indecisionwins: (Default)
[personal profile] indecisionwins
I just posted a long reply to [ profile] crystalpyramid here about why bring from the Midwest explains why I avoided SWIL at first, along with some other sweeping generalizations about the Midwest, and upstate New York, and other things. But it was enough of a monologue that I thought it would be nice to post it here too... (Following in the tradition of my first LJ post, which was also copied from a long introspective comment about SWIL in someone else's journal...)
Well... I'm mostly thinking of the Midwest (or at least St. Louis, or at least my family, but I think it's more than JUST my family) being really conformist, and thinking that it's a really bad thing to be defined as "weird". (It's interesting to notice how my grandma, who I'm closer to than I am to anybody else in St. Louis, is uncomfortable with the idea of me being comfortable with being "weird". And I still sometimes use weird as a fairly strong pejorative term without really thinking about it, even though I realize that it doesn't actually work with my thinking weird people are interesting. But I guess I am still a conformist, in that I don't like being completely separate from the group; I'd rather find a group where I could fit in without having to try too hard, which was why I liked SWIL. This is also why it bothers me to see how SWIL has been changing to be such a closed clique of '08ers, but I guess that's a different can of worms... (I should also say that I don't think SWIL is/was actually a completely compatible social group for me, but it was definitely still better than most others that I've found... And one big reason was that I never had to worry about feeling unwelcome with SWIL.)

But back from that digression... Besides wanting to conform to social norms, the only kind of social groups that I saw in St. Louis were...well, not places where people talked about random, interesting ideas. Like Ronni was saying at Swiloween, people in the Midwest generally aren't as open to talking about abstract ideas. (Actually, I think Ronni can actually make a more fair comparison between St. Louis and Swarthmore than I can, because she knows a lot of people at Wash. U. and went to Ladue High School, which is in an area of St. Louis that's...well, it's known for being rich, but it's also the older rich area, not the area that's full of rich yuppies, which means I would think if anybody would value intelligent people discussing abstract ideas for their own sake, it would be people there. Wow, that sounds incredibly elitist, so, um, I'll acknowledge that before anybody jumps in to point that out and I end up getting offended. But I definitely think the people Ronni's been around in St. Louis would be a lot more open to that kind of thing than the people I was around in high school. My parents live in a blue collar neighborhood, and I went to elementary and middle school there, then the magnet schools I went to for 8th grade and high school were mostly kids from the city. There definitely was a group of smart kids there that I, eventually, became friends with, and actually, if I hadn't been socially inept, I probably could have been better friends with them. But even most of the smart kids I was friends with in high school are a lot less idealistic than I am--they want to do well so they can make money and be happy, not so they can come up with some brilliant new ideas for the world. Which isn't a bad thing, I guess, but it's not what I idealize as much... And then there was my Jewish youth group, which was made up mostly of kids of yuppies, who also weren't exactly the type of people to have the conversations that happen at SWIL table. And, for the record, having conversations about random intellectual things at SWILtable was the thing that I really liked best about SWIL, and Swarthmore. It could be said that I'm comparing apples and oranges trying to actually make a comparison between the Midwest and the East Coast based on that, because obviously, Swarthmore is one of the places on the East Coast where you're most likely to find people like that, where there are places in St. Louis where I wasn't where you might be more likely to find that. But that's why I think it's interesting that Ronni would say the same thing, so maybe I'm not completely crazy making a big sweeping generalization like that.

