An Update From Minneapolis

Readers know I began this blog to follow my writing learning curve. I thought I’d take a break, though, to bring you gentle readers up to date on the violence in the Twin Cities following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. I live on the western edge of Minneapolis, and my son James lives in the city, a few blocks from where the riots began on Thursday night.

The rioting seems to have been tamped down Saturday night by a strong Nat’l Guard presence. Several things are coming out of the riots:

  • Minnesotans are shocked and dismayed. This is not the vaunted Minnesota Nice we are so proud of.
  • The area of the first riots is a criss-cross of major streets. The focus was the police precinct house where the officers who killed Floyd were assigned. The area is a former second hub of the city—Lake Street, a long, straight thoroughfare that was a major commercial hub 50 years ago and is now home to many small businesses, some ethnic, some showing signs that the area is gentrifying. It runs through lower- and middle-class urban residential neighborhoods.
  • There was a world of difference between daytime protests and nighttime violence. For example, the Friday crowds were large during the day. Singing, sweeping up broken glass and helping merchants along Lake Street clean up/fix up. The evening crowds were destructive, violent.
  • The Mayor, Jacob Frey and/or the governor, Tim Walz, decided not to crack down Friday night. Presumably, they were following lessons learned in the 1968 Chicago convention riots (don’t bottle people up). That was a mistake.
  • As a result of the mistake, there is some substantial finger-pointing going on (and busses arriving, motors running, waiting for politicians to be thrown under them). The current trend in blame-shifting is that ‘outside agitators’ are the source of much trouble. A lot of the damage in both Minneapolis and St. Paul has been done by roving groups driving cars without license plates, which is used to support the outside agitators hypothesis; on the other hand, those arrested so far have been mostly local people.
  • Police violence has been a simmering issue, one that embarrasses Minnesotans (and is therefore too often ignored). Adding to the tension here is that, prior to Floyd, a black man named Philandro Castile was shot in his car by a Hispanic-American officer in 2016 in what was apparently an unjustified use of force. The officer was acquitted of all charges. Then, a year later, an Australian white woman, Justine Damond, was shot and killed by a black (Somali) officer after she called them to report a disturbance. In that case, the officer was prosecuted and convicted. As one person said, “So that fuse has been burning for a long time.”
  • An interesting side note re: social media in the modern age: Son James’s neighborhood is about 10 blocks south of the Lake Street/Minnehaha intersection you saw on TV (Target looted, Precinct house burned). The great majority of the area surrounding the rioting is residential. On Thursday night, people were cautious, but there was no activity in the residential areas. On Friday, the decision not to use the Nat. Guard left the neighborhood fearful. The neighborhood (about 20 contiguous blocks) has a website/facebook page. That became a nexus for arranging a community meeting, advising calm, safety advice (all lights on all the time; stay inside because Nat. Guard will be patrolling, etc.). On Saturday, it became the source of continuous reporting of activities near the neighborhood.

A long-winded report, but—bottom line—the violence seems to have diminished here, but it has added another stone on the cart we’re all dragging right now.

The Insecurity Tell

Excerpt from a book I’m reviewing (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent from social media onslaught):

“I need a drink,” Irene thought to herself. She longed for something to dull the events of the night. “But after Sandra.” She had to ensure her prized heir was alright.

Irene needs a drink after the bad things she’s done. At this point in the story, the reader knows that Sandra is Irene’s young daughter, and Irene did these bad things to protect Sandra. So the line “But after Sandra” says all the reader needs to know. Motherlove comes before the drink.

Then comes the dread Insecurity Tell.

The Tell sticks out like a sore thumb to me because I’ve done it so often myself. I think most writers do it when they’re starting out—at least, I’ve seen it a lot in critique groups.

Let’s chew on the psychology.

One reason for the Tell is the writer is insecure, so goes belt-and-suspenders: Just in case I didn’t make it clear, let me just tell reader what I hoped they’d get out of my prose.

The other reason is, I think, the need for control. The writer has not yet integrated the idea that the words on the page are a passageway from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. The scent of a spring breeze is different for each person. Unless the writer wants to digress for a paragraph on the subject of organic esters, he has to leave the exact combination of air-wafted odors to the mind of the reader. Obvious, right?

Not so obvious with complex emotions, though. I suspect the implied motherlove in the quote above is different to each reader, too, for the same reason as the spring breeze: experience.

When I was first writing, I often wanted to exercise ironclad control over the passageway between me and the reader. Trouble is, the Insecurity Tell is mildly insulting. says, “I knew that!” It’s not a big issue, but it is a speed bump in the stream of attention the reader gives the prose. The greater problem: it adds unnecessary words.