The Landscape of Love

“If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.”
― Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

Image 1

I walked the long block in the rain. The only other people I saw were in cars driving past, on their way to work at 7:50 a.m. The door to The Boiler Room stood open, and as I walked in I was greeted by Michael, the owner and sometimes barrista. He asked, “How many days left?” When I said, “Three,” he replied, “Wow! That went fast!”

He doesn’t even know the half of it! Michael was referring to the brief weeks since I’ve known I would be leaving Minneapolis. But his comment made me think about the entire two years I’ve lived here and how they have flown past. Time is such a strange and fickle construct – after all, the first winter I was here was one of the longest, coldest, snowiest on record. Every moment of that winter time seemed to crawl miserably by. Yet now, it all feels like a flash of light passing ever so swiftly before my eyes.


I arrived in Minneapolis just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Mike and I spent two days celebrating: a Twins game, riding bikes back and forth across the Mississippi River, eating great food at local restaurants. The other two days were a marathon of driving, loading, unloading and more driving to get me officially moved. Once that weekend was over, though, Mike went back to work and I was left to my own devices in a new and, mostly, unknown city.

That first day, I got on my bike and rode. I found The Midtown Greenway, and rode until I hit the river. Now I know I took the West River Parkway, but then I had no idea where I was headed: I just kept riding as long as there was a trail. Eventually, I ended up at Minnehaha Falls (though I didn’t know how to find the falls and rode right past). I took a photo of the train depot there, and texted it to Mike with the caption, “Guess where I am?”  Looking back, I laugh at the fact that, actually, neither one of us knew where I was!

Before that ride, I was drawn to this city for many reasons. But that was the day that Minneapolis took up residence in my heart. The day I felt for the first time that we truly belonged together. Like most relationships, my love affair with this city has had its ups and downs. During the Polar Vortex of 2013-14, I seriously considered a break up. Often, when I was poor and discouraged by an interminable and dehumanizing job search, I thought that perhaps love was not enough to live on. Through it all, though, there was a thread of joy that kept me feeling that this thing between Minneapolis and I was just “right” somehow.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned from loving this place:

For attraction to deepen into love, you have to see beyond the superficial. Early in my time here, I happened upon a local resident’s blog. The purpose of the blog was to showcase how, in the mind of its creator, the city was becoming uglier every year. While I understood the author’s points and the political statement he was making, I just couldn’t comprehend taking such a negative view. In my response to his blog were the seeds of one of the best things I did over the two years I’ve been a Minneapolitan: my #dailypicofmpls Instagram project. I made it a point to get out and about, both in my own neighborhood and in the larger city, to really SEE things. Big things (like the iconic Stone Arch Bridge) and little things (like quirky messages hand-chalked on sidewalks). I chronicled the sights I saw, indelibly imprinting the city on my heart one block at a time. I tried to embrace it all: the good and the bad; what was ugly and what was lovely.

When you love a place, the issues that matter to that place become issues that matter to you. After the fall elections of 2013, I found myself celebrating representation by people who value similar things to me. For the first time in my adult life, I attended events featuring my ward’s councilwoman; our mayor; the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator. On a bicycle tour of “The Grand Rounds”, I saw firsthand the unequal distribution of city funding. At Open Streets events I visited both affluent and less affluent neighborhoods, but was able to celebrate the vibrancy and unique character of each. On my own street, I spent time in places where I was the only non-Somali person present, I visited a powerful exhibit of Native American Artists at the First Nations Gallery, and I silently filed past the ghost bike commemorating a cyclist struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Love (like growth and most other worthwhile things) takes seed and flowers when you push yourself outside the confines of your comfort zone. For much of my life I let my introvert tendencies have ascendency – meaning I mostly sat back and waited for things to come to me. Living in a large metropolitan area, working part-time, and knowing exactly four people here when I arrived meant that mode of operation was not an option. So I pushed myself – to attend events, to talk to strangers, to make connections. I went to group bike rides solo. I walked and biked all over, often stopping to enter coffee shops and strange places (a chandlery, a visual arts center, a tiny neighborhood fresh foods market). I tried paddle-boarding, mountain biking, alley-cat racing. I volunteered as a bike parking attendant and as a photographer. I went to odd places and famous venues to see live music by musicians I’d never heard of. I joined a writer’s group and a joyful community of cyclists. Not every experience was wonderful, but each one helped me understand the value of being proactive rather than passive in my own life. And some truly beautiful souls entered my life as a result!


