Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.
What can I say about the photograph above?
Presently, I’m in Minneapolis for a two-week visit for my daytime job. I’m writing this entry from my hotel room adjacent to the Capella Tower, the city’s second tallest skyscraper. In fact, if I should draw the curtains of either window in my room, I’ll literally be looking into the offices of the Capella Tower. Needless to say, these curtains sustain my privacy and nullify my curiosity about anything happening on the other side of them.
I felt compelled to write about Minneapolis today because I’m certain my feelings about this place have been unresolved for more than two decades — closer to three decades, in fact. What triggered this realization was a comment made by a coworker while we were having dinner at a very snazzy restaurant. To paraphrase, she said, “You’re here but clearly you don’t miss Minneapolis.” For whatever reason, it felt like she read me as though the words she spoke were written on my forehead. I’m usually very good at concealing my emotions in social situations but, metaphorically speaking, I felt that my coworker had seen me naked for a split second when I was unaware.
Funnily enough, that wasn’t her intention. When I asked if I came across as though I didn’t miss it, she responded that if she had lived in Seattle as long as I had, she wouldn’t miss Minneapolis either. Fortunately for me, her observation was completely unrelated to what I thought I had revealed about myself, whether by mistake or in a moment of distraction.
For context, you need to know that Minneapolis was my home for four and a half years while I was a student at the University of Minnesota, earning my Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs & Foreign Policy. Minneapolis was my first exposure to America after living in Norway for my high school years. As a result, in addition to the interminable bombardment of cultural shock, Minneapolis was a city of many “firsts” for me, including my first:
- Roommate. This person and I were painfully incompatible almost from the start. After I confronted him for doing something rather disrespectful and disgusting very early into our sharing a dorm room, he told me — as though to exonerate himself (or make himself appear enlightened perhaps?) — that he had specifically requested to have a black roommate because he wanted to know what that experience would be like. Most people who learned of this didn’t think he was doing himself or myself any favors. After three months of living together, we never really spoke to each other unless it was absolutely necessary. The academic year was nine months.
- Romantic relationship. To this day, I’m still not quick to detect signs or clues regarding when someone is interested in being more than friends. This particular girl pursued me, and eventually, it dawned on me that this was more than friendly banter and flirtations. (Truly not bragging here. I’m just underscoring my original point of how clueless I can be with this stuff). Inevitably, this led to my first:
- Intimate kiss. It was a beautiful moment and made me delightfully dizzy afterwards.
- Apartment. I felt like an “adult” renting furniture for the summer months after freshman year. I was 19 years old, so I was an actual adult (without the quotes).
- Frisking by the police. A white police officer stopped the public bus on which I was seated, announced to all the passengers that a suspect had recently stabbed an elderly lady and was still at large. Afterwards, he approached me, told me to stand up and spread out my arms, and proceeded to perform a shakedown of my body in front of everyone. My two white friends didn’t keep quiet and informed the officer that there was no way I could be a suspect because I had been hanging out with them all day. I had only lived in America for one month after relocating from Norway when this situation occurred. Admittedly, I’m grateful my friends spoke up for me to make the insult a millimeter less embarrassing.
- Paycheck. My first internship helped me to pay the rent for my first apartment — and later introduced me to completing my first income tax return.
- Experience of someone trying to asphyxiate me. A fellow student at the dorm (who I thought was a friend) revealed to me that he hated my “sunnier” attitude towards life, was tired of my existence, and acted on this one evening out of (what I resolved must have been) jealousy and anger. He didn’t succeed, but I was mortified at the level of hatred and determination he exhibited during the moment. Eyes really do communicate volumes of emotions.
- Concert. It was Janet Jackson’s “janet.” tour at the Target Center. I was enthralled. I had an exam the next morning which I recall receiving a “C+”. Fortunately, it was for an elective course and not my major.
