I’ve been traveling for just shy of a month now. (I just got home today!) So many times someone has asked me, “Where are you from?” I’ve been more confused about how to answer than most people need to be. I live in Sydney, but I’m not Australian and my American accent confuses people if I say, “Sydney.” My most recent home in the U.S. was in Los Angeles, but I don’t live there now and I wasn’t raised there, so it sounds weird to say, “Los Angeles.” I feel like I’m from Michigan because that’s where I was raised, but I haven’t lived there since 1993. At one point, I was with my sister Bonnie who visited me when I was in New York and she elbowed me and said, “Just pick one!”
It’s true that people probably don’t really care; they’re just making conversation. But it took me quite a while to come up with a phrase that worked for me. When I visited the Empire State Building on Saturday (at sunset, can you say Sleepless in Seattle?), I answered the question with “Sydney, for now.” It took me nearly 90 minutes to go through the line to get to the top, so I had a lot of time to think. (I was alone with hundreds of strangers. )
I feel “from” Michigan because I was raised there and that’s where all my values and ideas were created, to some extent at least. Most of my family and all of John’s family live there, and it’s “home” for both of us on many levels. I feel kind of from California because that’s home base for us while John continues to work in the film business. We’ve spent about seven years living there since 2001, and we have people there we call family and our home church. But Sydney is also home. It’s my address. It’s where John is. We have friends and a church and jobs there, too.
As I was pondering all of this, I realized that I can – and already do – use all of these “homes” in my writing. My characters mostly have a Midwestern value system and work ethic. They often respond as I respond to the city – loving the opportunities, creating a family along the way, and always finding a way to live near something green or, better yet, water. They also have a tendency to wonder at why people who seem so similar can be so different or how such different people can be bound in their similarities – something that has been part of my consciousness since living in Australia.
Because I was in New York for a writer’s conference, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I felt as a visitor to the city, and watching how locals acted and spoke. I tried to remember the sights and sounds and smells. (I loved waking up Sunday morning in my cozy little room in The Library Hotel to a thunder and lightning storm! I’ll tell you more about the awesome hotel in a future post.) All of this is swirling around in my mind and coalescing into stronger backgrounds for my characters. They don’t have just a backstory that comes to me when I think of them, but an additional layer that I know comes from all the different parts of me.
It’s exciting! I love seeing my stories come together with greater depth and, hopefully, greater impact. How do you meld the different pieces and time periods of your life together into better stories?