On a Geography of the Heart —
In her collection of essays, Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks speaks of a “geography of the heart.” Her geography was Kentucky. And despite the difficulties that she experienced as a black child living in rural Appalachia, and her subsequent extensive travel, education, and renown (my word, not hers), she speaks of the loss and loneliness she experienced when she left, this disconnection from place. In fact, her hunger to recapture that sense of place developed in childhood led her to return to Kentucky, where she is Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College.
Her words have stayed with me, as I think of the place where my “geography of the heart” endures. It is the house where I was raised. Isolated, yet in the midst of a city, “Rock Springs” had a profound influence on how I view both the world and myself. It was the subject of the first book I wrote, A Place Called Rock Springs, a memoir, a remembrance of things past, mostly melancholy, but, I realize, shaded with a sepia-tinted longing. This is a picture of the house, complete with the #9 streetcar that ran through the grounds – Catonsville to Ellicott City. It shows the house at its finest – the picket fence that surrounded the lower gardens, the house on the hill keeping watch.
It was a lonely life for me – the house isolated from others; I didn’t see another child until I went to kindergarten. And so I lived an adult life, teaching myself to read, write – the activities of a solitary child.
The house has also been an influence on my daughter, with, I hope, memories entirely joyful. She named her paper business, Rock Springs Paper Craft (www.rockspringspaper.com), part homage, part nostalgia.
And so, I ask you to consider your “geography of the heart.” Isn’t it in all of us?