Tuesday, September 16, 2014

on life in a small town.

We are lucky. 

It's hard to remember that when the humidity is as thick as sweet tea and our breaths become deep and measured on walks around the neighborhood. We are in the last long, dwindling days of summer, and in the South, the dog days can be excruciating. You, with your west coast breezes and your falling leaves and your sweater-buying? I envy you. 

But last weekend, we walked around our quaint downtown and celebrated the arts. We explored new shops and admired larger-than-life murals. We said hello to friends and frequent customers, to acquaintances and fellow shop owners. 

It was fun, and I'm not sure it would have been possible in a bigger city. 

I tweeted last week that I didn't understand the term "love-hate relationship" until I moved to a small town. 

And I am almost terrified of blogging about these feelings, because the Internet is weird, and I don't know who reads this space anymore. I am afraid that maybe my fellow small town dwellers will read my words and misunderstand my confusion for dislike, so let me quickly clarify: We are enjoying small town living. It is fun and goofy and different and weird. Kind of like us, honestly.

The characters we meet are worthy of classic literature. Our house is within the downtown limits, and we can hear the football games and the high school marching band from our front porch. That is good, good stuff. 

We're fortunate, too, because our Southern small town is growing and thriving, not dying. That arts festival? It couldn't happen just anywhere. Next month, there will be a book festival and a film festival. The following month, a celebration of plantation wildlife. Our town is unique and gifted, and we like it here. 

But there is something about small town culture, isn't there? I'm grateful for Gilmore Girls and the Mitford books and Anne of Green Gables, because thanks to them, I knew small town life would be different. But Southern small town life is its own beast. And I told my mother the other day I was so confused. Because there are Friday Night Lights and arts festivals, and Jordan and I happen to really like both (we have always been football and museum kind of people). But we're discovering those cultures don't really cross one another's paths here. And it is so odd to straddle both -- to enjoy the high school marching band but to also relish painted murals on a wall. My mother -- because she is my mother -- insisted our tastes just mean we are well-rounded, but it doesn't really feel like that here. It feels like I have to choose, and I'd rather not. (Let's face it: I probably won't.)

Add to that dilemma the fact that I am known here now -- book lady and all that jazz -- but of course I am not really known, and it's all rather difficult.

I think this is really just what moving is like; in other words, maybe none of these scenarios is even specific to small town living. Maybe this is just what it's like to grow up and move and have to find your place in the world over and over and over again. 

We are carving out a space. We are attending high school football games (for which we had to Google what colors the teams wore) and finding local hang outs. I have discovered the city's best milkshake, which feels like a big accomplishment. We are attending local theater dinners and taking late night walks and learning to live with streets that shut down at 7:00 p.m. I am contemplating joining a gym, which we all know will end in futility, but it's fun to consider nonetheless. 

I read a lot of blogs by people who live in New York and San Francisco and Salt Lake City and Austin and Chicago, and they're lovely. I relish their words, and I don't read them because of their geography, but I wonder: Where are the small town dwellers, and what can they teach me? I am desperate to learn how I am supposed to do this, how I am supposed to find my place. I need to know what other small town dwellers know.

Jordan and I used to discuss, hypothetically, what it would be like to live in a small town. There's one conversation I remember with absolute clarity. We talked about how we would break in to people's lives, how we'd try to be approachable and kind. We talked about the fun (to Jordan) and horror (to me) of everyone knowing your name and your business.

I don't know what to think of all of this. I'm not quite sure if I'm the big city person I think I am, but there are days I wonder if a small town life is for me.

Of course, for today, it is. Because we have chosen this, and thus far, I don't think it's been a bad decision. Different from decisions our friends have made? Gosh, absolutely. Different from what we imagined? Probably, yes. But better? In many ways, you bet. 

So here we are, living in the small town South, figuring it out -- as so many of us are -- as we go. It's not so bad, really. We are trailblazers, in a way. I think one day, we will tell our children the stories of how mommy and daddy moved to a small town and bought a bookstore and tried to make things happen, and maybe they will laugh and roll their eyes, but maybe they'll be inspired to do something different, too.


Rachel Elizabeth said...

I've always wanted to live in a big city but after living in Chicago, LA, and San Diego, I'm not sure I'm ready making a change yet.

Kaysie said...

Gilmore Girls was such a dreamy portrayal of a small town. I grew up in Fort Walton Beach, a small panhandle town. It's grown a bit now, being next to Destin, but there were so many times where it felt like that weird mix of no privacy. Now that we're military, we've left there and lived in a small Texas town, and now a large Virginia town. You're right - there are certainly pros and cons to both, but I think I'm leaning closer to the small side when it comes to preference :)

James Z. Carpio said...
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