Sunday, June 03, 2007

Town & Country

When I look out my dining room windows, I see corn. Right at the edge of my back yard are waist high stalks with deep green leaves fluttering in the breeze. By end of summer it will be above my head. This isn't one or two plants or even a couple of rows tucked into a sweet domestic garden. This is a field of corn, multiple acres that run behind all the houses of my street and curving around the side of my house. Across the street is the elementary school playground where children's laughter punctuates the days I work at home. Beside it is more corn, a field whose windswept undulations resemble the surface of an impossibly green sea.

There's no doubt I live in the country, yet in the eyes of my neighbors and the statutes of the area, I'm in town. They're right too. I am in town. The differences between town living and country living are too subtle for city dwellers to distinguish. Even after nearly a decade here, I'm still discovering all those differences. Despite the wealth of kin and the friendships I have here, it's one of the reasons why I'm still a bit of an outsider.

I was born and raised in a city, though I didn't recognize Memphis as such at the time. Its slow, easy going pace made it feel a small town. Drinking your lemonade on the patio rather instead of the front porch was one of the things I learned that made it a city. You take your privacy where you can in a city. You respect other's privacy more because it's not something you can take for granted. When there are people always around you, that space that says mine is recognized as more important. In a city, you have your choice of activities, externals you can use to help define who you are. You don't always have a choice about what intrudes upon your life, noise, crime, random rudeness, crazy neighbors, a government that though local seems far away and unconcerned. You protect yourself in small ways all the time, but there's always excitement somewhere ready to happen.

...the swirl of thoughts
in my brain
slows down to
the pulse of the earth

In a small town, you don't have those choices, and you drink your lemonade on the front porch to see what might drift unexpectedly into your life. The barriers are lower and more permeable because there's so much sameness in a small town that you welcome intrusions on your personal space because of the freshness it brings to your life. The irony is that you can resent that newness if it starts to demand change from you or hints of condescending judgment. Because those barriers between people are less fortified, there's less respect for privacy in a small town than there is in a city. You get used to people knowing a lot about you. You never quit being surprised at how much they care and how much more respect there is for kindness.

In the country, privacy is something you can take for granted. You're not really in the country until you can't see a neighbor at some point on your property. This is, after all, truly Davy Crockett territory. His birthplace is not far from here, and deeply instilled is his attitude that it's time to move when you can see the smoke from a neighbor's chimney. In a country with a government that's allegedly all about freedom, the only people who really know what it means are those who live deep in the country. You make your own choices there. That's what real country living and city living truly share -- freedom of choice.

I'm torn between city, town and country. I long for the privacy offered by country and city. I want the stimulation, choice, convenience and excitement of the city. I love the sharpness and energy of city life and hate how demanding and draining they can be. I enjoy the easy conviviality of small towns and suburbs. I detest the tackiness each has in its own way and the silly social pecking order they create and sometimes cruelly enforce. There is tremendous peace being deep in the country where bugs, birds, frogs and coyotes create a music that's as profound as the silence you find no other place. In the country, I can hear the quiet and gentle voice of God/dess. I can hear my own voice more clearly as the swirl of thoughts in my brain slows down to the pulse of the earth. There are times I long to run from what I hear, and then the country feels like just too much.

As I'm relearning my choices in life, what I like as opposed to what is expected and needed from me, I'm still undecided on city, town or country. That I get to choose is more exciting than I can say.


Blogger Jimmy said...

I'd spent a good part of my life living in NY City, where there was no doubt that it was "city living". I moved to the "suburbs" (which still doesn't qualify as "country living"), but it's brought me a step closer to the real thing. I'll know where to find the checklist when I need to eventually move there!

June 03, 2007 3:23 PM  
Blogger Rethabile said...

That's an interesting post. Are you from East Tennessee?

June 03, 2007 5:43 PM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

With time, you will know your choice.
I like what you write.

June 04, 2007 8:29 AM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

Beautifully written, insightful post.

June 05, 2007 3:17 AM  
Blogger Molly said...

I grew up in Chattanooga, and I know what it is to live in a biggish city but still feel the slow place of a smaller town... I love the languid feel of the south.

June 05, 2007 12:55 PM  

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