Monday, August 17, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

A long time ago, some blog friends and I talked about synchronicity - a fancy way of saying we were all thinking about some of the same themes and philosophies at the same time. I often notice that life throws these ideas and themes at me repeatedly... or maybe it’s that they were always there and I only noticed them once they’d come to the forefront of my own thoughts. Kind of like when you buy a new car and suddenly notice the same make and model and color car everywhere.

Synchronicity is why I roll my eyes when new writers (or really paranoid writers) worry over someone stealing their ideas. I can’t post my pitch on a public forum! My ideas are brilliant and some hack with better connections will steal them and sell them before I can!

Most of you are writers, so I’m not even going to go into why this is ridiculous. But ideas, ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re in the air, floating with dandelion fluff, laying dormant in gutters and sprouting from trees. There is nothing new out there. The trick is finding the themes and ideas that speak to you and building your story there, on that foundation. I know, when you’re in a rut and everything seems like drivel, ideas don’t seem nearly so easy to come by. But they are. They always are – what you’re fretting over, really, is the execution.

So I’ve been fiddling with this WIP for quite a while. It was going well, really well... and then, not so much. And the wall I hit was so tall and solid, I couldn’t find a ladder high enough to climb over... so I tried walking around it. But every time I neared the corner, out popped another two miles of bricks and mortar. So I sat down. I rested. I thought. I played pinners off the flippin’ thing. Nothing. So I started over from the beginning – no red pen or spell check, just reading.

There was some really good writing in there - some poetry and word play and lovely imagery... so much so that it eclipsed the story. Fucking egomaniacal writers and their longwinded twaddle!

So I tossed it. I did. Did you cringe? I probably cringed enough for all of us. I tossed it, I checked my ego at the door, and I started from page one... a brand new page one. And it’s better. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was trying to do with this story when I started, so what I really did was waste a lot of time and words – really pretty words that no one will ever read intertwined in quite that way... but then again, had I kept those words, no one would ever really get the story.

A few days ago, I happened to be driving through my old neighborhood. (Stick with me here, I’ll get back to the point, I promise). I was only a few blocks from the house I grew up in, so I took a little detour, just to see the place. I haven’t been back to my own house for a very very long time... Did you notice the wording there? own house - I caught it after I typed it, but I’ll leave it here, because it’s truer than the correction. The house looks terrible. Even driving down the block was odd. The streets seemed so much smaller than in my memory... the houses so close together... and my house, well, it’s seen better days.

And to be honest, perfectly honest, the neighborhood itself isn’t that much different. The same bricks and pavement... the trees might be a little taller, where there are trees. Most of the same buildings are there, different bushes or flowers in front – or none at all... shabbier here and there, but there was some shabby when I still lived there... that’s not it, though. In my head, it’s my neighborhood. It’s still there – the neighbors that all knew my name, the kids playing ball on the corner or running bases... skeeching and snowball fights and a million other things that I can think of... In my head it’s still there. In reality, it’s somebody else’s neighborhood now. Somebody else’s memories and place, and I don’t belong to them. The buildings exist, but the place isn’t mine. Except in my head.

And I really didn’t have any plans to go by my old house. It was a spur of the moment thing. I’ve been within a mile of it more times than I could count over the last decade or more, and never drove by. But I needed to see it – for what it is now and what it was then. It’s where my difficult work in progress is set, and I suddenly realized why. Why it was so important to me to set it there, in that neighborhood. Why it was so important to develop these characters who didn’t really live down the block from me, but could have. Why it was so important to me that, if anyone from the neighborhood reads my novel, the first thing they think is, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s home.”

Synchronicity. And no, you can’t go home again, except in your head... my real objective now is to see if I can take you with me.

How about you guys? Does synchronicity pop into your novel ideas or your life? Where do you want to take us with your writing?


Natasha Fondren said...

I did that recently! It was SO depressing. All our flower gardens were gone. Our fence was gone. The patio and the over-driveway thing I helped my father build was still there. But... it was different.

Still, there are times where I would LOVE to live in that house again!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Natasha,

It was definitely depressing. Maybe it's like that for everyone, though, no matter where they grew up.

Speaking of going home again, you changed your blog url in the time I've been away! I'll update my blogroll and stop by soon.

Travis Erwin said...

My dad still lives in the house I grew up in and my mom in the one I lived in when I first moved out. she rents it from me. My third home took the biblical route and returned itself to ashes.

Travis Erwin said...

By the way glad to read a post from you.

Stephen Parrish said...

my real objective now is to see if I can take you with me.

You just summed up the purpose of all writing, maybe all art.

Shelly said...

I can imagine the torture that it must have been to get rid of the first draft of the WIP. Painful, but hopefully it ends up getting you where you want to be with it.

Brave girl!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Travis,

Nice to see you again, too! You're lucky to still have all of your childhood homes in the family... doesn't happen a lot anymore in this really mobile world.

Hi Steve,

Shit - that was the purpose? If someone had just explained that to me 10 years ago :-)


How are you? How are your mom and dad and Stacey? All good, I hope. I am hoping it was a good choice, instead of lots of wasted words. I seem to be one of those people that just has to learn the hard way.

jjdebenedictis said...


Synchronicity is you writing this piece on the very day I was visiting my grandparent's farm.

The old house is looking smaller and more tired, the furniture is different now because my grandmother took the big pieces with her when she moved to the city, the carpet is newer but less pretty, and the roof is shingled in a different colour...

...except in my head, where it all looks the same as it did when I was four.

Merry Monteleone said...

JJ! Synchronicity is alive and well. Erica often does that to me on her blog, whatever her subject matter is, it seems to be written just for me and the place I'm at.

My grammar school had a reunion a few years ago, but I couldn't go... I wonder how weird that would've been. Most of my memories of the place come from a pint size vantage point, even though I went all the way through 8th grade graduation.