When the common stress and anxiety grows inside I think of an imagined small town in middle America, a place of rest and calm. It’s a simple and pathetic mental trick I do to play out a ‘grass is greener’ scenario. A desire to find an earthbound Valhalla. Eat, drink, be merry, and forget all of your troubles. There’s no day and there is no night. I’m not sure how small town USA became my ‘happy place,’ but it has.
They make songs and write stories about small towns, Rockwellian places of kindness and eternal warmth. They are often the hometowns of inspiring teachers and precocious children. The sunlight in the summer is special, a shine of gold on the porch swings and baseball diamonds. In the streets and in the shops the locals smile, rosy cheeked, always ready to help out a friend or stranger.
This is fiction of course. An American myth. A wonderfully quaint yet out dated vision of the land. Stephen King and other artists have made a career out of creating horror from the darkness of Americana. There has been so much content created demonizing the concept of suburbia and small towns that it should be its own genre. It probably does have a name — a segregated shelf in the library for films like ‘American Beauty,’ ‘Stand by Me,’ “Night of the Hunter,’ ‘Deliverance,’ and ‘The Stepford Wives.’ Stories that say, ‘under the beauty is darkness. In the darkness there is evil.’
I believe in that to a degree but more to the point I just don’t care. Something stuck with me after reading Mark Twain and seeing the work of Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney that planted an optimist’s faith in the innocence of summer evenings spent skinny dipping in the pond and walking down Main Street during the fourth of July. It doesn’t come out in me often but every so often I do let it out and let it breathe.
Master painter Norman Rockwell manufactured these idyllic moments. They lived in his heart and he did what he could to make them real, but that’s the case for everyone. We live to put what little joy we can into the real world, however we can. That’s the role of the cashier at the grocery store as much as it is the job of the filmmaker. Shine a light into the pitch and brighten the corners.