Today I want to talk a little bit about an essay I read over on The Rumpus. The title of the essay is Notes From Freedom County and it is written by Joseph Osmundson. The essay is about a Mr. Osmundson’s reflections on the town he grew up in - Arlington, Washington - which is a small town 50 miles outside of Seattle. He spends some time talking about the town’s history, and how it is slowly becoming a de facto suburb for Seattle. He reminisces about his childhood when the town had the same kind of other planet feel that so many small towns in America have - as if the town was a universe onto itself.
Being from a small town myself I can identify with a lot of the stories he talks about in the piece. I too have grew up in a place where high school football games were - and still are- the biggest thing going on a Friday night. Most of my friends growing up were the sons and daughters of farmers, and there was nothing cooler in high school than having a big truck. The two biggest differences from Osmundson’s life and mine are that he ended up making his way to New York City, and that his home town has basically been annexed by upper-middle class commuters from Seattle. The town I live in is almost a mirror image of what it was when my family moved here 16 years ago. There has been no modernization in the infrastructure. It’s still the three church and a bar, blip on a map that it has always been.
A couple of years ago one of like eight buildings in the downtown collapsed. To this day no one has come to clean up the rubble. It’s just sitting there in a neat pile. It doesn’t block the sidewalk, or bother people in any way. It’s just become another part of the town’s landscape. There have been a couple of efforts by the citizenship to have the town do something about the rubble. I’d like to think that the rubble hasn’t been moved because the city doesn’t think it will make a difference. Either that, or the city is plum out of money after building a new library where the old mechanic’s shop used to be. My town is like a ouroboros, there is no birth nor death. The faces may change, but the town stands eternal. This is mostly do to the fact that there is no city encroaching, nor is there any new business to dump money into the community. The town will always exist as a place to nurture the sons and daughters of farmers. It’s tallest structure will always be a water tower.
I used to feel suffocated by such a small existence, but as I get older I have come to appreciate the distance I have with the rest of the world. I’ve talked before about how hard it is to have conversations with other people about the kinds of pop culture I care about. Unfortunately their are not a lot of people in this town who want to have long discussions about George Saunders or Lena Dunham. But I live in an age where I can go online and have fifteen simultaneous conversations on any number of authors, writers, TV shows, etc. What I can’t find online or in a larger town is the wonderful feeling of isolation when I go for summer runs out into the country, or the perfect stillness around me when I write in the evening. I’m not sure this is a place I want to live the rest of my life in, but I can understand how one can look at small time life with a kind of earnest nostalgia.
When I talk to people who have lived in cities their entire lives there is always a look of wonder when I tell them that I still live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. They ask all the usual questions: What do you do? Aren’t you just bored all the time? Do you guys even have the internet out there? I just smile and answer the questions politely. What I try to express is that that we live in an age where cultural relevance does not necessitate geographic location. I can still wake up and read the New York TImes, and I can still watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report before going to bed. I note that the biggest difference is that instead of being a cab ride away from a museum or auditorium, I am a bike ride away from total isolation. As a writer both lifestyles have their perks.
There are some things that really bother me about living where I do. I am a far left liberal living amongst a throng of ultra conservative Republicans, but that has yet to ruin any friendships or - knock on wood - get me into any bar fights. Every once in a while I have to put up with a local restaurant playing Fox News on their TV’s, but it’s an annoyance you learn to live with. As for not having a ton of recreational venues in the area, it really doesn’t bother me. If I really get the urge to immerse myself in culture I can always drive the two hours into Chicago. That urge does not strike me often. Like I’ve mentioned before the biggest drawback of being so far away from a city is that it is hard to see the bands and authors I love live.
There’s a day coming soon when I will move on to a bigger city, if for no other reason than to be around other writers and creative types. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. When I move to another city it will probably be a place that still has a lot of the feel of a small community, perhaps a college town, perhaps a smaller Midwest city. No matter where I end up, I will always consider myself a small town guy, which is probably why I found Osmundson’s essay so powerful.