allowing the places that shaped us to shift

rushing ocean waterAnd then I went on vacation and didn’t blog at all.

Good morning good morning, waking you. Where did your sleeping carry you? How does your breath meet this morning?

I’m just back from a week in a place I used to live, a week spent re-meeting a landscape I thought I’d abandoned, I thought I’d left for good. Turns out those hills and beaches, that sea spray, that quality of light through the filtering trees, that rinse of blacktop winding amid farmland and marsh, even those mosquitoes and deer flies — it all still lives in me. It wasn’t just history that rose up inside to meet that knife-sharp horizon, it wasn’t just nostalgia and memory and loss; my right-now self got to walk through the palace of yesterday and hold in its/our/my hands what I have brought forward, I mean, lay its morning fingers on that day and that place that does not, as it turns out, have to be shaped or owned or by regret–

This is the image that I have: getting to take the hand of the young woman/person I was when I lived in this place and walk with her, looking over our lost landscape. I get to see where she lived, get to remember what she wanted. I walk through the places that held her agitation, that held longing she didn’t have words for; I open my notebook and write against the same atmosphere, in the same air, looking out on the same parking lot or brick street that she did, but the words I write now are not the same.

This place, this land, these roads hold, still, some of the earliest years of my healing — hold the days when I thought I would never stop crying, hold the months (coated with frost or humidity or the thin and pervasive terror of late winter that perhaps spring will never come) when my body was only shame and confusion, the years when I looked underneath any joy I experienced for the other shoe that was sure to fall on me. In this place I began to learn what it would mean for me to be an adult, and wanted to be a human being separate from her trauma — I wanted to save the world, while inside I was still waiting for the world to save me.

All of that yesterday still lives in the fat spray of hard blue water on rocky coastside, in the smell of salt roses and seaside bush, the shape of seagulls crying over red barns and thin light  — and is evoked for me the second I put my body in the place. I remember feeling claimed by this land that wasn’t the place where I was born, and I remember walking away from it.

This place is just one of my internal landscapes — I am trying now to remember the first time I learned about the idea of internal landscape, the places we have inhabited that shape our inside experience, that shape our experience of (our) memory, that create our sense of what place is supposed to look like. My internal landscapes look like downtown Omaha, look like flat Midwest farmland, look like the soft hills and slick, broken blacktop of Northern New England. I don’t know yet, where California lives inside for me. It may be that I’d have to leave it for awhile to be able to know.

There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it ease like water over a stone, onto its fluid contours, and are home. Some find it in the place of their birth; others may leave a seaside town, parched, and find themselves refreshed in the desert. There are those born in rolling countryside who are really only at ease in the intense and busy loneliness of the city. For some, the search is for the imprint of another; a child or a mother, a grandfather or a brother, a lover, a husband, a wife, or a foe. We may go through our lives happy or unhappy, successful or unfulfilled, loved or unloved, without ever standing cold with the shock of recognition, without ever feeling the agony as the twisted iron in our soul unlocks itself and we slip at last into place.
Josephine Hart

This trip, I felt like I got to entwine my fingers with this place again, I got to tangle my fingers in its hair; I got to remember — yes, don’t we always remember — and, too, I got to shape a new now for this place of my once upon a time. What a gift, getting to live long enough, getting to heal deeply enough, to be able to be in a now body while walking yesterday’s tidelines and skyline.

What does your internal landscape look like? What comes to mind immediately when a new acquaintance says city or country, says high school, says road trip, says Saturday afternoon? Where, in your inside experience, do these things occur? What is their setting? Where does history live for you, or for your characters? Give yourself ten minutes (or twenty, even), today, with these contours and aromas. Consider just describing the landscape itself, without describing what happened there — notice what emotion rises up from the tone of your writing, how you convey the emotional experience of a place through the words you choose.

Thank you for what rises and falls within you, for the healing you let into your body and deep self on this day. Thank you for your twists and turns, the consistency of your old delights, for every syllable of your words.

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