Friday, October 05, 2007


From Big New York City to Little New York Mills

New York Mills Herald, Introductory Column
Originally published on August 22, 2007
Credited to my other identity, Elisa Korentayer

From Big New York City to Little New York Mills

Hello, New York Mills. I’m a new columnist for the New York Mills Herald—you’ll see my byline in these pages periodically. For those of you who don’t me, I’d like to use this first column to introduce myself. I am a singer-songwriter, writer, and composer who lived in New York City until this past spring. Now, I call New York Mills home. And how I got here is the stuff stories are made of.

In September 2005, I decided to apply for artist residencies and fellowships. While researching, I uncovered an unusual solo arts retreat hosted by the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center (NYMRCC) and sponsored by the Jerome Foundation. At the last minute before the NYMRCC application was due, I decided I didn’t have time to complete my application. But in the end, I figured that the more opportunities I applied to, the more likely it was I’d get into one, and so I stayed up late to complete my application.

Four months later, I found an envelope from the New York Mills Cultural Center in my tiny apartment mailbox. Inside the envelope was my very first acceptance to an artist residency program. The New York Mills Cultural Center invited me to spend May 2006 in their artist’s cottage and they offered me a stipend to cover my travel and living expenses. I jumped up and down in a frenzy of excitement that I had been accepted to an arts residency in a county called Ottertail. Ottertail… a name that hinted at wildlife, farmland and trees upon trees—a far cry from my daily routine of subway tunnels, honking traffic, and concrete horizons.

To plan for my trip to the Minnesota countryside, I did what any overachieving and under-funded New York City artist might do. I borrowed every guidebook on Minnesota in the entire New York City library system. From the pile of ten Minnesota guidebooks on my desk, I learned that in a state that is synonymous with lakes, the one thing one must do in Minnesota is go canoeing. Okay, I thought. Canoeing in Minnesota it is. The only question that remained was how to make it happen with no canoe and minimal paddling experience. I researched every canoe outfitter in the Boundary Waters, and learned that May is still too early in the season to join an existing group tour. After an ill-advised attempt to find co-canoers by advertising on the Minneapolis Craig’s List online bulletin board, I finally contacted Lynn Kasma, the resident artist coordinator at the NYMRCC, to see what she might suggest.

“I know the perfect guy for you,” she said. Little did I know that she actually meant “the perfect guy for me.” But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lynn described Chris Klein as a Board member of the NYMRCC, an experienced outdoorsman, a triathlete, a financial planner, and an all-around good guy. “He’ll be happy to take you out canoeing,” she told me.

I contacted Chris by phone, and after some awkward getting-to-know-you moments, we agreed that Chris would take me on a three-day, two-night canoe trip on the Crow Wing river during my first weekend in Minnesota. To placate any of my concerns about being out in the woods with some guy I’d never met, Chris offered to find some other folks to come along with us.

As it turned out, Pam and Gary Robinson agreed to join us for the middle day of canoeing, a Saturday, but Friday, Friday night, and Saturday night, it would just be Chris and me. As a solo woman planning to spend time in a community I didn’t know, I considered my options carefully. What if Chris was an unsavory fellow? What if Chris was an axe murderer? I reasoned, finally, that if Chris was a Board member, then it would behoove him and the organization not to harm me. An unseemly incident with a visiting artist would likely make it difficult for the organization to get funding in the future. I decided to go ahead with the trip.

When I described my daring plans to friends, they responded with something between shock, concern, and awe. A close friend summed it up for me perfectly: “Either this is a really bad idea, or the best blind date ever.” Well, as my new address attests, it turned out pretty well.

The three-day canoe trip was a blast. Chris and I got along like old friends. Then we spent time together almost everyday of my month-long residency. For public record, let me state that we only started dating during the last week of my stay.

I was sure there was no way a relationship between a country boy and this city girl was going to have legs. One year of long distance dating later, I’m happy to say that things seemed to have worked themselves out.

I am now a fully-fledged resident of New York Mills, Minnesota. I have a Minnesota drivers’ license, Minnesota license plates, and a tendency to say “Ya.” I’m learning to love the fact that traffic in this part of the country means waiting at the stop sign for people to wave cars ahead of them. I have been elected to the Board of the NYMRCC, and I’m already concocting ideas for projects I can do with the Cultural Center and other local organizations.

I have yet to try hot dish, and I’m trying to stay away from the Minnesota version of salad. (I’m not yet ready to believe that the term “salad” can include jello as a main ingredient.) But, all in all, I’m happy to be here, and I’m looking forward to getting to know my new community.

See you all again soon in print, and around town.

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