As it has for most of us, COVID-19 upended not just my plans, but my schedule. In March, all three of my weekly volunteer opportunities were cancelled until further notice, which put me in my house for six more hours a week than I usually am. I can’t remember what I frittered away those hours on the first few weeks of the shutdown, but by mid-April, I began cleaning. In May, having cleaned and organized pretty much everything else in my house, I started on the filing cabinet in the corner of my office.
The filing cabinet held a ridiculous number of years of utility bills and bank statements, as well as the owner’s manuals for things I no longer own, including my first telephone answering machine. Like a time capsule, in that same drawer, I found the manuscripts for dozens of short stories, plays, and novels that are so old they are handwritten, typed, or printed from long obsolete computer platforms. In short, they are artifacts from my early writing life, each of them the lone remaining copy of a story I once desperately needed to tell.
Leafing through them, I soon identified a common thread in those early stories. They all took place far from Kansas, where they were written. There’s a story of a married couple in Bath, England, a young orphan in post-WWII Yokohama, a woman with amnesia stranded in Gare Saint-Lazare. In those stories, I see how keenly I wanted to escape my home. I see a teenaged me who thought my life would not start until I went out into the world, and a big part of that life was my writing.
So I went. To New York, to London, to France. (There is an underpants joke here that I can’t quite nail.) I even went to Japan for a few years, then to Florida, a strange and foreign place in its own right. At last, after so much perambulating, I came back to Kansas. My writing came back to Kansas, too, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about since I unearthed those old stories.
After all those years of wandering the earth, and all those years of believing that I needed to see the wider world to write about it, my breakthrough novel, the one that well and truly launched my writing career, it was about a girl growing up in rural Kansas. The next novel, also about people in Kansas. The book I’m writing now … Kansas.
It’s not that I didn’t benefit from seeing the world. I firmly believe that improved me and my writing, but it turns out that the stories I need to tell aren’t about people very different from me who live far away. The stories I was meant to tell are the ones I already know, which brings me to the title of this blog post. [Read more…]