High Point, NC
Carrollton, GA Luncheon
It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.
We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.
But the beauty of the move is psychological, how it puts dead history behind you and opens up vistas shining and new. This is the American solution to just about any problem: get out of town. I worked in St. Paul for forty years and got sandbagged a year ago and felt bad about it and now I’m in Minneapolis and am over it. So there.
Minneapolis and St. Paul are adjoining cities along the upper Mississippi that, from an airplane, look like one city but they are not. What is the difference between them? The difference is that in Minneapolis people would be astonished that anyone would need to ask that question. Minneapolis is a center of culture and the arts, home of the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Institute of Art, a city sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Midwest. St. Paul is the home of Mickey’s Diner, Candyland, the farm campus of the University, and a minor league ball club whose mascot is a pig.
St. Paul is a big small town and knows its place (next to Minneapolis). Minneapolis cares terribly what outsiders think of it, and if the New York Times writes about Minneapolis as a cultural mecca, people hug each other and jump up and down and the schools are closed for the day. St. Paulites go to Minneapolis; Minneapolitans don’t go to St. Paul. They go to New York, or London, or to Paris, the Minneapolis of Europe. They fear that if they visited St. Paul, someone might think they’re from there. For the same reason New Yorkers avoid Newark and Bostonians Providence: what if you were struck by a car and your wallet was lost and you lay unidentified in a morgue and wound up becoming a permanent resident?
Minneapolis is where young people go who want to make it as writers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, comedians — tough rows to hoe and so it’s good to have co-conspirators. I lived in Minneapolis when I was young and arrogant and writing poetry that was incomprehensible and contained deep pools of agony. It was easy to be incomprehensible but I didn’t possess enough agony, having grown up in a nice Christian family. I moved to St. Paul. I took up prose fiction. I came to enjoy being paid for what I wrote. I wrote books and I sat in bookstores signing copies of my books to friends and relatives of the buyers. It was a good life. I never was noticed by The New York Review of Each Other’s Books or named Poet Laundromat of the United States or won a Pullet Surprise, and as a St. Paul writer, I didn’t expect to.
And then came the big move to Minneapolis, an apartment a block from where I got my first job out of high school, as a dishwasher in a hotel, where, at 17, I sat in a park nearby on my lunch hour, writing poems and practicing smoking cigarettes. I went to the old sandstone castle of the Minneapolis Public Library and devoured books. It’s lovely to be back.
And now I am old enough to see how lucky I am. Big honors are a heavy burden and have stunted the careers of many. It’s like being the Paris of the Midwest: people expect you to be très chic and not just a chicken on a tray. I was worried this year that I’d hear from Stockholm that I’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature and it was a relief when they decided not to award it. Every morning, I go to work feeling young and enterprising, hoping to make my mark. Minneapolis is full of people like me. I wish us all well.