Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Small-Town Mentality and Blogging

I am all out of good ideas for a post tonight, so I asked LilProgrammer to give me some suggestions. He did, but it wasn't my cup of tea (I will share his idea with you in the end). So how 'bout this one.

Among my friends and through my work I meet a lot of people who were born, raised, and lived for their entire lives in the exact same area. I'm even friends with a group of people who went to high school together and, twenty-odd years later, still live in the same city. What I don't understand is, doesn't it ever get boring - and, more importantly, does it take away from your life experiences? Maybe I have it all wrong and it doesn't.

I'm not too fond of the city I live in. I tell my kids to move out as soon as they can. I tell them that living in the same spot for decades will eventually shrink their minds, while moving around will expand them.

I always tell people, We're all right. We're okay. We're not the hicks that everyone portrays us to be. In our University quarter, cultural life is booming. Our Free Times newspaper would be considered too liberal in California. We have one of the best symphonic orchestras in the country. But I do not always believe myself what I say.

We are the swing state. We have the dubious honor of being the state that led George Bush to presidency in 2004. It's decent in the suburbs close to the center, but, if you drive far enough out to the north, south, east or west, you can run into people that have never seen a furriner in their lives. One day when I was working at ole BigPaper, on my way to lunch, I saw a tiny strip mall on the corner, and, in it, a small tobacco store. I hadn't seen any of those in a while, so I decided to pay a visit. The store owner was nice and friendly. When he smiled, you could see that his only tooth was showing signs of decay. Right away, he inquired about my accent.

"Oh, I'm from Russia," I told him.
"Really? How'd you come here?"
"My parents brought me in."
"Really? How'd they get here?"
"They came through the HIAS. You know - the Jewish organization."
"So you guys are Jewish?" - he was surprised. Right away he had a new idea.
"You guys need to accept Jesus into your lives. Go to church."
"Thanks, I already do go."
"You do? Really? Good for you! You are a good, good person. Tell your parents to do the same. It is very important, for you guys."

That was an odd conversation, even more so because we were both standing in a tobacco shop. One-toothed man, surrounded by tobacco of all kinds, was proselytizing me. Our conversation had an unreal air to it, like I had traveled back in time or as if we both were in a movie - the kind of movie I'd never pay money to see, but in a movie nonetheless. I remember feeling amused and also the feeling that I had just learned something new - like after visiting a museum exhibit. But that's because the city that I live in is really still new to me. How would it feel living here for forty years, fifty years and never knowing anything else?

I was born in a small town. As a small kid, I loved the narrow streets, the medieval buildings, the vast cold Baltic sea. As a teenager, I hated it. I hated it that I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I hated it that, if red cords were in fashion, then every cool kid in town wore identical red cords. (1982.) I hated it that there was nothing to do, no way to exercise your brain. I wanted out.

I went to college in a major city and loved it. Granted, our campus was an hour's train ride from the city, but I used to escape every chance I got. My great-aunt, who lived in the city, gave me a key to her place and let me stay anytime. To this day I have a recurring dream. I'm getting off the subway and walking down the street to her apartment building. It is a scenic walk, with nineteen-century buildings on both sides of me. I stop by a cafe where I used to have lunch. Then I wake up and remember that I'm not going to Russia anytime soon; that my great-aunt's grandkid (my cousin four times removed??) lives in her apartment now, and I won't ever visit him, as I don't know him and he has done jail time and we probably have nothing to talk about and he won't be too happy to see me anyway; and that the cafe is most likely long gone.

I loved the city and everything about it. I liked the anonymity, the width and breadth, the majestic beauty of it, the cultural life. I loved it that you could pursue any hobby, hang out with any group of people, and you still would never stand out as odd. In a big city, everyone fits in. I loved it that at no point in time did all the cool kids dress the same. Then I graduated and had to move again.

My third stop was another small town, in the Moscow region this time. It had started out as a research center; then a manufacturing plant was built and people moved into the town from all surrounding villages to work at the plant. This was my first time seeing the Moscow region inhabitants. They were different from the slow-moving citizens of my home town or the refined inhabitants of St-Petersburg. They spoke in a different dialect that I found hard to understand. They were street-smart and didn't read much. I was horrified.

But, again, Moscow was an hour away, and I'd sneak off every weekend. I went to exhibits and art shows and indie movie shows. I met people. I walked around the city, marveling at its golden-domed beauty. It wasn't St-Petersburg, but it was okay. Then I got married, had a baby, then another, and never ventured out of my small town again, until we left for America.

What I am saying here is: I believe it is essential for anyone in their late teens and early twenties to move around. It is essential to see different places and meet people from different walks of life. It is essential to be exposed to a large, major city. This will culture you and refine you and open your mind, so that, when you're in your forties and fifties and you have a family and a dog and aging parents and bills to pay and it is easier to move an ocean to a new spot than it is to relocate you, your mind won't be stuck in a small-town rut and you will still be open to diverse things, people, and ideas.

As I read other people's blogs, I do notice that many of them (shall I mention my new hero V again?) have lived in the same small-town setting all their lives. They can still walk into a store and run into someone they went to grade school with. (Me? Not bloody likely.) And I do notice that they're still interesting bloggers and they still have some pretty amazing ideas. One thing about it, though - they never doubt that their ideas, and only theirs, are right; that they are the only right way to do things. They don't throw an idea out to see if it would stick - they proclaim it from the rooftops. Does it have anything to do with living in the same small town all your life, I wonder? You know, the red cords phenomena. If every cool kid in my town is wearing red cords this summer, then it must be the right way to dress.

Am I right?

Should I kick my children out into the big world or will they still be the independent thinkers I want them to be if they keep on living in my basement till they retire? Share with me, my American friends. I could be miles off here.

By the way, this is what LilProgrammer wanted me to write about. Think it would've turned out better?

A story about a man made out of rocks, who was killing people to harvest their organs so he could become a living person again. Then in the end he realizes that, once they've been dead long enough, he cannot harvest their organs anymore, so he accepts who he is and becomes a janitor in some random school. He passes the background check because he studied very hard for it.

The Goldie has spoken at 9:51 PM

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