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Karl Schuettler Posts

Imperfect Duluth Days

I realized I was a northern Minnesotan on my first return trip home during my freshman year of college at an East Coast school. My mother collected me from the Minneapolis airport, and we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Forest Lake. The waitress came to our table, opened her mouth, and began to talk. I was immediately horrified.

The accent. It was real. The Fargo stereotype was true. I’d just spent an entire semester trying to project an image of someone who wasn’t from bumfuck nowhere. I’d patiently explained to scions of the Acela Corridor elite that no, Duluth was not a suburb of the Twin Cities, and that no, ice fishing was not a fictional pursuit, but something that real people actually did. And now, here was this polite, cheery waitress taking my order, and the poor woman had no way of knowing that the words issuing from her mouth filled me with dread.

Through trial and tribulation, I overcame my fear of the northern Minnesotan accent. Even though I’d sworn I’d never come back when I was in high school, I found my way to a home with the same sliver of a lake view I’d enjoyed as a child in Lakeside. The story of what led me from one point to another is tedious, its details ranging from the mundane to the intensely personal, and the source of far too many of my own words spilled out on blogs and in the lonely, booze-fueled journals of late adolescence. I am here, a Duluthian first and foremost among any commitments I may have to places, and ready to bore any unfortunate soul with an hours-long nuanced account of why this has come to be. I have even come to accept the accent, mostly. But there are still, admittedly, moments of doubt.

All of these moments come in the time of year that in other lands goes by the name of “spring.”

Decline Porn, Duluth, and Love Amid the Ruins

J.D. Vance, in a review of Janesville: An American Story in Commentary magazine:

Having grown up in a blue-collar family that has largely abandoned the Democratic Party in droves, I have an unusually high tolerance for the many profiles of Trump voters in struggling industrial towns. Lately, however, even I have grown weary of what Noah Rothman calls “decline porn.” There are only so many words in the English language, and nearly all of them seem to have been used at least three times to help the denizens of Williamsburg and Dupont understand red-state voters and dying factory towns. Enough already.

Vance penned the most orgiastic piece of decline porn in recent memory, Hillbilly Elegy — apologies for my juvenile enjoyment of this metaphor — but there has been no shortage of titles in this genre, and a survey of my past reading list will find me devouring much of it, from Robert Putnam’s Our Kids to Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic, from George Packer’s The Unwinding to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart to Brian Alexander’s Glass House. It need not even be American; I could carry on with examples for a while. Decline porn is a fertile ground in contemporary non-fiction, and its best works tell haunting tales of realities that anyone vaguely involved in the shaping of political or economic trends must wrestle with. They also tap into a lament for things lost that speaks to a certain part of the human psyche and permeates my own writing at times. Someone who knows me well can probably psychoanalyze this wistfulness easily enough, but I come back to it for reasons that are philosophical as well as personal, and I could devote a lot of words to defending it in those terms. Meditations on loss go back to Eden and the early creation myths, as Paz so masterfully explains in the last chapter of The Labyrinth of Solitude. It’s a near universal human trait.