As I walked back to my apartment from The Boiler Room I thought about the many things I will miss about Minneapolis, then about how little effort I made to love Cedar Rapids during the seventeen years I lived there last time. While there are many people I love(d) in Iowa, the only patch of ground I made any effort to care about was the hill on which Mount Mercy University stood.

I know now that I have to extend my own boundaries in ways I never did before I came to Minneapolis. I’m willing to concede that my failure to love Cedar Rapids as a place may have been a failure of my own imagination rather than a failure of the city to have anything to offer. More than that, I never invested myself there as I have here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put what I’ve learned from my sojourn in Minneapolis into action in Cedar Rapids.

In the meantime, I’m going to let the rain today express my sadness about leaving the City of Lakes. Don’t misunderstand: I am excited about the new opportunities opening in my life. But for a little while, I need to feel the emotions connected with leaving this city I’ve grown to love so deeply. And, because there’s no equivalent to The Boiler Room in my new neighborhood, I may have to brave the downpour for another Americano.

Image 3
Our bikes outside The Boiler Room, Thanksgiving Day, 2013


The Music Scene and The Syndrome: Two Gifts

At Icehouse, listening to Louis and the Hunt and Fair Oaks

The very first thing Mike sent me when he learned I had decided to come to Minneapolis was a link to The Basillica Block Party’s volunteer sign-up page. He assured me that the annual Block Party was not-to-be-missed, but tickets were spendy – volunteer and you may get to hear some of the bands for free. Without knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we agreed to sell raffle tickets the first weekend I was officially a Minneapolitan. What an awesome decision that was – we had free-reign of the event, got to hear all the bands, and while selling raffle tickets met and talked to hundreds of people (mostly) in a festive mood.

And so it began.


I met Mike’s dad, Rex Beck, when I was in college. We hit it off right away, which made me feel special – right up until I discovered that Rex hits it off with everyone. His family even has a name for it, “Rex Beck Syndrome”: the capacity to strike up a conversation (and likely a friendship) with literally anyone, anywhere – and the propensity to do so.

I didn’t notice it so much back then, but the Rex Beck Syndrome has a genetic component. At least two of Mike’s siblings show telltale signs of having inherited it. But of the five of them, Mike is the one who most readily shows markers of the full-blown syndrome. He makes friends with tourists in the downtown Target parking-garage elevator. He never leaves a party or reception without new Facebook friends. Once, we noticed a woman putting up an autumn display in her yard. Two hours later, as we drove by again and she was still working, Mike stopped the car in the middle of the street and rolled down his window to tell her, “Nice job! It looks fantastic!” When he caught me staring at him with a surprised grin, he said, “What? She spent all afternoon working on it – the least I could do was make her feel like it was worth it!”


On a cold Sunday night we drove around the block a couple of times before finding a parking space in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. I was tired, having already been on my feet for an eight hour shift that began at 5:30 a.m. that day. We walked quickly past several establishments with an international flavor on our way to what appeared, from the outside, to be a generic dive bar. Once past the bouncer, wristbands and handstamps in place, we entered an electrified atmosphere. The opening set by the band MisterWives was already in progress and blowing the crowd at The Triple Rock Social Club away. Standing room only. I looked sideways at Mike, completely engrossed in the music and barely able to contain his excitement to see the headlining band for the night (American Authors). With an internal shrug of the shoulders, I steeled myself and approached the rather intimidating bouncer – who just happened to have an extra chair beside him. I explained why my feet hurt, and he nodded knowingly and let me take the chair, telling me to enjoy the show as I walked away.

We saw three bands that night, each on the cusp of big career happenings. (Just this week, American Authors announced their headlining tour. MisterWives’ EP, which came out a couple of weeks after the show, was at the top of the iTunes chart within days.) Happily seated, surrounded by people completely absorbed in the musical performances, I forgot my tiredness and chair-danced my way through the evening.


I am, most naturally and deeply, an introvert. There was a time in my life when the very idea of speaking first to a stranger was overwhelming. When Mike and I reconnected a few years ago, I noticed his ease in speaking to strangers,  and marveled at it. Since moving here, I’ve had many opportunities to observe it. And, as in many things, being with an expert has allowed me to try it out myself – the expert (in this case Mike) acting as a set of social training wheels. If I got myself in too deep or too awkwardly, he could step in and smooth away the uncomfortable. In this way, I soon found myself striking up conversations with wait staff, with other pedestrians at a red light, with the people at the next table. As my comfort level grew, I began talking to strangers when Mike wasn’t around. It was a matter of great pride when an old friend told me Mike was rubbing off on me. She said, “You talk to people you don’t have to now.”


