Location, Location, Location
I sit staring at my computer screen for several minutes. I’m updating my Facebook profile, and I’ve never filled out this section before. It’s just one word, a question I don’t have an answer to. That word is “hometown.” I wondered if I should choose the city of my birth, or choose one of the towns from early childhood, or perhaps the town I lived in the longest, or maybe the city I live in now which seems more like home than any place I’ve ever lived. I sigh, and eventually I choose the city of my birth. Cairns, Queensland, Australia.
Merriam-Webster defines hometown as the city or town where one was born or grew up, and so I figure the answer I typed is as good as any other answer. I’ve worked hard to give my children the stability of living in the same place long-term, it’s something I never had. It’s one of my gifts to them. Whether they will appreciate it or not when they grow up, I don’t know, but I will be secure in the fact that I did my best.
When I’m working on a story, the thing I struggle with the most is the setting. I often ask myself why the setting is even important, because I have characters to develop. What I’ve learned is that a sense of place and belonging is part of human development. It provides a person the stability they need to figure out who they are and what they want.
I recently read Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheryl Diamond, who had lived in more than a dozen countries before she turned nine. Cheryl’s father was a con man who lived life on the run, often packing up and clearing out of not just a house or apartment, but an entire country in less than twenty-four hours. She didn’t even know her real last name, because her father had bought six sets of forged papers for her under six different names.
I’ve lost count of the amount of places I lived in growing up, because after a while I just got used to the fact that I would never get to stay in one place very long. Of course, my parents also had things to hide, and somehow often managed to sell the house we lived in within three days. My family never did settle anywhere until after I ran away. Constantly being on the move also isolated me because like Cheryl, I never did get to really make friends and if I did, it wouldn’t be long before we moved and I’d never hear from them again.
I went to three different schools in grade seven, and lived in at least three different houses that year. I never had a sense of stability, because life could change in a very short amount of time. Until I moved to America, I had never lived in one place for more than a couple of years. It was always a relief to spend more than a year in any one place. My mother had packing up an entire house worth of stuff down to a fine art.
My parents weren’t con artists, they were child abusers, and any time someone would get a glimpse of what they were doing, suddenly we were moving on to a new place, often a rural location. I spent most of my life in small towns where people tend to know exactly what is going on but never intervene. It’s easier to disappear in a small town than it is anywhere else, I felt far more invisible in those places than anywhere else.
I’m still not sure where I belong, but I belong where I am right now.