11 April 2015

Early Reports from Minneapolis

Note: Having gotten the job mentioned in the below, I'm striking out for Minnesota soon; I wrote these fragments late last month, on a visit.

I'm sitting in the extraordinarily comfortable and serene Hennepin County Library, Northeast Branch, after having spent the last half hour or so of the morning rambling around the neighborhood, feeling as alert and at large in the world as a ghost just returned after a dark hiatus of unknown duration. I walked down little streets with little workingman's frame houses crowding up to the sidewalk, very like a neighborhood adjacent to the one I grew up in and would walk through on my way to poke around a massive blackberry thicket I'd found and treasured. Silent houses, nearly empty streets, a space for large sunlight and blessed ghosts.

I climbed up a railway embankment: someone had gone to much trouble, perhaps recently, to carve stairsteps into the dirt slope, but by the time I reached the top I could tell it was nothing official. I stood on a small and obsolete trestle hemmed by stone railings in the classical style, the rail bed entirely overgrown. It could have been a good place to sit for a long time, but the air was brisk and nearby I spied a seeming shelter built from bungee cords and deadwood. I heard no one rustling, but I erred on the side of not disturbing someone's Saturday morning.

When I'd climbed back down, the train cars on the adjacent trestle began to stir and pull away. This was a great surprise—such unexpected animacy in the stilled world. It would, I thought, have been easy to have tucked myself into a nook on the end of one of those cars. Ten or twelve years ago I might've run back up and done it; the train still hadn't taken on much speed by the time I turned my back.

If I am returned to the sunny earth, to this anonymous body, from where am I returned? Myself, I guess, but from some strange and artificially lit room I never inhabit quite by choice. This is a way of saying I have been interviewing for jobs. It looks like I'll get one of them, if nothing goes wrong, and I am truly pleased about it. But it has been taxing to live so close to the surface of myself for so many weeks, holding my thoughts and motions gingerly, packaging and repackaging the product of myself. I've never felt it sounds right when I talk about myself. (Or: I've never felt it sounds right when I talk.) I become so bored and disappointed with my subject matter it takes a great hoisting of the will to not stop midsentence.

In these weeks it has been hard to get out of bed. Harder than usual, I mean. Anxiety drapes itself over me, its fur prickling, its weight immobilizing. This is of a different species from dread, because it also pulses with a hope it daren't express with any larger gesture.

It lifts. But there are so many ways to be slowed down. Even joy can do it, even the feeling that overtook me this morning on the empty streets: the impulse to stop and stand and let the moment gather itself around you. To see how big it will become, how many things might be collected by its gravity into its blessed orbit. In fact I did stop two or three times. Among the things gathered in the glow were three tranquil dogs; a building for a construction company called LaMere that was muraled with cherub-cheeked construction men and trucks as plump as loaves of bread; some kind of factory built a long time ago from mostly windows; and, waking me a bit, a line of cars whose wheels played the segmented concrete road in washboard rhythm.  

So much sun makes me drowsy. Although I've been lingering in bed mornings, daylight's also been shaking me free of sleep vigorously and early, whether I've slept enough or not. (I never have.) Then, afternoons, it catches up with me and I'm flushed of all vitality for hours. Before then, therefore: time to quit my sojourn in the library and head back into the day.

A little Baptist church has placed a motto on its sign: "Just Believe!" It keeps me laughing all the way up the hill to Windom Park.

Today I am of a mood to delight in all the ways we lumbering magpies have chosen to decorate our homes.

One house I pass has—built from plaster, I guess—what looks like an altar or creche greeting visitors beside the door. Inside there is a tableau comprising two gape-mouthed Elmo dolls. One is riding a horse from an entirely different toy universe.

At the next house the yard is decorated with football-size stones, which someone has swabbed with purple paint and glitter like Easter eggs.

At the next someone has made an abstract sculpture of a tree by paring away all the living parts of a tree. Its remaining limbs reach heavenward, in an attitude less beseeching than vengeful.

And so on.

Now I am sitting at the crest of a sunny hill on a bench that, simply to please anyone who passes through, has been hung on short chains so as to rock back and forth. Within my view lies a toppled snowman on bare grass; his carrot nose is perfect. His many-fingered arms stretch out as if he has accomplished some pyrrhic victory; he will melt away exulting.

I won't hear an unkind word about a world like this, not today.