Friday, November 2, 2012


I spent many years living in a small town in the middle of a midwestern state when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I expected to hate it. I grew up near a major city in the mid-atlantic region and even though we rarely spent time downtown, it was always an option. And because we were near a city, we got all the benefits of city spill-over (lots of good movie options, plenty of restaurants, great shopping, easy public transportation). I grew up thinking that everyone had these things. Oh how wrong I was.

In fact, I loved living both in the midwest and in a small town. There was a strong sense of community there, perhaps because we all had nothing else to do but hang with each other. I felt like my friends were actively part of my life--I saw a friend or two (or three) every single day, either at my house or at a local coffee shop or in the grocery store. It's true that there was nothing to do. We had one movie theater with three (maybe four?) screens, we had one Tar.get that was updated to a Super Tar.get right before I left, and we had very few international restaurant options: one Indian restaurant, one sushi place, and a couple of Chinese take-out places, largely because it was a college town. I could walk everywhere and there was a sweet little downtown that had antique stores, brewpubs and bars, a bookstore, a thrift shop, coffee shops, a wonderful public library, and a river to stroll along in the afternoons.

There was something very empowering about living in such close proximity to other people, too. That period of my life was the most politically active one to date. I cared about my town, my community, and my fellow midwesterners. When a tornado warning sounded, I climbed into my bathtub with my cat knowing that everyone else was doing the same. We were all connected, somehow.

It was also cheap. I mean really cheap. I rented a huge Victorian house, alone, for $325/month. Two bedrooms, huge kitchen, big dining room, great living room with a beautiful fireplace, two bathrooms, a front porch, and a backyard. How was that even possible? Answer: it was small town America where prices were low and there weren't very many bad landlords out to get as much cash as possible.

I may be romanticizing it all now that I live back in the same metro area where I grew up. Its true that there were other factors making that period of my life so lovely. I was in grad school, and that fosters immediate community. Of course I had many friends around me at all times--we were all taking classes together, we were all in the same kind of emotional and intellectual cauldron, and we were all bored, to some extent. We needed to have parties to fill up the long hours between tornado sirens and dissertation writing.

I wouldn't go back to a small midwestern town again. It feels like that part of my life has ended. But I wish there were elements of that life that I could have now. So perhaps the best option for me would be another small town, this time in the northeast or mid-atlantic region, that was no more than an hour away from a major city so that I had options and urban life spill-over. Technically, this is what I live in now, but the little town I'm in does NOT have a clear identity. It's more like suburban sprawl. There is no sense of community, really, and no real town center. We can't walk anywhere. When my car is in the shop and I'm not at work, I'm stranded at home--there is literally nowhere to go.

I would love to be more adventurous and to have said that I'd like to live in Costa Rica or Rio DeJaneiro or Paris. I'm not that person, though. I'm sort of a homebody, someone who likes having a little nest and a place to call my own. I DO have that, at least. My nest is mine and it looks like me, it contains my loved ones, and it's where I can relax. In the end, that's really all I need.


  1. I have major feelings about London, where I lived for a few years. I loved it and romanticize it forgetting of course all the crappy stuff like the rain, the bloody Northern line and the insanely high cost of living...

    1. I suppose it's easy to romanticize a place when we've enjoyed that period of our lives. Or maybe any place we live in...memory works in odd ways! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I have this need to place bloggers I read on my mental map, and for some reason I placed you in the midwest...are you really in the mid-atlantic, too?
    We actually live in a major mid-atlantic city, but the schools are terrible in our 'hood and we talk about moving out to the burbs. I am terrified of what you describe---suburbia with no community, no where to walk, etc... This is basically where I grew up. Maybe suburbs here are better than where I grew up, what we called a "suburb or a suburb"; since the city was a "mid size" deep south town with nothing to do even downtown. despite living in a lovely neighborhood, there were no sidewalks and we couldn't walk anywhere, which I hated from the age of 10-16 when I started driving.
    I think city-living is the way for me. Small towns scare me, as someone in the cultural minority. College towns don't really count as "small towns" in my mind...there is a very very different mindset, more diversity, more mix of locals/new people.

    1. All those years in the midwest may have affected the way I write/talk. I wonder if we're in the same mid-atlantic area. Funny. I somehow thought you were on the west coast. I suppose this is one of the quirks of blogging--we can imagine the person we're reading in a way or place that they're not.

      It's true that there are better suburbs than others. In fact, the little suburb I grew up in outside of my current city was more of a town--it had a town center, it had a personality as a town (not dependent on the big city for its identification). I wish we had bought a house in one of those kind of suburbs, but my husband wanted to live where we are because he knew it well and it was relatively close to his friends and family. It's fine and all, but I really miss walking to stores and restaurants.