Thursday, September 04, 2014

I was born in a small town ... and I live in a small town

Except for the four depressing years of undergraduate education in a fairly big city back in the old country, and the exciting years of graduate school in a big, big city here in the adopted country, my life has always been in small towns.  I expect that my end, too, will be in a small town.

One research topic that I briefly explored for my dissertation topic, which my adviser was eager about, was one that I could not personally resonate with--megacities.  Back in the late 1980s, it was clear that the cities in China and India, and later in other countries too, would grow to sizes that could be beyond our imaginations and that extensive planning had to be done, and done quickly.  As much I understood the urgency of the problem and the need to investigate the dynamics, I did not pursue that topic.

I love visiting the big cities, but don't ever want to live in one of them.  Some day, I hope I will get to experience the masses in Sao Paulo and Chongqing, with the reassurance that I will return to my hermitage.

There is a certain spatial match that we don't usually think about.  Not all of us are wired to enjoy the big city, nor are we all at ease in the remote hamlets.  Life is that much more enjoyable when we find that fit.

The author of this essay writes about "giving up my small town fantasy"--a move from San Francisco to upstate New York that didn't work out all that well:
For the first time since college, I became depressed. Listless, I spent long hours lying in bed. Taking showers for warmth seemed like a legitimate hobby. Walking in the snow to and from the office was the only time I was outdoors and also the only time that I was alone. And when I walked, I walked in the middle of the street. There were rarely any cars with which to share the road. It felt like living in a snow globe.
Patrick and I became lonely together. He was experiencing creative growth, but it came at the expense of social contact. Even the house became fraught, as our home was now Patrick’s office.
Maybe things would have been different if we had done a better job of integrating into the community. But while meeting people happened easily enough, making friends — laying down roots — proved difficult. I had taken for granted the networks running beneath my life in San Francisco and New York, the former co-workers and college friends and ex-paramours, and now, in Hudson, my connection to the community seemed only geographical. Often, it just wasn’t enough to cement relationships.
I can imagine it getting depressing--it can happen even in a charming setting if one can't quite feel at home there.
By early this year, I had had enough. It was time to move to the city. Patrick felt torn about leaving such a cheap setup for writing, but as the snows continued into March, he saw the wisdom of a more connected life. In August, I began a job in Manhattan and we set about dismantling the home we had made. We can’t let go completely — I love Hudson, I have started whining to friends — so we’ll become those annoying weekenders, the kind who keep the stores buzzing in the summer but shuttered in the winter.
Those of us who are truly at home where we live, we are some of the lucky few.

Another essay looks at what happens when economic boom--thanks to fracking, in this case--suddenly transforms a tiny town  in North Dakota "from just 1,400 people six years ago to more than 10,000 today"
“People are waiting for civilization to catch up with this wild thing that’s been happening here.”
North Dakota and upstate New York don't appeal to me. Neither does San Francisco. 

I am happy where I am.


Anne in Salem said...

As a self-proclaimed hermit, why does the location of the hermitage matter? If one does not avail himself of the benefits of a large city or a small town, why does it matter which option is chosen as home?

I have lived in big cities (Cincinnati, Seattle, Phoenix) and small towns (Ithaca, NY) and burgs in between (Salem). Each has positive aspects and drawbacks. The relationships developed in each location, whether through church or the kids' schools or work, are key to my satisfaction with my location. The size of the city has no bearing on the quality of the relationships.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh yeah, there is a, ahem, place for big cities and small towns, and hamlets. My point was about finding one's spatial match. I would think that not many among us--certainly not me--can be at home in places of all sizes.

Even the real hermits carefully think through where they want to locate their ashrams. There are some who locate in big cities and some in remote wooded areas ... I have mine by the Willamette ;)

Ramesh said...

Well said Anne. Your comments are always so interesting - I have no doubt that you have written and published somewhere - blogs or papers or Oped or whatever. I would love to read your writing if you can point me in the direction of where I could find them.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, this is MY blog, which means that your comments ought to be about ME, ME, ME and how awesome I am ... muahahahaha ;)

Most read this past month