49 Writers: Guest Blogger Lucian Childs | Writing and Nostalgia

“He says, narrative is the aftermath of violent events.
It is a means of reconciling yourself with the past. He says, 
the violence in the Odyssey is a story told afterwards, in a cave.”
—Rachel Cusk, Aftermath: On Marriage and

find it difficult to write about the present day. Specifically, it’s been hard
for me to write about my life in Alaska, a place I’ve lived in for over twenty
five years. My childhood in Dallas, sure. My young adult years in North Carolina,
Austin, and San Francisco, no problem. But of my time in Alaska, barely a word.

there seems to be hope. I’m finishing an Alaska story now and have two coming
out next month in the anthology I’ve edited with Martha Amore, Building Fires in the Snow. (More on
that later.)
 Still, why has it been so hard to describe
what has been in front of my face for so long?
I’ve come to believe, writing for me is a nostalgic act. Nostalgia, from the
Greek álgos, meaning pain and nóstos,
the word Homer used to describe Odysseus’s yearning for and difficult journey
the past eight years, I’ve had two homes, going back and forth between
Anchorage and Toronto. It’s been thrilling to have two apartments, two sets of
friends, two great cities to work and play in.
a hitch, though. When I’m in one place, it’s not long before I begin to miss
the other. I feel in-between. It’s a tough place. Like the old comedy line says,
“How can you be in two places at once, when you’re not anywhere at all?”
call this “liminality” from limen,
Latin for “threshold.” It’s thrilling, yes, but also terrifying. On the doorsill
of a paradigm shift, we are in the place of pure potentiality, where the
rituals and realities that once buoyed us are no longer meaningful and where anything
out, as unsettling as this intermediate place can be, it is also the perfect
place for the artist. From the vantage point of the threshold, we writers have
a kind of double vision, contemplating our present (and the presents yet to
come) using the only reference we have, our past.
tell a story,” Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian novelist writes in The Days of Abandonment, “you need first
of all a measuring stick, a calendar, you have to calculate how much time has
passed between you and the facts….”
this temporal distance in order to plumb its depths brings on another kind of double
vision, the simultaneous experience of joy and sorrow. Like Marcel Proust taking the first bite of the madeleine in In Search of Lost Time, there is a palpable joy in a remembered
life, along with a sorrow for being irrevocably displaced from it.
have a word for this that defies proper translation: saudade. The Portuguese mariners who discovered that country must
have felt it when they set sail from Lisbon, knowing they would almost surely never
return. And homesick and stranded on the shore of their new world, they longed to
feel the past’s visceral presence.
that obsessive chronicler of his past, Karl
Ove Knausgård, says in A Time for
, “in reality there is
only one time…. One single second, one single landscape, in which what happens
activates and deactivates what has already happened in endless chain reactions.…”
Proust eats a little cake dipped in tea and, as if it were a magical potion, the
long-forgotten city of his childhood rises up like a stage set where In Search of Lost Time will be performed.
We writers use every magic potion at our disposal; chiefly,
we string words together in order to return to the places in our past. “That is
what writing is about,” Knausgård says in his epic work, My Struggle. “Not what happens there, not what actions are played
out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing’s location and aim.”
In order to return “there,” I’ve been cannibalizing
my past to create fiction. My personal stories are cobbled together and
refracted in these fictions I tell of Dallas, Austin, and San Francisco. Why?
It’s what I know, of course. But also there is a joy in creating an impression of
return. Not to the past itself; that’s unattainable. For as Proust reminds us,
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as
they were.” Yet painful as this remembrance might be, like the Portuguese
mariner who yearns for the home he’ll never see again, I long to go back. I
write stories.

Childs divides his time between Anchorage, Alaska and Toronto, Ontario where he
lives with his husband. In 2013, he received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual
Artist Project Grant as well as the Prism Review Short Story Prize. He has been
awarded residencies at Brydcliffe Art Colony and at Artscape Gibraltar Point
and was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the 2015 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. His
short fiction has appeared in
Grain, Sanskrit, The Puritan, Jelly Bucket, Quiddity, and Cirque, among others.

4 thoughts on “49 Writers: Guest Blogger Lucian Childs | Writing and Nostalgia”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thoughtful, beautifully written post–and I can relate to much of it. Thank you Lucian!

  2. Lucian, I haven't known you as a writer. What a happy chance that brought me to your guest blog! It is difficult to have perspective on what is in front of our faces, under our feet; you write so deeply and well about time and writing. Thank you.

    Judith Haggar
    Anchorage Zen Community

  3. Thanks for the comments all. And, yes, Judith, I'm a writer! Hope the Zen Community if thriving. My sofus are still gathering dust, unfortunately.

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