Monday, May 14, 2012

Living In Ogden

In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked Ogden, Utah as number two of America's most livable cities.

Ogden has a vibrant art and theater scene, hiking trails, more than forty parks, close access to skiing, rivers for fishing, a Dinosaur Park,  the Treehouse Museum., The Junction, Ogden Symphony Ballet, and now, even a Walmart. 

The employment rate is 5.9%, while nationally it's 8.2%. There is affordable housing, and I've met some of the most amazing, friendly people.

 Yet whenever I tell people I live in Ogden, the response isn't a positive one. I've had people say, "I'm so sorry," as if I just told them I have an incurable disease. Always there is this look of, "Oh, I didn't realize you were poor."

Because what Ogden has that speaks louder than all forty parks, seven hiking trails, and eighteen museums and art galleries, is a bad reputation.

Poor people live in Ogden. Ogden isn't safe. That's its rep.

 There are a million dollar homes in Ogden. I don't live in one, but they are here. Yet when I tell someone outside of Ogden where I live, they don't assume I live in a million dollar home, they assume I must live in the trailer park, or next door to a drug dealer, ( been there) or living off of government assistance.

Perhaps it's my hair.

There's an assumption that Ogden isn't safe. But crime statistics show that Ogden is far safer than Salt Lake, Park City, Riverdale, or West Valley. ( For those of you who don't live in Utah, those are cities in Utah with a better rep than Ogden. And also West Valley.)

Now I'm not saying Ogden is the best place in the world to live. ( I'm not Forbes Magazine.) It has its issues. ( I'm talking about you, Ogden School District). But it is simply not as bad as people think it is.

How Reputation Changes a City (or a Character)

I've been watching ABC Family's Jane by Design lately ( First season now available on NetFlix. Watch it!), and I'm obsessed. 

It's not because I love to see the clothes, or the fashion world, or even Jane, (who for the record I dig). I'm obsessed because of this guy.

That guy with the gravity defying hair is Billy, Jane's best friend. He's this brilliant, beautiful, broken character, who smiles and laughs, when he has every cause to be angry.

 He also reminds me a little bit of the main character in my book, Joe. Which, I admit, makes me a little biased.

He's awesome. He's insanely loyal to Jane. He would do, (and has done)  anything and everything for his best friend. He fights for her. He gives up so much to help her.

But no one else on the show sees him the way Jane (and the audience) does.

Because when other characters in the show see him, this is what they see...

That's not what he is, but that's what they see.

 Sometimes what people thinks about you is so loud, that they can't see the truth. Your reputation can change how you relate to the world, and how you act. Especially when reputation is believed more than truth.

 Every character has a reputation, every setting has a reputation, and that reputation can manipulate motivation.

Reputation can be a shield that protects a character from showing their true qualities. Reputation can be something difficult to live up to. I know what it's like for people to think I'm better at something than I actually am, and I know what it's like when people think I'm worse at something than I actually am. Reputation can make life difficult, when you start to believe the label.

It's hard to stand up for your own character, when you're only in the first draft stage.

You have to know who you are, which is difficult since every person is in a constant state of flux. If you let how other people think of you change who you are, you're making a mistake,, but it's a mistake that characters, and real life people just like me, make.

Feeling that people think I'm poor because I live in Ogden, changes how I interact with people I perceive richer than I am.  I don't want it to. I wish sometimes that I didn't care what people thought. I wish that a bad review, or a hurtful comment didn't make me want to reach for the ice cream.

 I wish I didn't feel ashamed because someone believes a lie.

I guess it's time I take a lesson from Jane by Design, and smile and laugh (the way Billy would) at how other people perceive me.

Because how people think of me, doesn't change who I really am.

Not unless I let it.


  1. I don't think I've ever thought about character reputations that way before. (And I think I'm going to have to check out Jane by Design. Sounds like my kind of show!) Oh, and for the record, I think Ogden is beautiful. I've got friends that live there and they love it.

    Love this post, Sheena. Don't let ignorant people get you down! :)

  2. The first thing I think about when I hear Ogden is Weber State Univeristy. Definitely not gangs and trailer parks, doesn't every city have those?

    I get what you are saying about reputation. It was one of the reasons I was so excited to graduate from high school and go away to college. After being with the same people for eight years, I felt like I was locked into how my classmates precieved me, and I couldn't be who I really was, if that makes sense.

    I loved Joe from you book. I'll have to check out Jane by Design, sounds interesting.

  3. *jots down "Ogden" on his "If I ever move to the U.S." list*

  4. My general impression of Ogden was driving by it a few times between Laramie and Twin Falls, ID. Looked like a nice place from the freeway - not that that's any real judge.

    I tend to send my characters on journeys and love putting them out of their element. So reputation isn't something I've thought about overly much - but it's definitely something I'll be keeping in mind from now on.

  5. Sheena, I feel like we're almost the inverse of each other. I live in an incredibly wealthy area and it takes every last penny to make ends meet, but people always assume everyone around here is loaded. My area is incredibly location-focused. No matter where you live, you always wish you could have afforded another few blocks west of that.

    Reputations matter a lot when you're in high school, and not just the obvious popular kid or troubled kid stuff. The way your parents treat you, the way your friends treat you, the way your teachers treat you, it's always based on who everyone thinks you are. When I went to college was the first time in my life that no one expected me to be a certain way, and I loved it. I still carry around some of those expectations inside, though. Reputations get internalized, and they are hard to shake.

    This is an area I haven't considered much with my characters, but I should have. Thanks for the insightful post.


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