Things I Know 134 of 365: I will maintain an “Angle of Repose”

Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.

– Wallace Stegner

They’re tearing down Wallace Stegner’s studio.

I’m not certain how I feel about it.

I first read Stegner’s Angle of Repose the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of undergrad. My cousin suggested it to me as we browsed the tables at a used book sale.

When I got around to reading Repose, Stegner had a difficult road ahead of him. My cousin also recommended Ann Rice’s vampire books, which had left me nonplussed.

From the first pages, Stegner had me hooked. He introduced me to a protagonist and narrative structure the likes of which I’d never before experienced. An author was presenting me with a story about an author dictating to tape a book about his fictitious grandmother’s life. Stegner bent what I took to be the rules of narrative even further by using the text of authentic primary source documents in Repose as the letters of his protagonist’s fictitious grandmother.

The pleasure I took in Repose and how it shaped my thinking about narrative structure and the blending of fact and fiction in storytelling added to the sting I felt when I read the new owners of Stegner’s home planned to demolish his studio.

Surely, some literary magic must live within those walls. This is the same magic I believed in when I visited Mark Twain’s boyhood home as a child or Ernest Hemingway’s home on Key West. Writers are connected to the places in which they write.

The budding minimalist within me argues against such sentimentality. Stegner left us his writings. While his studio grants us a superficial connection to his writings, the actual space has nothing to do with my enjoyment of his words.

I didn’t know about Stegner’s studio until I read about its demolition. This didn’t keep my brain from flashing to thoughts of “Oh, that’s so sad,” as I was reading.

Place should mean less to me in a world where much of my communication happens in a digital cloud rooted in no geography in particular.

With some of my friendships and professional collaborations existing exclusively online, I’m trying understand the hold location still has on my sense of self.

When I meet new people, it’s my time growing up in Illinois, teaching in Florida and now Philadelphia that I share before my blog URL, twitter name or slideshare page.

If you’re reading this, though, and we ever meet in person, we’ll likely talk about something I’ve posted before we ever talk about teaching eighth graders to write in Sarasota, FL.

Stegner’s studio exists in the place between. While reading Repose, I never considered the text’s place of conception. Now that I know that place is to be destroyed, I want it to remain. It’s destruction will make certain what is already true – that I’ll never read another word produced within its walls.

I suppose that’s the importance of place. I don’t want any space – physical or virtual – to be destroyed. The loss of any place I count as part of my identity would mean I could never go back nor could that place ever further shape who I am.

And yet, if those places were destroyed tomorrow, I’d still carry with me all I’ve gained from them that makes me who I am.

When Stegner’s studio is gone, the world will still possess an Angle of Repose.


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