Leaving the West

Two weeks ago my wife, young daughter and I moved from Oakland to suburb of Minneapolis. We’re very excited about the move. We’ve very much enjoyed our time here so far*. We will, of course, miss our Bay Area friends, family and ward members. Indeed, the past month or so has been a mixture of excitement about the new opportunity and sadness for what we leave behind.

And for me there has been another feeling — one that is very much tied in to my role with A Motley Vision.

For me, this is not just a move from one part of the country to another. It is also leaving the West, leaving a cultural and physical landscape that has heavily informed who I am as a writer, reader and critic. My desire to contribute to the field of Mormon literature was first informed by an interest in how it fits in to the concept of Western regionalism, then by nature writing about the red rock areas of the Southwest (AMV takes its name from a section of poetry by Orson F. Whitney describing the Grand Canyon), and then later by concepts of modernity and cultural projects intended to build and/or explore ethno-national identity.

What’s more my creative writing, and indeed much of my sense of what it is like to be a Mormon, is very much bound up in the landscapes of my own life mythos — from my childhood in the high desert of Kanab, to early teen years in Provo, to teenage years in a classic Mormon California suburb, to my later years at UC Berkeley, and then living in Oakland and attending and working at San Francisco State.

I have always joked that I’m the perfect Mormon — the perfect Utah-California hybrid. My life experiences taking place at precisely the best times to experience certain iconic Mormon life experiences. But you know, there’s something to that. I am a sagebrush Mormon, a Happy Valley Mormon, a California Mormon and a Bay Area Mormon.

And perhaps getting away from all that isn’t such a bad idea. Not only does it mean new types of experience, but also creates some distance, which isn’t such a bad thing for a writer and critic. In fact, I was delighted when my in-laws moved to Minneapolis** because it seems to parallel much of what I enjoyed about the Bay Area, but you can also actually afford to live in a suburb with good schools. And, of course, I’m still a MidWesterner. According to my boss, the saying is that St. Paul is the last city of the East and Minneapolis is the first city of the West.

So yeah. Now I’m a Minnesota Mormon. I look forward to exploring what that means. And, on a more practical level, I hope that this change also means I’ll have more time and energy to devote to AMV and the world of Mormon arts and culture.

*Yes we know about the winters. We’ll trade winter for affordable housing and good schools.
**The plan always was to leave the Bay Area before my daughter was of school age. Originally the idea was to move to the Sacramento area, but job relocations by both my father and father-in-law changed all that. And I have to say that I’m quite happy with how things turned out (no offense to Sacramentans).

19 thoughts on “Leaving the West”

  1. Glad to hear you’ve safely arrived in Minneapolis. We’ll miss you here, but wish you good luck in getting settled.

  2. Ok, I’m from Maryland, so forgive me if this is a stupid question. How is Minnesota not “West?”

  3. Simple, it’s east not only of the Rocky Mountains (the big factor), but also the Missouri River. Therefore, it is not the proverbial “East” (like Maryland), but it is definitely east of the proverbial “West.”

  4. I’d also add that it’s not just geographic demarcation. The West and the Midwest arguably have a different culture.

  5. Congrats on your move, William. You’re heading to my old stomping grounds! Eugene England, Louise Plummer and other Mormon writers spent many years in MN, so you’re in good company. I lived in White Bear Lake and thereabouts for seven years before heading back to Utah, and I do miss the literary scene in Minneapolis a lot. Check out the Loft literary center–it’s amazing. Hamline University (where I got my MFA) has an EXCELLENT program and so many wonderful writer/teachers who not only encouraged me but helped me form my own sense of voice as a Mormon writer. Can you tell I miss it there? Best of luck to you.

  6. If the West has sunk its roots into you as deeply as you’ve sunk yours into it, you’ll be back. But even if you’re not, I’ll bet that, like Leslie Norris said, the colors of the landscape of your youth will follow you into your writing.

    I moved to Utah after spending much of my life in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I resisted being here, refused to learn the names of things. The light shocked me.

    One trip to the desert, and I was hooked. Rooted. Entwined. A goner.

    Best of everything in your new community! Maybe you’ll have time to put those hummingbird feeders up now.

  7. Minnesotans in the family. I guess I’m okay with that, though I’ve always thought of us as Californians. If I add up the years, though, I’ve actually spent a good number of them in Utah, and in some ways it feels more like home than California.

