I wait in 4/4 time.
Count yellow highway lines that you’re relying
on to lead you home.
-“Left and Leaving” by The Weakerthans
These lines from my favorite song off of my favorite album by the Canadian band, The Weakerthans, carry a load of meaning. I’ve listened to this song after every major break-up and on every significant trip of my life for the past several years. Every time I hear these final lines about painted highway lines being counted while they are being relied on to guide the lost “you” home, I connect with them.
For years now I’ve felt like I’m floating. I relate to Vonnegut’s A Man without a Country and Rushdie’s Invisible Homelands. My Master’s thesis was on how nomads create identity without a sense of home and/or place. My twitter handle is @NomadShane. Since graduation, I’ve spent a couple of years here, a couple of years there, months on this couch, weeks on this other one.
This weekend, though, I rediscovered my true homeland. On the map of a small neighborhood in Decatur I found my country. In the mouths of poets I found my language. And in the books and readings and people of the Decatur Book Festival, I found my home.
My friend and colleague (shout to Marissa) read several poems, two of which mentioned the highway lines. In my brain, those highway lines will always mean one of two things–leaving or returning from some place (home, maybe). I’m sure that’s why I started making these connections.
Later, I roamed the streets and took photos with “The Duke,” a character from Timothy Price’s novel, Big in Japan (check out Tim’s book here). I talked to Tim about his book, and I saw his conviction for his art all over his face–I heard it in his voice. I listened to poetry from David Kirby and Denise Duhamel–poetry written and delivered with intense passion and humor and wit.
And I was reminded by all of them that as a writer, I create my own homeland. I invent my own sense of place. Sometimes I travel very far from creative writing. I leave poems unedited and novel manuscripts unfinished (as we all do). But I know that if I count on my own metaphorical painted highway lines to lead me back “home,” those lines run horizontally across the pages that I have covered in ink. My home is in the world that I create for my characters. My home is here, in this blog. It’s in my journal. It’s in the eyes and minds and hearts of those who read what I create.
The Decatur Book Festival has become something of a pilgrimage–a yearly reminder of what I should be doing, as a writer or as a nomad, for my sense of Self–my identity.