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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

The affect of place

What I see outside my window is silence. I don’t mean there are no sounds, but rather there is an absence of noise, I hear a woodpeckers drumming, a cardinal, a distant crow and other bird songs I can’t identify. There is the humming of a bee, a far away drone of a plane but no other people, no cars, no click of shoes on pavement. There is no crowdedness. I live at the end of a one lane country road and from my desk I look out onto an expanse of green that reaches into a pale blue sky.

I wonder how much where I live affects my writing; content, tone, phrasing, spacing, pace. While the quick answer is it must have a huge influence if I think about it is like one more coat of a wash of water colors layered and tempered by all the landscapes where I’ve lived.

My childhood was in the Bronx and I can still clearly hear the whir of key skates, shouts of keep away, the thump of a basketball, the ping of a pink Spalding, discussions in Yiddish and Italian, often simultaneously. Teenage years were often at concerts; from drumming in Central Park to  Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger,The Who, Jethro Tull, and of course Woodstock. In my twenties I lived in the Spanish language – in Spain and Mexico and Guatemala, and then by the sea; in fog and city.

I have lived here, in this house, longer than I have lived anywhere else but still all those other geographies have shaped the way I walk, how I listen, what I see. I carry those landscapes in the creases of memory, in the hollow spaces of bone, in the intonation of language.

I trust there are more washes of color yet to color my writing, not least this newest topography of aging. Of course, we are always aging, taking in the shifts of perspective that come both from our experiences and our evolving personal cosmology. But still I wonder how much actual place shapes my writing, and how much is just the way I interpret what I see out my window.

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