This weekend I worked on my draft for the first class essay of my writing class, trying to have figured out that “place” that’s seemingly so important to my development (because really, that’s what “place” signifies, doesn’t it). I wrote just over five pages and got into the mindset in which I felt I could write for another 10 pages, or my little essay might end at five pages; I’m really not sure where I’ll be going with this essay anymore, and I wish, in retrospect, I had used this essay to workshop with the class, but I hadn’t had a good idea of what to write until this past week. (All right – not entirely true: I had an idea a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure I was going to use it, because it’s so tied to my mind and a weird sort of love that I've never had for any a type of work previously. In a very weird way, it's almost like an exposé that I’m shy to discuss. How accepted is it to be in love with a place and the people who work there, to the extent that you wish you could just never leave? I feel it’s slightly inappropriate once you are no longer 16, to have that degree of admiration, almost.)
In any case, I did this writing before reading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village.” I’ve read Baldwin before; I don’t remember what, but I remember not liking him that much. However, I needed more examples of this “place” I think I’m becoming obsessed with and I actually enjoyed his little piece. What struck me, though, was that I think I might be putting too much of myself into my essay; I should try to step back a bit more and be more descriptive, but I’m not sure how well I’m going to be able to manage that because it was my being changed so much that the place became my place. Baldwin put himself in this small Swiss village, and while reading, I just found myself wondering how much of yourself is appropriate to add. It’s a singular place that has had an affect on each of us; it strikes me as mostly negative, but intertwined with the hopeful or positive. Baldwin knew logically that these people were not trying to be unkind in focusing on his being Black; yet their linguistic label was clearly, at least occasionally, reminiscent of some more vulgar, unfortunate labels.
I have begun to wonder why each of my classmates has chosen what they have. Why that particular instance and not another? How did they choose? I want to ask the same of Baldwin, ask him why he chose to write about that tiny Swiss village; why, aside from its size and quietness, why he went back. Why was it important to him, that village? Did he actually like the people? (I couldn’t quite tell.) Is it important to like the people?
I wonder if it's possible to be too cerebral.