Just Ohio Kids
“I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.” So writes Patti Smith after recalling an evening when she sat in a hotel room listening to Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” I’m reading her memoir Just Kids about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and her development into a musician and artist. She is in her early 20s and moving in the circles of the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City. She knows she will be an artist of some kind and surrounds herself with the most talented young people in the city.
To read about these icons, from Sam Shepard to Bob Dylan, and to see them as young and fallible, to see them still learning and coming into their own, and to see them supporting each other and fostering a community of creativity – I can’t help but think about my own group here in Mansfield.
Even as I write this I cringe a little, knowing how it sounds comparing Mansfield, Ohio in 2012 to New York City in the late 60s. (And who would I be, exactly – Andy Warhol?) I of course don’t mean to be self-aggrandizing, but we are a group of writers, visual artists, musicians, or some combination therein, who represent a good cross section of the talent in our town.
I want to say we’re surprisingly talented, but that is not true. It’s not surprising. It is true that many young people leave this town after high school, drawn to the mystique of New York or Chicago. But the town is not drained of talent. Some stay and some come back (myself, case in point). Because we are not a big city, which in many ways thrive on their residents’ creativity, I get several surprised comments a week about what a strong arts community they’ve found in downtown.
Sometimes I hear this even from Mansfielders. I will admit to once being one of them. When I first moved here I was pleasantly surprised at the talent displayed at open mics and the like. And then I was immediately disgusted with myself for (apparently) having become and elitist East Coast snob.
But now here I am: surrounding myself with the most creative, talented, generous, and supportive people in Mansfield. One need not live in New York to experience cooperative creativity in action. I do not know who will turn out to be the famous playwright and who the famous musician, but I am recognizing the moments and writing them down.