If a feeling in my bones and heart can be considered official it is this: I’ve spent too much time away from home this year. The last time at home was just a week in between trips away. I was eager and hungry to reconnect while there—with my beloveds, of course, but especially with the place itself—because while I can video conference and phone call and text and email my people at home, home itself and I are separated, mutually mute in expressing our affections and devotions, until we’re physically reunited. There are widening, overlapping circles that define home, starting with the most specific and personal from my bed and desk to bathroom and kitchen to whole house and yard; from neighborhood and trails to area of town to the city and state and country; from latitude and longitude to hemisphere and planet. And, of course, wherever we go, there we are, carrying with us and residing within the most enduring of our earthly homes, our bodies. Still, what surrounds us at any given time is deeply meaningful, bringing forth or discouraging a range of responses.
Back when I was a full-time teacher, when middle and high schoolers and I worked together to further explore and understand the elements of literature, we discussed setting, of determining where in space and time a story is located; less often, we considered the setting a character in its own right. Given my rising homesickness this year—borne of the necessity, intensity, and blessing of various travels, the comparisons and contrasts between places, the past, and the present—I’ve been even more aware of the power that place has on the development of character (you and me!) and narrative arc (our individual and connected lives!). These effects are perhaps as—or even more—profound in some instances as how we characters shape each other.
Just as I was conscious of trying to memorize my sons’ baby faces before they were transmuted into adolescents and then men, so I regarded my adopted hometown recently, with walking on the trail around Lady Bird Lake two brisk and excessively sweaty times followed by a visit to a tiny local SoCo grocery store. In the past 22 years, Austin has grown well beyond any gawky phase into a slick self in danger of losing its soul, but I still (illogically, really) love it, with its face turned at a very specific southern angle toward a blazing sun. New skyscrapers catch the clouds like smoke from a stack, the capitol building and its impossibilities are caught between them, the dammed Colorado River offers respite, and I was among it all for the moment.