Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart

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Sometimes I Wish I Was Shinier

Michael Perry

Sometimes I wish I was shinier and smoother and cooler and groovier and had what they call panache. I wish I was smarter, and could hold great minds in rapt attention. Take the Academy by storm. Win all the high-end prizes. Then I find myself standing at a podium telling stories in a high school gym in the tiny northwestern Wisconsin town of Luck, and midway through the one about my neighbor Tom and his beloved wife Arlene, I am reminded for the 57th time how fortunate I am. Just before I spoke, a woman walked in and to no one in general, said, “Who’s got a Ford pickup with a mail carrier sticker on it?” and when six people uttered the same name at once, the woman said, “Well, tell’er her dome light is on.” I know better than to paint naïve caricatures of quaint small towns and bucolic rural life (that said it is simply truth that someone slipped a plastic-covered paper plate of homemade cookies into one of my book boxes.) Nor is this about “common folk” united and living in gosh-darnit harmony. It’s about being able to talk about books while wearing camouflage hunting boots because they work good on the ice.

Sometime after my trip to Luck, I spoke at a grade school in Illinois. I was met at the door by an administrator who informed me that many of the students were children of Mexican laborers and spoke English as a second language. I got to use some of my clunky Spanish, picked up from my bilingual wife and my Panamanian and Ecuadorian relatives.

When I give these talks, especially in rural areas, I try to bust up the whole “writer as precious flower” thing and instead focus on my working-class background as a kid raised on a dairy farm. During the Q&A a boy raised his hand and in far better English as a second language than my Spanish as same, said, “You told us you grew up on a dairy farm.”

“Yep,” I said all farmer-y, all working-class shitkicker.

“Did you milk your own cows?”

It took a split second for the import of his question to smack me upside the preconception. Where I come from – or when I come from – we who owned cows were the stragglers who came to the Christmas concert late and smelling funny in hand-me-downs. From his perspective, my people own the cows, but his people do the milking. “Yep,” I said. “You bet.” He smiled at me with approval. I felt my parallax shift and refreshed my resolve to pitch in with those facing forward rather than those fighting backward.

Michael Perry is a New York Times bestselling author and a performer whose many books and CDs are available at The Local Store. This excerpt is from his latest book, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Lasker Jewelers
Lasker Jewelers

Pulling Together Partners

The following organizations are currently supporting Volume One’s work in the community during the pandemic:

Lasker Jewelers

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire Inc DECI

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire

Pablo Group

Wisconsin Independent Network

Middle West Management

Bon Iver

Royal Credit Union

Silver Spring

Evergreen Surgical

Charter Bank

Chippewa Valley Technical College

The Murty Henriksen Family

The Larry and Marie Past Family

The Dan and Kerry Kincaid Family

Anton and Rae Schilling-Smets

Brady and Jeanne Foust

If your organization is interested in supporting Volume One during this difficult time, nick@volumeone.orgcontact us.