What an enjoyable time I’ve had in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In addition to having dinner with an agent I've been working with on edits to my novel, I came to spend many uninterrupted hours reading books that have been sitting on my nightstand for months. It was heaven. But I also allowed some time to stroll the downtown and do a bit of shopping and sampling of local cuisine. Yellow Springs has a reputation of being a hippie-hangout. It’s a place where conformity is discouraged, where shoes are optional, where you can get a massage, a yoga class and a tarot card reading all on the same block. An unmistakable liberal in the conservative town where I live, I felt like a Republican in Yellow Springs. I found myself wishing that the throng of dread-locked teens blocking the entrance of a coffee house would lounge somewhere else because they were hurting business. (I, like the other tourists I noticed, simply went to the coffee house three doors down.)
I felt rather uncomfortable as a visitor to the town, almost as though the locals were on display, an exhibit on counter-culture for the tourists to take in, almost like visiting a zoo. The main thing I noticed while taking in this local culture was that, except for a few tie-dyed men over 60, most of the people blatantly displaying their “different-ness” were between the ages of 18-22. They were clumped together in various locations around town. They yelled phrases like “Right On!” without any trace of irony. It got me wondering if they ran away from home, if they came to this place because they felt like a freak where they were from.
And that got me thinking of all the kids (and adults) who are out of place in my own town, who might not fit the majority’s thinking. I thought about the small group that gathers on the square to support gay marriage while having horrible things yelled at them by passing motorists. The parents who send their children to a church that seeks to create understanding of all religions, only to have the kids come crying home from school when their classmates explain how they will burn in hell. I think about all the people who seek to create change in a town that wants to keep its feet sticking squarely in the same old patch of mud.
There are a few (very few) teens with dyed hair and piercings in my town, who are given a wide berth on the sidewalk. What will happen to them? Will they move? To a place like Yellow Springs? I hope not. Because, the thing is, if what they want is to break with uniformity, then it doesn’t make much sense to move to a place where the very things that make them different are the things that make them just like everyone else. No, my town, and other towns with their share of closed-minded people, need them if we’re ever going to move our thinking forward. In fact, I’d love to break up Yellow Springs, take each and every resident and plant her or him in a town that needs some shaking up because a revolution can't happen when the revolutionaries won’t leave the coffeehouse.