Sense of place

I was struck this morning by finding an “it’s time to get out of this town post” almost right after a “it’s good to be back in this town” post, with both posters talking about the exact same place.

This got me to thinking about the whole concept of sense of place, and how any given place means different things to different people, in fiction and in real life. One of the sometime-posters in this weblog made his escape from Arizona to New York some years ago, almost at the same time I was making my escape–from New York to Arizona. The place that needs escaping from, and the place we escaped to and knew as home, were exactly reversed.

Part of this all has nothing to do with the physical place, of course: on one can be needing to get away from people, or a bad job, or a difficult part of one’s life; on the other end, one might find better circumstances.

But I think different places do resonate for different people, too. I’ve noticed that some people fall in love with the desert, while others never feel at home here. I relax when I look up at the mountains, especially if they’re specific mountains I’ve come to identify with home. Other people need a particular skyline, or a particular neighborhood. It’s different for everyone.

Not sure what my point in reflecting on this is, though it is something I think about in fiction a bit: how descriptions and perceptions of the world one is in depend entirely on character. This is why braided stories can be fun, too; you get two different, central characters with two very different takes on a place.

What is place, really? And how does that wiring, to prefer/want/crave/need different places from one another, ultimately happen?

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