One of the most talented artists I’ve ever known, my grandfather, Bob, lived in the tiny, quiet, rural town of Fertile, Minnesota (current population: 837). Fertile is covered in trees and greenery (living up to its name); a humid little town with one main road.
Bob loved photography and woodworking. He had a darkroom in his basement and a work shed in the “backyard”—AKA acres of wilderness and a creek, which, having grown up in a desert, seemed like a full-blown river to me.
I spent hours looking through his piles of black and white prints: a girl eating a watermelon, my dad and uncle sitting by the creek with long hippie-hair, my grandmother’s elegantly towering frame in a long paisley dress. He built an entire wooden gazebo that overlooked the creek, and sent me and my sisters presents like heart-shaped jewelry boxes and a duck that rolled on the floor. He had so much space for his passions, and was surrounded by the quiet of the country. I think a small town with tons of land was Bob’s ideal place to make art.
Our ideal environments could not be more different.
I live in New York. Population 8,175,133. The city holds a strange, romantic pull for me; I love the compactness of it, the mysterious dirty streets and lights, the anonymity. And New York is practically overrun with artists of every imaginable type. Last week, I went to a poetry reading at a community library which two guys had dreamed up and created in my neighborhood.
When it was over I found myself thinking, Only in New York (though this may not be true). It seemed like only in New York would I be able to go to a poetry reading on Thursday night, within walking distance of my apartment, and be blown away by the talent, and the people I met. Only in New York would I find my amazingly supportive writing group, completely by chance. New York also has writing classes galore, taught by professionals who really know what they’re doing. I’m currently saving for a fiction class.
Most people here truly enjoy talking about art.
When I tell people I’m writing a novel, they genuinely want to know what it’s about. There are downsides to living in a big city, though, not limited to the commute, expense and energy used to do the simplest tasks. Going back and forth to work takes about 40 minutes each way on the subway, and doing laundry and going grocery shopping can use up an entire day. I could have space, more time to write or relax, and peace and quiet in a smaller town, or even small city. But at least for right now, I still find that the writer inside of me loves New York and thrives on the weird, beautiful energy that such a huge city emanates.
Maybe it’s a good thing my art of choice is writing, which unlike photography or woodworking requires very little physical space. I love people-watching on the subway. I love writing in my tiny room while people shout outside my window. And like most things we love, I really can’t explain why.
Fertile, Minnesota photo by Matthew Remark. NYC skyline by Robert Maes.