Dispatches | November 28, 2012

I moved to Nashville exactly 6 months ago this Friday and on that day I will have 6 months to go until the end of my first year of teaching, which also happens to be my birthday. This milestone, recent drives back and forth to my home in Missouri, and a sighting of Hayden Panettiere have me thinking more about my relationship with locations. Six months is enough time in a place to gain a sense of direction (although I still often pull into the wrong driveway), find a favorite Kroger, know the blue laws, and to recognize landmarks with some pride on an ABC drama every Wednesday night. Nashville starring Connie Britton, Hayden Paniettiere, a brunette male with stubble, a clean shaven brunette male, Avery (oh brother!), Scarlett’s speaking voice, the mayor, and some others is a drama about competing female country singers.

The show is filmed in Nashville so I can recognize the sweeping shots of downtown and occasionally I know the bar or cafe or part of town where scenes are taking place. A few weeks ago while writing at a coffee shop down the street from my house, Hayden sat down outside, ate a bagel with cucumbers, and sent back a mimosa. The next day the coffee shop was blocked off for taping.

Nashville’s stars with a landmark I don’t recognize.

Nashville has become a sort of gauge for how much better I am at living here. It’s nice to know that I don’t resent the city despite missing home. It’s not complex, this notion that I am reassured about my choice to live here by a compelling story line and images for one hour a week. In contrast both in medium and my relationship with a location, my own writing has served as a long term gauge for my relationship with my hometown. It is a more complicated medium revealing a more complicated relationship.

The first creative writing class I took in college was Writing About Place during my freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. I was the only freshman in the course and trying to decide if the school’s small writing program was worth all the drawing I had to do. I remember that we had a professor named James from San Francisco who made bitter remarks about the administration and referred to the drug culture a lot as if it were still a culture of beat poets. A girl who sat next to me said once that her summer plans were to go to a forest in Maine and take a zine writing class with Noam Chomsky. Maybe she said it was a forest in Vermont. There was a Truman Capote lookalike, a guy from Port-au-Prince who didn’t understand why we all wanted him to stop writing about New York City, and 4 or 5 more earning degrees in fashion or animation or painting. Missing home informed most of my writing in that class. I found that I had a similar contrasting relationship with the new city that I do today when I watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and felt like I had seen those droopy trees before in my own experience of Savannah.

The fleeting joy of the “I’ve been there before” recognition written into a book, movie, tv show, postcard image, etc. is what warps our memory of vacations and places we used to live because it doesn’t ask us to delve into our own experience in a location that way that writing it down does. When Connie Britton drinks coffee in Nashville, I can relate down to some detail of the location that makes saying “I’ve done that” more exciting. When I first started writing about my hometown in my workshop in Savannah, I was nostalgic. As  I wrote more about place, the nostalgia became mixed with resentment and pride and way too tied to who I am to simply be a moment of recognition for the reader to ground themselves. In a new city when you’re a freshman in college or a first year teacher, the comfort in that recognition is almost embarrassingly reassuring that things aren’t so bad away from that place that you’re missing.

Switched at Birth’s “James Dean charisma.”

One recent television show Switched at Birth takes place near my hometown in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m less comforted by it. Here is a preview.

Here is an extremely generous article by the New Yorker about Switched at Birth. Extremely generous in that it was written. Laughably generous that it’s titled “Seen But Not Heard: The revelatory silence of ‘Switched at Birth.'” And concerning that its author thinks an ABC Family show with a character called Chef Jeff, sometimes just Chef, but never Jeff, has an “undertow as strong as anything on TV.” Anyway, I’ve seen every episode and really hope Bay can find an outlet for her art that isn’t so dangerous!