A sense of place

Oooohhhhh kay. The US election is over. We’ve had a couple days to adjust. I am one of those who voted for the losing side, and who blithely assumed that side would win. The result blindsided me. I was in deep, deep denial when I went to bed on Tuesday. Wednesday was A Bad Day. I cried every time I went online and began to read about it. My daughter’s school had a Veteran’s Day program, and we all said the Pledge of Allegiance, and I meant to say it–because I mean the parts about it that are under my control–but my words died on the last line. My body literally, involuntarily didn’t push them out.

This surprises me. I didn’t know I cared that much. There are times you’re consciously aware of your emotional state, and times you aren’t … and knowing that those times you aren’t in control exist is, I think, a valuable thing for a writer.

Everyone has their own particular fears. Most of us could list one or two of them if we were asked. But there have been times in my life when I was caught off guard by fears, and completely unable to understand why I fell apart when confronted by them. You learn a lot about yourself when you stumble upon these fears. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, we are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong you are until someone throws you in hot water.

There are also, I’ve found, subconscious attachments to places. Places you’ve lived. Places you’ve visited. Even places you’ve only heard about.

Whether ancestral connection to certain pieces of ground “matters” is a contentious and highly political subject, and I won’t go there, only share some of my own observations.

First, when I was a teenager, my mother (from southern Indiana) commented that while she liked to hang out in the woods in northern Indiana, it wasn’t the same. Her own familiar ones were her favorite. This idea stuck with me, and it’s haunted me in the past fifteen months of living very much away from my familiar Eastern Deciduous forest. Everything out here’s different. Birds. Trees. Insects. Looking at old pictures of the woods around our old place puts a lump in my throat. Even though our new woods is about a thousand times wilder and more mysterious. Even though it, too, conjures up a lot of delicious feelings.

Second, I’m of largely Northern European extraction. 40% Germanic and 30% British Isles. I grew up on British literature, so it’s no surprise that going to England was an amazing experience for me. It felt like being in a fairy tale.

Going to the Germanic parts of Europe, though? Bizarre, and a thousand times more poignant. Sitting in bars and hotels in Munich and Zurich, I felt profoundly at home. I belonged there. Those were my people. And I hated it.

Flying over the Netherlands when making a connection at the Amsterdam airport? Seeing the green, green, oh-so-emerald-green fields and the dykes and mist? That turned some kind of primitive crank in the very deepest parts of my soul. I almost wept, just looking out the airplane window. And friends, I have never entertained a romantic notion about wanting to visit the Netherlands, not for a New York minute. The feeling just came. Something about the green–the damp–the brume–the humane order of the whole landscape.

I’m not working toward a conclusion here. I’m only sharing some emotional truths, in hopes that you’ll find them useful in your writing, or in your experience of literature.

One last thought: there are places that feel like home the minute you set foot on them. The Brambles feels that way to me. It’s a foreign land, but it’s my foreign land. But there are also places you don’t choose, but that work their way into your heart all the same. Our previous house feels that way to me, now that we’ve left it. I didn’t want to live there, but it was economically expedient. We did a renovation and made it ours. We had a baby there. We lived there for 5.5 years (and that’s the second-longest I’ve ever lived at the same address in my life). That house was thrust upon me, more than anything, and making the Right Choice to stop my then-fiance from selling it, and telling him that I’d just move in, felt like a moment of heroic good sense. My heart sank when I told him. But it was the right thing to do …

And now I miss it. I genuinely came to love that house. We lived there. We lived well there. And I’ll love it, always.

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12 thoughts on “A sense of place

  1. I agree with this so, so much. For a whiile, I leaned toward the Conservative side. Then I spent nearly two years living in Nevada, (originally a born, raised, and educated Bostonian), and my entire prospective changed. The healthcare,social work, and education systems, (to name a few), are deplorable. I was ashamed of myseld for being the educated, cultured woman I am and even thinkng to lean Right. My only hope is that our President Elect, whom has proven himself a successful, savvy bussiness man, owing no aparant political favors, will run our country like he does his most successful bussiness.

  2. These are such interesting points. And about the places you just end up in – I moved to Rotterdam because my boyfriend (now husband) got a job offer there. We’ve lived here for 11 years now and I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave, even though at first I found it difficult to adjust.

  3. I know exactly what you mean by a sense of place. Some places are home, whether you’ve lived there long or not. I lived in the US for six years, and it never started to feel like home. It was such a relief to come back to NZ.

  4. A sense of place for me is where I live now – on the banks of a trout stream with my fly-fishing addict husband. We are the only “year rounders” for a couple of miles, and sometimes breath a sigh of relief when the “weekenders” go home. When we finally made the move to what had been a weekend place, I remember driving up the pipeline road and going “I live here, I really live here. It grounds me and gives me a feeling of really belonging. And it heals me.

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