The value of the slower life
10 December 2008 3 Comments
I’m presently reading Kathleen Norris’ Dakota: A spiritual geography. In the book, Norris relays her rural experiences on the western plains of South Dakota. She moved back to the state of her birth after growing up in Hawaii and living in New York City. Her city friends thought she was crazy for moving to an isolated community of 1,600 people, giving up the network of artists surrounding her in The Big Apple.
The book talks often about the struggles of life on the Great American Desert, for artists and for everyone else under that big sky. For instance, she wasn’t able to get grants as a writer living in Lemmon, South Dakota, like she had been able to in the city. But the isolation brings advantages over city life too. From the book:
Like all those who choose life in the slow lane — sailors, monks, farmers — I partake of a contemplative reality. Living close to such an expanse of land I find I have little incentive to move fast, little need of instant information. I have learned to trust the processes that take time, to value change that is not sudden or ill-considered but grows out of the ground of experience.
Living life more slowly gives us the opportunity for intentional observation. This is key for artists, who take in, digest and interpret the world around them. It can be done in the city, but Norris is correct when she says that it’s easier to do in more rural environs.
Would it be ideal for artists to live in a small town outside of a city — preferably a small town with a liberal arts university? This would gain them access to both the networks in a larger metropolitan area and the slower pace of country life that lends itself to more careful observation (and patience in creation, perhaps). Siloam Springs fits this scenario, being about 40 minutes from The Strip, a collection of cities along I-540 250,000 people call home. Seward, Nebraska, is another possibility — and is situated on the wide open prairie. Seward is a nice little community of 6,000 about 30 minutes outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, and is home to Concordia University. What about Grove City, Pennsylvania, 50 miles north of Pittsburgh? Its residents number around 8,000 and it also houses a private Christian college.
I have a hard time, personally, believing that I’d fair well in a small town without the cultural anchor of a liberal arts college, even if it’s only half an hour from a cultural mecca such as New York City. Norris points out more than once in Dakota that the only people in Lemmon to have concerted intellectual discussion with are the clergy and teachers. She also points to a quote from a Dakota professor lamenting the lack of arts in their states. Without art, the professor points out, the states will lose their culture.