In the dark, all freeways look the same. As my eyes moved between the yellow lines of the road to the yellow lights of the oncoming traffic, I could swear I was on the same freeway I’ve been driving my whole life–the one that leads me home. Driving alone at night in an area I’ve never been before, and yet all I could do was think of every road I’ve ever traveled home: from Seattle, from Portland, even from Spokane.
This past weekend, I took my first trip outside of New York City. I drove up to Vermont to visit two friends both living in picturesque college towns: Bennington and Middlebury, with a side trip on the drive up to the village of Sleepy Hollow. Once past the chaos of driving through New York City (hands gripping the wheel, a prayer or curse word under my breath depending on the driver currently cutting me off), I settled into the ease of driving on winding country roads and took in my surroundings. It seemed as though every few feet I drove, there was a sign telling me what historical event occurred there–from the Revolutionary War to the French and Indian War to the places that inspired Washington Irving and made their way into “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It was hard to ignore the importance of the area when everything around me kept reminding me just how important it was. This area, so rooted in history, is a far cry from the West, where there is still a sense of things unsettled.
Driving long distances reminds me of home. Freeways remind me of home. This drive made me homesick. At the same time, I was thankful for the opportunity to reflect. Driving for hours alone, you have the option to sing along to the radio (of which I did plenty) or think. As I passed town after town in Vermont–pottery for sale, farms, almost as many cemeteries dotting the landscape as antique stores–I wondered how the change in setting would affect my writing, not only the mountain scenery in Vermont, but my long-term change in scenery living in New York City.
My first night in Vermont, I went out for a drink with my very smart, very thoughtful, and very well-read friend. She is a writer as well as an Alice Munro fan. While discussing Munro and other writers, my friend brought up a good point: she notices a difference, in pacing especially but also in tone and structure, between writers who grew up/live in small towns and those who grew up/live in big cities. She pointed to Munro, native of rural Canada, whose stories develop slowly, secrets revealing themselves in a steady, drawn out way, as opposed to other authors like James Baldwin, who lived in Harlem and wrote more feverishly, a reflection of the chaotic city. No one way is better, but it is interesting to compare the stories and authors from the country versus those from an urban setting.
My own writing is grounded in my small town upbringing, my Carver country. Even as I moved to Seattle and then Portland, while my settings may have changed, my stories still had the quality of small town writing. So I am curious to see how living in New York City will affect (if at all) my writing. Will it become fast-paced and erratic, like living here? Or perhaps it will fall somewhere in between since I live in Brooklyn, which has a touch of Portland mixed with the urban life.
It is a renewing feeling to leave the city and enter a slower pace of life. Driving through Vermont is an incredible rest break for the soul. There are no skyscrapers in sight, only the Green Mountains and layer upon layer of fall foliage. Maybe I’ll find a way to write a story about retreat and renewal after spending the weekend in Vermont. Certainly I enjoyed the rest and renewal before returning to the big city. I still have to figure out whether or not I’m a small town girl. In the meantime, I know I’m a small town writer.