This is the second in a series of thoughts on how place shapes and is shaped by the stories we tell. The first can be found here.
I spent a year writing a novel about my hometown because I was pretty convinced I’d never get back there again (other than on vacations). Then I moved onto another novel and another class to take and then another and then a degree. I applied to some schools wondering not where I would end up, but if I’d even get a callback.
And then I got a job offer in San Diego, a short drive south on the Coast Highway from where my novel/childhood took place. Not surprisingly, from the time I accepted the job (which happened on a day when Milwaukee’s high temperature was 32 degrees) to the moment I pulled into Ocean Beach, my mental slideshow of home was strangely blank.
Now that I’m back, however, I keep ending up in my book. I swing past the Self-Realization center at the Swami’s surf beach and I’m walking the reflection path with my character Shandy. I buy a Big Gulp at the D Street 7-Eleven and keep waiting for Marley Bob to walk in wearing his diaper and Birkenstocks. I go out of my way to wind up the hill past the park where Tommy Mac and Troy-boy meet before heading to the beach.
This doubling of life and writing only gets weird every time it happens. The field full of greenhouses in my mind and history is now empty awaiting tracts of homes that died off when the recession hit. Moonlight Beach now has an enormous plastic playground for little kids and paved footpaths down the sandstone hill from the parking lot. The bars on the 101 have updated their facades. There is a ridiculous statue of a “surfer” that wasn’t there before.
Mind you, I didn’t expect North County San Diego to remain unchanged while I was gone. But somehow, that first attempt to write this place cemented images in my mind that I’m now having a hard time letting go of those pictures. I guess I like the warm glow of nostalgia a bit more than I thought.
Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and an Assistant Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University. He lives in San Diego with his wife and 2.9 children.