My Life in the Petri Dish

Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato

My mail carrier on the North Shore used to joke about the range of mail I received. As a person actively involved in unions, I received a lot of liberal mail. As a pastor I received a lot of conservative mail. And, as a joke, students would fill in magazine subscription cards with teachers’ names. It was a bit of a hassle to stop these, but before I did, the hunting and fishing magazines supplied my name to ultra-conservative organizations. Sorry about that, Steve, but it is true. One of these promised to tell me the evils of public school teachers.

In my life I belonged to many subcultures. Small farm culture, neighborhood culture (three times), teacher culture, faculty room culture, North Shore culture, Iron Range culture, small church culture, lumberjack culture, union culture, University of Chicago culture, nursing home culture, taconite plant culture, team culture, coaching culture, railroading town culture, and many others, such small bar culture, which may surprise you. But I love small bars, especially the rural ones, especially in the north woods, of which there are many. In most of these cultures I was a sort of outsider, never quite at home.

When I write my short stories I try to use these many subcultures. It is fun to revisit some of them in my memory, some not so happily. Lumberjack culture and north woods bar culture are among my favorite things to write about.

I assume Babooners have belonged to many subcultures, too.

What have you learned from the culture’s to which you have belonged, willingly or unwillingly?

86 thoughts on “My Life in the Petri Dish”

  1. Ach! So many subcultures!

    Some were regional: Midwestern, Minnesota, Lake Superior, Up North. Twin Cities.

    Some were recreational: Fisherman, Hunter, Canoeist, Reader, Dog Lover, Photographer, Music Fan. Within those were all the important subdivisions: Trout Fisherman (not just any fish), Fly Fishing (not just any technique), Upland Bird Hunter (not just any quarry), Pointing Dog Man (not just any hunting dog), Folk Music Fan (not just any live music).

    Some were vocational: Graduate Student, Teacher, Writer, College Administrator. Within those, English Department and American Studies, Outdoor (Nature) Writer.

    Some were just personal: Vietnam War Opponent, Liberal Politics Supporter, Counter-Culturalist, Progressive Politics Advocate.

    The most subtle and complex cultural identity: Minnesotan.

    The most difficult subculture to support while maintaining balance: Fly Fishing for Trout.

    The most awkward and controversial subculture: Hunter.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. From the subculture of Minnesota Norwegian Lutherans I learned to value community (and community over self). This leads to two corollaries: pride and vanity are the ultimate sins (because they call you out as “better than”) and equity and inclusion are to be fiercely fought for because they are essential to the health and well being of the community.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’ve never really thought about subcultures – besides the Trail, I’m not sure what my other subcultures are. I’ll ruminate today….

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      1. SO, if I wear my birks religiously but that’s all I do, does that make me a part of a subculture? I don’t go to Birkenstock festivals, I don’t blog with other birky wearers, I don’t live in a community of birk enthusiasts.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I don’t think the fact you wear Birkenstocks a lot is enough to call it a subculture. I’m sure there are a lot of things you do a lot. A subculture requires, I opine, interpersonal interaction and some specific focus on the subject of your subculture. You can make a subculture out of just about anything; you could form a subculture around the fact you have hair, but there has to be some intentional culture in your subculture. An inexplicably bizarre example of a true subculture is that of the Bronies. The Bronies are adult men, obsessed with the cartoon “My Little Pony”. They have meetups, discussion groups, special terminology, shared knowledge about resources, and a common perspective.
          Most true subcultures include some commonly understood terminology, a common interest or perspective, often a body of specialized knowledge (which might be as simple as where best to get supplies) and many have some means of periodically aggregating.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I have a few friends who stamp but it’s not the main point of connection for any of them. When I was a sales rep, I suppose you could call it subculture, but probably not now.

