When you are born into the unimaginative middling Midlands of the United States, the question you must put to yourself as an artist upon reaching the age of consent is: “Which way do I get out of here?” Many are never brave enough to ask that question while a tender few take the path of safety and satiety and move South to Kansas City or North to Minneapolis or Chicago. The rest of us head out headlong into the left or right and that is the keystone question of the day: “Do I go East or West?”
The great majority of Midlands escapees go West. It makes sense. They’re trading in dreary, humid, summers and oppressive and bitterly cold winters for 78 degrees and sunshine all year long.
Artsy Mid-Westerners head to Los Angeles for the sun and for the opportunity to work in movies and television.
Then there are a few Midlanders like me who turn an eye to the East — the center of the world and the core of the live stage — and accept that the weather will not change much from the icy cold and the punishing heat of the homeland.
The opportunity to live anew in the Old World of the East Coast is worth the no-trade clause in the weather because New York City and the rest of the early Eastern urban cores can bring a new understanding of who we all were and how we got all here — and all you need to do to enter that time machine is to travel 1,500 miles and you’re instantly back in time.
There is a Golden Age elegance on the East Coast you cannot find on the Left Coast. New York City pleases the spirit and sustains the eager, artful, mind in every native capacity. Modern thinking was born in the East. Midwestern manners, meet East Coast snobbery — and you both end up with bloody noses.
The easiest way to move East or West is to use graduate school to get you there. By educating your mind, you can see how well your body fits in the new location. You can also use that degree time to feel around and see if the new landscape belongs to you or not.
Most people I know who escape left or right never return to the center. It is clear Thomas Wolfe was right when he wrote in 1940 — “You can’t go home again.” — because you are not the same person who left the land, and when you try to falsely return to the earth, you are resented for getting out by those who couldn’t imagine a life outside the prairie prison.