Funny cow on a green summer meadow

by Jennifer J. Pruiett-Selby

Before happening upon Easy Street, I was a columnist for our local newspaper where I wrote how the good citizens of our little town could strive to be better parents and better people. In the words of Horace and Sir Philip Sydney, my goal was “to teach and delight.” Or something like that. It didn’t take. Did I mention that I live in a very small town?

These wonderful townspeople came armed with their freedom of speech—so long as they remained anonymous. They jammed our “Suggestions Box” full of notes about locals, with articulate criticisms like “The sheriff is a f***ing retard.” (There are few words I don’t allow spoken around me, and retard is one of them.) This is why I encouraged them to change their lives and, oddly enough, why they weren’t receptive. It’s not like I was judging them, though I did consider naming my column I am Judging You.

But who are you to judge? you might be asking. And that is a complicated answer.

I’ve lived in Iowa my whole life, but I hope you won’t hold that against me. It’s not like I’ve never left Iowa. I’ve been to Missouri. And Nebraska. I’ve even left the country. When I was in middle school, my family went to Canada. It was too foreign for my father, so we left after only one night.

I’m not good with introductions. You could say that I’m socially awkward and I probably wouldn’t disagree with you. Being in public makes me sweaty. That’s why I always wear yoga pants. People assume I just finished working out, but I have a 13-year-old daughter who sets them straight. No, she says, but she did just eat a donut.

When I was in the military, I was good at fitting in with the other camouflaged Airmen. Of course, talking wasn’t welcomed among the ranks of subordinates. My Vietnam vet father had taught us to “do as we were told.” He told me to be a nurse or a secretary. I’m not good at following directions, or taking care of people. Just ask my five children.

In grad school, veteran TAs said, “fake it ‘til you make it.” I learned little baby freshmen believe you’re a professor if you say you’re a professor. I taught preschool, too. That was an experience not unlike teaching comp or living in barracks with fifty aggressive women.

I learned a lot from my time in the military and my time as a teacher, in academia and beyond: mostly that assholes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

As for hobbies, I watch Ancient Aliens and American Ninja Warrior. I believe Giorgio Tsoukalos is right when he says we’ll have full disclosure regarding extraterrestrial visitation before someone conquers Mount Midoriyama. Or maybe he didn’t say that. I drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade while watching my shows. Helps soften the edges of the day.

The best piece of art is the annual butter cow sculpture at the Iowa State Fair. This is a cow carved from butter. Let me be clear about this: people pay to see a life-size sculpture of a cow made out of butter.

The edges need softening because I’m a writer with five kids, six cats, and a husband. My days are long and hard. (Not a colloquialism.)

But back to judging. At the newspaper, I had succumbed to the ceaseless negativity and—with the discovery of my fifth child’s impending arrival—I decided to become something I’ve never been: a stay-at-home mom. Of course, I continue to write poetry, and I am in the midst of a search for an agent to rep my YA novel, Children in the House of Vengeance.

In spite of my “unemployed” status, I’m busier than ever, focusing on the things I neglected on that uphill road to gainful employment in The World of Academia. Things like getting back in shape, cooking balanced meals, and potty-training my 13-year-old. (That’s right, Haley! I found a way to get you back for all of those embarrassing moments in the grocery store.)

As you can see, I am a woman of principle. As a waitress in a southern Iowa town, the owner of the local strip club handed me a business card as he paid his tab. I took the card between my index and middle fingers and dropped it into the garbage. Sure, I could’ve stripped for a living, but, as an admirer said to me when I worked for a different dining establishment, I am more dairy princess than dairy queen.

Speaking of dairy, here in the Midwest cultural experiences usually involve livestock. The best piece of art is the annual butter cow sculpture at the Iowa State Fair. This is a cow carved from butter. Let me be clear about this: people pay to see a life-size sculpture of a cow made out of butter.

That’s Iowa for you. No wonder we’re not trusted with Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic, despite the fact that Wood is from Iowa, which is where the house in the background still stands. My husband and I once travelled to Chicago to see the famous work of art. A guard stood ready to defend it like the Queen (who has also never been to Iowa), as if he knew some crazy Iowan would try to snatch it and return it to its rightful home.

In short, I hope to teach and delight you with a discussion of Midwestern culture, such as it is. Sadly, though, it’ll have to wait because—if you’ll excuse me—I’m going to try to snag that maple-iced donut before Haley beats me to it.

Jennifer J. Pruiett-Selby’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, Calyx, Red River Review, Rust + Moth, Ember, Black Denim Lit, and elsewhere. She was the featured author for March 2014 in Lunch Ticket Magazine’s monthly issue of “Amuse-Bouche.”