Yes, You Can "Get Out" Of Your Small Town, But You Don't Have To

Don't hate on my home.
Publish date:
January 3, 2012
life, small towns

When we moved back to the United States and to the Mendocino Coast, I basically went from one small town to another. Molybos had a very small population (about 1,500 at the time), and, well, Caspar, the town I spent most of my childhood in, has a population that hovers around 5001. I went to school in Mendocino (pop. around 900), and “town,” the place you went for supplies, Fort Bragg, has a population of 7,000.

What I’m saying here is that I know small towns, you dig?

So anyway. One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of haterade for small towns, and a lot of people say things to teens struggling in small towns like “Don’t worry, someday you’ll get to leave.” That was in fact a sentiment shared by many of the people I went to school with, who were all very eager to get out, and were equally eager to view anyone who stayed as a loser.

I never really got that. I actually liked where I lived. I liked that I knew everyone in Caspar by sight, that the only reason we locked our door was because we couldn’t actually close it without locking it2, that we played football3 in the street and could do so for hours without disrupting traffic because there was none.

Funnily enough, of course, I ended up leaving two years earlier when I was supposed to. And the thing is, when I went to college, I had this grand career plan, which you are not actually going to believe when I tell you. So I need you to sit down and put all spillable drinks out of range, because:

My big plan was to become a CIA agent.

I know.

So there I was at college taking politics courses and then some crazy happened and I transferred and transferred again and well anyway, I’d like you to imagine a sort of training montage featuring me running across the campuses of a variety of colleges and universities, trailing brightly colored pills and cascades of books.

And I got closer and closer to needing to decide what I wanted to be when I was a grownup, and I knew one thing for certain which was that the CIA does not accept crazy people so I needed a backup career.

And I tossed some ideas around for a while but I realized that what I wanted, what I really wanted, was to come home. I didn’t want to live in the City. I didn’t want to do the grind of thrashing around in an assortment of miserable jobs trying to make my way in a crowded, smelly place. I didn’t want roommates and a view of an airshaft or maybe the dumpsters if I was lucky.

I wanted to come home.

So I did.

And a lot of people at the time, and now, regard this as one of the most ridiculous life decisions I’ve ever made, and let me tell you, I have made some extremely poor life decisions. But not this one. This is a life decision I feel very comfortable with.

I grew up in a small town, went to college, and moved back.

Now, life in small towns is not all roses and butterflies4, but there are a lot of things about it I like and continue to love. And I also want to contribute to the community I grew up in, to give back, to be a part of it. There are not a lot of young people here, and those that are reflect a mixture of local college grads like myself and people who grew up and never left, along with transplants who came here for... whatever reason... and are usually not very happy about it.

The lack of young people means that basically all policy is decided by older people, many of whom are wealthy landowners with the time and inclination, along with the money, to be involved in local politics. Which is not really the way I think things should be; I want to see a force for youth in this community, I want to see some things change, and I want to see them change from within rather than being forced from without.

I was actually considering running for City Council this year, except that you have to live inside city limits to do that, and I live, you guessed it, outside city limits. Which raises some interesting questions about why it is that people living in outlying areas affected by City Council policies don’t actually have any representation, but I digress.

Small town living is definitely not for everyone, and that is totally OK. But for those of us who do live in small towns and want to be here? It’s awesome a lot of the time.

Sure, some things about it are much, much harder: Try making it as a writer when you don’t live in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco or DC. It’s fun times, let me tell you. Try explaining to people that it takes four hours to reach a major airport, and that a lot of the things they think of as ubiquitous are actually a long car ride away. Heck, try explaining to people that “Northern California” actually includes something other than San Francisco.

But most days, like this one, where I am looking out over the pasture watching the chickens mess around, it feels pretty darn worth it to me.

I know xoJane isn’t really a place for the kids to hang out, generally speaking, but for any kids who just happen to be reading, I’d like to note that you’re not a complete failure if you want to stay in the small town you grew up in. It doesn’t make you narrowminded or a failure or bad or any of those things. Sometimes it’s hard, or frustrating. And hey, adults? That goes for you too. It’s okay to love the small town you grew up in.

1. Incidentally, this may have prepared me well for college, since Bennington’s student body was about 500 when I went there. Return

2. Which meant we often left it unlocked in the summer, which led to the memorable night when the cows wandered into the house and we learned the hard way that the myth about cows going up stairs but not down stairs is not actually a myth. Return

3. Soccer, whatever. Return

4. See: Lack of Indian food, everyone knowing your business, weird political machinations, limited entertainment, nonexistent museums, lack of Indian food. Return