I’ve been reading/rereading the Bordertown books, and along the way realizing that it’s hard for me to tell which ones I’ve read before and which ones I’m reading for the first time, because they’ve been so influential, a part of a larger urban fantasy landscape that also includes War for the Oaks and Moonheart and The Wizard of Pigeons. I’ve read the first two anthologies for sure, and Elsewhere as well. But I know I’d never read Emma Bull’s Finder before, because it’s been on my to-read list forever. Now that I have read it, I wonder why on earth it took me so long, because I enjoyed it lots and lots.
Finder is in many ways the quintessential Bordertown book, and so got me thinking about how Bordertown is, of course, all about finding one’s people — about that business so many of us who felt like outsiders as kids and teens began — in college or after it — of in one way or another casting off the world we’d grown up in, and finding or choosing or making a community in which to begin our adult lives, one in which we could be known and seen and accepted as our true selves.
That’s powerful magic. Had I read this book in my teens or 20s, when that magic was the thing I sought most dearly in all the world, it would have seemed an end in itself.
But because I’m reading it some years past that, I find myself thinking something I didn’t know then: that finding your people and your community is only the first step in a larger journey. A necessary step, a magical step — but not a stopping place after all.
*** Major spoilers follow ***
“This is my home. These are my people. You are more to me than any brother of my blood. I have no regrets. It’s well. I am satisfied.”
I found myself thinking about how for Tick-Tick — and maybe for Orient, too, and certainly for me and many of those I know at various points in our lives — this really did seem like it must be the culmination of a life well-lived: finding your people and your place and your home.
But there’s so much that happens after that: one finds one place, and one embraces it — but then one gets comfortable enough to take it a little for granted, to believe one deserves it, and to use it as a base from which to take new journeys, chance new risks, reach for new things.
And maybe that first true community isn’t even a lifelong place after all … or maybe it is … or maybe it’s a touchstone one returns to every so often … or maybe one wanders in and out of various communities through the years. Along the way, one thinks and rethinks one’s community of birth, too, and makes peace with it or fails to make peace with it, and that somehow becomes part of the larger fabric of a life, too.
Finding a community and friends and acceptance there isn’t the final goal after all, though for years I’d have told you it was. Living in that community once you find it — being there, doing things from there, building things there — are all also part of the larger picture.
I forget which character points out, at one point during Finder, that in Bordertown a lifelong friendship is one that’s four or five years old. It’s as if the whole city is, for its inhabitants, that starting-out place, turned, through a twist of magic and worldbuilding, to a destination-place. I find this fascinating to ponder.
Yet, thinking more … if we don’t find that community, that starting place of acceptance from which to build a life — deeper tragedy follows. Because of course in Finder the kids who were taking the drug that promised to turn them into elves and let them cross into Elfland — but that instead just killed them — were kids who’d failed to find their place and their people in Bordertown after all, and who were trying to follow the Yellow Brick Road further, to somewhere that would give them the things they sought.
And then there’s Tick-Tick’s brother showing up, at the very end of the story (this is the part of the book, oddly, that made me cry when nothing else did), reminding us that our connections to the places we leave behind remain, too, no matter how badly we want or need to deny that. Even in the places that ultimately don’t work for us, there are often bits that do work scattered about, stray scraps of connection that linger on, never mind that we forget them for years at a time, maybe even need to forget them in order to leave.
Finding one’s true self and one’s true place is ultimately a very tricky business indeed.