I spent a few days in the big city, promoting My Heart is a Mountain. These are the cities I grew up in. I am quite comfortable there and I appreciate the easiness of everything. Food is a block away. Heat is turned up with a thermostat, instead of waiting for a woodstove to heat the house and hauling armloads of wood from the woodpile into the house. There are not a million things to take care of here – no gardens, animals, woods to take care of, food to put up, and the endless list of stuff that needs to get done on a homestead. I feel idle in the city. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’m comfortable in the city, but I had a patch of time on the last visit when I wondered what in heck I was doing there. Everything felt so…cold. And it was! The temp was hovering near the zeros. But worse, I felt anonymous.
There’s a line in my short story “Farmwoman” where the narrator says “I’ve become invisible in the city.” (She’s an older woman who was forced to leave her homestead and come to town and live in assisted living). That’s how I felt for an instant, in the city. I wandered into Trader Joes looking for lettuce. The store was full of people milling about, and it seemed that none of them were interacting in a meaningful way! For one moment, I wished I were in my small town grocery store, where I might actually run into someone I knew, who might actually stop and talk to me for a minute.
We’re complicated, we humans. I like to work alone, but I need my connections too.
When I first moved to the small town, many years ago, it freaked me out to go into town and get noticed by everyone. I wanted to be anonymous. Now, I don’t care for the anonymity in the city. How strange is that?
Stranger still, I can’t put my finger anymore on the personality of this city I grew up in. I really have “moved” to a different place. When I visit the city, I no longer feel like a native. I’m a visitor.
I think that Place can have a personality. The place where I live can have a stark personality, a personality of beautiful hardships, and knowledge of the land that simmers under the surface of the sameness of rural reality. The nuances of greatness are there if you know how to look for them. I think it takes some time living in a place to start to hear and see and sense these nuances.
I’ve completed a new short story collection that I will start sending out at the end of January. Like My Heart, it has to do with Place, but other themes emerge as well. Stay tuned!