Wait and See

I’m in Minneapolis now! And yet I still don’t know if I made the right choice. And for good reason. Minneapolis has excellent things going for it, but Cincinnati, annoyingly, does too. Let’s pit the two against each other in a bunch of different battles that keep playing out in my mind. I had thirteen hours of driving yesterday in which to think about all this, although actually I mostly listened to music and stressed out about the bike strapped to the back of my car (it was completely secure the whole time) and the traffic in Chicagoland, which is the worst thing ever.

People. Cincinnati has my family. I keep coming back to that. The last few years, on my brief stops through home while I’ve been traveling, I’ve had a lot more fun with my family, on both sides, than I ever thought possible when I was a kid. Cooking and hiking with my dad and Viki, playing lots of Scrabble and talking about the meaning of life with my mom and my grandma and grandpa. Cincinnati also has my two oldest friends, Keith and Aaron, with whom I’ve built up a long history of ridiculousness and some truly preposterous stories. Leaving all these people behind has been by far the hardest part of deciding to move here. Why can’t you all come with me?

Minneapolis, meanwhile, has loads of people who went to my college, and enough creative people to hold a gigantic papier-mâché puppet parade every May Day, and permaculture people. And there are girls who are my age and are actually interesting to be with and talk with. In Cincinnati I never looked for love, and if I did, I really don’t know where I’d find it. I’m probably biased against Cincinnati girls because most of the girls I went to high school with were dull as rocks, and most of the ones who weren’t have moved away, apparently. I have high hopes for finding someone here who’s right. In Cincinnati I feel like I could remain alone for life. Though it’s probably because I never looked. Aaron and Keith both found someone good. I never asked them how: I probably should sometime. They sure didn’t do it at Finneytown.

Job. I don’t know much about either city in this regard, because my job search had an incredibly small radius: I looked online about three times in Minneapolis, and ended up getting a job that my friend told me about, it being the second one I applied to. The last job I held in Cincinnati was a 3rd-shift mail sorter at the post office distribution center, and I’ve never actively looked for a career. Come Monday I’ll be starting a call-center job that promises to be irrelevant to all my goals except the one of saving up money, and perhaps actively antagonistic to my goal of having a social life, since it’s second shift. Whereas in Cincinnati, Keith’s girlfriend works for a sign company, and says she might actually be able to get me on board too in the fall, given what she’s seen of my work with type, especially if I make myself a portfolio and start looking a little more impressive. That sounds like something I could legitimately enjoy. Working with letters and fonts and wordmarks all the time? Hell yeah! Probably sounds pretty dull to just about anyone else, but I’ve got fonts on the brain!

Nature. My grandparents all spoiled me for wilderness when I was a kid. Once a year I would go to a remote part of Canada for a week; other times I would go run around in the woods of West Virginia. Then I would come back to Cincinnati and face pure disappointment. There are some parks, but a city park, even one as vast as Winton Woods, isn’t the same as real, uninterrupted stretches of wilderness, where coyotes can prowl and you can hunt deer and where you could walk mile after mile without ever hitting a street. While country kids were out in the woods learning how to find turkeys and when hickory nuts fall, the most I could do in terms of exploring the natural world was to go on creekwalks with my brother, down the marginal wet corridors that were unusable enough that they largely escaped being covered in concrete.

Minneapolis has lakes all over the place, several of them inside the city limits, one tiny one just a couple blocks from where I’m living. My friend Svea’s parents have a sailboat on one of the city lakes. There are parks and stuff that I haven’t visited. But the stronger advantage (since Cincinnati has a lake and woods too, even though the lake is a fake one created by the Army Corps of Engineers) comes from the area around. If you want to get out and experience some real wilderness, and you live in Cincinnati, well, good luck. Cornfields forever. There might be some respectable wilderness in Kentucky, but be prepared to drive for hours.

I’m coming to realize, though, that while Minneapolis is a city with wilderness near it, it’s still a city, and if I want to make my life center around wilderness, I’m going to have to abandon the idea of a city altogether (and when that happens, there go the dating prospects too, incidentally). There’s a tiny little story that catalyzed something for me. I was hiking with Dad and Viki and their Meetup.com group of hikers. For some reason I did the hand-whistle that Nana taught me—make a cavity out of your hands and blow into it and you can make a whippoorwill call (or a mourning dove, or a loon). A guy hiking with us told me he hardly knew anyone else who could do that, but he and his brother used to do it all the time when they were growing up in the hills of Tennessee, to call to each other. They even had a vocabulary of calls: one of them meant to come home for dinner, one of them meant to meet up at some certain spot. And though I’d probably been subconsciously aware of it for a long time, I finally realized just then that if I want to learn nature, I’m going to have to live in nature, and learn it like you would learn a language, through immersion, and that won’t happen in either Minneapolis or Cincinnati. In my vague, soft-focus visions of the future, it’ll happen in Michigan, when I go to work for a while on my acquaintance-verging-on-friend Erich’s permaculture community near Flint, but I don’t know when, and I don’t even know how much forest there is around there—enough to hunt in, and learn how to call ducks, and roam unimpeded? Or am I dreaming of West Virginia, and is that where I’d need to go? I don’t know, but I guess it’s irrelevant to this conflict, because neither city is going to fill that need. The most they can hope to do is to keep me sane with wild areas until such time as I can try out being a real woodsman in a real woods—and for that, Minneapolis definitely has a better chance, considering especially my arrangement to go camping a lot with a girl from my college.

