Minnesota’s Nice

Last week’s AWP conference in Minneapolis was my first good excuse in a long time to sail back to my college town. It was also a good excuse for half a dozen reunions—with a high school writing buddy, with friends from my days as an undergrad student in St. Paul, and with classmates from the writing program at Pacific University.

“I might want to live here,” one of my Pacific friends mused. “I mean, I know we haven’t seen much more than downtown, and we won’t get much of a chance to explore—”

I needed no further prompting to launch into the Macalester College Admissions Office Tour Guide spiel. I rattled off some of the attractive features of the Twin Cities (more theater seats per capita than any city in the country, except for NYC, seems to be the fact that has cemented itself in my brain). Later, as we wandered through downtown Minneapolis back to our hotel, I pointed out theaters, restaurants, Prince’s First Avenue, landmarks of my own personal Minneapolis experience. I was surprised at how much I recognized, how much I remembered. For years I’d thought I didn’t know Minneapolis very well at all, but here I was gesturing at Westminster Presbyterian Church, talking about refugee populations in the Twin Cities, recommending Dunn Bros coffee, chatting up Lake Street like some kind native.

When I’d landed in MSP I’d hung around the airport waiting for a friend to land so we could head to the conference together. I passed my favorite airport bakery and browsed through half a dozen Minnesota souvenir shops, purchasing some locally produced caramel and a kitschy Land of Lakes mint tin and some postcards. While I waited I watched people charge off toward planes or baggage claims, and I could, without fail (I felt), identify the Upper Midwesterners—the sturdy, big-boned German and Scandinavians who populated this place. In short, my people.

Still, it’s been seven years since I lived in the Twin Cities. In those half-dozen years, my life has shifted toward the East Coast and while I still think of myself as a Midwesterner (have you heard the way I pronounce my vowels?) I know that it’s unlikely I’ll ever call Minnesota home again. It’s the kind of truth that’s hard to admit, especially after a long weekend feeling right at home in the Cities, nodding along to the references to Bemidji and Stillwater and western Wisconsin, sitting on a gorgeous Northwoods-inspired porch and sipping coffee in the cool spring breeze, skipping past the Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall and doing everything I can not to toss my own cap in the air, too.

In the last seven years, every phone conversation with my college roommate (owner of the Most Perfect Porch in Minnesota) has included some hopeful reference to my Future in the Minnesotan Motherland, and in the past week I’ve nursed a gratitude for friendships—the ones that endure, the ones that let me visit whenever I want to claim a little scrap of peace, and the ones that remain rooted in a home I might never call my own.

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