Why do I live here?

Rainbow over downtown Mankato

By Marnie Werner, Vice President, Research & Operations

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When I saw it was my turn to write the blog post this week and that the assignment was “Why do I live here?” I had to sit down and give it a good think.

I grew up in a Twin Cities suburb and it never occurred to me in all that time that I would ever live anyplace but the metro.

So how did I end up in Greater Minnesota? Well, the first and obvious reason is my job. I live in Mankato, and when I first moved here to work at the Center, we had an office that I commuted to every morning. Now that we all work out of our homes, that’s not really a solid answer anymore.

So I thought about it some more. And I thought of all the standard reasons for liking some place. All the reasons that go on billboards and in marketing material and tourism ads about why someplace is a great place to visit and an even better place to live.

But in the middle of this thinking, that question—Why do I live here?—also brought back the echo of a conversation, a brief one that took place over twenty years ago, when I was in graduate school on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota.

It was me and three other girls. (I worked for a while before going to grad school and was several years older than my classmates, so I can call them “girls.”) We were chatting about this and that, and I happened to mention that I lived in St. Paul.

One of the young women in the conversation, I had already discerned some time earlier, was of a decidedly superior mindset. When I said I lived in St. Paul, the first words out of her mouth were, “How did you end up there?”

It wasn’t a question based on interested curiosity or even mild indifference, someone just trying to make conversation. It was a question that demanded I both justify and answer for my foolish life choices.

It was a tone asking, of all the places in the world where you could possibly choose to live, why did you choose St. Paul?

I had a bland answer: because I like it there. But what I really wanted was some clever comeback that would have put her in her place. I loved St. Paul and wanted to defend it. If I could have thought of something great on the spot, it would have been something like, “The people in St. Paul are real. They’re normal. They’re not judgmental or obsessed with hipness or with reminding all us inferior beings that we’re inferior beings.”

But of course I didn’t think of any of that on the spot, so I just made like Elsa and let it go. If she wanted to be like that, that was her problem, I figured. It’s okay.

Then I moved to rural Minnesota, specifically, Mankato.

And I loved it, too.

Now, some people wouldn’t consider Mankato rural, but to anyone who grew up in the Twin Cities, it is. It’s outside the seven-county metro area. It’s surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans. There are grain elevators downtown. You have to drive into the countryside to get to the next town. When I moved here, there was no Indian restaurant (there is now), no Dayton’s (of course nobody has a Dayton’s anymore, she said with a quiet sob), and no Southdale, no Rosedale, no Ridgedale.

And as soon as I got here, I discovered a few other things Mankato didn’t have:

  • Traffic. No traffic. The guys on the radio station here refer to our rush hour as the “rush minute.” Two weeks ago, during rush hour, it took me an hour just to get out of downtown Minneapolis. I would like that hour of my life back, thank you.
  • Air pollution, or at least it’s noticeably less here. On a clear day, the sky over Mankato is a brilliant blue.
  • Gigantic schools. The enrollment at my suburban high school the year I graduated was 2,100, and my graduating class was 685. And that was a small class. It wasn’t too hard to get lost in the crowd there.

And I discovered one particular thing Mankato does have:

  • The best shawarma this side of the Middle East, quite possibly in the world. I introduce all my friends to these shawarmas when they visit. When at the end of the first Avengers film Tony Stark said he didn’t know what a shawarma was but he wanted to try one, I had to stop myself from yelling at the screen, “Come to Mankato! The shawarmas here are awesome!”

But while I was noticing all this, something else started happening. I started hearing things from friends and family in the metro like, “When are you moving back to civilization?”  “When Marnie moves back…” “How do you stand it there?” Or my personal favorite, “It’s so far. Why don’t you come up here?” Because as everyone knows, the distance to the metro is shorter than the distance from the metro. Think about it.

So what’s my point? My point is that with that question—“How did you end up there?”—ringing in my ears, I came to the realization that there is no need to justify or defend why I live where I live. It’s okay.

It’s okay because regardless of where we live, we are human beings, and human beings will always find infinite ways to separate and divide ourselves. We drive wedges where wedges don’t need to be because we’re bored, we tear down people who are minding their own business or building things that are good because we’re jealous, and we insult and fear the unfamiliar, all to make ourselves feel more relevant, more interesting, more special.

Do we need to be that way? No, of course not, and we all know it. Every person is interesting and has an interesting story. We all know deep down that every single one of us is smart and relevant and special. 

And so where we choose to live is not up for debate by friends living a hundred miles away or strangers living a thousand miles away. It’s not up for judgement by social media bullies euphemized as “influencers” or political manipulators trying to swing a vote one way or another to suit their ambitions.

Everyone has their own reason for living where they do, and it’s their reason and their reason alone.

So when you’re driving around our beautiful state and wondering why anyone would live in that town or that city, put up with that lack of coffee shops or that traffic and crime, please remind yourself: they have their reasons for living where they do, and they may not be the same as yours.

And that’s okay. Let it go.