Tuesday, June 17, 2014

in praise of small town living.

"The whole struggle of life is to some extent a struggle about how slowly or how quickly to do each thing."

- Sten Nadolny


Last month, I read Arianna Huffington's book Thrive -- a book that inspired The Bookshelf's first-ever podcast --  and although I enjoyed the book, what really caught my attention were Huffington's references to another, similar book: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. Honore's book came out several years ago, but it looked promising; I special ordered myself a copy, and this weekend, I got to reading. 

It was better than Thrive

Honore devotes each chapter to some portion of the Slow Movement: Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Medicine, Slow Work, etc., and I found something inspiring and enlightening about each one. I also began to recognize something familiar about the Slow Movement, similarities between the movement and the season Jordan and I are living right now.


A few years ago, I read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in which Miller discovers he's not leading a life worthy of a well-written story. His life, he thinks, would never make an interesting movie or book, and he decides to start making decisions he believes will lead to better narrative. 

Miller's books hold a lot of meaning for me, and sometimes, when I'm standing behind the counter at The Bookshelf, looking at the store with fresh eyes, I realize I owe him a thank you. I read his book so long ago, I've forgotten his story inspired my own. 

It's been a full year since I took over The Bookshelf. I'm still co-owning with the previous proprietors, still earning the business month-by-month, but I'm essentially the decision maker, the primary contact for all things Bookshelf. It's been a stressful transition year, a year I'm afraid I haven't always handled with grace. 

But lately, when I stand behind the counter, I'm seeing more beauty than before. I'm watching the store slowly transform -- it's beginning to look and feel a bit more like  "me," and I'm coming into my own as the shop's newest curator. The days are hard and long, and if I were to sit down and calculate, I'm sure I'd discover I'm working significantly longer hours while making significantly less money than I ever did before. 

Yet it's still a decision I'd make over and over again. 

Two years ago, I quit my corporate job to manage a bookstore in my hometown. A year after that, I said goodbye to The Bookshelf in Tallahassee, and I began working here, in Thomasville, Georgia, 45 minutes up the road, but a world away from what I've always known. 

The difficulties of this transition, this season, have often shadowed my vision. I've taken for granted an opportunity many would love to have. When a customer or an acquaintance mentions how much they'd love to own a bookstore, I have to fight my impulse to question their motives. "It's harder than it looks," I always want to say. 

And yes, it is harder than Kathleen Kelly made it seem. There are bills and rude customers and back pains. But while reading Honore's book this weekend, I realized I'm living the slow and simple life I've long wanted for us. It's not perfect, but we are, in so many respects, living the dream. 


In his chapter about Slow Cities, Honore writes, "A Slow City is more than just a fast city slowed down. The movement is about creating an environment where people can resist the pressure to live by the clock and do everything faster." He then quotes a young man who lives in a slow, Italian town:

In a Slow City, you have the license to relax, to think, to reflect on the big existential questions. Rather than get caught up in the storm and speed of the modern world, where all you do is get in the car, go to work, then hurry home, you take time to walk and meet people in the street. It's a little bit like living in a fairy tale.

That young Italian man -- a stranger five years ago I would have envied -- is living my life. It's true: Thomasville is no Tuscany, but I look back on our study abroad program in Italy, and I see similarities to the life I'm leading now. For a year, I've teased my friends -- all of whom moved from Tallahassee within about 12 months of each other -- about their grand adventures to Chicago, Boulder, Nashville, Kansas City, Jacksonville. I've teased them, and I've belittled my own experience. I live in a town with 20,000 people, no transit system, no beachfront property. There's no hipster enclave or burgeoning farmer's market. 

But I walk to work every day I can. I speak to my neighbors. I sit on my front porch. I attend community planning meetings with other entrepreneurs and civic leaders. I hit golf balls in the park just a 5-minute walk from my house. I listen to the children in the schoolyard right up the street. I don't get stressed over traffic or worry about being late to meetings. My days are long, but my schedule is, generally, my own. I hear church bells chime on the hour, and I smell freshly baked bread and newly ground coffee on a daily basis. I am walking distance from funky shops and yummy restaurants, and if I close my eyes, I can easily pretend I'm walking the streets of a larger city.

I am living the Slow Life.

Goal-setting is important to me. It's an important part of my daily life -- to do lists are my bread and butter -- and my marriage. 

Two years ago, I wanted a life with more meaning, a job I could be proud of in conversations with friends and family. I wanted a simpler, happier life, and you know what? I miraculously, amazingly got my wish.

And yes, reality is different from the life my dreams were made of. I didn't envision long hours or store bank accounts or staffing struggles. I didn't understand that living in a small town would mean a smaller pool of potential friends, didn't grasp the time and energy required when wanting to live simply. 

But reading Honore's book reminded me, page after page, that much of what the Slow Movement advocates, I am already doing or capable of doing. Managing a daily schedule, leaving work at work, walking in your neighborhood, shopping for local foods -- these are slow principles, and they're all entirely doable in our current situation. 


Jordan and I like to make summer-time goals and plans. It's a way to make the season fun and relaxing, even when both of us still have jobs to tend to. We've booked vacations and hosted house guests, but we've also spent time in the park and sat on our front porch swing. We've played ongoing games of Trivial Pursuit, and tonight, I cooked our very own farm-to-table dinner, thanks to homegrown vegetables from my dad. 

We are living the simple, slow life. It's not easy, and ask me on a different day, and I'm not sure if I'd love it as I do in this moment. (I am, as always, growing into contentment.) But friendships and church decisions and store budgets aside, we are really on an incredibly fun journey together.
Two years ago, I never, ever could have imagined myself here, in a small town in South Georgia, running my own small business. I set goals, dreamed dreams, but I know goals don't always pan out and dreams don't always come true. 

For some reason or another, this one did. And it looks a little different than I might have originally planned. 

But when I walk to work, or when I sit on my front porch, I'm reminded that we're doing just fine. 
Slow and small may just be right where we belong.


Heather Burris said...

You are SO incredibly inspiring.

Anonymous said...

This is so beautifully written and so stikes a chord in my heart! While my dream is not to open a bookstore, it is to live on a farm! I tend to joke about this to people because it really does sound funny from where I sit in San Franisco, it is truly my dream. Thank you for your honesty about how hard living a dream can be, but that the slowness that comes with it is worth the effort!

I also will be adding "In Praise of Slowness" to my latest reading list. Thanks again for sharing!

xx Katie
lovely letters

Taylor Merck said...

Annie, just discovered your blog via Elizabeth Ivie and I couldn't be happier. Looking forward to reading more here. I'm a girl from South Georgia myself, living in San Francisco now -- building back my nostalgia for a place I always wanted to leave.