During the second week of my internship at the Walker Art Center, I bought some coasters from the gift shop using my shiny new staff discount. They were made to resemble the outline of America’s West Coast, with “West Coasters” laser-cut onto the surface. I had just moved back from Los Angeles, where I spent four years in a weird bubble known as the University of Southern California — a place where identity often goes to die.
Eager to assert my now-novel experience, I purchased the coasters as an inevitable token of my “homesickness” for the West Coast, a feeling I talked about 100 percent more often than I actually felt it.
So why was I back in Minnesota? Part of me just wanted to avoid getting a job. I was mostly confused, noncommittal. The only thing I was sure of was that my stint in Minnesota was “just for the summer.” In the coming months, I wanted to slow down, to eat lunch with grandparents sometimes, to see my dog, to hang out with my brother. After that, I’d be on my merry way.
The first few weeks were impossible. I was sure I couldn’t fit back into this place, with its lack of traffic and egos. It seemed the lack of chaos here somehow signified unimportance. I convinced myself that I had made a mistake and that it needed to be rectified immediately. I made tentative plans to move to New York City, but after a friend offered her couch, I got scared. I landed an internship at the Walker and bought myself several months before the next life decision.
As time went on, I somewhat begrudgingly signed a lease on an apartment with an old friend from high school. I was forfeiting more time to Minneapolis. Friends in New York told me not to lay so many roots. I lost some sleep. I job-hunted on the job.
November marks the fifth month of my Minneapolis citizenship. In this short time, I’ve seen world premieres from Ralph Lemon and Miranda July. I’ve spent Saturdays in bookstores and parked on the street for free. I pay rent low enough to allow me creative space and to take an internship at one of the most respected institutions of contemporary art in the world.
My task became recognizing what I do when no one else cares, when no one else is watching. This is something I think is only possible in the Midwest, because the “no one caring” part has been somewhat decided already. Without the pressures of success as defined by places like L.A. and New York, Minnesota is a wide-open space to be who you are, do what you want to do and not have to try so damn hard. People are cool and they don’t even know it. More important, they don’t talk about it.
Maybe I’m not made for Minnesota winters, but I’m made for Minnesota. People live here because they want to, not because they think they should. People don’t come here to prove anything to anyone else. This is what I have come to know as genuine. I am grateful for the reminder of its existence.
So thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, Minneapolis. I think I’ll hang up my new parka and stay a while.
Sarah Haugen lives in Minneapolis.