Small Towns: Big Inspirations

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“Living in a small town…is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.” ― Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945

Irritated or Inspired? 

I got an email the other day from a friend who, after years of rejections was finally getting recognition in the publishing world. We made plans to celebrate at our favorite coffee shop on the square.

We do not do Starbucks for our serious writer moments. 

Not that we are opposed to Starbucks, it’s just that our little Inman Perk with its plank floors and piano in the back of the shop feels, smells, and oozes creativity whether writing or art.

ulli Chamberlain

My friend was running late, but rather than be irritated, I looked to see what was happening at the shop. On any given day, the Perk serves students researching a paper, reporters grabbing a quick cup before interviewing a city employee or Ulli Chamberlain, who started painting in earnest after retiring. I like her approach to art, inspiration and imagination.

Brandee A. Thomas interviewed Ulli, who believes that coloring books, with their pre-designed images, stifle creativity in children.

“They destroy confidence to create by oneself.  We’re basically saying you’re too stupid to create something on your own”, said Chamberlain.

Now she is an advocate for personal inspiration and creativity.

Hometown Creativity

While sitting there taking in the conversations, I remembered a time with my grandmother. It was 1952 and I was spending the week with her, by myself, without my parents or sister. While we were picking tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, she told me that we had a big night ahead of us. When we got inside, she started making fried chicken and let me select the special tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad. I was so excited that I could help with this decision. After we fixed our meal, she let me help her pack the picnic basket.

I couldn’t imagine where we would go for a picnic as it was getting dark outside.  She just smiled and said, “Let’s go have an adventure and watch Jack and the Beanstalk.” If I had thought about it, I might have questioned her as there was no movie theater in Mellott, Indiana in 1952.

movies in Mellott

However, we got the basket, some blankets and started walking down the main street.  As we neared an open field, I saw cousins, aunts and uncles, and what I thought must be the whole town, sitting on blankets gazing at sheets strung from trees – Mellott’s answer to a movie theater.

Finding the perfect spot wasn’t a problem; Mellott only had a population of 197 in 2010.  It isn’t hard to socialize with that many people, either.  Just check your Facebook friends; I’m sure it is at least an equal number. However, people did more than socialize in that small town; they had conversations.  We asked about people’s health, the crops and what was going on in their lives.  We also listened.

Although my hometown of Gainesville, Georgia is 176% larger than Mellott, it still has that same feel on First Fridays.  From 6 PM to 10 PM, people sit on blankets, lawn chairs, drink tea and have conversations while waiting on the entertainment.

Certainly, there are those that focus intently on their phones playing mindless games of Match 3, but for the most part, people talk to one another.

Conversations: Pick up a Thread and Go with It

The coffee shop is also a place where conversations take place.  We all mingle, move tables and chairs to create larger groups, share dictionaries, or sometimes just yell, “What’s a word for…” and wait for the various responses.

A love of words is reinforced with all the dog-eared novels of another age stuck between the cushions of an old velvet sofa or the magazines with pages ripped out for later reading.  I’m often reminded of the Friends TV set without the canned laughter and drama.

With a cup of coffee and time to kill before my friend arrived, I watched people writing, laughing and talking.   I took the opportunity to conduct one of my random Davis Polls.  People are not hesitant to share information in small towns, so thinking of my friend’s insecurities before publication, I asked, “Who is insecure in their writing?”

Susan, a student at Brenau University, looked relieved to stop writing and said, “I’m scared this paper will not get me the grade I need.  I like my subject and I’ve done in-depth research, but my professor is such a Grammar Nazi that I end up with a poorer grade for mistakes.”

Seven women sharing one laptop started laughing.  One decided to respond saying, “Creating a newsletter may not seem like real writing to some, but we take pride in creating informative pieces.”

The reporter asked me if I was eyeing his job or just gathering material for myself.  Although I did not know him, we joined tables and started talking about how we are inspired to write. We decided that  inspiration comes from observation and perspective and a willingness to put those thoughts and feelings on paper. Beyond those, we have to find the courage to show it to someone or override our insecurities and publish it.

Shrink the Size and Expand Your Inspiration attitude-is-the-difference-2

I lived in Washington, DC for fifteen years; not a city known for its small town feel, yet there were shops, friendly markets and quaint retail establishments where people were willing to have conversations.  I’ve used some of those recollections in articles and my memoir.

It’s not the size of the city, but a willingness to interact with people that gives us inspiration.   You may get some curious looks if you start engaging people in conversations, or feel uncomfortable the first few times you try it, but you may just get the inspiration you need.

So rather than being irritated that your friend is late, checking your emails, or playing a game, engage people in a conversation. Try it, there may just be something said that inspires your next stellar piece.

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