Last night, four of my friends and I gave a public reading at my college. We had 36 people show up, which for our school is a huge number. We read in the lobby of our theater, a great space for a reading because it’s intimate but more formal than a classroom. And the reading was amazing.
As we read, we started to see a theme that ran through all of our work – the importance of place. Cate Hennessey read about her desire to feel at home in a place that isn’t really hers. Piotr Florczyk read poems about his experiences as a Polish immigrant, weaving in history and voice in each piece. Poet Josiah Bancroft shared his persona poems that speak from the voices of people in places – the rural South, the American grocery store. Susan Bernadzikowski shared her hilarious tale of a guest coming to New Orleans, a story replete with good food references and rootedness in a locale that lays itself on the backs of all who live and travel there. I read an essay that explores my feeling of dislocation from place.
Here, without planning all of us were exploring the ways that place has affected our identities. All of us in some way were pushing at the questions of what it means to be a person not in our original places. This strikes me as a particularly contemporary thing. 50 years ago, less in more rural places, I think, people did not move like we do. They did not leave behind everyone they know to strike out on a new world. These ideas of pioneering a new life belong to the select few that we idealize in our high school textbooks.
But now, we are living our lives always as pioneers, pushing out to find new land and homesteading in pre-built houses and apartments. Each time moving on our own or with our small families, passing by the others moving around us. No wagon trains here; just passenger cars loaded with boxes and U-hauls full of furniture that gets broken on each move. We are, in some ways, always on our own.
Yet, in moments, like in the reading last night, we find each other, friends passing through, greeting each other in this vast airport of life. We wave; we nod; we recognize one another. We hang on to each other for this leg of the flight, for this stretch of the road. We find each other at just the right moments and are reminded that we are together even in our separate ventures.
We may never sit together on that couch from Friends and drink coffee together every day, but we can read a few words and grab a beer afterwards, secure in our movement, jostling each other tenderly as we travel along.