Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Praise of Small Towns: Rediscovering Your Roots

Life in a small town

For the past week I've been visiting my hometown and it has enveloped my bruised grown-up self with a warm mix of community and nostalgia. It's a small town in northern California, the kind where ex-cheerleaders slowly go to seed over the decades and your friends think you're more brilliant than you really are. Where the slow lazy days of summer get you out of your car and onto a bike. Where strangers say hello as they pass by on the street and everyone gives up the right of way at an intersection...except for young guys in pickup trucks...but they're that way everywhere. Most days are highlighted with the pleasant surprise of running into friends or relatives and you often find a bag of home grown tomatoes on your doorstep from a neighbor.  Hard to believe? I totally agree...but it does exist and I'm being wooed by it. 

When I was growing up I couldn't wait to leave and get on with my life. Now I return two to three times a year on holidays, or when needed. As a kid I was oblivious to the incredible beauty of the surroundings. An agricultural center (rice and almonds), the fields put on a rhythmic and constant series of changing views. Over time, each visit home was also punctuated by pilgrimages to remembered sites. As the years went by the sites evolved and recording those changes became a more central interest in my creative life. 

What I love about L.A. is how much variety it has. On one street I can go through Japan, Korea, Mexico, El Salvador,'s a movable feast. I like being able to find the last letterpress printer, seeing great art whenever I want and the first run of that obscure foreign film. It's been my home for a long time and I love telling its stories. 

But small towns have indie bookstores, accessible music scenes, real bike paths and a sense of connection to the people around you that I find soothing to the soul. It's said "you can't go home again" but in many ways home itself moves forward to meet you as you continue on your own path. New faces inhabit most of my old haunts...but the former imprint does remain and so the experience becomes this interesting blend of the new and old - connecting to my younger (wilder) self without the intensity of the actual experience.

I fully understand that a big part of my gratitude at this homecoming comes from being somewhere other than the stage of my recent troubles...but what I've truly gotten from this experience is the reminder that there are many ways to live our lives...with many paths to happiness. It was very important to realize that my current life is not the only one - in a way it's much like my experience with creativity - learning to go beyond the idea of reality that my brain has mapped out becomes a pathway to peace and happiness.

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