• Lauren Donovan

Iowa ain't half bad

Updated: Apr 11, 2019

"Don't forget to sign up for FarmersOnly.com."

"What are you going to report on there? Corn?"

"I heard you're moving to Iowa...Why?"

In their defense, the last of the three questions is justifiable. I'm not from Iowa, I don't know anyone from Iowa - so why would I move there? The only thing, not justified about the question that I seemed to keep getting was the occasional scoff that followed it. As I am sure my mom can attest, I never do well with scoffers. That reaction, put me on the defensive because I was excited about making this move. This was the job I wanted. Despite others preconceived notions of this place, I had visited Des Moines and was genuinely looking forward to living there.

Yet, I was insecure.

As a fresh graduate of the University of Missouri, this 22 year-old journalist was not bound for the bounties of a big city. No Manhattan congestion, no office off the Magnificent Mile and certainly no Seattle hometown connections. God forbid, this city didn't even have a Soul Cycle yet! So, why was I looking forward to what could be social isolation and separation from al that I love?

The promise of mentorship and growth at a reputable station like KCCI-TV had me on a high. Knowing this is what I needed professionally allowed for the loneliness and self-doubt to roll in slowly. Unfortunately over time, months and judgements began to mount and as they did, I began comparing myself to my peers.

This sounds like a dark spiral and to be candid, it was. However, I want to lighten your spirits and let you know the tide has since turned and so too did my heart toward Des Moines. Building a community takes time and an appreciation for where you're at can prove more challenging. I'm sharing this experience and story in hopes of helping anyone who moves to a smaller city or town post-grad.

"I am a struggling cat mom".

I found Darcy on the "Des Moines Girl Gang" Facebook page. A work colleague knew I was in the market for a cat, and as soon as she shared a picture of her with me, I knew she'd be mine.

I'll admit sometimes she does not have the best manners (we are working on them), but she has proved a wonderful companion. Without a doubt she is the Mr. Darcy to my Elizabeth Bennett, and our relationship cracks me up. I think having something fluffy that relies on you to keep it alive, gives you a sense of purpose in coming home.

She sleeps under the covers with me each night, and when I travel I miss having her by my side. The longer I am gone, the more I begin to wish I was with her and her firecracker-sounding purrs. It will get to the point that I actually want to come back to Des Moines just to see her. In many ways, she's my anchor here.

Become a regular

I moved to Iowa without any friends or any expectations of who my friends here could be. At first, I had none. Work was fulfilling, and each morning, I woke up excited to tell stories and explore the state. It was in my down time that a lack of belonging began to stir. In college, I found coffee shops as a way to center myself. I was hoping to find a similar refuge in my new city. The weekend I moved into my studio apartment, so did Horizon Line Coffee into 1417 Walnut Street.

White brick with high ceilings allowed for room to think. Rotating seasonal menus gave me something to look forward to. Above all, the service behind the counter made me feel like I had a place. The owners of this minimalist escape had also moved from the West Coast and were pursuing their dreams as well. I could empathize with that. We began to make small talk and over time they learned not only my orders but my personality quirks. For a while, they were the only people I interacted with outside of work.

Today, I am writing this as I sit in that coffee shop. I bring sources there for meetings, proudly share it with friends when they pay visits and where I'm able to accomplish the most. Beyond that, it has a personal touch - one of the owners, even gave me the hat off his head because, I told him I liked it so much. They'll treat me to free drinks if they see I'm having a bad day. If you're ever in town, looking for caffeine, stop by and let them know I sent you their way.

Go on girl dates

Allow people to set you up. You need friends.

When I first moved, I was very picky about who I spent my time with. At first, I was not terrified by my loneliness, I felt liberated by it. The obligations of college were gone, once my story aired and the newscast was over for the day I was a free-bird. I doubted I would make as strong of connections in this new world of mine as I had back home. I thought I would at least find some "fillers" over my three-year contract period that could occupy my time. What I got was far from temporary...

The Sports Reporter's Fiancé

I knew little about Whitney when she moved in with our new sports reporter, Nick. When she toured the station, we chatted briefly, but it took a couple weeks for me to get up the courage to ask her beau for her number. All it took was a brunch date and this literary whiz had become my "book editor". She's visited me in Seattle and stayed with our family and this coming fall, I'll be attending her wedding in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. (Thanks for editing this post by the way girlfriend).

