The view in the Boston Public Gardens
Both the filthy New York subways and the screeching rusty T of Boston are places to get some of the best views of the skyline, the town, the bridges, the lights, and the people. But I’m wondering what your favorite part about city living really is. There are those big conveniences and pleasures, of course – the big reasons that we move to the city in the first place. There’s the availability of jobs, of cultural events, and of opportunities. There are the friends that live there, the family, and so on.
But once we actually live in our chosen city for a while, I think it’s the little things that we end up loving the most — the sensory experiences of living there. I love the shout of color in a New England fall; the special clarity of the light; the smell of chestnuts, of coffee, of the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts (more on this in a future post). I love (and hate) the crowds of red-wearing baseball goers packing the T after a Sox game.
I sometimes wish I were more adventurous and got to know the lesser known parts of my town. It’s one of my goals in the coming year; to wander beyond my usual haunts, and walk past my usual corners. At the end of a long workday I’m often too tired to stray beyond the absolute shortest distance home; I forget even to look up beyond watching for traffic. How many strange sights have I missed?
So what is it about your city that you love? And is it sometimes also the the greatest annoyance? Like a lover or an old friend, a city’s quirks and pecadillos can often grow on us.
How does this all connect to writing? I’m thinking about the many classic novels out there that rely on an intimate knowledge of a city for their rich sense of place. It’s said that you can walk the streets of Raskolnikov’s city pretty much the way he would have in Crime and Punishment; and of course, there’s a national holiday around mapping the course of Leopold Bloom through Dublin in Joyce’s Ulysses. We love the idea of bringing a real city to life in writing. There are untold numbers of New York novels that do exactly that. It leaves me wondering how you writers will use your city to your advantage in your writing.
You might want to start by getting to know the city. Ulysses’ understanding of Dublin comes from Joyce’s many long walks through the city streets. Try wandering your town more; you might be surprised by the experiences you have and the forgotten corners you discover.