I think anyone who has visited Europe will agree that it’s an amazing place. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see over there, with so many different cultures crammed together in a relatively small space. But you know what other area has a pretty impressive collection of cultures and sights? That would be the good ol’ U.S. of A. In my freshman year of college I met a girl named Denise, who was from Michigan. She held up her hand, with her fingers together and thumb sticking out, and pointed to somewhere near the tips of her fingers. She told me that the main part of Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and she lived near the top. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Since that day, whenever I meet someone from Michigan I ask them what part of the mitten they’re from. They usually hold up their hand and point, and they seem to enjoy the fact that I know this little tidbit about their state.
I was having a Twitter conversation yesterday with author Dwight L. MacPherson, who also hails from Michigan. He told me about the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., which is the non-mitten part of Michigan. The residents of the U.P. are referred to as Yoopers by the folks “downstate” in the mitten. A stereotypical Yooper seems to be a cross between a hillbilly and Rick Moranis in Strange Brew. They even have their own dialect. Oh, and they eat pasties. Dwight and I got to talking about how people know so little about the country we live in. In all my 32 years I’d never once heard the term “Yooper”. Yet it’s been there the whole time.
I’m lucky to have been able to visit a lot of different states, and although there are definite similarities, each place has its own way of talking, own way of doing things. It’s just fascinating to me, and it makes me realize that we don’t need to travel to exotic places to get inspiration. The old saying “write what you know” takes on a whole new meaning when you realize there’s a large part of the country that doesn’t know what you know. Every place I’ve traveled, from Anchorage to New York City to Georgia has given me a fresh perspective on things, and each one of these things has helped me in my writing. But my writing is also hugely influenced by the tiny little town in Utah I grew up in.
So what’s unique about where you live? What can you use for inspiration? I can almost guarantee whatever you find will be of some use to you. So go out there. Look around your backyard. Travel if you can, but also open your eyes to what’s around you. We live in an amazing country, and there’s so much to see and experience. You might even meet a Yooper or two.