VOICES: Please let me enjoy Dayton

More often than not, when I reveal that in 2021 I moved to Dayton, Ohio from New York City, I am met with incredulity.

“Why?!” and even “I’m sorry” have been common responses. When noting that my husband grew up here, well-meaning folks blame him for coercing me to move back to his hometown. Then their disbelief sets in when I explain that I pushed for the move while he was hesitant.

I don’t need to rehash how the overflowing trash cans outside my Brooklyn apartment or the rat that jumped on my shoe as I waited for the subway or the dog crap dance down the sidewalk grew tiresome; how schlepping groceries and a stroller and canvases all at once through ice and soot-stained slush by foot and bus became a ridiculous circus act.

I do love New York. One time after a great blizzard, the kind that dares to bring New Yorkers to their knees, a stranger stopped at a red light and carried my baby in the stroller over a 3-foot-tall snow bank and safely to the other side of the street. As I trudged closely behind with my other child in hand, the driver got back in his car and was off at the green light with nary a word.

Duh, we all love New York, even if in small bursts, for all its varied shows of bravado. I thrived there. I loved there, worked there, made art there for most of my life. Then I had kids there and didn’t make art there anymore. Then, in March 2020, I started to wonder what I was doing there.

Dayton is a craggy gem of underrated worth. Dayton is “sneaky like that,” as I was recently told by a like-minded individual. Dayton reminds me of Philadelphia, where I went to art school, in the early 2000s. Dayton also reminds me a little of Northeast Portland in the same era, where I nannied over school breaks. Dayton has enough going on to make it work, and what’s going on is really pretty good.

I earn less here, but my life is so much improved it doesn’t even compare. As mid-life begins its descent, I realize that I don’t need “all the things,” I just need good people with fresh ideas and the potential to make some things happen with enthusiasm. Here in Dayton, I’m teaching, painting, and writing while living in a house, with clean air outside, and meeting creative people who have more time to share their talents rather than hoard them - this would have blown my mind back in Brooklyn!

Daytonians, in my experience, are approachable and root for one another. Here are examples of Dayton synergy in my two love languages, food and art: the Culinary School-trained chefs at Grist sell their bread to the gourmet sandwich slinging folks at Tony & Pete’s while the little farm an hour south sells their syrup to the Silver Slipper wine bar and the Silver Slipper owners champion their artist friends and the artist friends are nice and talented and agree that they, too, will live in Dayton and it works, this symbiotic relationship that is just enough to polish slightly the rough gem that is Dayton.

Everyone, just please let me enjoy Dayton, Ohio.

Hannah Kasper Levinson holds a BFA in Painting from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and an MFA from Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. She teaches K-6 art in Dayton.

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