This little rice bowl represents, for me, everything I dread about telling people I'm from Columbus (Ohio).
It was November 2005 and I was in San Francisco. I was on the verge of being morosely depressed and the San Francisco I was visiting wasn't the one I remembered - this one was dirty, and full of homeless people huddled in vestibules. Everywhere I went, I felt clawing hands of despair. Everywhere I went, there was excrement on the sidewalks. I had always kind of laughed when visitors to Columbus were commented on how clean it was. It had never really occurred to me until I found myself stepping over the fifth pile of human filth in as many hours. I was on the verge of tears at every moment for no reason...every piece of beauty just seemed to be tainted with impending doom (this is the brain of a creative person).
Even going through the Ferry Market, everything was overpriced and polished within an inch of its life, to sell to greedy tourists like myself, it seemed; the crowds that Saturday morning were suffocating, and adding to my general sense of malaise was the fact that for weeks, I had been walking around feeling as though I were in a slightly altered universe - disconnected, like the girl in the bubble.
The weather was beautiful - while back in Ohio, it was cold and rainy and gray. San Francisco was having amazing weather. It was sunny and 80 degrees, and all around me, the residents were whining about how unbearably hot it was.
I had just made a commitment to begin buying more artwork, there was an artisan fair across the street from the Ferry Market and I happened upon a table where a man was selling hand thrown pots with very interesting glazes. I picked up this little rice bowl and started pondering it. My friend, who had moved to San Francisco from Ohio a full 5 months earlier, struck up a conversation with the artist. Alone in my own world of artistic misery, I was in a daze when I heard her saying how I had just flown in from Ohio. I looked up, to find him giving me that condescending look we all get when visiting "big" "real" cities: the one that says, "Oh, poor little Sally Ann, in the big city for the first time."
"So, what do you think of San Francisco?" the artist said to me.
"It's..." I tried to shake the fog from my brain and think of a non-offensive, polite, Midwestern way to say it's so filthy. "It's too...."
The artist snorted, rolled his eyes, and spat out "GAY? It's too gay for you, right?" As though, as a girl from Ohio, the worst thing I could ever manage to deal with while traveling would be a city full of gay people.
"Um," I was so taken aback I couldn't even find the words. I wanted to chuck the little bowl I was about to purchase at his nose for being such an ignorant jerk. But, I liked the bowl, and instead I just said "I want to buy this bowl."
I wanted to say I hadn't encountered enough gay people whilst in San Francisco (where are the gays I was promised?), and maybe if I could please be pointed to their (obviously superior) part of town, I probably wouldn't be so freakin' depressed, because there's no way it would be filled with piss and dirt!
One thing I've always loved about Columbus is our huge gay community. Everyone knows gays make everything better, right? I was irritated that, as a gay man, he wouldn't know there were other gay cities in the country, and make the assumption that I wouldn't know how to act when I encountered the hoards of gays who greeted me when I touched down at SFO. (shortly afterwards, I remember reading a travel piece written by a gay man from another large city, wherein he was shocked - and thrilled - to visit Columbus and discover it was "so gay," I can't find the piece at the moment.)
Columbus might be one of the best kept secrets in the country. That's great and all, but I want to confront the ignorant stereotypes surrounding our fair city. I don't mind being called a cowtown - it's great that we're a cow town, because it means we have access to amazing food grown right in our back yard
It's not just about the gay population, it's about our food scene, our artists, our charming Midwestern sense of equality and politeness (I know it drives some of you transplants crazy, how much we hate "pretentiousness"), our sense of independence.
This past Saturday all efforts to visit Farmers' markets were thwarted by crowds and traffic; I was coming off an extremely stressful event the day before, and was generally feeling as though my life were in an uproar (I'm a writer, we're melodramatic) and decided to go to Franklin Park and think about the future. It was there, sitting in the shade in the Community Garden (the most beautiful 5 acres in the city limits, for what it's worth), that I decided to resurrect my writing and continue to promote this city that I call home.
Gradually, I think we are seeing more artists and creative people stay in Columbus. I want to see that continue. Every time I meet a really young musician, chef, or artist, I want to take their hands and beg them to stay here and help make it better. I don't want them to leave. I want them to stay here and sell their art, make their music, open their awesome food cart or restaurant or bar. If I can have any part in making that happen, I want to do it.
I might need some help to make it happen, and that post is coming soon. In the meantime, though, encourage those in the creative class to stick around. Support them by buying their artwork and going to their shows and taking them around the city to see the hidden gems. If you have money to spend, put it to good use by supporting those who make the city an interesting place to live. Lots of people in business and government talk about brain drain, and trying to get young business people to stay here - that's great an all, but we all know:it's the creative people who make cities great. Without our creative minds, we wouldn't be such an awesome city.
But they won't stay if they aren't given a reason to stay.
If you don't have money to support a creative person at the moment, offer something else - garage space to use as a studio, hook them up with people who do have money, offer something on barter, go see their shows. Use social media to get the word out about them, do whatever you have to do. We have some momentum going, let's make it huge.
Even if you only have words to offer - SAY THEM. Last night I was waiting on a table, and as they were leaving, one of the guests came up to me and said "I really wish you'd start writing more again. I used to so look forward to reading you." It stopped me dead in my tracks. Her words, everyone's words on Twitter, and everyones comments here, emails you've sent - it has completely reignited me to keep going. Words of appreciation can make such a huge impact. It can be hard to say "I love what you do," but that might be all it takes to encourage the spark.