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        3. it is the brotherhood of birky folks
          i am in a peanut butter brotherhood a pot smokers in your youth brotherhood a hippy businessman brotherhood (small goop but i love it} a beard a folkie a vw van guy a international traveler a bleeding heart liberal an outspoken opinionated extrovert with introvert blindspots that many never see, a recovering catholic a brotherhoond of musicians artists poets also a parents husbands and sons member.

          do i put this here or down below. i think down below
          (cut and paste form vs birky response

          Liked by 1 person

        4. i will not say bills definition does not create a subculture but i disagree that it is requited, to be a mania maybe but a subculture no. the wearing of birkys the riding of motorcycles the driving of a corvette or a convertible or a larel and hardy fan who just likes them and does not belong to the sons of the desert. a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square

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        1. Actually, it’s the Bronies, as in Bro and Ponies mushed together, not the Brownies. I don’t think I could get a Brownie uniform in my size. I guess I’d have to make one.
          Anyway, I had heard or read somewhere about the Bronies and it was so incomprehensible, it just sort of stuck in my memory.
          I’m really more of a CareBear guy myself…

          Liked by 4 people

        2. In WWI English men would gather in their undergound bunkers to read and
          discuss Jane Austen. They were called the Janes. Among the many many members were Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Many other prominent men.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, it’s kinda the same as the Birkenstock conundrum. I don’t take part if any activities that touch on being an adoptive parent or even a single mother. When YA was still an infant/toddler I went to a few adoptive parent weekends, belonged to Families w/ Children from China, subscribed to a couple of magazines, but after a few years drifted away from all of it. Most adoptive organizations really focus heavily on the negatives of adoption, which didn’t apply or appeal to me. And FCC focused very heavily on China and Chinese heritage, which was OK for me, but was completely uninteresting to Child. So while I identify as an adoptive parent, I don’t see that I’m part of a subculture. I think this issue is why Clyde decided to not define “subculture”.

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  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I have been thinking a lot about “cousin culture” lately. I don’t usually think much about this, but I find myself avoiding a segment of my extended family because it is painful. I even hesitate writing about it here because negativity breeds–wait for it–negativity! However, it was a culture that really affected me.

    I was raised in an enormous family, smack dab in the middle (#19 0f 39 grandchildren) of the bunch. Unfortunately, 3 of my cousin age-mates ( 2 boys, 1 girl) were the product of a disastrously unhappy marriage, an emotional millstone that affected the family. The 2 boys were poorly behaved and aggressive. My mother tried to control their behavior which they resented, so they channeled all their aggression to guess who? Me. I was born in their sightlines and they were miserable.

    This created a cousin culture to which the adults in the family seemed oblivious. There was a divorce that escalated negativity and gossip, as well as the boys acting out. I was snubbed and shunned, had stuff thrown at me ( apples, seed corn, fertilizer pellets), and called names. This affected my self-confidence over the years.

    I suspect other cousins experienced similar things from these 2. Rumors of their misdeeds, spread by other cousins, leaked out under Grandma’s gossip firewall. They went on to unproductive, drug-ridden addictions, divorces, illegitimate children, etc. They became an island unto themselves, spreading destruction and conflict. Even now at family gatherings they arrive late, on motorcycles, and the din goes quiet.

    It makes my stomach tight just to think of them. Bad subculture. Hope this story does not ruin your day–I usually don’t write this stuff. But there it is.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Sort of–the older one of the two set the land speed record on a motorcycle (Harley, I think), later crashing one. The last I saw him he was on crutches forever.

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        1. As a young man, the north woods tavern culture was amusing. The more I saw of it, the sadder it became to watch the same people coming in night after night to escape the tedium of their lives. The taverns of Cornucopia seemed a bit healthier. More social; less alcoholic.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I learned from several cultures that I make a good curmudgeon, that I make a poor leader or manager, that there is always a bully around, some people are too nice for their own good, that I think laterally, etc.
    Off to clinic.

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  6. What inevitably happens to me is that I am in a subculture that isn’t a good fit. My job for much of my life was “outdoor writer,” but I thought 85 percent of outdoor writers were drunks and con men trying to exploit the natural world, profiting personally from degrading the beautiful thing we humans have been given, that splendid blue marble.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks. You’d assume outdoor writers, of all people, would be passionate in defense of natural resources. Just the opposite was true. They happily make a few bucks shilling for the exploitation of resource but are AWOL when it comes to actually defending the natural world against unwise uses.

        But thanks for the nice words.

