ScanAms and a Theory

February 19, 2001

So. Five loads of laundry and five thousand words later, I think I'm done doing anything remotely work-like today. I finished up "Seven Minutes in Heaven," complete with a restructuring that makes it not go clunk-clunk-clunk, and I added 2500 words to the novel, bringing me securely up and over the 20000 word mark despite some editing. (Bad physicist habit: I keep forgetting to put commas in my thousands.) And now I'm going to read Neal Stephenson.

Timprov got me The Big U at The Other Change of Hobbit in Berkeley, which is a pretty okay bookstore, I guess, for those who are not gifted with Uncle Hugo's. And The Big U is like Catch-22 for geeks, set at a university. It's pretty clearly a first novel, because Stephenson has gotten better since then, but it's still cool. And I like to see people get better after their first novels. Makes me feel like I can just do what I'm doing now, and it won't be the be-all and end-all of my career - which I logically know to be true. It's just that having evidence that other people do this is nice.

Uncle Hugo's. Cub Foods and Byerly's. I have become the biggest Minnesota snob. Just like my parents, only they're actually from there. Not me. I'm a Nebraskan. Hills make me a little tetchy. It's just that, really, I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to live in Minneapolis. (You know, I welcome e-mail at all times, but if you're going to e-mail me solely to tell me that it's the snow, thank you, but I've heard that one already. From someone who lives in Chicago, even.) There are specific reasons - I mean, there are cool things and people in Omaha (my real home town), and I'm sure some people like, I don't know, oceans and stuff like that, having jobs, whatever. But Minneapolis has Uncle Hugo's, and Dreamhaven, and the MISFITS (don't ask me what it's an acronym for - the letters and the acronymity don't at all match up), and Cub Foods, and the Shakopee Ren Fest, and a bazillion different Scandinavian import shops, and Frankie's, and the Guthrie, and Aunt Ellen, and C.J., and… well, just lots of good stuff, is the thing. I could go on for quite some time about the charms of Minneapolis.

In Minneapolis, I can deal with people from other cultures - it's a city, there are plenty of non-ScanAms, no matter what Fargo may have told you. But in Minneapolis, I am not exotic. Out here, I can find everybody's ethnic cuisine except mine. And I like everybody else's (well, almost everybody else's), but sometimes it would be nice to be able to get lefse at the store. Or at least have somebody at the store have some clue what lefse is.

If we don't end up moving back to Minnesota, I can deal with that. There will be fewer mosquitoes, for one thing, and less passive-aggressive behavior by at least a little bit. (I know, Timprov, not every Minnesotan is passive-aggressive. Just the ScanAms, mostly.) Fewer Ole and Lena jokes. I could deal with that. And, I mean, we are moving back to the upper Midwest somewhere. So it's not like I'll be out here in the wilds of Hayward forever.

Hey, my favorite ScanAm joke - you probably don't know it, this is probably all new - is my favorite not because I think it's funny, but because the generational response to it amuses me. The joke is: "Did you hear the one about the Norwegian man who loved his wife so much, he almost told her?" My generation kind of goes, oh, ha ha, shrugs and moves on. My dad's generation lets out this collective shout of laughter and says, "That's my dad!"

Some members of my grandparents' generation are still waiting politely for the punchline.

I guess I wouldn't be talking about the wilds of Hayward so much were it not for one thing: the absolute and total lack of good coffee places. We've lived here a month now. No coffee to be found. I don't count Border's café, and I don't count Starbucks, and I don't count Peet's. I only count places where I could comfortably sit and write. We keep finding new hopes, only to have them dashed to the ground. We have one place to check out yet, before we have to dive into the phone book again and start looking at the less likely options. I feel like coffee places ought to be the sort of thing I can find accidentally, driving along. But not so far. And I love having this for my day job, I love being able to just write all day, but sometimes I need to get out. Ah well. I need to go to the library for my paying work anyway, so I'll get out of the apartment tomorrow. And then, perhaps, there will be something to ramble about.

Or not. Oh, I promised a theory yesterday. My latest theory is that what we don't understand about the future is grandparents. This is where near-future SF authors go wrong most easily. Young kids and middle-aged folks are obviously doing new and different things. But when it comes to writing older characters, we can't emotionally fathom that there will be a day soon when practically nobody's grandfather wears a nice dress hat with his suit, where "Irene" won't be an old lady's name but "Jenny" will. It's harder for us to picture our own behavior as crotchety and out-dated. We're the SF writers - we're the forward-thinking ones, right? But that doesn't mean our social mores will remain constant.

Thank God.

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