Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Letter to the Non-South Dakotan

I am proud to debut WBO’s first guest blogger, Sarah Bueller.  Sarah and I met in 2004 while surviving as interns in Washington, DC.  She works as an attorney in non-profit law, is happily married to her husband Casey, and generally makes the redheaded population proud to call her one of our own — see photo at bottom of article.   (Not to be confused with Tom Cruise’s tiny tot, Suri.  Believe me, that’s a mix-up you only make once.)

Here she offers us a fresh perspective on life on the East Coast…after transplanting from the Midwest.

Dear Coastal Reader,

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was obsessed with the Presidents.  She had an insatiable need to learn all she could about them from her Encyclopedia set (because this “once upon a time” was the ’80s).  Her new-found knowledge naturally led to a fascination with the city in which each of them had lived.  She determined that she too would live there someday and be surrounded by the monuments honoring these exceptional men.  However, for her this would be quite a feat, considering her surroundings were far more Little House on the Prairie than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (literally: Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived 90 miles from where she grew up).

Allow me to introduce myself as that half-pint South Dakotan.  Last year, one of my life goals was achieved when my brilliant husband began his graduate studies in Washington, DC.  We packed our belongings in our Sioux Falls, SD apartment to move across the country into one that is half its size and three times as expensive.  Our financially conservative parents were proud, but very confused.  We soon found, though, that this was only the tip of the confusion iceberg.

You see, I did not realize my foreign status – within my own country – until I stepped out of the “foreign” land.  And while we in the Midwest see your coastal cities on-screen thousands of times before actually reaching them, there are only so many times those of you on the coasts have seen Dances with Wolves.  Hence your bewilderment with my Great Plains roots.

I didn’t expect the shock and awe, however, that I provoke on a regular basis simply by explaining that I grew up in a location lacking a direct flight to anywhere.  (Incidentally, right now I am facing a $600 ticket home for Christmas.  Mail cash instead of purchasing gifts this year, sweet family.)

I have answered the customary “Where are you from?” countless times over the course of the last year.  And once I have answered, the defining reaction has been this: “I honestly was telling a friend just last week that if I ever met someone from the Dakotas I would laugh in their face!”  This statement really needs no commentary –  the offensive nature is self-explanatory.

Aside: it is just as strange to us that you group “the Dakotas” together as it is to you that we refer to soda as “pop.”  And if we have been friends for a year and you still introduce me as a North Dakota native, I should warn you that my Midwestern courtesy is about to expire.

Other classics:  WTH is the Corn Palace?  So, is everyone required to get married at 15?  Red . . . right?  What is a mega-church like?  I’m confused, you’re married, but you don’t have a gaggle of kids?  And the ever-charming:  WHY and HOW are you HERE?

And then there is “My wife and I were watching Children of the Corn yesterday and I asked her, ’Do you think this is what it’s like where Sarah’s from?’”  The truth is that I lived it, considering one of my favorite childhood pastimes.  My sister and I would pack a picnic and then traipse into the cornfield, i.e., our backyard, to dine amongst stalks twice our height.  You really couldn’t call us anything BUT Children of the Corn.  But I’m not about to admit this to the inquirer.

Another favorite response is, “Oh my gosh, you must think this winter weather is tropical!”  This is a classic comment we South Dakotans hear just about everywhere we go outside of the upper Midwest.  Yes, it’s true, the Dakotan tundra is notorious for reaching wind chills of 50+ degrees below zero.  But a DC winter is hardly mild.  You have to wear the same goose down here that you do there, people.  I just realized that you may not even understand the term “wind chill” and I have completely defeated my point.  Maybe I shouldn’t go into how our house used to become so engulfed in a snowdrift that we could walk right up to the roof.

I cannot fully blame the Midwest-illiterate for their misconceptions, however.  This is evident especially when I consider the striking difference between my current and former local news.  For example, recently the Washington Post described an event hosted by the First Lady to encourage children to become more active, complete with a photo of Mrs. Obama twirling a hula-hoop.  In contrast, today’s Argus Leader explains that a Colton, SD man recently won his age division of the National Cornhusking Championships by hand-husking 382 pounds of corn.  In case you’re wondering, this amounts to about 30 ears per minute.