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        1. now there is a niche for an outdoor writer who is a real treehugger. there are lots of treehuggers who love the outdoors even some who think its ok to kill wolves but nowhere for them to find a subculture that isnt duck dynasty jerkfaces with lead shot in the bottom of there hunting jacket pockets
          figure out a way to live there and you would be happy. make it your final act. set up an organization that wold appeal even to you and make it possible to pass it on when it takes of and leave it as your legacy along with the pheasant book and the wolf book,.

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  7. Two cultures have affected me of recent. My former girlfriend, who moved to Atlanta last year is a retired cop from Cincinnati and also African-American. She taught me awareness of one’s surroundings. When we went night clubbing she always insisted on sitting where we could see the entrance. This is a person who has a retired police officer permit for concealed carry (which she did). It must be exhausting to always be suspicious. When we went to the Mall, she informed me of the attention store owners and undercover police (She could tell who they were) gave us. It must be exhausting to always be a suspect.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know three mixed race couples. They are not that onguard, but they do get comments and long looks. One of my favorite former students now in his late 40’s married an woman in Africa whom he met on Peace Corps. He has a beuatiful very talented daughter starting a singing career, whom everyone thinks is his mistress or a prostitute if they are together in public without his wife. He wants to be out with her, but then . . .

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I worked in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a black guy. We ride shared to the job site. One day he drove but we ended up parking in a nearby residential neighborhood. As we were walking to his car at the end of the work day, it began to rain. I said, “Race you back to the car.” and took off running. I got to the car and it was locked. Looking behind, I saw he was casually walking along. We finally got into the car and I complained about his taking his time getting in. He said in effect, I couldn’t run after you. The neighbors would have called the cops about a black guy chasing a white boy on their street

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The things that white people take for granted….

          I read that the officer who shot Philando Castile has been charged with second degree manslaughter and two felony counts. I was surprised to read this; I really thought it would be another case of the investigation drawing the conclusion that the officer was not to blame.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. If you talk to a black person who is comfortable speaking candidly, you hear about what it is like to walk into a store and instantly become a threat to shoplift something. In situation after situation African Americans sense they are being racially profiled.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Neil deGrasse Tyson has a section in his book The Sky is Not the Limit in which he discusses his and other black scientists experiences. More than once he was stopped at the university where he was teaching as he carried stuff to his car at the end of the work day. Not my idea of an ideal world – how do we go about fixing this?

          Liked by 2 people

        4. I don’t know how to fix it, VS, and I’m afraid things are going to get worse now that He-Who-Appoints-White-Supremacists-to-his-Staff will be president soon. I can think of a couple small things: don’t call other people racists (even if you think they are) and treat all the people with whom you come into contact with respect and dignity. But you probably know that already – maybe if hundreds of people commit to it, it will make a difference? I can try to imagine being considered a threat, as Steve mentioned, wherever I go, 24/7, just because of my skin color, but as a white person, I can’t really feel it the way others do. Just imagine feeling scared every time you drive a car and praying that you won’t get pulled over, because if you do, it may be the end of your life. It’s mind-boggling, but so many people have lived with that sort of fear all their lives (and so have their parents and grandparents).

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      2. my daughter and i get looks but i am ok with it, if i were dating a 20 year old it would be a different story.
        i do have kind of that dirty old man personna as a faux subculture i do an impersonation of

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  8. Last year at this time I was part of a subculture of “old person who went back to school.” This year, I am in limbo and don’t know what subculture I belong to (besides here, thank goodness for this blog).

    OT – Brag time. Here’s the link that show the two photos (yes, two; I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not one but two of my submitted photos were published in the Minnesota in Seasons book. If you hover over the photos, you can see the title and photographer; my photos are River to Nowhere and Crossing Reflections. http://www.captureminnesota.com/awards/published-photo-minnesota-in-seasons

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Thanks. The bridge shot was taken on a misting day, after a rainfall this spring. It was a beautiful walk down Minnehaha Creek east from Lake Hiawatha. So green. And hardly any people.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, they’re not on the front page of the book, tim. What you see is just the way they arranged them on the website, which I assume is random. In the book, they are just two of many photos, nothing more than that.

