How can you tell if you know a place “well enough”?
Well, well enough for what? Well enough to settle… build community… know you want to leave?!
An author’s perspective
I was listening to the radio this weekend when I suddenly registered that the author being interviewed was a Third Culture Kid, and was reflecting on the role of place in her latest book. The interviewer noted that while Tana French hadn’t grown up in Dublin, her latest book was set there, and he queried if she was able to write from a Dubliner’s perspective. “Yes”, she parried, “I have grown up in many places but Dublin is the only place I have lived that I know well enough to set a book in”.
This caught me immediately. There have been numerous attempts over many years to capture by what means we can measure home or belonging. We have tried several barometers to measure our attachment to, and claim on, place – birthplace, place of mother-tongue, longest place lived, place lived during most significant developmental stage, place of most significant memories, current place. We have tried and tested many. Taiye Selasi suggested in her TED talk that a more effective barometer for belonging could be a new question: Where are you local?
A new barometer for belonging
Tanya French’s comment suggests a new line of thought; perhaps a place becomes significant also by our sheer familiarity with it. While it’s both tempting and natural to align belonging entirely to emotional attachment, might the experience of belonging not simply be about feelings? Belonging to or having a sense of ownership of a place could also be about “knowing it well enough”. For Tanya French, this meant well enough to set a book in it.
What does this line of thought do? For me, it opens up the meaning of belonging to place. Those places previously dismissed as less significant to my story suddenly gain in stature. I realise that what they may lack in terms of intensity of affection or cultural memory, they make up for in familiarity and geographical constancy. I know them. Not just the people and memories and experiences they hold. I know the streets, the tricks of light on the buildings, the weather cycles, the transport system! I know them well enough.
Where do you know “well enough”?
What does this do to your sense of belonging? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do contact me and let me know!
Listen to the full session, which includes Tanya French’s interview here.