For the last several months I’ve been writing a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in rural Minnesota, running west to the Kerouac School, and back south to Houston. In particular, there’s a focus on the personalities who’ve crossed my path, but it’s also a meditation on the hometown. To quote the poet Bill Holm, it’s true that “We travel to get a better look at home,” but what I see from afar is the woman-witch illusion. The pictures flip back-and-forth, and though I’m grateful for much it’s hard going home – because what am I going back to?
There’s nothing I can say now that wouldn’t be a cliché.
This afternoon I’ve been editing a chapter that focuses on my middle school years and I hit a curious wall. It takes place when I’m fourteen years old (Spring 2005?) and as I’m discussing how I met “Kirsten Larson,” it dawns on me that some of the “natural” references I’m making will be entirely foreign to younger readership. I wrote, “We must have met through a mutual friend or on MSN Messenger …” and, pausing, I realized no one born after 1995 will know what that means. Now in order for what follows to make sense I need to flex my narration muscle and add, “Hey, kids, back in the distant, dark days of the Internet and cell phones – before social networks – we used this funny device ….”
It’s odd. As a generation with a foot in both worlds, our writers will have this moment where, at some point in the story, they must make the leap from the 20th and 21st centuries. The only alternative is a conspicuous silence about our teenage years – and where’s the fun in that?