Home is where the heart is, right?
I've been thinking about what "home" means to me lately. The past few weeks on Facebook, I've had a run of luck reconnecting with some of my friends from high school and college, which has in turn overloaded my senses with a bevy of long-forgotten memories when the names and faces pop up. We're all twenty years older, but that's just few enough years that you can still readily recognize people.
You see, I don't live where I went to school. I moved away from both my childhood home and my high school and college home. Which means that here in Nashville, there's no one around from my childhood.
And in many ways, that's a good thing. It's funny, I thought I had changed dramatically, that I was this completely different person from the one I was back then. One quick inbox from a respected friend from high school shattered that illusion. I am the same person -- a little smarter, a little more worldly, definitely a lot more in tune with my heart -- but I'm still the geeky girl who didn't feel like she fit in. Not all the way. The one who listened to the fears and hopes of people from every clique, and never got into any of them. Still the same woman who encouraged her friends, believed in them, knew they could be whatever they wanted to be, yet never, ever discovered exactly what she wanted. Who never got completely comfortable in her skin.
I mentioned this to hubby the other night. We were eating in a fine Nashville establishment called Rhumba, and I was watching a woman out the window. She was sitting at an outside table, smoking, tattoos parading up her left arm, her hair died auburn and cut in a nifty bob, her white tank top skimming her muscled and tanned back as she rested her tattooed arm on the seat next to her. I saw a glint of metal near her mouth, a lip ring, most likely. Hubby said, "That's a lot of ink." And I spilled out with,"Yes, but she knows exactly who she is and is completely aware of herself. I respect the hell out of that. I wish I did. I'll be forty next year, and I'm still not there."
I've met women like the one I was admiring along the way: the self-assured, the glamorous, the perfect ones, the quirky. Their lives seem effortless. Their hair is always perfect, or perfectly rocked out, they never pay for a drink, they have fascinating stories. I watch and wonder how they do that. When did they hit the moment when they said "This is ME. This is my identity. This is who I was meant to be. Screw what other people think."
I've always been fascinated with the counter culture mystique, felt more of an affinity with them that the Junior League crowd I used to was run with. The goths, the wiccans, the punk rockers, the role-players. I can't help myself, I admire them. I love that they live off the grid, in worlds of their own making. That's probably the important part of that -- worlds of their own making. These women choose to pierce, or tattoo, or paint their face white. It's a statement about who they are.
Yes, I've flirted with the edges -- have a couple of tattoos and a piercing or two, thought I was damn cool. But I never had the guts to make it happen for real. I never fully embraced the alternative lifestyle. I couldn't dress right, I didn't have the guts to have people stare at me. The feelings of coolness fluttered away and left me feeling like a poseur. Honestly, I can't even loosen up enough to dress up for Halloween, how could I do that on a daily basis?
I never fully embraced ANY lifestyle, really, outside of the desire to be the best wife I could be. I was quite the little Suzy homemaker for a while there, once I learned how to boil water. I took to marriage like a duck to water, feeding and growing on love. That, at least, hasn't changed.
But in the little ways that count, I have changed. I may not be an anti-establishment alternative lifestyle girl, wearing my Dr. Martens with a short skirt and ripped leggings, but I do know my own mind. I am probably too opinionated now. Show me your problem and I can find sixteen equally amenable solutions for you. Become my friend, worm your way past my defenses and into my heart, and I'll be there for you for the rest of your life.
So what does any of this have to do with writing?
My mom asks me all the time why I don't write a political thriller. And while I'll admit to having a corker of an idea for one, I'm reluctant to set a book in D.C. Check that. I've been hyper-resistant to even considering the idea. I've never been able to put my finger on the reason why. The journey back through time on Facebook brought it all to the forefront.
There's too much of ME there. Firsts, lasts, good and bad. Joys, regrets. I lived in D.C. for 15 years, most of them formative. All my big "First Times": Friendships, boyfriends, jobs. I've never been one to dwell on my past, instead prefer to look forward. I guess I feel like setting a book in D.C. would be akin to revisiting a ghost of myself. It's not me any more. And instead of writing the story, I'd be mourning the loss of the girl who did wear the combat boots and ripped leggings, who wanted to dye a pink streak in her hair, who somehow ended up working in the White House, wore blue suits with white hose, carried a Coach briefcase and was a categorical bow-head. Yikes.
Nashville was a much easier set up for me. There is no history for me here, no background. No people who knew me, who'd seen my mistakes, watched me grow up. I guess, in a way, I had nothing to lose. I could recreate myself through my setting. Since I was new to the area, I experienced it through fresh eyes. I'm still discovering parts of my adopted hometown that surprise me.
"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."*
That's what I've been trying to do with my books.
I think if you can tap into that, your books will be a success. If you can make a reader FEEL your setting, to experience it as fully as they would watching it on the screen, you've succeeded. Do you have to know yourself to be a good writer? Of course not. I've come to believe that life is a journey, made up of bits and pieces of experiences that shape us into who we become, yet never stop us from evolving into what we can be. But you must give your reader the proper setting for the story. To build a world for them.
Will I ever go home, write a book where my invisible footprints still linger? I don't know. Writing has become that journey for me, my very own road to discovery. But I will continue to strive to realize the settings I do pick, to make sure that I give them every ounce of me that I have to give. This is what I've been realizing over the past few months. There's really no way to go home again. But would you want to?
What I finally figured out is that home is truly where the heart is. It's not a place, it's a state of mind.
Where do you call home? Do you write about your hometown? Readers, do you prefer books set in places you know well or don't know at all?
Wine of the Week: 2003 Campe della Spinette Barolo
*Ernest Hemingway, "Old Newsman Writes," Esquire, December 1934, pg. 26 (courtesy of my good friend Peggy Peden)
On a lighter note, huge, MEGA-congratulations to Last Comic Standing Iliza Shlesinger!!!! Way to go, girl!!!! Thanks for all the laughs.