I have thought a great deal about place this week.
As a teacher I have been busy trying to work my teacher-magic and create engaging spaces for my students. This year, that is much more of a challenge than usual. I will have both face-to-face students in my classroom, and students logging on to our virtual course. I have started 26-school-years-to-date, and always love the days before school starts when I am arranging and organizing the classroom. Color coding groups. Setting up all the shared supplies. Making sure there are spaces for collaborative work. Making sure the reading corner is cozy and inviting. All of those things evaporated with Covid19. I am now setting up Sanitation Stations throughout the room, putting desks in rows spaced 6 feet apart, and setting a basket of disposable masks by the door for kids who forget theirs.
And then there is my virtual classroom. I must admit to having fun designing and building the virtual space. Lining the walls with bookshelves, putting a globe on top, and trying to duplicate the feel my classroom used to have.
The space we occupy certainly contributes to our emotional and intellectual interpretation of what happens in that space. Like the residual impact of smells or sounds, the space we inhabit can evoke strong emotions. The sciences of both psychology and sociology have long focused on the impact spaces have on our emotional psyche as well as our social interactions. It is not surprising that in a pandemic, these effects seem amplified- at least to me.
It seems that as people have quarantined, worked from home, and avoided large social groups, the space we call home has become more central to our lives. As the importance of our place takes on greater significance, many are redecorating, readjusting, renovating, and reworking these spaces to better accommodate our new reality.
Place can also expand beyond our immediate physical space and fold in a sense of time, community, and identity.
As a writer, I understand the importance of place in telling the stories we want to tell. When I was drafting my first book Saving Home, because it was set during the Siege of 1702 in St. Augustine, I spent that summer driving up to St. Augustine in order to write. I somehow felt that if I was writing while sitting in the Castillo de San Marcos, or in the town plaza, that the sense of place would soak into the story. I don’t know if it worked.
Reflecting on some of the books that have had the most impact on me- To Kill a Mocking Bird and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the sense of place in each novel becomes central to the story. It is as important as any of the main characters.
While the realities of living in through 2020 have clearly altered some of our physical spaces and the ways we interact within them, perhaps we can still find comfort in the places that are familiar and safe to us. I am wishing you all a safe and comforting place to be.