I trekked back to Sag Harbor, where I once had a home, to teach a workshop on imaginary geographies. The landscape flying past my train windows was very much real, a study in contrasts of lush marsh grass hosting a heron or two, to the power plants in the horizon. It was a new train in the LIRR fleet, and all was smooth, easy-going.
At Bridgehampton, I was picked up by a workshop participant, one of six lively women who gathered to write for four hours. In a close circle, we wrote through exercises about the place and self, beginning with settings of familiarity to those of the imagination. After a delicious lunch provided by the host bookstore, Canio’s, we drew imaginary cities and villages on portions of a map of Paris. One by one, the participants revealed their public markets, their factories, their slaughterhouses, and cafes.
We discussed using setting like character, using setting as plot. We spoke of how characters move through settings, and I wonder now if I mentioned that while in real life, what happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, in fiction, it cannot.
Three days later, I sit at a cafe in the seaport in Boston, where I can glimpse planes taking off, their underbellies gleaming like whales. Melville mentioned Sag Harbor in Moby Dick, a port of trade and business. Here, all is tourism and relaxation, as the temperature climbs toward 95 F, and I wait for a ferry to take me home.
Should we have traveled or stayed at home? In the film, Reaching for the Moon, Elizabeth Bishop walks with Robert Lowell, struggling to compose “The Art of Losing.” Only by traveling into the interior, of a country and her heart, can she complete the poem.
There is a fierce need to complete poems, to complete acts of arts, and to travel, if only to return home, more capable of understanding ourselves and others.