Tomorrow I fly out of my new hometown, Austin Texas, to my old hometown, Minneapolis.
The annual AWP Conference for writers begins Thursday. This will be my first time attending; I am excited to see writer friends from around the country, though my inner introvert already pictures me face down on the floor of the Minneapolis Convention Center with 15,000 writers who aren’t my friends walking around my body, drinks in hand. I’m okay with that. I want everyone to have the time they expect to have and hope that’s mostly good for them.
Decades ago I lived in 4 or 5 different neighborhoods of Minneapolis, plus at least 10 in St. Paul, where I was born and which I still consider a pretty great city, filled with quirky neighborhoods, real people and great bars.
Here’s the thing though: when I get into my rental car at the airport, I will need the mapping app on my phone to be working because I can no longer find my way around the cities where I spent my formative years. Those twinned cities, where I grew up, learning to act around boys, then men; figuring out how to be friends with women after several years of thinking most of them were petty women-haters themselves. Turned out I just needed to stick to hanging out with women who were smart, strong and could order their own drinks.
In the Twin Cities, I went to college, had a career in “The Sciences” because high school guidance counselors told me I was silly for wanting to be a writer and then after 10 years of that, finally ran away to sea to escape research jobs, an ex-husband and a life I did not recognize as my own.
Running off to travel was just about the best decision I have ever made. For one thing, I met my next husband who is smart, funny and understands that travel isn’t going on vacation, it’s getting on with your life. It is Travel. It is Life. He also left me alone to figure out how to be the kind of person who recognizes herself. So that worked out pretty well.
Now it’s Minneapolis I don’t recognize. Much has changed. Friends and family who have never left there laugh at me for not knowing how to get around, maybe not realizing how much the city has been altered while they were busy with jobs and families.
I’ve been gone for 3 decades. Some of the old places are still there, like First Avenue, the Fine Line and the Guthrie theatre. The Longhorn bar is gone, but that is a good thing. If it was filled with hipsters I would just feel bad. And old.
The great thing about the city changing (or my memory failing) is that I get to explore Minneapolis and St. Paul like a traveler. Everything old is new again to me. It’s the best of both worlds for a traveler and writer.
This week I will see some old friends who knew me when I was shorter, skinnier and much less sure of myself. I will be reunited with some talented writers I met last summer at a writers retreat in Skibbereen, Ireland. There are hundreds of seminars, panels and readings at AWP– too many to make dent in–and there’s always a bar. When I have filled myself with writers reading and talking about writing, I will head to the bar. There, I will meet people who are strangers to me today but just might be friends by Saturday night.
If you are visiting Minneapolis and AWP this week and see me, say hello. I am practically a stranger here myself.