Friday, July 16, 2010

Where to Plant Your Freak Flag

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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ahh, the country life

I've horribly neglected my blog. You see, I've been moving our little family of four to new digs, then promptly vacationing for two weeks only to return to a toppling pyramid of unpacked boxes around every corner. But, at last, here I am in my new office space. Already, this house feels like home. It's a beautiful brick colonial from the 20s with all the built-in nooks and crannies that I love. But it's the neighborhood that's really won us over, a bit Mayberry-esque, this tree-lined, brick street filled with kids and dogs and neighbors bringing us plates of snickerdoodles (yes!).

And so, it rankles me a bit when someone (always an older person, not from our new neighbhorhood) asks where we moved from and expresses their disbelief at why we would make that choice. "You left a place in the country? With eight acres? To move to town?" Then, they stare at me as though I'm up to something. I've come up with the simplest of answers to give them: "This place fits our lives better." 

What's behind these statements by strangers is the assumption, held by many who've never set foot in the country, and some who have, that: "If it's country, it must be good." I was raised a farmgirl. I know the pleasures of roaming my own 100 acres. I also know the hardships of living on a farm. And I know that our previous country place took up way too much of our time away from our kids. Lawn that took hours to mow each week. A gargantuan garden filled with tomatoes rotting before we could can them, a large woods that was mostly for looks since the kids couldn't go back there lest they touch all the poison ivy and thorny bushes on all sides.

The old place came complete with the roar of motorcyclists taking the straight-away in front of our house at 100 mph, with the nose-stinging, weekly cleaning of the huge chicken farm on the corner, with our neighbors burning their trash, including plastic (mmm, that sweet aroma) instead of paying a few bucks to have the garbage man pick it up, or God-forbid, recycling it, and last but not least, no perfect evening outdoors would be complete without the constant sound of gunfire, from all the neighbors who consider it a perfect evening only if they get out their targets. But, no one wants to hear me talk about these things. They want to carry their myths of the idyllic country life.

The writing life is full of myths, too. Mainly, that you scratch out a draft of a book and bing, bam, it's on the shelves, you're rich and famous and near-about finished with the second book you started last week. For my close friends, who really want to know how publishing works, I'm happy to fill them in on reality, while I'm learning it myself. But most people don't want to know. They don't want to look behind the curtain at all the messy rewrites and agent searches and publisher negotiations and more rewrites. And you know what, that's okay. If, in the end, when my book is on the shelves, they think it's a good read, then that's all I care about. Leave the dirty details to the writers, agents, editors. I'll sit here and work, in my incredibly quiet place in TOWN, and keep the secrets to myself.