Grounded (in a good way)

What is it about moving that sets one off track for months? I was thinking about that question this morning, and how since I moved to Ashland I have done almost no writing. I’ve been settling in, trying to master the new job, enjoying the new town, trying to get my (adult) kids on track after the move. Reading a ton of books! But not writing.

For me, writing takes a kind of equilibrium I don’t have when I’ve just moved. Thinking about the question, I decided that when you move, you tear your entire existence apart–literally. You put it in boxes and shove it in a truck and drive down the freeway with it rattling around in the back. The self is dismembered, existence as you knew it gone, everything familiar a memory. Who you were in that place fades as the miles pass beneath the U-Haul’s tires and you leave the old you behind in the carbon monoxide haze you can just glimpse in the sideview mirror.

Once you arrive at your destination, you have to unpack your self, bit by bit. First, object by object. You arrange things in your new house, trying to turn it into a home. That’s the easy part. But the soul parts…those that were connected to the old place. Not so easy. The parts of you that had a certain way of being in the world don’t quite fit in the new place…not yet. They’re uneasy, unsettled, restless. You feel something stirring, something hungry, but in this new place you don’t know how (or where or what) to feed it.

Five months after the move to Ashland, I’m just beginning to feel grounded. I’ve replaced old routines with new ones. Replaced my favorite writing haunts with new places where the people steaming coffee now know my name and preferences (God bless baristas everywhere!). I have a library card. A map of the town’s geography in the soles of my feet. I still have a long way to go. I have joined no groups. Made no friends. For me, those things always have to wait until the connection to the physical places firms.

As Chautauqua approaches, the gnawing in my belly has become impossible to ignore. It’s the older hunger, the hunger to write. I know I will have to feed it soon or it will chew me up from the inside out.

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of place in writing. That characters must come from a specific place, a specific time, and that their experiences are circumscribed by places: those they grew up in, those they’ve lived in, the one they live in now–the story world you have created. I hammer on this because without place characters are like holograms hovering in the air above the ground. You can put your hand right through them because they don’t really exist.

I guess that’s what happens to me when I move. I have to recreate my existence. Become solid in the new place. Stop wavering and coalesce. Well, here I am. At last.

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