Energy. [Note: when you read that, how much of a hippie does it make me sound like? I’m curious about this, because I remember first hearing it from a Polish woman I stayed with through the quite countercultural Couchsurfing, and it sounded really hippie to me at the time, but now I use it all the time because it’s such a useful shorthand to talk about the general feeling of a place, including its vibe and the attitude of its people and all that. I’m interested to know if I can use “energy” to describe it, and still sound normal.] Cincinnati is famously, even pathologically, stagnant. Now and then Cincinnatians come up with some grand idea, get a long way with it, and then as it’s coming together, it gets all the wind taken out of it for no reason. Classic example: the Cincinnati Subway, which had miles of tunnels built, and then got stalled in post-WWI inflation, and then just sort of got forgotten forever. No one can agree on anything. I guess that’s what it’s like to live in a swing state.

Minneapolis is different: people do stuff. They’ve just finished putting in light rail between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St Paul; they turned an unsightly abandoned rail corridor into a bicycle superhighway; there are at least three farmers’ markets that bring in droves of people. Quality food is everywhere—Someone I know here works at a cafe where they make their burgers from grass-fed beef and always have a gluten-free soup, and it’s not even considered a particularly trendy or hipsterish place. Minneapolis is second place in the country, behind only Portland, for how many people commute by bike, and it’s also been ranked the healthiest city in the country, probably owing largely to how much people get out and do stuff and exercise. Like the parkour crew that exists here.

But then, any city is really going to be whatever I make of it, isn’t it? While I was in Cincinnati, I felt like I was in stasis, waiting. But my brother Micah, who’s committed to being in Cincinnati rather than rejecting the idea out of hand like I did, has found good stuff to do—he goes to shows and concerts, and has lots of friends, many of them apparently pretty interesting, and they all do stuff. Even I have actually done stuff in Cincinnati—hanging out with those friends I mentioned, exploring the abandoned subway, that sort of thing, and although there hasn’t been much of that, I could probably have arranged more if I’d felt motivated enough. At the moment, Minneapolis definitely feels like the place where I can actually do stuff, and I’m pretty sure living in Cincinnati would make me bored and frustrated. But maybe it has more opportunities than I give it credit for.

And so. I went out to a little concert with my friends last night and had a great time, and I already have plans to go bowling, build furniture, do parkour, and go camping with people I know here. Things are looking up in terms of not feeling isolated despite being so far from my family. But I’m still undecided, and I imagine it’ll take me a while to figure out whether to stick it out here, or to turn tail when-and-if it looks like I’ll get the design job in Cincinnati. For people, Cincinnati has me, but Minneapolis has the possibility to charm me away. For job, Minneapolis is currently ahead since I, well, have a job here, but Cincinnati has the opportunity to come out strongly on top if I can make signs. For nature, Minneapolis is a clear winner. And for energy, it’s Minneapolis again. But I don’t know how strongly I weigh each of these things, and there are other factors, and I suppose the only thing I can say with any confidence is that I’m going to wait and see.

File under: friends, moving

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I don't think it's possible to go away to live without being nostalgic for your childhood home. That's just so normal. But when your instincts are saying that you need to try something different for a while, that's good. You've got so much time to try both, if that's what you eventually decide you'll do.

When you're old you'll look back on your choice, whichever it is, and say that that really changed everything. Just think. If Grandpa hadn't gotten an offer to teach at Miami, and had stayed in Iowa, you wouldn't even exist, since your parents would never have met.

Either way, it's all good. Miss you and love you to pieces, and I'm waiting for your mother to show up. We're having a paleo-ish dinner of barbecued ribs, broccoflower, and salad. I also have rhubarb crisp, which isn't paleo because it's made with flour and sugar. Oh well.

Best of luck with your new job, and keep us in the loop. Grandma





You can only peer down the Road Not Taken so far. Eventually you deal with the road you do take, no matter how it winds around, even if it goes back to the starting point.

I know we've missed something by never living around our family, but our lives have been filled with adventures I wouldn't have want to miss. You eventually learn to accept each day as it comes, and wherever you are, you'll maximize your choices. You only get to pass this way once. Make the most of it to enjoy each day, and the rest will fall into place.

Aunt E. (Sharing both your family and your Grinnell backgrounds!)

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