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I’m a Townie: Our Books as Places
“Though you’ve never seen it before, it must be a town you’ve lived in all your life.” — Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town
In an earlier post, Kathleen Rooney asks for a better metaphor for what our books become to us after they are written. I like that she emphatically denies that they are anything like, “our kids.” I admit, I’ve said that at a reading, but mainly I said it when my first book came out and having kids wasn’t actually an ongoing discussion I was having in the mirror on a daily basis.
My first book came out in 2006 when I had just turned 30. I remember sort of waiting for my whole life to alter somehow. It didn’t. I mean, it did slowly veer into a new course, and paved roads became dirt roads, and I stopped caring quite so much about trying to have some (if any) control of how things happened. But that wasn’t because of my book, or even my books, that was just getting older and realizing that the steady flow of things is so much more enjoyable than the dramatic shifts we expect when we are younger. But, my friends with kids? Now, their lives have changed. And it’s awesome to watch. But I’d like to see their faces, worn out from rising in the wee hours, joyful, tearful, torn up and blossomed, if I said, “Yeah, my books are like my kids.” I’d probably get thrown out. Or, I’d get extended wee-hour babysitting duty.
I appreciate Rooney’s supposition that our books are more like our ghosts instead of our children. There’s a lot about that metaphor that seems true. I only have one small problem with that. And that’s that they’d have to be dead first. I understand the concept. But I’m not entirely comfortable with it. (And, it’s not that I’m scared to talk about death, or ghosts, I’m actually quite fond of talking with the dead.)
I’d rather think of my books like towns I’ve lived in. Not houses, but whole towns. Those physical places we’ve breathed in, all those people with wishes and wants, creeks, and mailboxes. Some of those towns hold up better than others. You return to it, and realize it looks a little nicer, not as hard to live in, the air around it has grown wider and sweet. Others, you go back to and you think, “This is a nice place to visit, but…” If our poetry books are like the different towns we’ve called our own, then we can’t always know when someone visits them — maybe needing something specific, some food, maybe water, maybe a good pair of shoes so they can keep going a little longer — but we do know that the towns are out there, on the map, part of us, but open to anyone.
Maybe the metaphor falls apart when we get to who built these towns, but in some ways, we are always creating our reality aren’t we; our Pittsburgh, our San Francisco, our Oaxaca. Our towns have their own language, their own slang and twang. And perhaps we do not release our books into the world, as much as they release us. Finally we are comfortable moving on, suitcases packed for the next place of interest, all the damage we’ve done, and the love we’ve given, the wreckage and the rebuild, still there for strangers to see.