Writing and Hometown

I’ve always found it difficult to write about the places I know. Perhaps because I’m lazy and to write a place you know with specifics takes planning and after-thoughts and ensuring that all of the details are correct and accurate, in order to ensure that say, Edmontonians don’t lash out and say, “109th does NOT connect to such-and-such Avenue!”

A place I’ve never been able to TRULY write about without either romanticizing too much, or not romanticizing enough, is my hometown of Jasper. I find the town too familiar, full of too many people I know by name, by face, or both. It’s a place that I truly have mixed feelings about (though this mixing of feelings becomes increasingly blurred the longer I cease to permanently live there) –I’ve faced a lot of turmoil there, but it’s also a place that I can always refer back to; it’s where my parents have set up shop and where I can be in the house I grew up in; there’s a lot of memories surrounding every single still-standing structure that was a childhood mainstay and despite that little details tend to change and rearrange themselves, it’s a place that I consider both paradise and dystopia in a certain kind of way.

When writing my novel, I included a crucial scene about Jasper (what I’d actually probably consider the only good scene in the novel, period). In that scene, I took the approach of a tourist; how would it be to approach this little mountain town for the very first time and really notice and appreciate the rockies for the first time, or be with people who had never seen them before? I remember once, rolling into Jasper with a friend who had never seen the Rocky Mountains before and he was, albeit a twenty-year old young man, jumping up and down gleefully like a child, noticing and pointing out the snowy peaks and glacial crevasses and cirques and saw tooth ranges that make up the town’s surrounding backdrop. It was exhilarating to see someone so taken with a place they had experienced for the first time, while it was my stomping ground, a place I know very well – the ins and outs, the people, the dining, the shops, the trails, the rivers, and the hotel swimming pools that are easy to break into as locals.

Emotionally, writing from a fictional (or I guess, non-fictional) perspective about a place you know very well is draining I find, for a few reasons; the memories you associate with that place tend to block me creatively, as are the facts that get in the way of a writerly flow of describing that place; as well, I get quite bored going through a mental photo album and describing things that I know very well; I find in the process, all those descriptions end up as a shopping list or something torn from the yellow pages and not really adorned with the sweetness of memory that typically accompanies descriptive language that I love ever so much.

Currently, I’m attempting once more to write a story about Jasper and so we’ll see how it goes; I find that I’m slowly climbing over that blockade and increasingly finding new and surprising ways to retell places that I know really, really well.

That being said, I’m sure this story is total garbage.


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