I’ve been thinking a lot about place lately. In my recent interview with author David Giffels, the topic of place came up a lot. What makes a place–even an “unglamorous” one–worth sticking to and fighting for, in good times and bad?
Like anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about how the places we call home can change overnight–from places of refuge to those that threaten our livelihood and even life.
And, since I’m an avid reader and writer, I’ve been thinking about how place figures into what we read and write. Remember that first writing class in school, when you learned about the elements of story: plot, character, setting… The setting is the place into which you dump your story, right? The teacher said, “go,” and then we all got started writing a (loosely autobiographical) story that resolved itself neatly–and then we dumped it into a place. Any old place would do.
Only after years of writing stories and dumping them into arbitrary places would I realize how much place matters:
We all know that we don’t really know something until we try to teach it–in simple terms. So, it came time for me to teach the elements of story to my seven-year-old boys. Why? Because they were talking about story writing in school and because my more wordy boy had started a novella (working title: Death. (Not kidding.))
Our talk of story setting turned to conflict. You remember: man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. himself… As you can imagine, my boys love examples of man vs. man. Fight, fight, fight! For man (or woman) vs. nature, I called upon an episode from my childhood. I am too young to have endured fallout shelter drills, but tornado drills in Ohio are a given for every generation. Never did I pray so hard in Catholic school as when up against the concrete block wall of the hall, we kids balled up like a potato bugs, knees under us, protecting the backs of our necks with folded hands. Today, my prayers go to the people of Texas and beyond who are enduring much more than drills but real upheaval and much hardship and heartbreak.
In my conversation with David Giffels, we talked about the optimistic pessimism that prevails in our native place of Northeast Ohio. Upheavals–of the natural and man-made variety–will come. This is a given. But knowing how to endure them tests your mettle, makes you stronger and ready for the next fight. Fight, fight, fight, Houston.
Forgive the rambling musings of a Rust Belt Girl on a rainy day!
What’s on your mind?