Tuesday, April 17, 2012

do be do be do

Our town is small (about 15,000 people) and our area a bit remote. It’s not on the way to anywhere else in the US. The nearest larger town in the US is 90 miles southwest, and it has about 25,000 people. Otherwise, it’s 150 miles west to a town of 50,000 or 150 miles southwest to a town of 150,000 people. For people accustomed to the hustle, bustle of one of those ‘larger towns,’ there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do*. For students from a metro area, there really doesn’t seem to be much to do. In talking to some of our students recently, most of whom are not from this area, I asked what we could do here to enhance our sense of place. One reply was ‘have more activities.’ That’s a common comment from our students. They agreed that there is plenty to do in terms of outdoor recreation, for which our area is well known. ‘The outdoor thing is pretty well set,’ they explained, ‘we need some indoor things, too.’ I described to the students a conversation I had with a local mom a few years ago. Her kids enjoy BMX riding. She wondered whether we couldn’t have an indoor BMX area for kids so they could pursue that activity in the 8 months that are not conducive to that particular sport outdoors. I explained to the students that my unsaid reply to the mom was that what the kids actually needed were XC skis. The students agreed that it had been polite of me to keep that comment to myself. It would not have been a constructive response in that conversation. So I let the students convince me that cold weather activities are not for everyone and that some people, including some of them, have a need for indoor activities. Again, politeness prevented me from saying ‘well there really are things to do here, you just have to find them.’ That would have sounded too much like my mom asking me and my brothers if we were bored. That would send us off looking for things to do or else we’d be cleaning the garage. So instead of blaming the students for not finding things to do, I intentionally watched for events for the next several days. Let’s see, there was a local artist’s show opening at the art center, there was the weekly art film at the local public library, there was a play by a local theatre company, there was a talk at the public library by an author visiting the area, and a few other things. So there are activities. Either the students did not know of them or did not think to take advantage of them. The events are publicized. Still, the students would be correct if they said they did not know of them because publicity doesn’t hit home if people are not receptive to it. So it seems we need to help our students become more receptive to these events. I’m not suggesting that students lower their expectations about what ‘something to do’ means. I’m suggesting they expand their horizons. How many art openings have they been to before? How many author talks have they been to before? How many live theatre productions have they been to? Small towns present the opportunity to do that. No, you won’t be able to fade into the background at such events. You will be a new face. But everyone won’t go silent and turn to watch you enter the room. They will appreciate someone new. Instead of just telling the students to go to the art opening, we should say, ‘perhaps we will see you at the art opening.’ Knowing that they will know someone there could encourage them to go. To use the jargon, it also models the behaviour we want to encourage. My ultimate goal in all that isn’t just to provide some entertainment for the students. It’s to get them to realize that these events don’t happen by magic. A group of like-minded people come together and put them on for the benefit of the community. In the future, the students will be those that put such events on in their communities. I would like the students to go one better than that mom in the BMX conversation who had actually said ‘they should build an indoor BMX arena’ without specifying who ‘they’ would be. Our students could be the ‘they’ who see a need and work toward meeting that need. But in the mean time, it’s up to us old-timers to help them realize that there are events out there and they can go to them and eventually work towards becoming the people who make them happen. ------------- * There is a larger town right across the river, but as similar as it is, it is still another country – with different money, foreign fees on credit card purchases, a sometimes not so quick stop at customs both ways, items not permitted to bring across the border. Many of us routinely cross back and forth. Even so, when it comes to ‘things to do,’ we can’t entirely rely on what they have going on. We need some of our own.

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