A Field Guide to Midwestern Magic

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“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” 
― J.K. Rowling

Earlier this year, I gave a talk called “A Field Guide to Midwestern Magic.”

It wasn’t about Harry Potter magic. It wasn’t even the kind of magic where reading books transports you somewhere else (although it certainly does).

Our kind of Midwestern magic is about changing peoples’ perceptions. It replaces old paradigms with possibilities. It inspires. The talk itself was about the first step: how to change people’s minds (and your own) about how they relate to this place on earth.

 

The Midwest Curse

Midwest writing OG Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

My day to find out why happened about 8 years ago. It was September. I woke up on an island. In a beautiful body of water.

I was camping in the middle of the Missouri River! (Did you know the Missouri River has islands?)

It was about 5 a.m., I was the only person awake, and I walked to the edge of the sand.

And as the fog lifted, I could feel a spell lift off of me.

It was a spell cast by television shows and coffee table books. It’s the message that says the coasts and big cities are where you go to “make it.” It says the Midwest, the Great Plains, or the Ozarks doesn’t matter as much as other places.

 

 

Word Magic

What are some other words for “the Midwest?” How about rural areas, in general?

“Flyover Country.” Yep. “The Heartland.” Well, that’s . . . heart-warming. “Trump’s America.” Gag.

I recently met a young man from Southern Illinois. He called his town “BFN” – The B stands for Bum, the N stands for Nowhere, and I’ll let you fill in the middle.

Doesn’t that just feel bad?

I was speaking at a conference about women leaders, to a packed room full of them. And I think that’s great. But I also know the event exists to disprove an idea that women aren’t naturally capable of leadership. Wrong. Obviously. I would add that just as it’s damaging to see more men in positions of power take up the majority of headlines and bylines, our dominant culture is so skewed toward coastal power and superiority that it has a negative effect on our Midwest psyche.

 

 

Breaking Curses, Breaking Rules

So that day on the Missouri River island, when that spell lifted, I felt as empowered by my place as I hope the women leaders feel by their gender identity.

I realized that I was home, and I could make a good life here, care for the land and water, and help people understand the Midwest region’s stories. I didn’t have to leave home to do good work. In fact, as a journalist, I could create better stories because I knew this place so well.

It was the broken curse that allowed me to start finding my place in the world.

With apologies to Malcolm Gladwell (and God?), I’ll summon the David and Goliath story. You know, Goliath was a giant who every warrior feared, and David was the shepherd boy who killed Goliath with his slingshot. 

If David were to fight Goliath’s way of fighting, on Goliath’s terms, he would not have won.

That’s why we do things differently.

The New Territory’s founding principles aren’t just about how to make a good magazine. They’re about how to make a great place in the world.

I encouraged the audience, and I encourage you, to embrace some of these principles in your own lives. Break rules. Create your own magic. 

Here are some principles we live by.

 

1. The Lower Midwest is awesome. 

Own your region, and respect where other people choose to live, too.

When you judge a place, defenses go up, while imagination and creativity go down.

As Midwesterners, I think we’re taught to blend in. To be humble. But hey, that sandbar on the Big Muddy was as beautiful as beaches I’ve visited in Costa Rica. I found the Flint Hills, where I traveled a couple weeks ago, more intricate and breathtaking than many city skylines. If more people would let themselves fall in love with unpopular places, a great community could thrive anywhere.

The people who want to “do better” end up leaving the very places they could really make better.

 

2. Readers come first.

For us that means we don’t choke our magazine with advertisements.

We give readers a chance to unplug and think and reflect.

And whether you read our work or not, I hope you make time for that for yourself.

If you haven’t yet figured out that “why” you were born, that Mark Twain talked about, then I double-encourage you to unplug and reflect. It’s some of the hardest, most important work you’ll ever do in your life.

 

3. We are radically slow.

Hey, we have to fit at least one Midwestern stereotype.

It is 2018 and we are making a print magazine that publishes only once every three months (or, we do our best to). For us, “radical slowness” means pushing against today’s world of fast news and reactivity, and all the things that are making our society more divided.

I challenge you all to slow down. Radically slow down.

In your own work, take time to develop something meaningful.

 

4. Local contributors are our strongest asset.

If you live in a place, you learn its idiosyncrasies. You learn how to talk to people, gain their trust, tell their story in a way that honors them and digs deep, instead of relying on stereotypes.

You, yes you, the person reading this, are a contributor to your community.

And your experience and knowledge here matters more than you may realize.

 

5. Business supports a creative economy.

In the Midwest, we glorify self-sufficiency. We take pride in making our own way.

But we also can care for our community. If all of us who agree that the world could use more art, more thoughtfulness, more meaning, we’d change our buying habits. We would buy into relationship coaches (a fellow entrepreneur in my city), or regional magazine subscriptions (hey, I run this!), or hand-made leather bags (a very talented friend of mine).

And if enough of us did that? Imagine how different the world would be.

 

6. “Lower Midwest” identity creates compassion and conservation.

Humans are wired to protect our self-interest. When we encounter narrative stories, it changes the way our brain understands and relates to other people. Our sense of ‘self’ expands. We see neighbors as more similar to us than different. We learn about how elegantly nature works together, and then we want to conserve it.

Stories in The New Territory foster a culture of caring. 

But I also hope you understand that this works both ways. Your part in this region’s autobiography no more or less important than any others.

 

7. Our mission needs both stability and change.

We’re taught to avoid failure.

Especially as women.

Classroom observations show how teachers correct girls with the right answer, while they encourage boys to try to find the right answer themselves. But failure is a symptom of trying something new and worthwhile. It’s important to be reminded of that. 

If we want to make big changes, we’re going to fail, and that is great. Fail forward. Fail at something worthwhile.

 

8. Like the Midwest itself, The New Territory is a platform for diverse perspectives.

We feel that representing diverse points of view is simply a part of what we do and the world we live in — never just an extra sidebar or box to check. We put work into recruiting diverse voices in our pages, and this strengthens the trust people have for our publication. We know we can do better, and we hope that expanding our team soon will make room for more time and energy to go into fostering new contributors.

In your own work, ask yourself if you’re working to include opportunities for people from all backgrounds, or if you’re doing what’s easy and hiring people who simply look and think like you.

Your organizations and companies will be richer for the diversity.

Next steps:

Break rules with us.

Take a stand for simplicity and your own time.

Take 20 minutes out of your day to read a long story. Or a book.

Buy in to journalism directly instead of succumbing to ads.

Subscribe to our magazine.

Do something. Tell everyone about it.

Proudly declare that #hereisgood and start telling the world about #MidwestMagic that makes life here in the Midwest great.

On board with these principles? Our newsletter will inspire you every week.
Tina Casagrand
Tina Casagrand
Tina Casagrand is the publisher of The New Territory magazine, a student of the indie print magazine business, and 8th generation Missourian hell-bent on finding and sharing new possibilities for meaningful life in the Midwest. You can email her at tina[at]newterritorymag.com or tweet to @gasconader.

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