Sense of Place


“There is no there there.”  -Gertrude Stein

In most writing, the where is at least as important as the what. In some of the best writing, the where is the what. Take this as my ham-handed way of acknowledging that sense of place can never be an afterthought.

So, whence the sense? How do you inject (infect?) your writing with it? I have no idea and with due respect to everyone, I’m guessing no one else does. Specific sensory details can help:

  • The exact speed at which sunlight inches down the Yellowstone River over the course of the afternoon.
  • The way July garbage pickup morning in NYC unites the leftovers of McDonald’s with the leftovers of Masa under the same umbrella of stench.
  • The peculiar roughness of ten century-old sandstone in Angkor Wat.
But they don’t guarantee anything w/r/t the piece having undeniable sense of place. You can spit details upon details and end up with a tourist brochure. Some undercurrent, some gold thread, something not quite definable that is common to all the details has to come across.

And I’m not sure you can find it without actually being in the place at least once, probably more than once. Maybe you can, but it’s gotta be harder.

Is it better to know a little about a lot of different places, or to know one place really well? Is it possible to do both?

With this I begin life in a new city…

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