I also should say that this is what I was talking about at SWILoween when I said that upstate New York is really different from the Midwest. Because for some reason, it seems like a lot of the people I know who are from upstate New York are people who I really admire for knowing so many cool, interesting things, and also being really nice, unpretentious people, but if anything, I don't feel entirely comfortable around them because I'm not as interesting as they are. That would include you (Jillian), Viva, and Rachel Kobrin (the Jewish advisor my freshman year who I constantly talk about as what Jewish advisors should be like), as well as my favorite relatives, my cousin, who's grew up in St. Louis but lives in Rochester now, and his wife, who's a native of Rochester. Of course, I think this cousin is also the only academic in my family, which I also like (he's a professor at SUNY Brockport, although he ended up deciding that the students there were really stupid, so now he does more computer stuff and almost never teaches... And actually, the last time I saw him, in June, I actually didn't have as much to talk to him about as I thought I might have. But I still think I can read something into the fact that I always really enjoyed seeing him more than any of my other relatives.) Actually, after I was thinking about that at Swiloween (and wanted to finish that conversation with you, but never did), I looked up University of Rochester, and was really disappointed to find that I think their psychology department is the exact opposite of what I want (they're the only ones I've seen who split social/personality psychology and bio/cognitive psychology into completely separate DEPARTMENTS, where I want to do something that merges them in the same research program). Because I think I would really like the people in upstate New York, if the small sample I have says anything... But hmm, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe California is similar, because there's also a few Swatties who I enjoy talking to who are from California (Arthur, Rachel, Misha Predmore) who have sort of similar traits. But why would California be like upstate New York, when upstate New York is shaped by being cold and snowy, and California is defined by being warm and laid-back? Well, I don't know...

But anyway, where I tend to find patterns where I like people from upstate New York and California, a decent number of the people at Swarthmore who I really don't have anything in common with or who really bother me philosophically are the ones from the Midwest and the South. Well, if I'm thinking of specific people, maybe more the South or middle-of-nowhere places in the Midwest, rather then the Midwest as a whole, because there are some people I like from the Midwest. So maybe it's just that I don't have anything in common with people from red state areas, even if they themselves aren't exactly typical of those areas, which maybe shouldn't be surprising.

But I think that does go back to what I'm theoretically talking about, that the kind of social dynamic I was used to in St. Louis was something where a group like SWIL was something to be avoided, not something to join. So it took me a while, and some dragging, before I realized that I should drop those prejudices because I actually would be happier around the kinds of people in SWIL than around the kinds of people I was used to being around in St. Louis.

So hmm, hopefully this will actually make some sense, and doesn't ramble too too much... (Hmm, while I'm at it, maybe I'll copy this into my own LJ...)

Date: 2005-10-30 10:36 pm (UTC)
crystalpyramid: crystal pyramid suspended in dimensional abnormality (Default)
From: [personal profile] crystalpyramid
Well, copying it here does make sense, as my post is friends-locked, and it's unfair to your friends to expect them to all read my journal.

I'll come up with something more useful to say later, I suspect. But for now, I'd just like to reiterate that I am not an interesting person. I've seen everything in my head billions of times, and believe me, it's all very boring. (-:

Date: 2005-10-30 11:04 pm (UTC)
ext_248645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
::smile:: Yeah, I guess we all end up thinking that, don't we?

Date: 2005-10-31 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
About Jillian, right?


Date: 2005-10-30 11:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Granted, I didn't grow up in the part of California that would have people who'd tend to go to Swat, although I did grow up in the same part as Arthur, but the California I grew up with is nothing like what you want. I think there are parts that are like what you want, but you shouldn't base that on me and Arthur. Arthur and I both grew up in a very Christian, very conservative area (actually, I didn't grow up there, but I grew up a few miles from there and went to high school there), where my female classmates wanted to go to college so they could be school teachers, until they had their first kid at which point they would be stay-at-home moms. And this was in my honors classes, too.

I was very weird, and never fit in until Swarthmore. My siblings basically had/are having the same experience. Our parents raised us to be very intellectual, and somewhat geeky, and neither of those things were especially welcome at my high school (I knew about three or four people who were interested in sci-fi or anything related, and I knew one person with whom I could have intellectual conversations, and he wasn't even my year).

Also, I may be misremembering, but I think Misha is from San Fransisco, which is about as far from LA (where Arthur and I grew up) as St Louis is from... Cincinnati, or Omaha, apparently.

