COLUMN: Now, it all seriousness

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Now, in all seriousness
By Aaron J. Brown

Anonymous internet comments are a relatively new invention, though the core concept predates the web. In the old days, people just yelled at their TV or threw a rock wrapped in a piece of paper that read “Whigs are Tyranny” through the window of a newspaper office. (I do believe this screed would have been in reference to the Whig Party, and not actual wigs, but either way the rock served an effective exclamation point). These occurrences stood as relative rarities. Most media feedback from the citizenry once manifested as an angry street corner rebuke, a signed letter, or even an editorial from the rival newspaper, the Hibbing Blunt Object Hurler, a favorite of mine in any historical research of our surrounds.

Last week on this page I shared a story of a weather alert radio, related it to my relationship with my wife and wrapped up the metaphor neatly in the last paragraph, the way I always do, except when the attempt spirals into commentary on squirrels and their motivation for shutting down the city’s power supply. Over at my blog I received an anonymous comment asking why I spent so much time on self-indulgent topics like this, personal columns filled with mix-and-match observations about life, when there are so many important, troubling problems in the world, particularly on the Iron Range. The commenter pointed out a case where a woman in this region was being forced to choose between milk for her children and cost of insurance and gas to drive a car to her job. Isn’t this awful?

Sigh. My first reaction wasn’t very helpful. Of course it’s awful, and common, and so overwrought that even the very image of the decision being made, an image of a mother in line to buy the gas and not the milk at the Holiday station out on 25th Street, while the cars whiz by on the Beltline, seems so routine that I’ve shut off the part of my head that gets worked up about it. Never mind the persistent unemployment, the ignorance that passes for public policy debate and the dragging, drawing, lasting decline that sucks away the soul of our communities. That’s a right bummer, any way you slice it, and I’ve been trying to limit my bummer distribution.

In the nine years since I’ve been writing this column, including my time at the editor’s desk before I left to teach at the college, I’ve gone through a fascinating journey that has occurred almost entirely here on the Iron Range, at least half of it (if not more) in my own head, which, though large, remains housed in this region as well. In the last ten years I’ve gone from a would-be journalist to a college instructor with a blog and book. Same, and yet different. In the last ten years I’ve gone from someone that believed in the institutions of the Iron Range outright to someone who sees writing on walls I once didn’t know existed. In other words I went from Strong Free Will to Leaning Fate. Despite all of this, I’ve written and written and written about problems: serious, serious problems we all face.

I can’t emphasize enough the peril we on the Iron Range face today, all of us from those warm and comfortable in self-assurance to the youth who scrap out for something, anything that resembles the lives of their parents or peers. This region, its history, culture and people – storied, vaunted and important – now approaches a long tunnel that leads to obsolescence. This approach is only frustrating, only notable, in that we don’t have to blindly march down that tunnel. This region – the Iron Range of northern Minnesota – possesses at this time the resources and human capacity to change. We have yet a tiny shred of free will, despite the fate we’ve been dealt. What will you, and I mean you, and I mean me, do tomorrow to change anything at all, from what’s obviously going to happen otherwise?

I’m sorry this was so very, very serious. Puppies and children are on deck.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer, blogger and instructor at Hibbing Community College. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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