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Used to be and still am (even if I’m not)

April 25, 2013

I haven’t lived in upstate New York since the last days of the Reagan Administration–a long, long time ago. Since then, I lived seven years in Northern Virginia, followed by a couple years each in Phoenix and Chicago. Since then, I’ve lived in Florida. In terms of living in a single address, I’ve lived where I am now longer than any other place. I know Tampa better than anyplace. I know where the traffic backs up–pretty much anyplace I drive–and I know that Brandon, which is also considered Tampa, might as well be Lakeland or Sarasota, it’s so far away.

I know the unique places to eat and I’ve been here long enough that I ‘remember when.’ Like remember when there was farmland in Town N Country? Remember when they called it The Ice Palace? Remember when they didn’t have that stupid roundabout in Clearwater Beach?

I still call it the Ice Palace.

And yet, for all that, if you ask where my heart is, it’s still in upstate New York. I’m one of those freaks who actually misses the snow in the winter time. There’s a certain kind of quiet that comes in the middle of a snow storm that you can’t find anywhere else. There’s a certain exhilaration to feeling the soft, wet grass chilling your feet when you run to the paper box in the morning before anyone else gets up. And there’s a certain joy to eating a breakfast sausage patty on a hard roll.

A hard roll. Something they just don’t have in Florida.

Sure you can take the rainy springs, 4:30 pm sunsets, and Genny Cream Ale and flush them. But the other stuff brands my heart, even though I don’t live there any more.


Similarly, I’m a Catholic. I get Catholicism. I identify with it. And when the faith is practiced as set forth in The Bible and The Catechism, it’s a truly beautiful thing. I miss gazing upon the Host, which has been transformed in the Jesus Himself, and saying, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I will be healed.”

All of these things are true in spite of my not practicing Catholicism in four years. They’re true even though I’ve become comfortable and started putting down some tentative roots at the Methodist church down the street.

Some things mark you long after they’re part of your life. Formerly fat people view themselves as fat decades after they lose the weight. Widows and widowers have a hard time viewing themselves as unmarried. People who were put down in childhood have a hard time seeing themselves as more than losers.

In other words, what’s real reality now isn’t necessarily real reality in the minds and hearts of the people experiencing it.

The same is true for your characters. Maybe the stunning beauty still views herself as the gawky, geeky kid with the cheap sneakers–the one the other girls shunned because of her looks. Maybe the successful businessman is driven by the many times he got beaten up in the back stairwell at school, because the jocks found him an easy mark. Maybe the mom everyone admires doesn’t figure she’s good at it because her mom told her she’d be awful at having kids.

Sometimes the most interesting thing about a character is the contradictory baggage they carry that no one else could see unless they looked incredibly closely.

As the author, it’s your job to be the person who sees it.

  1. Carol Anderson permalink
    April 25, 2013 8:28 am

    Chris, this is excellent…well written and full of things to think about. Thanks.

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    April 27, 2013 2:53 pm

    Thanks Carol!

  3. jojocody permalink
    April 28, 2013 12:07 am

    Chris, this was one piece of good writing and reverie. Your heart is Upstate NY (not sure where?), mine is Mid-Atlantic, specifically DC/Maryland. Kindred spirits on the seasons. Kindred spirits on the religious ties to religion, although I’m still rototed.Kindred spirits on the liquid, although mine would be Yeungling from PA (grew up there). Nice to find that the old Tampa Brewery was purchased by the Yuengling Company in 1999. And your wrap-up comment playing into characters––the cherry on the icing. Thanks for your dedication to all things FWA and blog frequency.

  4. dsfernandez permalink
    April 28, 2013 12:19 am

    Chris, great take on your Post. Kindred spirits on seasons (from DC/MD), religious roots (although I’m still rooted), beverages (although mine is Yuengling from Pottsville, PA, which purchased the Tampa Brewery in 1999), and the whole take being on character study. Thanks for a reflective Post.

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