The French Photographer

Tatiana is the French-big-sister I never knew I needed, but boy, did I ever need her. Someone from work met her at a photography exhibition and instantly thought the two of us would click. He showed me her Instagram profile and seeing how unbelievably cool she was, I couldn't help but slide into her DMs. Yes, I said that! Having moved to the Midwest from Paris a couple years prior she understood how I felt, but also was truly happy in this place. If this Versailles-raised fashionista could fall in love with Des Moines, what was stopping me? Tatiana might as well be a local socialite and she began to allow me to tag along to events with her. Her friends became mine, and being her friend led to a newfound appreciation of my new home.

The Girl at the Gallery

While at a "First Friday" art event, I met Gaby. What began with discussing a mixed-media piece with a group transformed into a one-on-one chat. Her excessive Wes Anderson references and stories of life abroad in Vienna led me to believe we'd have a lot in common. I couldn't believe myself though, when suddenly without thought I asked for her number. The next week we were splitting a cheese board and sipping Belgian Beers. Sadly she's since moved to Nashville, but she is ready for me to pay her a visit.

The Other Coaster

It was a sweltering-hot day at the Polk County Courthouse when I met Caroline. We were both assigned to cover an abortion story by our respective newsrooms. She had moved from D.C. to Des Moines for a job as the statehouse reporter at a different station. The photographer I was paired with for the day knew her and introduced us. We went for drinks on the Fourth of July and today are inseparable. As someone my same age from a big city, we empathize with each other over distance from family and friends. It's that common ground that has chiseled away at the idea that "it's just me" out here.

Moral of the Story: Put yourself out there!

Give yourself more than one purpose

Join organizations. I am fortunate to serve on the board of the Des Moines Art Center's Print Club. I may be the youngest member and most uneducated in the world of art, but I am being exposed to concepts and characters I would have never encountered otherwise.

When I first moved to Des Moines, I would go on bike rides to the Art Center and just putz around the galleries by myself. I knew I wanted to learn more about the world of art, but was unsure of how to break in and get started. I think it was fear above all else. I turned this interest into a new commitment. I never expected the Print Club to be searching for someone social media savvy, but I am sure glad they picked me.

I am grateful to this uber-talented photographer (pictured above) Molly Wood for throwing my name in the ring as a potential member. This opportunity has thrown me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to grow in different ways than I ever could at work. Also Molly is worth a Google, she photographs poisonous plants and the way she utilizes light is mesmerizing.

Be present. Be curious.

Check your attitude and begin to investigate your new place. What can you experience here that you can't anywhere else? Make a list of places to check out and don't be afraid of an inner-state road trip. You may never live here again, better see it all! (Pictured below: Sculpture installation outside the Hotel Pattee in Perry).

One of my favorite adventures was when my work girl squad went to the racetrack in Knoxville together. Sourced from across the country: Reno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Peoria we all received a full education. Sprint Car racing in Iowa is a BIG DEAL and I know all of us would return in a heartbeat, even if just for a dance party and a beer at the "Dingus" after the race.

On Facebook, RSVP to as many activities that spark your interest. Don't be afraid of going alone. If you're looking for an idea of where to start to ease yourself in, I would suggest a yoga class: it's not weird if you're quiet and even if you end up not talking to anyone at least you got out of your apartment!

First picture: An Andy Warhol party at Mainframe Studios allowed me to dress in 60s garb and led me to meeting Lori, one of my close friends who I bought a vintage t-shirt from!

Second picture: The Art Center threw a polka-dot-party in honor of the addition of a Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin to our sculpture garden downtown. I am a BIG Kusama fan, so I couldn't miss out. Also themed parties are my type of parties, always.

Pictured: One of many murals you'll find in Creston, Iowa. Try to appreciate where you're at and find beauty in it.

My best advice to you would be: love the ones you're with. They may not have known you since you had braces, but that doesn't mean they're any less valuable. Be grateful for them and show it as often as you can. It's easy to compare where you're at to where you could be. Sometimes we can't help it - I know I couldn't. What helped me is focusing on what makes this spot remarkable. How can I get the most out of where I'm at? How can I get to know it better? You don't want to part ways wishing you'd seen and experienced more.

Best of luck on your journey,


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