Like that dynamic in familial relationships, it's not good enough, however, to assume they know they're on our minds, that we're representing them in truth. Place, in our writing, requires a special tending. The relationship resents assumptions. Hold grudges when misrepresented. Requires a certain presence in the life of the page.
The importance of place in fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction, can't grow old in our consideration when constructing what we hand over to readers as an encapsulation of time and place. Think of place as a canvas upon which our paint is applied. It is backdrop. It is foundation. It serves as context. Emotional thread work. Call it story behind the story.
Treating place can intimidate, of course. But let's remember how we live IN IT. In places we love and want to so mystically transfer from a physical state, into the psyche, and to the page. Even when we're making up a world we're pulling from realities of a sort. It's not easy to pick up a portion of the world and make it real for another person. But we try all the time and in so many ways.
Remember: We can say where a place is without saying where a place is.
Place emerges subtly. Place is sometimes a type of tree or flower. A taste. An accent or word. The height of a mountain. The absence of a mountain. The color or density of soil. A family's last name. A man or woman's first or middle names. A feeling of the earth under the feet. A prayer. The name of a store. Where someone works. Whether someone wants to work. What the air smell like. A song. What a pet is doing out in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon when it starts snow flurrying though the sun's still out.
Place is often spoken and unspoken. Seen and unseen. Misunderstood. Valued and not. Misplaced. Forgotten. Created from nothing. Ignored. Destroyed.
And for something that's so hard to define, it's around us for the taking, behind us, ahead. Speaking for us and as us. We take a part with us from everywhere we've tread, rejecting some along the way, absorbing some. We look to where we might go, or close our eyes to what might be.
We'll occasionally get it right in our work. Or so very wrong. We'll know it when it happens. Some writers will abuse the concept and mangle the idea of what we know should be told differently.
What better time to practice our meditations on place than now? Place slips away. Place changes. It erodes like water or soil, like disease over memories. Place waits for us up ahead, but by a different name.
But don't forget, sometimes it's a different place altogether.