary malevolence from Gloppy the Molasses Monster and the foppish Mr. Mint. I sit sweating with anxiety that four-year old Wolfie, who’s in the lead and delighted with the game, will draw the card that sends him back to the start and prolong my suffering.

Cheating may be the only sane response for a small child in such a deterministic world. (What are you supposed to say when you catch him out? “Now, son, one must always play fair. Never mind Princess Frostine’s hereditary fortune, or how her grandfather made his money in the sugar trade.”) I just wish Wolfie were better at it. I’m forced to inexpertly drop a card I’ve been palming all game to the top of the deck. Wolfie draws it on his next turn and wins graciously.

We’ve had a good break, but it’s also been a full week of Candy Land, Harry Potter movie marathons (“Duddy’s gone mad!”), and video game wheedling, with a road trip tomorrow offering one last chance to be trapped in the car for several hours. At bedtime last night I was on all fours getting pajamas out of Wolfie’s dresser, and Starbuck jumped on my back and bounced on his knees while Wolfie swung from my head. My eyes bulged and rolled like a water buffalo’s, and one of my lumbar vertebra popped out and hit the closet door.

“A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell,” says George Bernard Shaw, whose second novel was set in Candy Land.

***

I had agreed to help with a benefit at the end of this week for my hometown’s historical society, which is looking for a space to create a permanent exhibit on the region’s past. For reasons out of my control, I had to withdraw. To try to make it up, I donated copies of my books and other materials for the benefit’s silent auction and arranged for a few authors and presses I know to donate theirs.

Please support those who so kindly and generously supported me, in a time of need, by taking a look at the work of Jeff Biggers, Martha Collins, Garin Cycholl, Steve Davenport, Kathleen Kirk, Gary DeNeal, Southern Illinois University Press, and University of Illinois Press. And please consider friending Casper, the Bookworm bookstore cat, which will practically make you French.

***

The staff at Thawed, a print publication from the University of Illinois College of Architecture and the School of Art and Design, asked recently to interview me about Midwestern identity and portrayal. I resisted since generalizations about swaths of land with indeterminate borders say more about the speaker than they do about the region, but then I realized it was an opportunity for me to speak in generalizations and have them say a lot about me.

My student contact said he had only four quick questions, but they turned out to be along the lines of, “What do you think influences the Midwest and in turn what impact does the Midwest create outside of itself?” and “What makes a Midwestern person?” I’ve been struggling most of spring break to answer. Along the way I touch on microgeographies, colonialism within nations, self-loathing, defiance, and this:

[A nearby city] is a prototypically Midwestern city, in that it’s out there on the landscape by itself, circled by a ring road, and fed by blood vessels of superhighways. From the air it looks like a canker sore. The flat, unresisting topography is perfect for further suburban sprawl, which is already hard to navigate. Under-funded projects go on forever: the chatter and blight of the jackhammer. The city is ambitious but not widely loved. It’s raw, unsettled, unsure, and all too aware of its own indeterminacy.

But the entire Midwest is young. At some point in the future, between the time of the megalopolis that will cover the United States and the time of the naked mole people shivering on their concrete-paved planet, perhaps a 28th-century Baron Haussmann will pull down the helter-skelter mess of particle board and vinyl siding and build a series of Midwestern poleis that favor human community.

If I’m being too Churmish in that evaluation, blame it on my tormentor Lord Licorice, who I’d like to see strangled with his own Twizzler.

 

 

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