Dude, why are you here?

Sunset with Cornstalks
(Photo by Carney Lentz)

I live in Muncie, Indiana. I don’t have to be here. I choose to be here.

My wife Annie stopped working 10-months ago after the birth of our second child. That’s when it dawned on us: we could live anywhere. I could do my job from Key West, California, or Colorado. We had a brief discussion about where we want to live and the result surprised us both: we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

On more than one occasion I’ve had someone in Muncie who I was meeting for the first time say, “Dude, why are you here?” I’m not sure how to take this.

Is it a compliment? Are vagabonding, traveling authors / speakers too interesting for Muncie?

Or is it an insult? Who in their right mind, if they could live anywhere, would choose the Midwest or Muncie? There’s a bumper sticker that I’ve seen in town that reads: Is Muncie Necessary?

I’ll admit, from the ages of 12 to 22 all I wanted to do was leave the Midwest, and that’s exactly what I did as soon as I had the chance. From 20 to 30 I traveled around the world a couple of times. From Australian beaches, I’ve watched the sun rise out of the pacific and a few months later watched it set behind Himalayan peaks. I lived in Key West and North Carolina.

But I’m back.

I’m here because it is home.

I’m here because my family and friends are here.

I’m here to watch my children run barefoot through the same yards I ran through when I was their age.

I’m here because the people are friendly.

I’m here because I realized that flat fields of corn are beautiful.

I’m here because I live in a 2,400 square-foot home that costs less than rent for a 240 square-foot apartment in New York City.

I’m here because there is no rush hour.

I’m here because deer walk through my backyard.

I’m here because my daughter can make perfect snow angels in our front yard.

I’m here because reservations aren’t required.

There are places in the world I could live, where I would be surrounded by folks who saw the world more like me — not always the case here in Muncie — but that would be too easy. I like having my views challenged and my mind changed. I like challenging others to see the world in a different way.

I recently caught a lecture at Ball State by Richard Longworth the author of Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. He paints a pretty grim future for the Midwest. Agriculture isn’t the future and neither is manufacturing.

What is the future of the Midwest then? He’s not sure. Whatever the future is, I’ll be here, to see it.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have written this. I made up slogans for the Midwest – A Great Place to Leave!

I remember something mom used to say to me when I was faced with yet another long summer afternoon in which all the baseballs, soccerballs, basketballs, swords, lawn darts, and laser guns were strewn about the yard. I would complain to her, “I’m bored!” and she would respond, “Only boring people get bored.”

The day is what you make of it and so is your hometown. I’ve decided to stop complaining about where I live and instead actively try to make it better and more interesting.

All of that starts with seeing home differently. I love Muncie. I love Indiana. I love the Midwest.

Where do you live? Dude, why are you there?


I can say most of those things about the Central Illinois town where I live, and I’ll add that if I ever feel a need for a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, I can drive across town (20 minutes) to our little airport (free parking) and jump on a commuter airplane to be in Chicago or St Louis in about half an hour.

Carney Lentz says:

Thank you for including a link back to my photograph on Flickr; I’m glad you could make use of it. I am lo glad that it led me to you post. I share almost all of your feelings about living in the Midwest. I love it here (central Wisconsin) and I don’t think anywhere else could ever completely feel like home.

Jim Barnes says:

I used to live in the midwest when I was in the Coast Guard and loved it. Even though it wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time the midwest really kind of grew on me. I’m now living in the place I grew up in and wouldn’t live anywhere else. There is something about being able to run into an old high school friend when shopping, or remembering something about a place from my childhood and seeing how it changed that I really like.

Erin says:

Coming from East Central Illinois, I can agree on many of these points. Although I love to travel for extended periods of time there’s nothing like coming home to the Midwest. I’m proud to be a Midwesterner. I’m not sure if I’ll settle down here permanently but it will always be, in one way or another, home. People always look at me like I’m a crazy person when I point out I come from a town of 900 people…and I tell them it’s a great way to not only know everyone in town but everyone in every surrounding town.

However, I’m not going to lie, when you said you were from Muncie I immediately thought of Parks and Recreation (“we got you a weekend to a b&b in your favorite place in the world”…”Muncie?!”). Although, to be fair, I’m fairly certain Pawnee is modeled after Danville, IL (I say that in the most endearing and facetious way possible).

Kelsey says:

Angela, That’s another thing great about the midwest, we’re centrally located!

Carney, That’s such a great shot. I love me some corn photography!

Jim, Running in to folks you know at the grocery is fine most days, but some times when you want to go in and out… not so much.

Erin, I’ve had several folks reference the Muncie Parks & Rec connection. I love living in Muncie, but I would never go on vacation here!!!

Allegra says:

I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m really enjoying it. This particular post spoke to me because I recently left my hometown. I was born and raised in New York City and have come to realize that the hustle and bustle is just not for me. I feel like a traitor, like I’ve given up because as a New Yorker, it’s difficult to imagine living anywhere else. But I have realized that I prefer a quieter lifestyle. One that doesn’t require me to battle the world, to strive or struggle. A life where I can simply to my work and let go is what I’m interested in. My boyfriend and I moved to Southern California last year and we love it. However, who knows if we’ll settle here, and really I think the point as you so eloquently put it, is to be happy wherever you are.

Kelsey says:

Allegra, I like to visit the city, but after a few days I require a little open air. As much as I wanted to get away from flat fields of corn, I see the beauty in them now. Sounds like you are seeing the beauty in Socal (perhaps a bit less of a challenge!!). Enjoy where you are!

Let your voice be heard!