Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How I Became a Sort-Of Minnesotan

I lived in Alaska for a year right after grad school. I worked at The Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and the biggest news while I was there was that a K-Mart would be opening in town. (There were no discount kind-of stores at the time…that’s right, Lone Reader, a pre-Target era.) When that K-Mart opened, people waited outside for hours to get in. This is what you’d do for fun, when you’re not hunting or banning books. It was really a frontier, even in Anchorage…I saw a dude go into McDonalds with a gun in the waistband of his pants. Not to rob the place, mind you, just to get a McDLT.

I really, really didn’t want to raise a family there. There was hardly any art and it was so conservative. It was really harsh. My then spouse and I tried to figure out where to move next. We actually filled out all the paperwork to emigrate to New Zealand, and according to their point system, would’ve gotten in. Our families convinced us that this would not be good. And since we’d never been there, it seemed a little foolhardy. We finally made a list of criteria for finding a home: a city that was at least reasonably affordable with good political involvement, seasonal change, a strong arts community, and two newspapers. (That last one was a hold-over from Mike Kautsch, my beloved Reporting I professor. “Any town that can support rival dailies has at least a moderately literate population. Plus, the papers keep each other honest…in theory anyway.”

This led us to very few places – cities on the East Coast like Boston or Philly, Seattle or Minneapolis. (My mom had dibs on Chicago – no way was I going to share a city with her.) Affordable kicked most cities out. I would’ve liked Seattle, but it was right after the big Seattle migration and you’d hear stories all the time about Californians searching for work in Seattle and being massively bummed about the rain. Minneapolis seemed the logical choice – besides, the state had elected Paul Wellstone, a Jewish, college professor, community organizer who was already making a name for himself as an upstart liberal firebrand. Be still, my bleeding heart.

So we said goodbye to the last frontier, packed all our belongings in containers and sent them off to the Midwest. We, then, packed two weeks worth of stuff in the Miata, put our pug dog on the back ledge and drove home. We staggered out of the car in Minneapolis’ 7 corners Holiday Inn only to be told we had made a reservation at the downtown St. Paul Holiday Inn. After all the planning and list-making, we ended up settling in St. Paul because we called the wrong number in the phone book. The politics have been disappointing at times, and Wellstone’s death was heartbreaking, but the arts are almost thriving in the Twin Cities and I’ve been employed since living here. I’ve made tremendous friends and hardly any enemies. (kidding.) I’m happy that my kids were born here. (I’m not, however, happy that they say “pop” instead of soda and “duck, duck, grey duck”.) I don’t consider myself a Minnesotan, maybe because I moved so much as a kid, I’m reticent to say I’m from anywhere…you know, always have one foot out the door. This is, I guess, the closest I’ve ever come to being “from” somewhere. All in all, it’s pretty good in Minnesota. Maybe I really am a Minnesotan. Well, ask me again in February.

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