Everyone thinks they are not from a place that counts. People think they have to be from New York or Paris to do something. People think they have to go to New York or Paris to do something.
I mean, it’s true, to a certain extent. When I went to Paris, I realized that it’s true. In Paris you feel like you are somewhere where things are happening. You look around and realize that this is a place people make movies and write books about. You think you can’t really be an artist until you move to Paris. You think all artists live in Paris.
Then you read something someone wrote about the place where they are from. And at first you wish you were from that place. Then you realize that everyone is from a place. You are from a place too.
Or maybe you’re from a bunch of places. Even better.
When I first started writing my novel, I based it in Vancouver because that is what I know. I stopped myself at one point and realized that this didn’t feel like a book that could ever be published. I tried to change the setting to San Francisco, or at least somewhere in California.
But maybe I got lazy – I didn’t want to research a place I wasn’t from – and I kept my book in Vancouver. And by doing so I decided I am going to write a Vancouver book. What do I know about Vancouver?
Well, what I know about Vancouver is that I don’t really feel I’m from Vancouver. So I wrote about that. And I realized that the feeling of not being from Vancouver would lead my main character to find where it was she was really from: Cape Breton. This created the main problem of my story: she hadn’t been there yet.
And I knew that she had been on a road trip across Canada. So I told the stories of the places where she stayed a while. I told the story of Lake Louise and the Rockies. I told the story of Moose Jaw, of Saskatchewan. I told the story of the Great Lakes. I told the story of Prince Edward Island. And I told the story of Cape Breton.
I’m still in the process of telling these stories. I’m searching for them, from the land where they take place.
I work with high school students writing their university application essays. They keep wondering what to write about, like they might find the answer in the question, like they might find the answer if they ask it out loud, or if they write down things that are true, aphorisms they’ve heard before. They seem offended, like it’s too simple, when I suggest they write about themselves.
We all think we’re so boring until we try to describe ourselves. We grew out of the land where we were raised; our minds and our hearts did too. It’s only in trying to write the stories that come out of us that we realize we’re any different.
If we all moved to Paris, we’d be great artists, of course, but we’d all be writing something fake, trying to please the others who themselves aren’t from Paris. The stories we love from Paris are from those who have somehow grown up there, who have discovered the place for what it is and have grown it out of themselves. Until I move to Paris and live in it, I won’t be writing my Paris story. I’ll be writing my Vancouver story, my Vancouver story where I dream of the places I might be from.