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  9. It’s always been a marvel to me how easy it is to find oneself in a subculture. When my younger daughter was a competitive Scottish Highland dancer, we found ourselves in a whirl of weekly lessons leading up to periodic competitions. We attended a lot of Scottish Festivals and came to know the names of all the competitive dancers and their families, not just locally but regionally. We came to recognize which bagpipe tune signaled which dance. We knew where to get the best socks and dance shoes. We knew the best restaurants and the best places to stay when we visited regional competitions. We could (somewhat) judge the quality of a dance performance. Highland dance is very exacting- there is little room for individual expression. And we belonged for that time to the Minnesota Scottish Celtic Dance Association. Meetings of the MSCDA were a hoot. Many of the members were first or second generation Scots. I remarked to Robin, “As soon as you have two or more Scots in a room, you have factions.”
    They could never unanimously agree on anything.

    We’ve also been in Living History Societies, I’ve been part of groups of artists, I am a member of an organization devoted to books and the book arts, and Robin’s interest in fiber and textile arts places her in the middle of a huge and vibrant community of knitters, spinners, dyers, bloggers and podcasters. All of these communities assume a certain level of specialized knowledge and familiarity with arcane bits.
    I have some rarefied communities of correspondents with whom I exchange comments or suggestions about nineteenth century topics and about finer points of genealogical research.
    Any one of these special interests would likely escape the attention and/or comprehension of the average consumer of popular culture. That’s what makes them subcultures.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. yeah but your brain works that way. for us mere mortals we cant submerge into the culture and do a i dotting t crossing song and dance without complete submersion.
      i think the northern bar scene is a good yin to the scotish dance club yang. one involves years of involvement and attention to detail and one involves sittin on a bar stool and talking like a local to a local with other locals and having fun.
      i am a hat guy
      an odd job at diy jobs around the house guy
      an entrepreneurial serial whack job
      i find any time i am in so deep i am at the level you mention here it have achieved a situation where i dont love it any more. obsess and immerse is the opposite of celebrating brotherhood of celebrating brotherhood.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. yep i had that and karate, base ball basketball football hockey soccer drama choir synchronized swim wrestling fencing bowling fast pitch softball voice piano sax guitar trumpet and oboe hammer dulcimer harmonica jews harp(not politically correct anymore) accordion bass and drums. all in the name of parent enriched child dreamchasing. i had one kid that had eight of these going on at once. he eventally bailed on all of them but that was a different lesson wasnt it. a subculture of too activities . i had kids spread 14 years apart and the first one started and in 1991 or so and the last one has 2 1/2 years of high shchool left and my dad told me that he thought he was supposed to have the fatherhood thing taken care of when the kids hit 18 or 21 or whatever the magic date was and he discovered it never never ends. 20 30 40 50 they are still your kids and the subculture goes on and on.

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  10. Sandy and I are going for technological medicine. I’m about to start using a TENS machine, a personal muscle stimulator to reduce pain. I will also get a home neck traction device. But Sandy has the big news. She is going to have a pacemaker for her colon installed. First externally, then if good results, permanently. They have been doing this for four years with good results. Does not eliminate diarrhea but greatly reduces it. She is very excited. Will be done to Monday after thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We thought we would find our Counter-culture subculture intact when we got back to Winona. We hadn’t really thought that through – people have moved away, and many from what Husband knew as a pretty tight-knit group in the 70s have moved on in one way or another. As a result we’ve needed to try out a number of different subcultures here, and are just now finding our niches… saving the detail for an eventual blog post…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My fellow volunteers at the tax preparation site are sort of math geeks. That’s a kind of subculture. People can have definite opinions about whether you should do an 8829 or just take the simplified method for someone who claims business use of home; there are factions, like the Scots. I’m in the simplified method faction, myself.

    At the flower shop you must learn the language to some extent. If I write a description that says something is in a purple vase, a designer will remonstrate “That’s not PURPLE. It’s PLUM.” Or the daisy is not orange, it’s persimmon. Or I put in an order for an arrangement with callas, and there’s consternation in the design room because we don’t have any callas. How about those yellow ones in the cooler, I ask? “THOSE aren’t callas. They’re MINI-callas.”

    I have much to learn.

    Liked by 3 people

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