I’ve stared at the camera roll on my phone more over the past 10 months than ever before. Usually it starts in the evening after the kids are in bed. I pull up a picture of the baby and show it to John, “Look at this one I took of him today.” Next thing I know I’m looking at pictures from a year ago. Two years ago. Longer. “Remember that trip?” I pass the phone again to John. “Do you remember how good the milkshakes were at that place?”
I did a lot of travel in 2019. More than I originally planned. I wondered at some points if I was wise to travel so much when I was pregnant, worried I might wear myself out. Now I’m so thankful I took all those trips, got on all those planes, and saw all those places.
I’ve spent the past almost year re-visiting those places in my mind. I’ve noticed I’m drawn to follow people online who live in some of my favourite places to visit. I’m not one for following celebrity accounts but there’s one celebrity on Instagram who seems to get takeout from many of my favourite New York restaurants and I am hooked. I get so much joy from living vicariously through her. Looking at her pictures of those restaurants and familiar streets feels like FaceTiming with family.
Speaking of which, I’ve also found myself really studying the photos of cliffs and sea and beaches that my family send from Ireland. In the past I would have glanced and thought “nice shot” but these days I zoom in, I linger, I try to place myself in the landscape.
A drive across London to visit my mother-in-law a few months ago felt like an exotic outing. The journey stirred something in me as the route took us through many places I have known intimately during my time in London. The mundane streets and paths I walked daily a decade or more ago seemed suddenly filled with energy and emotion. It got me thinking about my relationship to place and how it has shaped me at various stages of my life.
I’ve been thinking about place and physicality a lot since the first lockdown in March last year. I’ve been asking questions like, who we are when we are removed from the places that formed us? How does our experience of ourselves vary across different places? How much is our work and our process shaped by the place in which it is rooted?
I’ve written and talked at length in the past about how none of us simply pop into existence out of nowhere; we are shaped by the immense forces of family and culture. Place is another kind of parent. The places we exist within hold us. They contain us and constrain us. We are in relationship with them whether we think about it or not, and so our work and ideas are in some way born out of these places.
I want to consciously make time for these questions. I want to attempt to make sense of them for myself. The best way I know how to do that is through a four-week writing challenge. So tomorrow I’m beginning a new writing series called 21 Days of Place: An exploration of the role of place in shaping our identity and work.
Over the next four weeks I’ll send an email every weekday inquiring into what place means to us, how we are formed by it, and how it shapes our work.
Hopefully it will give you a new understanding of your relationship to the places of significance in your past and present, and shed some light on the role place has played in your own story.
Keep doing your work.