‘You can’t go home again,’ Thomas Wolfe wrote in his famous 1940 novel that carried the phrase as its title. But for writers the greater truth may be that you can never leave home. Or that home never leaves you.
I recently had the pleasure of co-leading a “Writing Home” workshop for the Writers Guild of Alberta with my colleague Judith Williams, an international award-winning author of non-fiction for young readers.
It was fun to pull some highly influential books from my shelves and revisit writers’ perspectives on writing about place. I quickly accumulated quite a stack of sources – more than I could even touch on in the afternoon workshop.
How do you feel about the homes you have lived in?
Were you an ‘armed forces kid’ who saw a succession of different houses every couple years, barely remembering some of them? A third generation farm kid who saw your grandparent’s hard work in every board and shingle? An inner city child who lived in cookie-cutter apartments?
Memories of houses are percolating in my head as I prepare to leave the one that has been home for over 20 years. That’s longer than I lived in my childhood home (Google Street View below), yet the childhood home still holds a stronger emotional pull.
A home’s central role in the emotional landscape of our lives is most evident when we reflect upon our formative years. Childhood homes trigger great emotional outpourings because they are the sites where we first dream, imagine, and play. A home’s interior is, in the words of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “the human being’s first world.”