North Dakota. Guess what? It’s real and people actually live there. It’s not a part of Canada, we do not ride around in covered wagons, and yes, we do have access to modern technologies including the internet, Roombas, and indoor plumbing (well, most of us, anyway). Yet, as people who have grown up in North Dakota and gone on to explore other parts of the United States and the world, it’s often something that is difficult for other people to understand. In many ways, it’s always seemed to us to be a fairly normal part of the United States, perfectly centered between both coasts, and generally a nice place to grow up. But Eric Sevareid (CBS news journalist, 1939 to 1977 and born in Velva, ND) pointed out something crucial when he wrote in his memoir Not So Wild a Dream (1946),
“In distant cities when someone would ask: ‘Where are you from?’ and I would answer: ‘North Dakota,’ they would merely nod politely and change the subject, having no point of common reference…It was a large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind.”
But what Sevareid left out are the questions that follow: what is it like there? In truth, there seems to be a blank spot in the mind of the North Dakotans here as well – how do we explain it? What does it mean to be from here? Many stories and ideas spring to mind when we think of places like New York or Colorado or California, because these places are often represented in the national media. But what are the stories and ideas which can represent of North Dakota and its people?
In exploring this lingering question of North Dakota identity, we here at The Blank Rectangle will be producing a variety of projects, including reflections on the landscape and lifestyle of North Dakota, often mixed with our own personal experiences of them. We want to confront both the ridiculous stereotypes and the oversimplified accolades of our state of origin. We want to discuss the question of what it means to be “from North Dakota” and consider what impact it has on the lives of all those who have called it their home.
Some have come to love this state; others have decided to leave. Those who love it may be compelled to leave, while others must return against their will. But despite our feelings one way or the other, there is something exclusive about having spent time this place which inevitably affects people whether they stay or leave. And it should turn out to be pretty intriguing. Let’s be honest: you can’t talk about a place that people seriously consider the middle of nowhere without having something interesting to say about it.