There are other parts of California that are supposed to be more like what I think you want--certain parts of LA, and San Francisco--but where Arthur and I grew up is an extention of the Bible Belt, and there's a huge swath of California that's all farmland, and indistinguishable from the Midwest except in climate.

Date: 2005-10-30 11:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, also, you might like Ann Arbor. A friend of mine from Oklahoma, who went to college in Kansas, says she thinks of Ann Arbor as being an East Coast city that just happens to be in the middle of Michigan. Ann Arbor is very reminiscant of Swat, except that it's a whole city, with people of all ages. It's kind of funny actually--you get bus drivers talking to retirees about science, philosophy, and politics, and they all have intelligent things to say about (well, obviously not everyone does, but everyone who bothers to talk about it). But my friend also says that Ann Arbor isn't so different from where she grew up in Oklahoma (her father's a professor at the University of Oklahoma, so she grew up in a large college town). So I think there are small pockets of the kind of people you want to find spread out throughout the country.

Date: 2005-10-31 06:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You should know that I actually didn't grow up in that part of California at all. I moved there when I was 14; I actually *grew up* in Rhode Island. What that means I don't know -- but I certainly was always the most intellectual, most abstract-thinking, most idealistic or at least ideals-friendly person in my classes wherever I went. I have a hard time judging between Rhode Island and California, given that they were such different phases of my life, but the main difference was that there was more New England-ish community feeling and tradition in RI and more, well, worldly hedonism and selfishness in California (the stereotypes holding true as far as stereotypes usually do).

Either [ profile] sildra is overstating the case or I'm understating it or our environments were just different, but I wouldn't say that wanting to be a stay-at-home mom was *dominant* among girls at my high school, even though it was a hell of a lot more common than I think it could ever be among any group at Swat. The general theme of wanting to make a decent amount of money, live a decent life and live a traditional life was, though, and I would vehemently agree that associating Southern California with the *kind* of intellectualism you're talking about would be an enormous mistake.

The best you can say about it is that even the localized Bible-Belt-ish-ness of the area -- something specific to our area of Greater LA rather than the city of LA, proper -- was strongly tempered by, at least among the younger generation, a sense of cosmopolitanism and desire to be hip and trendy and part of the wider world, to eat interesting foods and travel interesting places and buy interesting things. But as for Living An Examined Life... enh. No. The place that comes closest to having Living An Examined Life as an ideal I can think of is Swat, and Swat has it much more as an ideal than as a reality.

Date: 2005-10-31 06:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Either [info]sildra is overstating the case or I'm understating it or our environments were just different, but I wouldn't say that wanting to be a stay-at-home mom was *dominant* among girls at my high school,

Yes, I'm overstating. My school had a not-insignificant immigrant population from India, Taiwan, and Korea, and those girls tended to be fairly ambitious (and not at all intellectual--basically, stereotypical immigrants from those countries looking for success in medicine or business). And there were non-immigrant girls with career ambitions, too. But what I found striking was that there were any girls at all whose goals were to be stay-at-home moms my honors classes. Some of them got some of the best grades, too. They weren't the majority, but they were still very prevalent, and I think it would be fair to consider them a plurality (actually, I'm told that my class was the worst in terms of this, and even the class below me had much fewer of them, although they were still pretty common at the school in general).

the localized Bible-Belt-ish-ness of the area -- something specific to our area of Greater LA rather than the city of LA, proper

Yes, I hope that was clear--I'm not talking about LA in general, but rather the specific part of the LA metropolitan area that [ profile] arctangent and I both lived in. LA in general is not like that. My point was mostly that I, at least, don't consider myself a product of my environment in that regard (I consider myself a product of my upbringing at home, and both of my parents are from the New York City area), and I wouldn't recommend Southern California as a place for [ profile] indecisionwins to live based just on knowing me and [ profile] arctangent, because I don't think we're representative.

