Here is a significant sampling of the very few things I know for sure:
1. I would like to eat a Golden Pride breakfast burrito every day forever.
2. There is no place I would less like to be than any car in any city during rush hour.
3. Tomorrow is the weekend. I think.
4. Moving back to a place is a funny thing.
I’d hate to overwhelm you with my profundity, so I’ll stop there.
As you may have guessed (okay, one last thing all of us know: the last item on any list tends to be the most important/punchy), it’s that last one I’d like to discuss.
Because, for the last six months that I have been living in the Twin Cities, a place I lived before, but not in a while, “a funny thing” has been the awkward zenith of my descriptive capacity.
Another thing we sort of kind of all know (last thing for reals this time) is that perspective yields clarity, along with, sometimes, enhanced describing acumen. And so, now that I have temporarily launched myself, hyperactive puppy style, into another kind-of-sort-of familiar place (Taos, New Mexico, where I’ve spent a total of about four weeks in life and have just arrived for a three month writing residency*), it feels an opportune time to take a whack at writing about my return to Minnesota.
As the Internet often illustrates, when you don’t have anything particularly significant to say, it’s nifty to disguise your thoughts in list form. Alas, here you are:
*What happens when you mix together eighteen acres, Taos, New Mexico, three months, and eleven artists uprooted from their jobs/partners/homes many miles away? Stay tuned.
1) People move on/still exist even though you forget them.
Soon after I moved to Minneapolis, I had a conversation with an old friend in which she mentioned a woman who both of us used to know and whom I hadn’t thought of in nine years.
“Oh, her!” I said. “So, you still hang out with her?”
“Um, yeah,” my friend said, agreeably. (Cause, you know, she’s Midwestern and all.)
She could have said, “I see her a lot,” or “Of course I do,” or, “Just because you leave, Elizabeth, people don’t stop hanging out.” All of which would have been totally fair.
Intellectually, it’s obvious that things continue to exist even when we don’t live near them/ they aren’t on Facebook or Instagram. But the whole “out of sight…” thing isn’t small: we only have so much space to which we can pay attention; tenuous ties and sizable distance inevitably take hold.
2) Minneapolis and Saint Paul are different cities.
This may seem intuitive, but when two towns sit right beside each other and share a boundary so elusive that even natives are often unsure which one they’re passing through, the divergent characters of each place are worth noting.
I went to college in Saint Paul: half my time there was spent within the confines of a bitty college campus; the other half within a radius of no more than a mile. My friends and I explored the occasional Minneapolis diner or record store, but for the most part we stayed nearby, in the well-heeled, Whole Foods-progressive neighborhood that Jonathan Franzen so aptly skewered.
Here’s what I have re-learned in the last six months:**
* Minneapolis hipsters are really really hipster-ish, like, to the degree that, if not for the negative thirty five degree wind chill, you might think you were in Portland.
* St. Paul hipsters are mostly in college. (And later might become Minneapolis hipsters, if they don’t move home to Iowa or try to make it in Chicago.)
* Minneapolis is denser, busier, and more fast-paced.
* Saint Paul (or, as one old friend used to refer to it, “Saint Small,”) has more old-world charm. It’s sleepier, has majestic residential neighborhoods with more character than those in Minneapolis, and is pleasantly less concerned with being Chicago.
**Yes, what’s happening is a list within a list. Believe it.
3) Both cities have a lot of suburbs, and a startling number of them start or end, confusingly, with the word “maple.”
4) Smells really bring you back! Also, you don’t know anyone anymore.
A couple of weeks ago I met N at a coffee shop near my old college campus: a coffee shop where I’d spent literally hundreds of hours as a student, studying American history and literature and, mostly, preening. The décor was identical, the scent of roasting beans exactly as thick.
The place was packed. I couldn’t stop looking around: surely I’d know somebody there, surely somebody there would know me.
My rational brain knows that people and places move on without you; my rational brain knows that nine years is a really long time, especially when expensive and transient liberal arts college neighborhoods are involved. But my senses seem sadly slow to catch up.
5) Sounds also bring you back! And, again, things and people change.
Recently, I went to a yoga class taught by a friend. It was the first class I’d been to in ages, and the music (Hanuman! Hanuman!) and the postures transported me right back to Albuquerque: I began to feel wistful for my old studio and friends there…only to realize how many of them had already left, too; how different the place would be if I were to go back. How, most often, the places we leave are never again the way we left them.
6) New bars and restaurants open a lot!
7) College acquaintances are people too!
One thing about having gone to school with fewer than two thousand others is that, by the time you graduated, you recognized pretty much everyone in your class. You probably didn’t know their name, but there’s a good chance (especially if they’re the same race as you, which, probably, they were) that you knew them by association: they were on the soccer team, or sang acapella, or hung out with a bunch of kids who smoked severe amounts of pot. There’s also a good chance that you know very little else, say, nine years later, when you run into them at a coffee shop, and realize that, despite having had a distinct area of interest/drug of choice, they are actually a three-dimensional human beings who (like you!) drinks coffee and (like you!) enjoy music and bagels and (like you?) is probably, also, pretty smart and interesting.
I told you moving back places was funny!
I hope you learned something, friends. Or at least, I hope I successfully distracted you with all of the numbers.