Falling into the City

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Photo by Kevin Featherly

“Capitalist mechanisms are not working any more. We are fighting a massive proxy war in the Middle East and we suffer from a historical amnesia where we can’t remember the political atrocities of the past year, let alone decades ago.”

The speaker talked fast and loud as he sat at a folding table, his microphone propped up on a few thick books angled spine out so the audience could read the titles.

Mayday Books the warm air swirled with a soft dust, perhaps one I imagined. The room was crowded with ideas. Both The people and the books were scruffy. I had no idea what was going on. By now I was used to the feeling of disorientation. I’d just moved to Minneapolis three weeks earlier and was adjusting to a new job, a new apartment, and new people. With no other plans for this Saturday afternoon, I settled into my plastic chair in the middle of the audience to listen.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, I accrued a brief history of the political wrongs of capitalism in what felt like every nation in the world. I discovered massive gaps in my understanding of historical and political events. At the end of the formal talk, the floor opened up for questions and discussion during which I stayed silent although I had many questions. I was too embarassed at my lack of basic political knowledge to ask them.

Weeks after the meeting, I’m still wondering why I stayed in a room full of strangers listening to a political discussion which I believed I had little stake in and few mental tools to process. It could have had something to do with the lingering September sun caught in the recessed windows or the fact that it took place in a bookstore, one of those universal safe spaces for everyone.

After the meeting I biked to Lake of the Isles where I lounged in the grass next to my bike reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. The book had taken on a Biblical power since my moving as it speaks to the ways people move through spaces gathering and, in turn, shaking off attachments to places, people, and artifacts. My copy was dog-eared and highlighted, it’s stories layered up with the second skins of my own.

I’d come to the city looking for some new perspectives from people, some buzz at a different frequency than the one I lived at for the summer months in rural New Hampshire. In one of Solnit’s essays, she writes about her life in San Francisco in the 1980s, a time of her own grungy youth while she inhabited the city’s landscape crumbling factory ruins. She writes that a place can swallow a person up. People can become their places.   

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Minneapolis is a mathematician’s dream. Wide and flat boulevards split outward from downtown in a grid pattern. Each neat box is demarkated by asphalt roads lined with cement sidewalks. Boxes are filled with homes, schools, libraries, and stores. Mapped on top of the grid is something more fluid and chaotic. There’s a frenetic and transgressive energy created by the human density of the city.

Despite it’s apparent order, I’ve found anomalies in the grid. I search them out. The soft edges allow deviance, a slipping of accepted mores. 

That Marxist meeting in Mayday Books was an anomaly moment. I still can’t be sure why I crave the anomaly except that it brings me energy, some of that trangressive, restless city stuff no one can quite pin down. In that dusty afternoon of slipping sunlight I  stopped obsessing on why I left New Hampshire and allowed myself to slip a little further into Minneapolis. I’ve been searching out more of these moments ever since.

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View from the 11th Ave Bridge
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3 thoughts on “Falling into the City

  1. This is an interesting post….capturing that feeling of being between places…holding on to the past while navigating your way into the present.

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  2. Liminal. You’re looking for the liminal in Minneapolis. 🙂

    I’m not sure Minneapolis is a mathematician’s dream, tho. Look at a map of Minneapolis – the original streets are all parallel and perpendicular to the Mississippi and then wham! the rectangular land survey hit and you have places called Seven Corners.

    Look at the map again, at the lakes and at Minnehaha Creek and how the streets get a little weird there. Try to track 23rd Street through south Minneapolis.

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