Date: 2005-10-31 07:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Enh. The thing is that I've been in conservative Christian environments for enough of my life that it's actually somewhat of a culture shift for me to be in an environment where it's considered *against* the norm for women to highly value raising children and domesticity in their list of priorities. Even the really ambitious career women in my high school were careful to say that they really looked forward to integrating their careers with raising children and building a family -- to say, as tons and tons and tons of Swat women do, that raising children is simply not in the cards and having a family is just not what they wanted at all, would be *hugely* shocking and transgressive. (It would be for men to say it, too, but probably less so.) I think if you took the average among all Americans it'd fall between my high school and Swat, but still probably be closer to my high school; Swat is probably at an extreme in terms of how socially acceptable it is to question and reject traditional social norms.

As far as me being representative -- I once asked someone at my high school if they thought I had a good chance at a scholarship that I ended up not getting, intended for the "best representative of the Asian-American community at their high school", and I was told that I wasn't much of a representative of *any* community *anywhere at all* other than myself. I kind of have to agree.

Date: 2005-10-31 07:49 am (UTC)
ext_248645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
My point was mostly that I, at least, don't consider myself a product of my environment in that regard (I consider myself a product of my upbringing at home, and both of my parents are from the New York City area), and I wouldn't recommend Southern California as a place for [info]indecisionwins to live based just on knowing me and [info]arctangent, because I don't think we're representative.

Hmm, OK, that is good to know. I guess it is also important for me not to lump all of California together, since at least at this point, the only school in California that I'm seriously considering is Stanford. And I guess that is really different from LA... (I only have maybe 5 schools on my really preliminary list, though, so that could change.) But yeah...

And, well, at least this is more convincing than [ profile] franzeska's annoying "you're wrong about upstate New York because you can't say that a few people represent a whole state" response in Jillian's LJ. Yes, I know I'm overgeneralizing and the logic isn't entirely sound. But these are just random musings, not a well-critiqued argument. (OK, that actually had nothing to do with your response, and for the record, I've never actually interacted with Franzi before now. But, eh...)

Date: 2005-10-31 09:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Look at it this way: California covers a land area roughly equivalent to the Mid-Atlantic states and New England put together. San Francisco and Los Angeles are farther apart, geographically, than New York is from Boston. Stanford and USC are farther apart (I think) than UPenn and UNC Chapel Hill.

That's not to say geographic distance *equals* cultural disparity, or that being in the same state has no effect, but in general I don't think people realize how different a game it is to compare NorCal to SoCal than it is to compare, say, northern Maryland to southern Maryland -- it really is like comparing Vermont to Delaware.

Date: 2005-11-01 03:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't found that to be the case, but the Chicago suburbs aren't exactly typical Midwest. My classmates in elementary/middle school were quick to make fun of the weird kid if that kid had been labeled as unpopular by the popular people, but if you were one of the popular or neutral people you could get away with quite a bit of weirdness. Several subcultures resided peacefully together in my high school and I met many interesting people running the range from abstract thinkers to practical thinkers or both. Yes, people tended towards conformity, and the general culture is pretty boring to me, but that's what normal is, sad to say. I know many more interesting people here and people who are willing to "be themselves", but that's what happens when you go to a school that bills itself as being the home to "passionate" and "quirky" students.

Date: 2005-11-01 05:53 am (UTC)
ext_248645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, that's fair. Actually, I have thought already (in another major overgeneralization) that Chicago was more open to quirkiness than St. Louis, and someplace that I'd probably like better. I guess maybe that comes from being enough of a big city that it's a mix of East Coast-ish and Midwestern, rather than being purely Midwestern like St. Louis? (Well, St. Louis may have a bit of Southern influence if anything, I guess, even though it should never be considered the South...) (Actually, the fact that Chicago became a big city through industrial stuff, if I have my history right, makes me wonder about that interpretation, but ah well...)


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