In her preface to The Sheltered Life, Ellen Glasgow describes the development of a character named Little Willie. She writes, “Far back in my childhood, before I had learned the letters of the alphabet, a character named Little Willie wandered into the country of my mind …” After this first meeting, Glasgow describes Little Willie as a character distinct from herself and her profession. Little Willie would reenter her mind and she would interact with him for a time then let him wander back into her subconscious. To her, the novel was supposed to write itself.
Like Glasgow’s novels, I have a city in my mind. This city resembles Tyler, but looks and feels completely different. For the past eight or so years this city has been gradually developing within my subconscious. Every once in a while a new chapter thrusts itself into “the country” of my conscious mind. When this happens I find that I cannot sleep or concentrate until I have recorded this city somewhere in the physical space.
When I write it down I realize that it is not my vision, but rather it is an organic pastiche of many cities and theories I have catalogued over the years. This pastiche is usually a simple and radical move toward a more thoughtful city that we might one day call Tyler. This would be a Tyler that cares about creating each space with care and making room for human interaction. This Tyler within my mind is beautiful because it looks and feels how Tyler ought to look and feel and its inhabitants care deeply about these qualitative aspects of the city. The inhabitants of this Tyler within my mind are united across every social barrier in the active process of creating a place and a society to fill these more beautiful spaces.
In order to keep myself sane while I live in Tyler, I will likely spend the next two months putting together a little portfolio of real and imagined sections of the city we call Tyler. I would love to sit down with someone at the end of this process and say, “So, where do we start?” I’m still not ready to take on this sort of project singlehandedly, but with a consulting firm, private/corporate investors, city funds, federal grants, community ideas and a lot of sweat equity we could make it happen. We could make this city great.