I’m going to drive home. I’ll have seven hours by myself, possibly with my cat, to reflect on all this.
It’s been a weird 18 months. I’ve never been the person I was while I was here. That’s not to say I was fake — I tried to remain true to the city-dwelling liberal college graduate that took this job, even as the majority of the people around here carried on with their rural conservative lifestyle.
I’ve never been an adult, and by and large, that’s what I’ve been since moving to Kansas. In a way that makes me sad, because I’ve always been a kid — the youngest sibling, the silliest friend, the shortest in my grade level — no matter what group I was in.
I was still a kid, in most ways, among all the groups I interacted with here. But that didn’t get me very far. I could be a kid, but I couldn’t get by on it. It was kind of, “Yeah, OK, get over yourself and be an adult.”
I’d like to think I got over myself while I was here.
Overwhelmingly, I felt a longing to connect with the issues of life in Marion, Kansas. I can’t thank enough the folks who showed me those issues, who welcomed me into their homes and allowed me to just empathize, and then write their stories.
Being written about is like being talked about as though you’re not in the room. Here, those conversations are published every Wednesday and you can read them.
It’s been difficult at times to face the subjects of my stories afterward. Because then the ball is back in their court, and they can offer a referendum on my abilities as a writer.
I know this sounds dumb. It sounds self-absorbed. But when you write, you’re writing about yourself as much as anyone you interview. You become a mirror to the community. Sometimes when people look at you, they really don’t like what they see.
And as a mirror, how do you know if you look good? You can’t be defined by the frame on your fringes, nor by the subject matter you reflect. It’s about clarity and accuracy, really.
That’s what I respect most about this newspaper. We’ve stayed true to our journalistic mission even in the face of officials and advertisers who would sooner us be a public relations agency. We don’t write to sell this community. We don’t write to lure in the outsider who happens to pick up the paper — that narrative is a fantasy, anyway. We write for the people here. We write for the citizens who live here, and we write accurately and fairly about the community. That’s what makes us controversial, I guess, but moreover that’s what makes us good journalism.
That presence of open and honest community journalism was what made someone like me want to come here.
Marion’s a beautiful little place — “not a bad place to live,” as I was told repeatedly when I first moved here. It’s a little birthmark near the navel of America. I will go back to bigger, busier places, and unlike a lot of the masses I meet along the way, I will know Marion exists.
I will know that a group of guys is having popcorn at the pharmacy every Friday. I will know Margo Yates is fielding a call and helping strangers in any way she can. Roger Hannaford is walking to or from the county courthouse, wooden box of papers in hand, making Hall-of-Fame level small talk with anyone and everyone he sees.
A Marion workday in motion is a gorgeous exhibit.
My stay here was short, but long enough that I eventually stopped being a museum patron and had to start living life. It was a great opportunity, well worth my time.
Thank you for reading my writing. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for your grace at my mistakes (particularly John and Marianne Siebert). Thank you for your criticism. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for accepting me as my own person and just letting me live awhile in your community.
I’m off to whatever’s next — and I still haven’t quite figured that out yet — but a piece of Marion will come with me wherever I go. Like a charm in my pocket, Marion, others may not understand, but I’ll know what you represent and what you mean to me.
— ELIOT SILL