I went away and I came back a different person.
End of story.
But actually, that’s incredibly simplistic. The sentiment is true, but there’s so much more that goes into going away than just the act of going away and coming back. When you go away from your homeplace, somewhere you’re intimately familiar, and eventually return months or even years later, you are a changed person.
I experienced this when I went away for school back in 2013. I applied for four colleges, not one of them in my home state of Minnesota. From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to stay in state, where I was comfortable and familiar. I welcomed the challenge of experiencing a new place for the first time alone, surrounded only by strangers.
From 2013 until the end of 2016, I spent nine months out of the year in North Carolina, a thousand miles away from where I grew up. That place in North Carolina became special to me, not only because of the people I met and grew close to, but because the place itself had an impact on who I became as a person.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. We all grow up and change. What a cliched sentiment, I know, I know.
But we do. Our place plays an important role in all of our lives. I’m distinctly aware of this fact, because a lot of my studies have been uniquely focused on the notion of place (completely by coincidence I might add). I studied the poet Robert Creeley in an English course, studied with professors who run a place-based literary magazine, and interned at a small press that was uniquely place focused as well.
It’s crazy to think that we’re always somewhere. Physically, I mean. There are a million different sensory experiences happening at any given moment, all instigated by our external environment. I hear upbeat music perfect for working out. I feel my fingers pressing down on the smooth keys of this computer. I can feel the air from some far away vent blowing out and down onto my hands. I’m watching some guy hang from his fingertips on some small holds on an overhang. I’m in a climbing gym, my office of choice.
Unsurprisingly, this environment affects me and my writing. It’s harder to concentrate, easier to get pulled away from my thoughts, colder (because of that damn vent), but also more entertaining during those brief pauses during the writing process when you need to stop to let your fingers catch up to your thoughts.
Place affects a person. And while this particular point in time–me sitting in a cushy leather chair watching climbers hang from ropes–doesn’t affect me and my experience in any substantial way, it’s built on a foundation of all those experiences past that did have a profound affect on me.
I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if, in college, the girl across the hall hadn’t brought me and the other girls on our floor to the rec center to go climbing–my first experience harnessing up and ascending the wall using just my fingers and feet. At that time, I never would have guessed I’d grow to love the sport so much that I’d get a job at one of Minnesota’s premier climbing gyms. That first climbing experience didn’t just lead me to climbing, though. It led me to the outdoors, which is a pretty big part of my life.
There’s no guessing who I would be or what I would be doing if I hadn’t decided to go away. That choice to go away brought me closer to the things I love and cherish now. It taught me how to make friends and I learned when it was necessary to let people go. I learned to rely on myself, because when you’re all alone in an unfamiliar place there’s nobody else you can count on. I embraced my independence and returned home with that independence leading my life full force. I gained confidence in myself, too, and learned that there’s a lot just one individual can accomplish.
If you haven’t experienced going away, you should try it out. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be worth it.