- Death of a close friend. The unexpected news of Mikey’s suicide was so shocking and traumatizing that my body would involuntarily convulse for the next several days. The pain of this loss — and never knowing what could have been so terrible that he had resolved to do what he did — still weighs heavily on my psyche. (May your soul forever rest in peace, Mikey).
- Public acknowledgement in a newspaper. I created and published a yearbook for my freshmen residents when I was a resident assistant/community advisor during my senior year. Aside from graduation, this was my biggest achievement at the University of Minnesota, which printed an article about it on the front page of the Minnesota Daily that day.
- Encounters with the politics of Corporate America. Ask anyone who knows me. I’m not a fan. In fact, I abhor it, but I’m no longer “wet behind the ears” in this arena as I was back then. Yet another realm in which being a “nice guy” in tandem with naiveté can be detrimental.
- Failure to reach someone. During my first year as a community advisor, I was unable to convince a student (who had also become my friend) to remain in school. He had lost interest in his studies and dropped out. I know now it wasn’t my fault, but as an advisor and friend, it felt like utter failure at the time. It hurt me to see this student leave. This was a very hard and personal lesson that one will not always be able to deter or dissuade someone from doing something regardless of the consequences.
- Challenge to prevent a suicide. Roughly 18 months before I lost Mikey, another friend called me and informed me, without an iota of equivocation, that he was ready to end his life — and very soon. His unusual and unrecognizable tone had frightened me. He lived across the campus from me, but I recall that the time it took to get on my bike and cycle to his dorm must have been a personal record for me. (There are times when studying truly takes a lower priority when taking stock of the circumstances). My friend was a handsome fellow who was outgoing, jovial, animated, and likeable to everyone. However, a significant part of the problem was he never saw or thought of himself in this way. I had no idea what he had been dealing with until I arrived at his dorm, but I was so relieved he had *called* so I could do something. We spent several hours into the night with him talking and me listening. I woefully regret that we lost contact after graduation.
There were so many “firsts” in Minneapolis that I think I could write a complete novel — but only after I complete the novel about my life in Washington, D.C. some years later.
After I graduated from the university, I only visited Minneapolis a handful of times, the last of which was in 2000 or 2001. Alas, it is very weird to be back here. Why? Those earlier years — I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision to relocate to Minneapolis. It’s the one decision that I still question in regards to the trajectory of my life had I chosen a different university in a different city. I don’t often dwell on this, but I’m now back where all these events in my life occurred just a few miles from where I’m typing this entry.
So much history here, I now realize…or have always realized. Learning about George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer in May 2020 only reinforced my own prejudice and disdain for the City of Lakes. I was alright if I never went back there again.
My next point is purely coincidental, but I will use it to conclude this entry. The song I have always associated with my life in Minneapolis is Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”. The lyrics are a near perfect summary of how I felt about my experiences here. It’s a very beautifully composed but melancholic song, in my view. Hearing it without preparation has previously coerced my tears to stream. Oddly enough, about an hour before boarding my flight to Minneapolis in Seattle, one of the stores at the airport started to play this song. I couldn’t help but consider the coincidence. 20 years later and no tears were elicited — probably because I was in a busy terminal full of people — but the pang of sadness never subsides when I hear the lyrics “No more broken hearts. We’re better off apart. Let’s give it a try.”
My coworker was right, though. I don’t miss Minneapolis…but, now that I’ve lived several more years in so many other cities, I don’t hate it either. I believe, wherever I would have lived after Norway, I would have met the equivalent of the individuals I previously described. It’s not really about regret, but rather, putting the past in the past. This is a very strenuous feat to accomplish when you’ve avoided the issue to the point that you can no longer evade because you’re literally engulfed and surrounded by all the memories and mixed emotions.
In conclusion, this week has been, inadvertently, the first time to finally confront my feelings with my former life in Minneapolis and accept it for what it was at that time — and leave it be.
At some point, I need to reconcile my years in Washington, D.C. as well — but that’s for another time. Fate may well lead me there as it did to Minneapolis.
17 articles down for the TIAA challenge. 35 remain!