Monday, April 07, 2008

Write from Our Roots

Next week I'll be teaching a workshop in the North Carolina mountains titled "Write From Our Roots", for the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

A piece I read yesterday in The New York Times Book Review reminded me that roots can be understood in a variety of ways. In an essay on the excellent Jhumpa Lahiri's new book Unaccustomed Earth, Liesl Schillinger noted that the writer "shows that the place to which you feel the strongest attachment isn't necessarily the country you're tied to by blood or birth: it's the place that allows you to become yourself. This place, she quietly indicates, may not lie on any map."

I ask myself what that "place" is for me and I suspect that it's my love for and memory of my hometown of Wilmington, NC. Paradoxically, it's the place that I tried hardest to be like everyone else.

The biography I'm researching is about an artist who lived there before me and who was at least as peculiar as I was naturally inclined to be.

There's one writer/therapist (Harville Hendrix, Getting the Love You Want) who says that we choose as mates people who have the traits that challenged us as kids. The idea is: this time I'm going to get it right.

Maybe something similar is going on with my selection of subject. But the fact is: I mostly don't regret my efforts back then to fit in. That's a reasonable choice, and can be a bold choice; just as it's possible to be both a feminist and a housewife. (I never know where I'm going to wind up when I start writing one of these posts, same with novels.)

Anyway, as I prepare to teach this short course next week, I'm examining my own roots once again, including those that don't lie on a map.

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