Thursday, August 14, 2014

Finding Identity

Chittenango Falls, NY
Ya'll might have noticed a bit of radio-silence on my end in regards to social media last week (August 1-10). Even if you didn't, I'm still going to pretend like you did.

The reason: My sister and I flew up to Syracuse, NY for half the week to visit my other (pregnant, which means yes: I'm going to be Auntie Rae, soon!) sister. It was a completely surprise: my brother-in-law knew we were coming (he had to pick us up from the airport) and it was an all-around good time.

Admittedly, though, I got a little sad when we went up to Chittenango Falls for an hour. Why? Because it's probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. And it's green.

I live in New Mexico. It's rich in culture, rich in desert and dry heat, and admittedly our sunsets are to die for (and we have green chile, but don't get me started). However, despite living within this state for the last 12-ish years of my life, part of me just wants to get out. Before New Mexico, my family and I lived in Maryland; like New York, there's actual greenery and what I like to call "life."

Every single time I've visited the East Coast, and the parts that are filled with trees and greenery and water, it tore a little piece of my heart out when I had to leave simply because I feel like I belong over there more than I belong here. I just fit.

And when we were at Chittenango Falls, I really started to wonder: how would I be different had my family and I not moved to New Mexico? What if we still lived in Maryland, or moved somewhere else on the East Coast, somewhere still rich in that kind of greenery that I love so much?

It's a loaded question, and one that I'll never be able to actually answer. But like the writer I am, I compared it to my characters, and then to writing, in general.

Writers live in a world of what-if's. These scenarios give birth to characters who have been influenced their whole lives by the people around them, sure, but also by their environment (totally intertwined, but I'm trying to focus on environment for now). It's where they live that tend to shape who they are: the good they live through, the bad; the scenes they observe while walking to school; the things they have to do to keep themselves sane and just survive another day.

And it's daunting: we, as people, don't really have much of a choice of where we grow up. So when we think of what could have been, it's maddening not to know the answer. What I can appreciate, though, is being able to explore those what-if's within my writing, by giving all of my characters backgrounds that are totally different from another and even making them grow up in environments that are extremely different from each other and provide different challenges.

I will always wonder how I might have turned out differently if I still lived in the East. I will always feel robbed of an environment that I actually feel at home in. I don't resent the time I've spent growing up in the Southwest, but a part of me will always wish for something else.

It wasn't until that trip to New York that I really thought about how much our identity is tied into our setting, both as people and as characters in someone's story. It made a number of emotions run through me, many of which were extremely uncomfortable, but at the same time it forced me to understand that while we might not have control over where we are, but we do have the choice over who we want to be.

When I write, I write to find identity: my own, my character's. It's just humbling to realize how much of it is out of our hands, and how much is up to our hearts and our heads.

Tweet It:

Setting, identity, and wishes. @Rae_Slater talks the ever present "what-if?" that creates stories (Click to Tweet)

"We don't really have much of a choice of where we grow up." @Rae_Slater talks life & how it compares to our writing (Click to Tweet)

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