Home Towns, Real Jobs, & Helping Artists
So, I get excited when I come across internet articles talking about how St Louis is one of the top places in the world for writers to live. It happened again this morning when I was reading my Literary Hub e-newsletter... Hannibal is only about an hour and a half north, you know!
However, there is an entire paradigm shift to be had in an easy afternoon trip.
I like going down to St Louis about once a month. I'm usually going to one of the wonderful St Louis Writers Guild workshops! Whenever I miss a meeting, it bums me out (like this month and last). There is power in being around other writers. There is serious encouragement in being in a town which actively values the arts - and not just as a cutesy tourist trap sort of thing. There are active writer and artist communities there which dominate the local scene - and that's awesome!
I don't know about you, but I can tell when a town has a legitimate art scene or not. Where I live doesn't. There are odd artists poking around obscure corners, to be sure... but it's all quilts and junk. It's not active. It's not current. It's not cool. And if this sounds judgey - well, it is. But it's also true.
People like to think that just because Hannibal = Mark Twain, you'd think that means active writers.
Well... um... no. Not really, no. The towns here are river towns, mainly focused on small town sports, manufacturing, farming, domestic beer, and complaining about super random things on Facebook.
I rant because I'm frustrated about it. I crave active writer communities - and not just invisible ones online (as helpful as they are).
So, about a year ago I started up the Hannibal Writers Guild. There's two big reasons behind this:
1, I KNOW there are other talented writer people here! I know it! And over the past year we've seen them peep their little noses out from time to time at our monthly meetings.
2, There is a paradigm shift that needs happening here. Right now, the people where I live don't really value the Arts. And what I mean by that it that it's not taken seriously. Sure you might splash some paint on a canvas for a fundraiser every now and again - but no one is trying to become an Artist and make a living off it. Name me three living people (besides me) who are known authors living in Hannibal or Quincy. I dare you. And that's sad, because, like I said, there ARE talented people here - but more often than not, since the unspoken consensus is that art is just hobby stuff, you need to go get a "real job" at Walmart or Titan Wheel and you need to be content with that.
I mean, right now, our Vice President of the Hannibal Writers Guild (aka Dana Lockhart can regale you with artistic horror stories about going to school in small town America and wanting to write. It's flabbergasting for me to see I don't know how many local people scratch their heads trying to remember the last time they read a book for pleasure. There are exceptions, but they are few.
While the Hannibal Writers Guild is making in-roads, I want to hear from you. What's the literary scene like where you live? Do people actually like to read? Why/why not? If you decided/or already are a full-time writer, would the people you live around think you had a "real job"?
Why is this important? Why bother with a literary scene at all in the first place?
I was talking about this with some lovely people up at the Quincy Public Library during the last NANOWRIMO Write-In I was hosting last week. And while we covered a massive range of literary needfullness, some of the key points came back to how honest wonder, curiosity, and imagination shape the narratives we tell ourselves and live in. What this means has to do with defining what we actually believe is possible, and our role in it.
This is what's happening where I live right now. Because Hannibalians and Quincians honestly believe, for the most part, that all there is is here, that thats-the-way-we've-always-done-it is the way we'll mostly keep on doing it, that is what IS. Following me? And thus, their place in it comes down to family lines - almost like some modern-day interlacing royalty system. One of the first things the locals here will ask you in conversation are Where are you from (if you answer anything too far away from the area you will be branded a foreigner and held in mild suspicion). The next thing they'll ask you is Who are you related to (If you answer with any family name other than one 'from here' you'll be branded as a foreigner and held in mild suspicion. If you, however, belong to a family 'from here' you will be instantaneously mentally assigned to an unspoken social hierarchy and treated thus). It's a strange land, i tell ya.
Leave just about any member of my wife's family (From Here, Bossarte/Wocester/Glas) in a room too long and every time they will inevitably fall back to conversation about 'do you remember that one time...' and how the crops are coming in this year. (I've fallen to lovingly referring to them as Hobbits).
This place baffles me, frustrates me, holds me captive in a Norman-Rockwellian trance of wonder. It's
hard to explain. Sometimes it's like a modern day Oh Brother Where Art Thou?. Others, it's like the Andy Griffiths Show (the mayor of her grandmother's town once came and personally fixed their sink's plumbing), still others it's like a grey dream filled with pettiness, meth, and dead-end jobs.
IS it not here that we find what the average American dreams and hopes? Is it not here that we should cultivate the modern American spirit, dream, and imagination. Far from the gleaming spires of the East or West coasts - we find what the truly ordinary dream about. This is neither fantasy nor reality, but truth. Because in my lifetime, I want statues of other writers raised up in Hannibal and other small towns across my country. We are more than just legendary greats like Twain or Frost or Dickinson. And if we are to move forward as a people, we need to revere new writers, right here in our own hometowns.