Leaving the Old City
My partner and I recently became outsiders, quite by accident. You see, this spring we took up residence in a modern building several blocks from our prior home in a converted row house in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC. We knew the move would bring changes. Indeed, we welcomed them. But it wasn’t until unpacking boxes several days later that I had an unexpected epiphany. Scanning the urban landscape from our new living room, the Washington Monument hovering on the horizon, I realized our current building sits just outside the boundaries of the “old city,” those streets and avenues built in accordance with architect Pierre L’Enfant’s original city plan.
In the weeks since, I’ve continued pondering this juxtaposition, enamored by the idea of hovering on the periphery, observing the comings and goings of inhabitants of the preordained community laid out literally before me. I think to myself, “Isn’t this the role of writers, ultimately, to step beyond the turmoil, all too abundant these days, and to incorporate the insights we gain into our work, consciously and subconsciously?”
It seems to me that it is, and in that regard the move has awakened my writing. Somehow moving out from the tended gardens and streetscapes of an established historic district to the more bohemian buzz of our new neighborhood has given me freedom to sprinkle a little grit into scenes. My characters have grown thicker skin. They are more prone to speak up or act out in pursuit of their goals, which don’t skew quite as noble as they began. And while the overall plot trajectory may not have altered (yet), the tone has undergone a notable shift.
This ongoing evolution has me thinking about how change impacts the writing process, nudging writers, characters, and ultimately readers in new directions. Here are a few observations on the act, and consequences, of “shaking things up,” both on and off the page.