Tuesday, June 05, 2012

writers and relocation

When I was thirteen, my parents moved us from San Diego to a small town in New York State. Gone were the canyons, sea water, static sun and lemon trees. Instead, rumbling thunderstorms, leafy elms and hungry mosquitoes set up shop in my psyche. Dusty lanes and horse farms. Air so humid wood floors buckled. Sure, there were cultural shifts. Different kids. Accents. But my particular brand of shock was more rooted in the aesthetic whiplash of the move than social displacement. I'm an outlier that way. (Or, it seems so, when I observe my own kids and their hyper-social orientation.)

I'm really curious about the chicken-egg relationship here. Are writers wired for environmental sensitivity, or does the act of writing (which I engaged in constantly as a kid), nurture a tendency toward place-alignment over people?

What's your experience?


  1. Yeek! That's a tough one. I think I'm more attuned to the physical than I am the social. When I first moved to Chicago, I absorbed the atmosphere as much as I could. Sometimes it was overstimulating. Then the move here upended that and I became aware of nature. I was already a gardener, but that took on a new vigor. Almost a vengeance to create something out of the red Georgia clay. I started watching the birds and taking note of the horses, chickens and cattle that dotted the landscape. I began photographing what was around me, always trying to get just the right show of the pine trees lining a ridge at sunrise. They ridge looked like a guy with a fresh crew cut.

    And now I'm working next to the airport. I don't know how many times I've tried to capture those gigantic birds as they take off right next to the road I'm driving on.

    Yep. Place.

  2. Chicago to Georgia is quite a switch. Visually, temperamentally. The topography alone would take years to adjust to, I would think.

    I know from seeing your photographs that cloud and fog is so much a part of the landscape where you live. It evokes that delicious Gothic vibe.

  3. Anonymous8:43 AM

    No freakin' way! My best friend grew up in Warwick and I have been in the stores pictured. Her parents still live there, and I grew up in Kingston about 45 minutes north. Small, small world.

    Being that I grew up there, had a hard time with the physical space of the midwest, the flat of city streets, the concrete, along with the area in which I live, cornfields and strip malls, not a mountain to be found.
    I've worked around it by spending more on trees in my yard than anything inside my house. Trees and mountains are in my blood. They allow me to breathe. We go home once a year and I breathe easier once I have woods to roam, lakes to swim, rocks to skip.

    1. You HAVE to come to Portland, Lyra. It's got the trees and mountains and up-and-down and green without the humidity and shitty roads. Okay, we do have some shitty roads...

  4. I think we're wired that way. I only started writing recently, but all my life I've been more aware of the physical environment than the social ones. It's the main reason moving out of Vegas is so important to me.

    1. Another reason for Lyra to come visit. Averil will be here!

  5. I hear exactly what you're saying. I feel like I have a heightened awareness of my physical surroundings from all the moving around.

    On the other side, I also feel like I have a "record" button for intense conversations, whether I'm involved or simply a bystander. My grandmother instilled this, I'm pretty sure, as she was a constant storyteller and gossip. I spent much time with her and from an early age I knew I needed to listen closely to keep up with all the hubbub! Grandma was such a shit-disturber. It was fun for me!!

    Add in multiple step-family arrangements, and I was acutely aware of interactions (speech and body language) which helped with navigating so many people. That sense of knowing if someone wants you around or not, when you need to perk up or tamp it down.

  6. I think there's a delicious tension for writers in that "fly on the wall" versus "need to spill it" conundrum.

    I've always loved being an anonymous blue dot. Scribbling away like Harriet the Spy (a childhood hero). When it comes to story-telling, I need to appropriate some other person or voice (hence, the princess).

    Here's to the "shit disturbers" among us. Cheers!

  7. right now, i'm sitting in a coffee shop that is less than a mile from the house my mother and father bought after i was born and they were married (married in February, parents by July). before buying the house, they lived in his mom's basement and then they moved into a home that was near downtown in a very small town. the three of us lived there until they divorced three years later. less than a year after the divorce, he would drown and my mom would move the two of us back to where they started, a stone's throw from his mother's house. the only time i've lived more than 10 minutes from any of this is when i went to college.

    i feel firmly planted in my surroundings. i walk a lot through the back roads and think, "this feels right, right now."

    as a writer, i wonder if i would feel freer away from here. (it's not just relationships that keep us muffled.)

    i struggle with the history and connections i feel here and the weight of it all.

    1. You bring up an interesting point. I know that when I moved to Portland I suddenly felt free--because I didn't know anyone who lived here. It's when I started writing more seriously.

      But, after a while, that faded.

      I do think that getting away periodically (retreats, fellowships, even the Motel 8 in the next town) is helpful. As is giving yourself a psychic makeover. It can jump start confidence. But in the end, it's like dieting. (I think Teri said that recently). It's about making sustainable lifestyle changes that speak to your filtering system.

      It's a real deep down thing, the desire to write like a motherfucker (as our buddy Cheryl says). You may have to piss some people off. You may have to be okay with letting the chips fall where they may. (Right now my house looks like a tornado went through it. My hair is unwashed and I'm wearing the same yoga pants I've worn all week. I look a little mentally ill, actually).

      Getting away from home, really getting away from home, is an enormous thing. No doubt about it.


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