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On writing settings that crawl under the skin

crimereads.com – Thursday March 7, 2024

I once attended a writing seminar that claimed the landscape of your childhood home informs the way you move, think, and talk. A rocky, mountainous place might shorten your sentences into a rhythm that makes room for quick bursts of speed; a hot and humid landscape might lead you to consider your thoughts slowly, without straining yourself.

Embarrassingly, I have forgotten exactly who led this discussion (if you’ve attended something similar, please tell me!), but the idea has never left me—that, in the same way some people wind up looking exactly like their dogs, the place where you live can infect you to a deeper degree than you might have realized.

It’s by turns a comforting notion, and a disturbing one. What might you be carrying with you, subconsciously influencing your choices? And what if your relationship to those childhood landscapes isn’t altogether positive? I think of my grandmother, who, when asked about this concept at a dinner not long after, visibly recoiled from the question. Her early memories of Mississippi river flats and anything that land might have imprinted on her were not welcome at our table. She spent much of her life traveling, finally landing in New York, and only conceded to move as far south as Virginia because my brothers and I were children there.

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