Sunday, December 7, 2014

The story of "North?"

The house Home is redolent with the aroma of Christmas cookies, evoking the spirits of Christmas past and those to be. It's possible I've put on a couple of pounds just by inhaling while my Better Half and the Daughter Person take turns at the oven. The stockings are hung on the stairway with care, and I'm debating with myself whether to laugh or cry about the recent effort to rebrand and/or reposition MSP's, and /or Minnesota's "national identity". The first time we noted some of these efforts, we shared some preliminary thoughts here and then here. MinnPost has recently (re)published Camille LeFevre's article from The Line. The gist of the reasoning seems to be that either the state, or the Twin Cities, or the Cities plus Duluth and Rochester (our major urban areas) needs differentiation from the rest of the Midwest in order to be competitive in the new world order. I suspect that, if we were writing a letter to Santa asking for a new identity other than flyover land, Santa might be mightily confused about our lack of clear geographic identification.

stockings hung with care
stockings hung with care
Photo by J. Harrington

As most of us (all of us?) know, The Twin Cities are very different than Duluth which is also quite distinctive from Rochester (medical destination center anyone?). And yet, as Ms. LeFevre writes:
"Minnesota, as all East and West Coasters know, is famous for its emotionally minimalist, anti-drama approach to life’s challenges, along with a refusal to boast about our accomplishments. And for being a blank screen in the national consciousness, fly-over country in other words. Haven’t we had enough already? Of being misunderstood, overlooked, flown over and disparaged? And of being lumped in with all of the rest of the amorphous Midwest?"
As I can speak to only too well, knowing what you don't want is often a far cry from knowing what you do want. It isn't enough to want to be distinguished from the rest of the Midwest. What do we (all of us, urban us, if the latter, then what about the Iron Rangers and or the farmers?) want to be know as, what do we want to be known for?

Minneapolis -- Mill City
Minneapolis -- Mill City
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't believe I'll ever be able to think of Chicago without also remembering Carl Sandburg's wonderful line: "City of the Big Shoulders:" Read the rest of the poem. Then think of a comparable literary description of all or much of Minnesota. Minnesota has been blessed with being home to a fantastically talented assembly of writers and poets. Do any of their lines capture the state of The Cities or the state as Sandburg does Chicago? If not, why?

Some time ago, My Minnesota wrote about 25 books every Minnesotan should read. We never quite got to 25, but the list is notable. One of the wisest marketing folks I know of, Seth Godin, consistently points out the necessity of story in marketing / branding / change. See if what he writes makes sense and how it might apply to Minnesota's brand. I'm still really partial to "the state that works." That way we can include Mill City (Minneapolis), the Saintly City (St. Paul), Medical Center (Rochester), and the air-conditioned city (Duluth) and all of greater Minnesota. When I think of North, I look for Alaska, Inuit, and igloos. (Do you remember the song North to Alaska?) In Minnesota, I think of up to the lake (north being up on most maps). I believe our identity for the 21st century, to be authentic, will also need to include our past.

Earth Day Story

By Stephen Sandy 

I remember the dusty floorboards of wood in the streetcar
Of the Minneapolis Street Railway Company
And the varnished yellow banquettes of tight-knit rattan
Worn smooth by decades of passengers
The worn gleaming brass grips at the corners of the seats
And the motorman’s little bell
Windows trembling in their casings as we crossed the avenue
Liberty dimes falling softly into the steel-rimmed hour glass
The gnarled hand of the motorman near.
My grandmother arranged herself against the seat
Her back as straight as a soldier’s beside me
Her navy hat with velvet band
And net veil down making her head seem distant,
Her dreaming smile and the patient Roman nose,
A repose so deep; from my place
I watched her when we rode like princes
Rattling past traffic stopped on the granite cobbles
Riding downtown together, my hands in hers;
All that so much
That I love yet but feel no sadness for, that
Time crossed out like the trolley tracks taken up
Or entombed under the pliant blacktop of the modernized. 

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