Friday, April 8, 2011

Geography and dreams

I didn't even take geography in high school. And still it has been a guiding force in my life. Not just any geography, mind you. More like a place.

I had a choice out of college. Two job offers: public relations (PR) at an art museum or reporter at the local paper. My cousin had gone the reporter route. It took him from Easton to Salisbury, to Wilmington, DE, to Chestertown, to Washington, DC, to Miami, where he's been for several years now. That's the newspaper route--you follow the trail to bigger papers and go where the offer is.

Geography is irrelevant.

Robin and I talked about it. It would be a life of moving. No deep roots.

PR offered up more possibilities where we were (and still are). It gave us a chance in one place. Where we met. Where I'm from. And where we love.

It might give us a geography of our choosing.

We chose geography. But it wasn't that easy. I think I've had the idea that I wanted to be a writer for some time. When I started the art museum job, telling people I did public relations left a foul taste in my mouth. I felt like I sold out before I ever bought in. No one dreams of a career in PR, not when they're little and dreams are still pliable.

My grandfather thought I'd be a sports writer for The Baltimore Sun. With my writing interest and love of sports and Baltimore (he and I always talked Orioles and Colts, then Ravens, and Baltimore sports icons, and he would always give me The Sun sports page when we stayed with my grandparents in Towson), it just made sense. Sitting around the campfire this past weekend, talking dream jobs, I said I want Mitch Albom's job, but based out of Baltimore and not Detroit. To write about the teams and sports I dig, but also use it as a launching pad for non-sports writing. You've heard of Tuesdays with Morrie, right? Oprah has. I don't think that's what I'd write, but you get the idea.

Around the same campfire, I explained the geography choice; how it's not an either/or vs. the dream, it's actually part of the dream.

If you've grown up on the Eastern Shore and been whirled into the Tred Avon River by the Oxford Ferry's wake; if you've beached your Whaler or skiff at night for a bonfire under the stars or camping on Chloras Point; if you've put down a few beers at sunset on a creek standing with friends on a newly constructed wooden bridge; if you've walked around a colonial town and been inside the houses where your father and grandfather were born and raised; if you've skateboarded and run on these same streets, giving them your own take; you're on your way to understanding this kind of geography.

But not yet.

When you walk along unsteady brick sidewalks, unsteady for the tree roots growing up underneath them, and you've got one daughter riding on your shoulders and the other holding your hand, walking next to your wife who you met here, laughing remembering these same roots under your childhood Keds shoes; and you're walking to the water to see the fireworks at the same place you watched them and learned to sail, at a place your great uncle helped put on the map...

you're getting closer. But it's not just having a history with a place. It's a connection. It's feeling the rivers and roads and marshes and woods--I could swear my blood kisses with the Bay's brackish water, separated only by skin when I jump or wade in.

I've known I've wanted to raise kids here since I was a carefree kid here, I think.

I'm not sacrificing a dream for a place. The place is contained in the dream and the dream is contained in the place.

Since picking PR over journalism, I've still been able to forge a writing niche. I've written about artists and art who/that inspire me. I've ferreted out, transcribed, edited and helped publish parts of James Michener's diary he kept while writing Chesapeake. I've learned and written about the Bay for various jobs.

In the latest chapter of my writing life I've been learning and writing about the Coast Guard--a service my grandfather and great uncle both served in during World War II. I'm occasionally writing about a new cutter named after a former Coast Guard Commandant who put my grandparents up in his house when they didn't have a place to stay. It has opened my eyes and connected me to a part of my family history that is now also a part of my family's present.

Writing is a part of my daily life, at work and in the mornings, on my own time.

Geography and dreams. For some people, it's a choice between them. Or maybe one is irrelevant. For me, I'm not sure where one ends and the other begins. Maybe they are the same.


Stephen G. Bardsley said...

MV, Nicely done! When Lauren and I made a decision to leave living by the ocean, the geography of living near the bay was the deciding factor. To me the Chesapeake Bay is not the ocean, but enough connected that I feel it is in our souls, and now in the souls of our two boys born on the Eastern Shore.Being unemployed now by the job that brought us here, I understand that it is the geography here and not the job that matters to Lauren and I. Your post makes so much sense to me!
Later, Bards

Michael Valliant said...

Thanks, Stephen, yes, that's it in a nutshell! You're on it for sure. That whole line of thinking, and living has been on my mind a bunch lately. Hope all is well, man!