How to survive in a small town when you have big city ambitions

I live in a small town where I also happened to be born a baby. I love Charlottesville, Virginia, and so do many respectable magazines, but it is still a small town. When you are young and ambitious, the well of opportunity can sometimes seem to run dry. Especially when you are the type of person who sits around waiting for business proposals and dance parties to come to you. As my dreams get bigger and bigger (bestselling author, Salman Rushdie’s girlfriend, millionaire mother of fifteen, non-nailbiter. . .), I have thought a lot about the limits of small town living. So here is my survival guide for ambitious people who aren’t ready to leave their small town, but who want to be more than mayor of the local bar.

-First, decide why you are still here. Here are the wrong reasons:

a) You are neurotic about leaving your house.

b) You don’t believe you can make it in a big city.

c) You hate ethnic diversity.

d) Someone is guilting you into sticking around.

e) You are afraid of terrorist attacks.

The right reasons for staying include:

a) You hate most people and loud noises.

b) You are introverted and/or think you are your own best company.

c) You hate traffic and air pollution.

d) You like being famous in a small locale. You know that you are more likely to have your picture on the cover of the C-Ville Weekly than the New York Times.

e) You appreciate the lack of cosmopolitan pretensions.

If you’re still here for the wrong reasons, relocate. No one wants to hear you complain all the time. If you’re still here for the right reasons, it’s important not to feel like you’re missing out on something big by sticking around. Here are some reassuring things to think about.

1) You are the center of your own universe. Paris Hilton is not the center of the universe, even though she’d like to be. That Manhattan improv comedy club/hipster bar/restaurant featured on Sex in the City is not the center of the universe. Thank God! By the way, I have heard for years that Charlottesville is a spiritual hub, and that’s why there are so many yoga studios and ashrams and organic vegetables around here. Hence we may objectively be the center of the universe, but I can’t find anything on the internet to support this. Meanwhile just tell yourself that you are your own Brooklyn/Hollywood/Tokyo/Wall Street, but with less pollution, sex, and money.

2) Think about the internet. Everyone reads the internet. You can email with New York City agents and publishers. You can make a website and have five people in Malaysia read it. You can make friends through message boards and Second Life. Real friends, not those suckers you occasionally have dinner with.

3) Travel from time to time. This will be stimulating, but also remind you that there’s no place like home.

4) Get married, get a grown-up job, or have babies. This will make you feel more settled. Moving will no longer be an option and you can just relax and take off your coat, satisfied that you are officially tied down.

5) Read the national and international newspapers and magazines. Read the metropolitan websites and the most popular blogs of your chosen profession. This will make you feel like you’re in the loop, but without getting your hands dirty. Watch the latest movies and read the latest books. Living in a small town doesn’t mean you have to be sheltered and parochial. But don’t be an NPR-listening, global issue-obsessed, bumper sticker know-it-all either. Local issues matter too.

6) Inherit some money and take off for a summer. The bbf and I could both survive doing freelance work, so we talk about doing a home exchange with someone in Eastern Europe. I don’t know if we’ll actually do this, but it feels good to talk about it. It feels like a safety valve because you can escape, but it’s not a permanent, irrevocable decision. Plus I’d much rather move somewhere for a few months than be a tourist. Then you can really get to know a place and have time to get comfortable. When you’re done breaking hearts and spreading disease, you return home.

7) Think about starting a local circus. Circuses make every town better. Even people who are intimidated by fire, theater, and clowns will secretly be proud that their town offers such crazy-ass performance art.

8 ) Convince someone famous to move to your locale. I feel better about staying in Charlottesville knowing that John Grisham and The Rock have both decided to call it home. Instant validation and proof that spectacular, Oscar-winning success doesn’t mean you have to live in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. You can also live in a huge country mansion and deliver books and dramatic art through email and webcam.

If you choose a profession that you absolutely cannot do from your small town living room, then I guess you have to move. But we townies will miss you and forever talk about the one who got away. I, for one, will think you’re lame for leaving. A home-based eBay business isn’t good enough for you? You wanna be in the pictures? You don’t want to live down the street from the hospital where you were born? Suit yourself, but you are missing out on some wild nights of eating crackers and blogging on the sofa. There is no substitute for small town charm.

4 Thoughts on “How to survive in a small town when you have big city ambitions

  1. OMG. This is *totally* me!

  2. great post

    just browsing here and there I met ur site

    genuine stuff with feelings from heart

    carry on

  3. Hi — I was raised in a small town with my eye on the city from the start. Made it there, but after 20 years, got sick of the traffic, weather and keeping up with the Joneses so moved with dh and 3 babies to small town. Loved it at first, but now am trying to figure out how to stay because I want to. But I feel like the square peg. Everyone zigs while I zag. It isn’t that bad really, but I am just missing the large pool of like-minded friends in the city. Few like minded folks here… feel like I am swimming up stream. Any advice on other blogs or websites or some kind of community to hook into?? We are here and staying here — I need to figure out how to thrive. Thanks, Tara

  4. I am extremely impressed with your writing abilities and also with the format for your weblog. Is this a paid subject or did you customize it yourself? Anyway stay up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice weblog like this one today..

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