In 1999 I moved back to Butler — where I grew up, longing to escape, and which remains a small town of 20,000 or so souls — and I expected that I would find few people with whom to socialize. There was my family, and the friends they had, and that was it. And there was Pittsburgh, about an hour’s drive south. I figured I’d spend my free time in the Burgh, because that’s where I’d find people with interests like mine.
Jump ahead to tonight. I went to a jewelry party, just six blocks from my house in downtown Butler, one where a girl was showing and selling pretty things and there were snacky bites to bite and sippy drinks to drink. I knew just over half the women present, from various social events. I picked out something for myself, a few things as gifts. I ate some of the edibles and drank a glass of wine.
I sat down to chat, and found myself across from a young lady. She teaches music privately, plays in the local symphony (whose website I built and whose concerts i enjoy), and she’s married to a geeky guy who works for one of my other clients. She’s quite sweet and charming and shy.
Another person sits down and says she’s going to the New Pornographers show this Saturday; I exclaim that I wanted to go because Okkervil River is opening, and I bring out my iPod and make them listen to "Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe." Someone else brings up the idea of storytelling; I mention my questions about the possible end or something of the oral tradition, and then we all talk about jazz and the concept of musical standards and other related subjects.
My new thinking is that, all around, there are people identical to us, or very like. They too feel unique and maybe alone. When we stop and talk, we find commonalities that are sometimes small and sometimes huge. It takes a certain amount of personal quiet and openness to see these similarities — or maybe, it takes time to build the connections and local roots that bring one to the events where one can run into the people with whom one has similarities.
Or maybe it’s something different from that. My point: We are, or at least I am, apt to fall for the myth that I am a unique and precious flower that can live only in rarefied conditions. I see now that I can live a lot of places and be very happy. The truth is not so much that I am hardy, but that the conditions in which I thrive exist in unexpected places. Like my home town.