I am an artist without boundaries. For the last four years I've lived in rural Oklahoma.
10 Ways to Be You Out There
I have an app on my phone that shows me pictures I have saved throughout the years on a particular day. Each day I open it to see the life I lived before compared to the one I live now and there is a pretty big difference. I no longer live on a street with a dozen or so more houses like mine. My road is no longer smooth and there is no way I would walk to the closest store, even if I could, as I now live where all manner of wildlife may cross my path.
Sometimes, I also see just how much of me has stayed the same. I still paint at every opportunity and my home will always be the place where the kids like to hang out. My family and pets are still my world, and I'm still a total geek.
I grew up less than 30 minutes from a sunny beach and moved out of state to the landlocked city 10 years ago. I thought that was a culture shock until my husband convinced me to live in a rural neighborhood four years ago.
I kept my sanity and I'm here to tell you how.
1. Join the Groups
The first thing to do when you know you're moving somewhere way out of your element is to log on to your favorite social media account and join the local groups. In a small town, those groups are where everyone seems to come together to share coming events and general discussion about life in town. Out here they do this very regularly. If someone causes a scene, gets in an accident, or has an issue with a school, it will surely be on the local group withing minutes.
Use these groups to get to know some of the people you will soon be seeing in your daily life and you'll feel like a lifetime citizen in no time.
2. Get Them Used to Seeing You
My profile picture is always up to date so anyone who sees it will not be surprised when they run into me in real life. Post on those groups, even if it's just commenting on a funny picture here and there so the people see your face as a part of the community before you even step foot in the local store. This is especially helpful if you have a look as creative as your mind. People here knew me for my wit and love of animals long before seeing me in person and are accustomed to my purple hair, tattoos, and piercings.
3. Take Advantage of the Big Open Space
In the city I lived near other artists and my creativity showed in the details of my home. I had a small easel on my porch and I grew flowers in different patterns every year. Out here, I initially felt overwhelmed by the size of my yard. Everything felt tiny and I was beginning to feel like it was all too much. Then, one day my husband decided to build me a new easel out of scrap wood. It was meant to be just like my old, broken one but it came out HUGE.
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It was over six feet tall and probably four feet wide! I went and grabbed a poster board (because my canvas was too small for this task) and began to paint at random. I realized my art could take up more space now because it was no longer confined to a little city lot. I now have collections of pallet boards, gallons of paint, and an entire shed dedicated to my creativity. My popsicle stick creations are now done with 4 ft reclaimed wood and I sometimes use a paintball gun to make backgrounds for my painting.
4. Drive Down All the Streets
You never know what you might find. In rural communities, many people sell homemade products from the front of their house. I found the best apple butter I have ever tasted while driving down a random road less than five miles from my house.
One day we saw a steady flow of cars passing our street and decided to see where they were going. We ended up at a wildlife expo where I collected some of my favorite recipes and acquired some alpaca hair for my knitting.
5. Go to ALL the Stores
Out here, there are also tons of antique shops and the cutest little art shop in the back end of the downtown area that most people would miss. Not only are these stores great for finding trinkets to use in art, I have met some interesting people and gotten some great writing inspiration from them and their inventory. A bonus to knowing the little-known shops is that you have something to say in the online group discussions. I also now have a few great places to settle in with my laptop or sketch pad that offer great coffee and even better conversation.
Don't be so quick to head back to the big city for your shopping needs. The local shops may have just what you need or even something you didn't realize was even better. Once you know who sells what, you can make quick trips or even call ahead for a later pickup and get right back to your next project.
6. Embrace Your Different-ness
Don't try to hide your hair, clothes, or ink. Whether you feel your best when you're dressed in functional cosplay or wearing baggy sweats, always be yourself. Let everyone get used to seeing you and own the title that you may earn. I am now the purple-haired artsy chick and I will gladly answer to it every time. My husband is the guy with the giant vape and my oldest is the girl with the colorful mow-hawk. The online presence you've built before will prepare them and if you change your look a lot people will begin to look forward to your new style.
7. Invite People Over
Have a bonfire and roast some wieners and s'mores. Throw a barbecue or pop some fireworks for the 4th. Invite some of the people you see all the time around town and have some fun. If they come early, let them get creative with you. In a small town, everyone already has an idea of where you live so it's not like strangers in the city. Be one of them by letting them be one of you.
8. Add Your Spice to Their Lives
Go to the local hangout and sing some karaoke songs that they may not know. Make cute trinkets for your mail carrier, favorite cashier, or that person you always see on the way to the kids' school. If you've made a cool shirt, hat, or whatever, wear it around town and offer to make one for people who ask about it. You might even end up starting the next local business.
9. Don't Forget Self-Care
It may be easy to skip your evening routine when the scenery has changed. I used to love late-night walks but I am not quite as interested in walking down a dark country road when I can hear the coyotes howling all night. Maybe your reward to yourself after a busy day was heading to the corner store for your favorite candy. Find something similar or new to help with winding down. Suggest that the local shop start selling your treat or try what they have to offer. Find a quiet little space on your new property to make your own private retreat. Prepare relaxing baths from the organic ingredients found during an in-town adventure. Remember that releasing stress is important no matter where you live.
10. Get a Little Country Yourself
Keep your regular skills sharp while also learning new things that are helpful to the new rural life. Start a garden, raise small livestock (I love raising chickens...pets that give me breakfast every morning), or even learn about foraging. I was amazed to find out how many of the plants already growing on my property are good for my health or absolutely delicious. I have sweet blackberries growing down the path to my private retreat and wild yarrow all over my fields. I have a cute set of overalls with a cowboy hat and muck boots that I wear when I know I'm going to get into the dirt. I also now have a horse and a great herb and vegetable garden that I not only use for family food but for homemade dyes/paints, DIY brushes (these make for interesting texture against canvas), and for gifts to my city family and friends.
I was so afraid to move out to the country. I thought I would go completely nuts from being so far from everything. I made sure I had all the cable and internet I could use in my home and plenty of gas in my car. It wasn't long before I grew to love my new town. I love the people and they love me with all my quirks. I have found that I am even more creative out here than I ever was in the city. I have the space to experiment with different projects at once and I don't have to worry about cluttering up a tiny yard with in-progress work. When I go into town, the shop owners are excited to show me a new product that they just know I'll love (and they're always right) and I've never been healthier.