On Place

I have been wandering. Since graduating college in 2011, I have moved states four times in as many years. I have shed possessions mercilessly. I have drafted a tiered list of gas station coffee. I have become an excellent packer.

Upon arriving in the hazy green of Orlando last August, I signed a fifteen month lease. Firmly, I told myself this was non-negotiable. This place would be home for, at the very least, the next two years.

June finds me in the heartland, nearly fifteen hundred miles from Orlando. Slowly, I am making my way towards summer—a summer unlike those of my childhood, those lazy, slow-burning days shaded by nights twisted in sanded sheets.

With less than a year left until my thesis defense, these three months are a time for heavy revision, for generating new work, for deciding what story means to me. And, sure, I could’ve done this work from my desk or seated at the scarred tabletops of Stardust Coffee. I could’ve saved my car the mileage and my bank account the keys to highway hotel rooms. In short, I could’ve stayed in one place and slogged through revisions. Spent nights in familiar bars peeling labels from beers and mulling over the heft of a sentence before turning to a friend to plan a weekend trip to the coast.

For me, though, writing has always been inexplicably tethered to place. The stories I connect with most use place as a dynamic, secondary character, a nearly palpable entity that interacts with speaker and impacts mood, action, cadence. In my own writing, too, I feel very strongly about use of place. In fact, my thesis will ultimately consist of stories that all relate back to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. In this way, I view place as intrinsically different from the more familiar term of setting, a word that, in its very form, denotes a stagnant, unmoving set location.

And so I move.

And while I’m moving, I’m gathering images. I am savoring the reds and yellows of hot air balloons flaring against the green of leaves, the braided wicker of baskets. I am scheming, too. I am weighing where I can use these images. I am wondering how much of a place I can steal without being caught.

This summer, I will spend three weeks at the Blue Field Writer’s House, renting a room in the University District of downtown Detroit. Last summer, too, I passed a month here, reading and writing and exploring the crumbling pavement of a place intended to be the city of the future. And although I filled notebooks while in Detroit, I also returned with a clearer sense of the place I had been writing about—I was able to see the island through a new lens, allow myself to wonder at its oddities and recognize its unique aspects.

After Detroit, I head to New Harmony, Indiana, a town that still holds to the tenets of its past as a failed utopian community. Here, I will pass a week in a writing workshop with strangers. I will spend nights under the eaves of an abbey turned barn. I will steal images and listen to local lore and twist these threads into new stories that, hopefully, allow place to play a central, impactful role.

By the time I return to Orlando, I know that I will be exhausted by these new places. I know I will long for the relief of my own bed and the familiar curves of neighborhood roads. But come December I know, too, that I will, once again, feel anxious. I will start tracing the reds and blues of routes spiderwebbing across the country, looking for my next place.

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Victoria Campbell is an MFA candidate in fiction. Although a Yankee by birth, she is coming around to the charms of Florida life. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.

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