I’ve just returned from a trip to Boulder. It was wonderful to be back there. Through my eyes I breathed in the vast open spaces of the high plains, the Front Range rising in the distance. Ah! That vista conjures up so much. I felt back home.
I took two buses to Loveland, thinking that Loveland, Colorado is one of the most magical names a town could dream of. When I changed buses I stood under a tremendous old tree in Longmont, and thought of Sal Paradise sleeping under a tremendous old tree in Longmont in On The Road. I beheld an even more tremendous old tree in the great sycamore that Naropa’s Arapahoe campus is built around.
I befriended a dog and a cat and a parrot, and saw again an old-friend dog and an old-friend cat, and I read some of a book about dogs, and I heard stories about squirrels and raccoons. I also heard some shocking stories about the floods in Colorado, about streets turned into rivers and houses swept away and rain that was silver and hammering, and shocking simply because it was so there. I went for a walk along Pine Street, visiting great friends as well as Mork and Mindy, and then passing by the house where we used to live, and finally heading to the Boulder Public Library, where I saw more flood damage.
I ate chile rellenos, and deep-fried Brussels sprouts, and espresso-glazed donuts, and an apple and kale salad that must rank among the best things I’ve ever eaten. Gluten-free has replaced soy as dietary neurosis. Lots of homeless people. I meandered down Pearl Street, and bought books in my favourite bookshops (the Boulder Book Store, Red Letter, and Trident); the weight of the twenty-five of them in our luggage confirm that print is not dead. I thrilled for various friends’ publications past, present and future. I went to yoga, and was taught how to speak to plants. I saw many old friends. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones was probably the best part of this trip.
A particular highlight was visiting a class at Naropa. Thank you for making me welcome, o writers of Experimental Prose, and for giving me a copper heart from the class shrine. Afterwards, I realised, this gift made me feel like the Tin Man. And there was I thinking I was more like Dorothy. (Ella: you make a great Wizard. Bhanu: you are a great teacher.)
This reminds me of another Dorothy, a member of the British Airways staff we befriended on trips through Denver airport when we lived in Colorado. She was English, from Malvern. She’d married an airman and moved to Colorado, another Dorothy in the wide open spaces of the American West, but this one a Midlander. She had the best stories, the best lines. ‘Here, have a bottle of champagne and a crap sandwich.’ ‘Have rods been through these?’ (She was talking about curtains, relative to customer service in England.) We like to think we are friends of Dorothy. And there’s no place like home. This Dorothy had homes in two places.
Even though my home is now London, Boulder will always feel like home to me in some way or other too. For various reasons, and because life is always complicated (and yes, these are First World problems), living in Boulder was not always easy, just as now living in London is not always easy, as any Londoner will agree, and as I discussed with natives of London in Colorado. And just as complicated are the attachments and nostalgias you can feel for a place you’ve left. Home is such a rich idea, but it can be complicated, can’t it?
But life goes on, and we make accommodations, and indeed we use the power of that word accommodate to settle ourselves into a place. What was instructive, a while back, was one of those Colorado-resident natives of London telling me that Boulder would always be a home for me. Even if I’m not living there, it simply occupies a space within me, and I just have to create space for that and let it be. It’s as easy as that. If we think in practical terms (a flight, a passport), every now and then we can physically go home again too: it’s always there, available, if we let it. And of course we are lucky today to have other ways to maintain connections too (Facebook has its uses). But most of all it’s a state of mind, or maybe the heart. The Dorothy stranded in Oz was looking for home, and eventually found home was wherever she made it, and perhaps however she made it; there’s no place like home, and that was Oz as much as Kansas.
I’m thinking too of the powerful conclusion of The Satanic Verses, and the ways in which its characters succeed (or fail) at creating homes for themselves. So many great and well-loved books are about the search for home.
For this week’s writing experiment: Write yourself back to another home of your own that you created for yourself. Somewhere you know well, even though you are no longer there. Somewhere you made home (rather than the home you were born into). A place you can return to, maybe. If you want, do this for a character of your creating. Or fashion an ‘I Remember’ out of your reminiscences of what once made someplace your home.
Establish a setting, and maybe people this landscape with a memorable character or two. Think about tone, maybe write with affection, and to bring that place to life you’ll probably need (as ever) concrete and specific details.