Why you can’t go home again

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home again because the home you knew no longer exists. And even if it did, the you who lived there no longer exists.

I never go to reunions because everyone there is a stranger and so am I.

Home isn’t always a place, the place where you grew up, had a summer romance, first saw the world clearly, or experienced fear and pain that impacted what you have become but not who you were during those moments that call out to you years or decades after the fact.

Home for a writer is often his/her first novel. For me, home has always been The Sun Singer.  The novel has one sequel and I had long thought to write another. But I delayed doing that for various reasons. Last year I decided to commit to the project. But it didn’t work. I’m not who I was when I wrote The Sun Singer, nor is the location in which it was set, nor are a thousand other variables that shaped the book and myself when I wrote it. None of those things exist now except in my imperfect memory.

I like a comment from a favorite poet of mine Ada Limón from a May 16 interview in The Atlantic: “We want to grow as artists, as human beings; we want to have more access to the workings of the world. So every book process changes for me, because every book is a new way of looking at the world, and a new me: I’m different every time, though I’m bringing the older self—note I did not say wiser, but older—to the process.”

Not to change, would be stasis. . .as a person, a spouse, an author. We have fresh eyes always. New influences. Experiences that changed us a little or a lot. If I tried to go home, however, I defined that, I would be a stranger in a strange land. The Sun Singer and its sequel Sarabande are as they are (or were) but the “me” I am today didn’t write them.

Change, as the I Ching tells us, is the only constant in the universe. We are better off flowing with it than fighting against it. Nostalgia draws us toward the past, but that past is an illusion, and trying to go there represents a failure to live in the present moments all of which want to have their say in our lives and our work.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasies “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande.”

Here’s why you can’t go home again

You can’t go home again because, by the time you get there, they will have torn it down in the names of “progress” and “development.” Or, should you find your home, the neighborhood will be gone, especially the most historic homes and buildings that made the place what was.

Looking at Atlanta’s penchant for tearing down the historic old in favor of the nonessential new, the late historian Frankin Garrett called this so-called development “municipal vandalism.” I had the good fortune to know this man who had a great office filled with old reference books at the Atlanta History Center. He had a photographic memory of everything that ever happened in Atlanta, but was the most nostalgic and angry about landmarks that had been wantonly bulldozed for parking garages and new buildings without souls. Atlanta’s city planners learned their craft from General Sherman’s “urban renewal” work there in July of 1864.

When I was in high school, my mother told me my father couldn’t go home again because the natural forests and even the orchards of his youth had all succumbed to development. In many cases, houses–as Peter Seeger would sing about in “Little Boxes”–that were made of ticky tacky and looked all the same. I didn’t really understand what Mother meant until I reached the age my father was when she said it.

I have many memories of one of the first houses I knew as a child in Decatur, Illinois, a wonderful Queen Anne home with a beautiful vegetable garden and adjacent sidewalks which were perfect for my new tricycle. However, municipal vandals bought the land and tore the house down. This current patch of grass, entry drive way, and parking lot represent anti-progress:

Google Maps Photo

My brother, who still lives in Florida and makes occasional trips to Tallahassee, still drives past the house my parents owned between 1954 and 1986. When we closed up the house for good, the front yard was still filled with pine trees. The current owners have decided to celebrate concrete with a few landscaped areas for decoration. Our “personal fifty-acre wood” behind the house has now been converted to an “upscale” subdivision that can be seen from the backyard of this house where I grew up. I’ve seen both via Google Maps, but I haven’t been back since 1986 and that’s just as well, for I would probably destroy all that hardscape with dynamite and a backhoe:

My bedroom was the room on the far right. Google Maps Photo.

The older I get–and today’s my birthday–the longer my “municipal vandalism” list gets; places I never want to see again because of what people have done to them. My memories are much better than reality. I last saw San Francisco in 1987; I was surprised then by the amount of “development” that had occurred since my family lived there. “Progress” continues to occur, so I’ve retrieved my heart from that my city by the bay and hidden it in a forest that people have yet to “develop” into something that pales when contrasted with Nature’s work. I won’t bore you with my personal list of places where one bastard or another had no sense of history and/or no sense on the environment.

You probably have your own list.

–Malcolm

P.S. I set my novels in the past because, in my imagination, it’s still there. The most recent of these is “Lena,” the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series.