Image 1
The Cactus Blossoms at First Avenue

My “Minneapolis Music Scene” education, initiated at the Block Party, has not only continued but accelerated during this winter season. It has taken me to Roy Wilkins Auditorium to see Envy Corps, The Neighbourhood, and Imagine Dragons. But it has also seen me at Old Chicago in Eagan for the Friday night set (in bad lighting with horrible acoustics) of a young musician just starting his solo career. One Saturday evening began with a flamenco guitarist over dinner and ended with a CD release party for Fair Oaks, a band whose leader lives just up the street (though we didn’t know it until Mike introduced himself to the band). My education has included tickets to a Studio C live recording session with Walk Off the Earth. Most recently, it led to a two-night music binge at the granddaddy of all Minneapolis music venues: First Avenue, Prince’s main stage as well as performance venue for many musical legends over the years.

The thing is, I am neither a musician nor that much of a fan-girl. But I have always loved live music, and I’ve been loving the “educational” experience. Mike is both a musician and a self-described indie band junkie, so his excitement about the music scene and his enthusiasm for supporting young talent is contagious – it is fun to be around people who are jazzed and fully enlisted. More than that, I love being in a space where smart, talented, creative people are putting themselves and their work out there for public consumption and response. While I definitely appreciate and enjoy the more savvy performers we see (Caroline Smith, Grace Potter, Matchbox Twenty), some of my favorite moments occur when listening to or interacting with the less well-known, less polished, but no less passionate performers at the beginning of their careers (Jamison Murphy, He Who Never, Fair Oaks). Music performance offers such immediate consumer feedback – either the crowd is feeling you or it isn’t! When it works, the exchange of energy between musicians and their audience is powerful and heady. As someone aspiring to put myself out there, whether creatively, in a job search, or as the newbie in a new city, I get the courage that takes.

On our second night at First Avenue (it was a two-night birthday party for local radio station The Current), I found myself jostling for a better standing position when I noticed that the extremely tall man who had just pushed in front of me, partially blocking my view, was scribbling in a notebook. As you might expect from a Beck protege, I leaned forward with an opening salvo of, “You’re taking notes at a rock concert?”

Mike, outside First Avenue, next to the stars of musicians/bands who’ve played there (the stars cover the outside of the building)


Yesterday, I sat in The Boiler Room, sipping a piping hot Americano.  I had just initiated conversations with Michael, the owner, and with Linwood Hart, the artist whose work is on display there. I had sent a message online to someone I’ve admired from a distance, just to tell her that. I felt expansive, open to the world around me in a way that once would have felt frightening.

My thoughts, and the rightness of this feeling, suggested a confluence of sorts between my fledgling Rex Beck Syndrome and my Minneapolis music education. Mike thinks he’s been introducing me to the music scene, helping me to understand his love for it and spreading the contagion. And he has been – my enthusiasm is my own, not just a reflection of his. At the same time, it has been an education in how to feel a sense of agency – to be a swimmer in the ocean of people that is this city rather than a bit of flotsam carried about by random ebbs and flows. I’m still an introvert, but I am no longer confusing that with my irrational fear of putting myself forward. It turns out that people like – actually prefer – to connect. It turns out that I prefer to do so.

I’m thrilled that I have acquired at least a mild case of Rex Beck Syndrome – and I hope to pass it on! Speak up, my friends, don’t hold back so much of your enthusiasm and curiosity. There are a lot of people out there, aching to connect in ways big and small. Be the agent of that connection – be a swimmer not a floater!

As for my music scene education, I intend to continue that as well – Friday we’re checking out two new bands, then its two Jeremy Messersmith shows in two very different venues. Below is a list of bands/musicians I’ve seen whom I believe are definitely worth checking out and supporting. You can find most of them online – and if you like them, send them some love by way of purchase and/or social media!

Envy Corps. MisterWives. The Royal Concept. Jamison Murphy. He Who Never. Fair Oaks. Walk Off the Earth. Actual Wolf. Lizzo. Cactus Blossoms. Heiruspecs. Caroline Smith.