The Magic Network
social connections forged in a small city are priceless
Once upon a time I lived in a place far, far away, filled with so many people that one could walk the streets in total anonymity, never bumping into a friend at the grocery store, never seeing a particular stranger so often in so many places you forget you hadn’t been introduced until you start chatting like old friends at the library and realize that you don’t know each other’s names. This big city is a hub of culture, with free museums and art galleries, old buildings and world-class restaurants. Some might call it a magical place, but I never experienced magic until I moved to Eau Claire.
Since then, I have been inundated with magical incidents, like an Alice come through the looking-glass. You would like examples? OK. I had a minor car accident and the officer on the scene was the previous owner of my house. “Coincidence,” you say. “Also, drive more carefully.”
Well, how about this? A friend invited me to her birthday party, at which I was not expecting to know anyone but her. As it happened, I knew most of the people there, each from a different context. “Snore,” you say. “You all must run in similar social circles. That was bound to happen. If you came to my birthday party, you wouldn’t know a-ny-one.”
For those of you who have always lived in small cities and don’t understand why this is magical, let me tell you the portions of this investigation that might have happened had I lived in that large city far away: none of them.
OK, fine. Here’s one you can’t explain away. It all began at the Banbury Art Crawl in February. There was this tote bag. The tote bag. Made from sturdy outdoor fabric covered in colorful flowers bigger than your fist. It was clearly designed just for me, someone who is not only absent-minded but also needs to carry All The Things. It was a hunky dream bag, and I loved it instantly.
It was a torrid love affair, and like all torrid love affairs it lasted until the nylon strap broke. Not trusting myself to repair it, I tried to find the artist. Unfortunately, the Art Crawl map was no help, as I neither remembered her booth’s location nor her name. I did remember that the artist sold a different tote made from fabric designed by my friend. A quick text supplied the artist’s name and a tip: She sells her bags through Tangled Up In Hue. Would Tangled pass my contact info along to the artist? Yes, indeed! The artist called me the next day and wanted to repair it immediately, offering to pick it up from my house. While we chatted, however, I discovered she works with another friend of mine, so I sent the bag to her that way. Within a few days, my hunky dream bag was back, good as new.
For those of you who have always lived in small cities and don’t understand why this is magical, let me tell you the portions of this investigation that might have happened had I lived in that large city far away: none of them. I would not have known a fabric artist who knew the name of the bag artist. I would not have convinced the shop to pass along my contact information. The artist probably would not have offered to repair the bag, and I certainly would not have known someone who worked with her. Had I lived in a large city, I would have had to fix – and most likely ruin – my hunky dream bag.
Right now, our leaders are working hard to bring in big-city amenities: fancy hotels, the Confluence Project, large brewpubs. As exciting as those things are, I can tell you that I have lived with such amenities and found no magic therein. Entertainment, culture, and even wonder, yes. But not magic. Magic is fueled by networking, a term that, despite its unsexiness, gives birth to possibilities. In a small city, our connections – the nodes in our networks – rub against each other and create powerful static electricity that pulls us together into a coherent whole, which creates more connections, more electricity, more community, more magic. Let the big city amenities come, but let us not forget that they are just extras; the stuff of magic is the life we live with each other.