So, while I understand the occasional stereotypical reference to my people as corn-fed child-brides, please consider that regional discrimination is a serious problem.  The more we recognize how much we actually share in common, the better off we are.  I mean, at a minimum we have all visited Mt. Rushmore, right?  Wait, now that I think about it, if you haven’t been to my state’s and this country’s crown jewel, I’m afraid we have nothing to say to each other.


Sarah Bueller

Former and Forever South Dakotan

DC 09 -- Rephs 055


Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

Stars! They’re Just Like US!

The most startling aspect of the Richard Heene “balloon boy” debacle isn’t that he used his children as pawns, or that he wasted taxpayer dollars so that hundreds of people could look for his not-missing child, or even that he lied.

The most remarkable part of the story is that he did all of this for…a reality TV show.

Way to set that bar high, buddy.

As the story of the hoax broke, people were outraged, and rightfully so, but they should not have been shocked.  Heene is not the first person to shamelessly put his family up for auction to the highest bidder in the name of fame.  If “Octo-Mom” can have networks knocking on her door to give her $50,000 an episode, who can blame mad-scientist Richard Heene for wanting some green?

People used to only have a shot at fame if they were enormously talented and landed that one-in-a-million chance of connecting with the right people, living in the right city, and succeeding on their thousandth audition.  Now, everyone is under the impression that if they put themselves out there, are weird enough, and are OK with being filmed in their home, they will gain national recognition.

Decent behavior and dignity have taken understudy roles, unfortunately.

Example: “The Real Housewives” series.  There is not one ounce of regret or embarrassment for being portrayed as vain, selfish, catty women.  They are proud of it.  But at least the networks know this and play it up to embarrass them.   It’s like the viewers and the producers are in on the same joke at the absurdity of their behavior.  (Full disclosure: I think these women are pathetic…yet I am obsessed with the New York branch.)

But I don’t think this type of behavior is exclusive to those who believe in extra-terrestrials or those who are just extra-fertile.  I think all of us have that same desire for fame, to some degree.

It’s as if most of us crave worship.  We want others to look at our lives, approve, and envy.  We want people to admire us and want to be like us.

If anyone thinks they are above this banal behavior, they should check their Facebook profile.   It’s like our very own non-celebrity or US Weekly.  We post ultra-flattering photos and compose status updates that practically scream, “Look at my fabulous life!”  It’s akin to having a personal PR campaign.  I am utterly guilty of this, and when I think about it, I feel a self-repulsive shiver.

Few people ever post honest struggles or content that would put them in an unfavorable light.  I agree with this to a point; after all, not everyone should enter our dark places, and perhaps Facebook is light-hearted enough that we should keep it positive.

But the point stands:  we seek to be adored.

Cough, cough…this blog…cough, cough.

I mean, honestly.  I am not going to avoid admitting I enjoy that people read Words Become One.   If I were to balk at myself right now, you wouldn’t even buy it.

Besides, blogs are naturally muddy waters because it is not possible for any blogger, however humble, to pretend that their site does not begin and end with him or her.  She is writing from her frame of reference, about her thoughts, in her own life.  Whether it’s a news analysis blog or a mommy blog — it is unavoidably about the writer.

So what to do about it?  How does anyone conquer this need to gather the masses in praise of oneself?  What will convince Richard Heene that he should get a job like any other father, rather than seek fame to his family’s detriment?

Practicing the art of humility would seem most obvious, but it is also quite difficult because as soon as we’ve done it we have the tendency to destroy it by thinking, “Hurray!  I’m being humble!”  If you can avoid that catch-22, please tell me how.  It’s very annoying.

Worshiping God is one weapon in this inner battle.  Through giving honor to Him rather than to myself or others, I realize that He is infinitely deserving of my admiration.  My own flaws and faults, by comparison, make me slightly ill.  And I want to be idolized?  Barf.

For now, I will do one small part by ricocheting this me-me-me blog into new territory.  I am handing Words Become One over to a guest blogger next week.  I will not reveal who this blogger is until next Wednesday, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Neither will I.  After all, I chose the writer.  (Because remember, it’s all about me.)


Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

“…and you must be MRS. Reph.”

Last week I attended a political dinner which concluded a conference Mike helped to organize.  Mike serves as treasurer for the Evergreen Leadership Conference and works all year for this one-day event.

That he participates shouldn’t really be surprising. That I looked forward to attending may be.

You probably wouldn’t know it if you met me now, but I used to have my heart set on being a senator.  I’ve been involved in political activities since high school, and always assumed that I would go to law school, serve privately, and establish a public presence before finally running for senator — and then I’d get married.

Well, that didn’t work out, did it?

It’s nobody’s fault but my own.  I chose other pursuits, realized I had no interest in law school, and that was that.

Still, this dinner last week was a bit of an out of body experience.  As I watched him interact with people and run the event, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t me.  I, too, have lived and worked in Washington, D.C.  I have hob-knobbed with politicians and attended political events.  I have walked the halls of the House of Representatives and the Capitol building as an intern.  How did I end up as the arm piece?  (Not that I am, though I do try to dress to impress.)

Most people expect the uninvolved ladies to be somewhat mindless.   I choose not to be insulted by this.  It’s an opportunity; when a group is discussing health care and I make a thoughtful comment, I can see the tiny eyebrow raises and metaphorical jaws on the floor as if they’re exclaiming, “She reads the paper!  You don’t say!”

Meeting people in this atmosphere is the place where I feel most acutely the “extension” part of marriage — the surreal feeling that people are looking and talking with me not as who I am, but as an extension of my husband.

As much as I love talking politics with the general public, I do have my limits.  For instance, a gentleman seated next to me at dinner the other night was going on and on about how homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed in church until they’re no longer practicing their lifestyle.  I replied that if all people weren’t allowed in church until after they stopped sinning, the place would be empty, but he refused to see my point.  Soon, I was boiling below the surface.

These are the moments when Mike lightly taps my arm in the “it’s not worth it,” gesture, and I simply let the man finish his thought.  I nod politely, and transition by commenting on the approaching dessert.

I think this is where I lose my footing in the political sphere.  You see, I am much more pro-Jesus than I am pro-Republican.  I am loyal to my faith, not my political party.  Jesus is not part of a political group, so I do not want to align myself too strictly with something outside of Him.  However, I can see that this line of thinking can quickly lead to being utterly passive, and that is what keeps me engaged in moral/economical/social issues of the day.

For now formal involvement isn’t my pursuit.  However, it will be a long transition to let go of that part of myself, and realize that this other role, this seeming second-place as wife, is just as valid.  Perhaps more so.

The unexpected blessing is that political events aren’t as hard as when I did them alone.  It’s almost like Mike whacks away at the underbrush and then I just have to walk through.  Since people already know him, by the time I meet them it’s like they already accept me; all I have to do is not ruin that impression.  Previous to marriage, I did all my own bushwhacking.

When Mike and I got together, we both loved that the other was as into politics as we were.  It was such a bonus, because so many people we’d each dated completely didn’t get it.  But we didn’t really dive deep enough to see the obvious:  there may be two senators for each state, but there probably shouldn’t be two senators for each marriage.

Two of the people I respect most in this world, Skip and Cyd Li, assured me that marriage does not mean I fade away, only to be glanced at as an accessory to my mate.

“You are NOT wallpaper,” they said emphatically one night while having dinner at our place.  “We want to see you get your law degree and run for city council and move your way up.  If you don’t want that, fine.  But don’t dismiss it just because Mike has those same interests.”

This advice is only believable because Cyd lives it every day.  Her marriage to Skip, who is partner in a major Seattle law firm, doesn’t stop her from buzzing all over town with her own projects and passions.  She gives to people as much as he does, but uses her own gifts.

I suppose that’s why I’m fine with redefining success for myself.  Mike may decide never to pursue a seat, or he may become even more involved tomorrow.  I have to be at peace with where I am apart from that.

Besides, it’s no secret that I handle criticism about as well as I handle getting lemon juice in my eye.  Mike has thicker skin.  He’ll handle the lemons.


Filed under One WORD (Current Events)