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“But if you move into my old house I won’t visit you and I don’t want to see pictures or Snaps from inside your house.”
A late night chat with a friend turned into a discussion about the possibility of her family moving to my hometown. I lived in a beautiful college town in Wisconsin until I was nine. I still remember that fateful day in June when my dad sat down with me to tell me he had received a call to a church in Minnesota and would probably take it. I remember the panic at the thought I wouldn’t see my dad all the time while he worked in Minnesota, before I realized I would actually have to live in Minnesota, too. I experienced a momentary blip of excitement (adventure!), before I thought, “WTF, why would I ever in a million years want to move to Minnesota?!?” And believe me, I made sure everyone knew that was how I felt when we moved that August.
But I digress. I’m often asked why I still call it my hometown, why I feel like it’s such a part of me, even though I left when I was nine. I didn’t even spend a full decade there, and yet I feel this attachment to it. The answers I always share (and believe to be true) are: 1) Even though I wasn’t there for a “full decade,” I was still there for nine years. That’s half of my childhood and I have a lot of beautiful memories from my life there. 2) Once we left, I still had strong ties to my hometown. My childhood best friend and I visited each other every summer. She’d spend a week or two with me in Minnesota and I’d spend a week or two with her in Wisconsin. And for two years in high school, someone from my hometown lived with my family during the week and when she’d go home on the weekend I’d sometimes go with her. (I learned how to parallel park on her dad’s farm.) So it’s not like I left and never returned. I was there every summer. And this July, I was there quite a bit.
There’s another reason I feel so attached to my hometown that I don’t often share: I believe that some of my creativity and creative inspiration stems from and is rooted in my hometown.
In particular, my house. Long before I ever I thought about sitting down to put a story on paper, I still told stories. I’d move around my house or my yard in my own world and I’d make up stories or retell stories I loved. I’d swim around my family room as a mermaid, with my BFF dolphin pal. I’d run through the woods behind my house on a quest similar to Labyrinth (sans the muppets and actually trying to retrieve the baby), and I’d act out a scene from one of my favorite movies (Return to Witch Mountain) on my playground. We had a multi-level deck out back and when I was ready to tell a story, I’d run outside, down the deck and through two trees at the end. Those trees were the doorway to whatever story I was going to tell.
Why do I think that my creativity and creative inspiration stems from and is rooted in my hometown? I see little nods to my hometown in my writing. Sometimes I know I’m putting these nods in, sometimes I pick it up as I’m editing, but I’ll find a piece of my hometown built into the setting of a story. It might be the house down the street from mine that provided the floor plan for the house in my novel The Porcelain Doll. The old school just out of town that inspired the abandoned building that acts as a catalyst for the action in a short story I wrote in college. Or even the house I’ve been staying in this summer that—very loosely—inspired the cottage in my short story (called The Cottage) that was published in Night Visions, and also plays a role in a larger work that I have.
I’ve never put the house I lived in (that my dad built) into a story, but the house itself is a place I think back to. I used to have a recurring dream that I was walking through a house—room after room after room—in search of something. I’d always wake up from that dream excited and inspired. I’d take the mystery and sense of adventure from my dream into whatever I was working on. My house felt that way on a smaller scale. (It’s always a mansion in my dream.) There were rooms and nooks and crannies. And sometimes when I feel creatively dry, I go back to that house and walk around. I feel that inspiration and sense of adventure from my dream. I think back to the stories I used to create as I played both inside and outside of my house.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is: how can I tap into the inspiration that comes from my hometown and that house? I guess in some ways I already do when I close my eyes and walk through that house in my mind. But how else can I use this place to my advantage?
I, obviously, don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share this because I want to ask you a few questions:
1 // Is there a place or a thing that provides creative inspiration for you?
2 // How can you tap into that source of inspiration, especially when the creative wells run dry?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share in the comments below!