Author Arielle Prose, a member of The Penheads and published in two anthologies, checks in:
A Writer’s Roots
I had the good fortune to be paid a ten-day visit from French relatives, my first cousin and her husband. My cousin and I knew each other in France when we were little, before my family emigrated to the United States. We both share a few memories from that time, and from when I visited her when we were adults with our own families. That was twenty-three years ago, so there was a lot of catching up to do.
I say good fortune not only because we got to renew our ties to each other, but also because, as a writer always on the lookout for new material, it afforded me the opportunity to use the experience for a new story or two.
Communicating with each other in broken French on my part and broken English on theirs was a challenge at first (good thing for translator apps), but with each passing day we became more and more fluent in each other’s language. It was amazing to me to recall French words and phrases I once owned but had forgotten. It was as if a part of my personality had long been dormant and was now waking up again.
Throughout their stay, I was doing everything to make their visit memorable: preparing meals, planning sightseeing trips, or just relaxing at home, conversing and reminiscing. But at the back of my mind, the part that lies in wait for a story inspiration, writing possibilities were humming. What would their visit mean in the overall scheme of things? Would I write about our interactions? How we sized each other up, or quirks of our personalities? What we mean to each other, or the kind of bond we formed?
In the meantime, I should write a detailed journal of the visit, so I can draw on it when the time comes that I have a story, a message I want to relate.
My takeaway from my guests’ visit, a day after their departure, is that it feels good to dig into one’s roots, one’s past, and bring it present again, especially from old friends and relatives. But a visit to your old school, old neighborhood, or simply looking at old photographs, can also do the trick.
You can read Arielle’s stories in Hunger: Stories of Desire, Discovery, and Dissatisfaction, and Smoke: Tales Between Dark and Light.