    It’s an odd experience having Mum and Dad in Texas and you guys in Minnesota. Especially realizing that Ruby is going to grow up speaking a different variety of American English from all the rest of us (that probably sounds weird, but I’ve just spent the past couple of days reading articles with American isoglosses). It’s made me realize that I’m not really tied to any one place, even if I consider Northern California to be my (uncomfortably) native land. I can choose to go wherever I want to because no matter where I’ll go, there will be some family who won’t be close by. If I don’t settle in California or Utah, I’m not forsaking my people, so to speak. On the other hand, having the family so dispersed also makes me feel displaced and insecure.

    Who knows, maybe–as Patricia says–we’ll all end up in Southern Utah again some day–which is what Grandma has always wanted.

  8. The tremendous thing about Minnesota and the Midwest is that you will find new landscapes to inform your thinking and writing. The landscapes are less jagged and less severe, but they do have a marvelous influence on the intellect nevertheless. My days in Minnesota were marked by wanderings through great big open landscapes, lakes lakes lakes lakes lakes, fields of corn and soy, quiet groves of trees sloping into river basins, gentle rolling hills, barns and churches, and incredible groves of apples. All of this is steeped in coverings of native american ideals and northern european sensibilities. You will find so much new language for your literary “arsenal.” This is place of OE Rolvaags “Giants,” and they are there still.

  9. “I’ve already fallen in love with all the water and trees.”

    Won’t last.

  10. I agree with Patricia. Water on the ground means water in the air and that means cold down into your bones come November.

    Still, enjoy the rest of summer.

  11. As someone who was born in Utah, raised in New York, and has lived for a year in Minneapolis (we’re in the Cedar Lake Ward), welcome to the area.

    If you’re experience is anything like mine, you’ll love it here. Law School takes a lot of time (I’m at the UMN), but even so I’ve been able to find time to write about the images here.

    Endless rows of sugar beets, corn, and other crops, huge clouds, amazing lightning storms, more dairy queens than anywhere, lots of water towers, lakes, trees, old wharehouses and freighthouses (we live in one), railroad tracks, snow and ice, etc.

    And the winters aren’t that bad. Then again, I love the snow. The only problem with Minnesota is that there are no mountains to enjoy the abundance of it.

  12. Welcome to the great state of Minnesota! Sure it’s cold in winter — or at least that’s what we tell everyone to keep them away so we can have it all for ourselves. 🙂

    Time and again I hear from people, from all over the country, who think Minnesota is a joke, but when they get here, they love it and want to stay.

    As for water on the ground, that actually means mosquitos in July, but I haven’t been bit once this year. In the winter, the dewpoint can drop to astonishing levels (especially if the temperature does), so sometimes it’s actually a very, very dry cold, especially when the temp goes subzero.

    You know it’s cold when you inhale and your nose hairs freeze. No joke. Never happened to me in Utah. I actually missed that feeling. I love January in Minnesota. It’s amazing and cold and spectacularly beautiful right after it snows and the thermometer reads -10.

    As for summer inspiration, you’ve got the Twins, the Sculpture Garden, the Mpls. Institute of Art, Sebastien Joe’s (don’t leave without trying the raspberry chocolate-chip), bike trails weaving around more lakes and through more parks than you thought were possible in a densely suburban area, the MN State Fair (this ain’t the Tooele County roundup)…

    I could go on for a while. If you want a more expansive list of stuff to do (I really could go on for a while) let me know. It’s a great place to live.


  13. Thanks, Jon. I already have a pretty expansive list.

    Yes, we love all the parks. Especially after living in an area where the nearest park soon became someplace you wouldn’t want to take your kid.

    No mosquito bites so far — even after spending two and a half hours last night watching the Maple Grove Days parade. Of course, the flying tootsie rolls were as thick as a swarm of gnats so I can’t say that we have escaped unscathed. The dentists sure must keep busy in these parts.

    The thing that has gripped me the most is the sky — the colors, the cloud formations, the way storms roll in.

    Almost as good as the Colorado plateau.

    I also thought that it would be weird not having mountains at my back and a body of water to look out over (Kanab had the cliffs and the creek; Provo the mountains and the lake; the Bay Area the hills and the ocean). But there’s the river. And that seems to work for me as a grounding point and a dividing line.

  14. i am beginning to get homesick for minnesota
    btw, here is my list:

    the walker art center
    the guthrie theater
    the minnesota arboretum
    the museum of american art
    st paul actors theater
    leech lake
    leann chins
    white bear lake
    lake superior
    the boundary waters
    wisconsin cheese
    concordia language villages
    oe rolvaag
    prairie home companion
    nicollet mall
    the st croix river
    fort snelling
    afton state park
    jay cooke state park
    split rocks lighthouse
    grand avenue
    cathedral of st paul

    i could go on for days . . .

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