A year ago at this time, I was in New York for seven days. By mid-week I was hunting in earnest for an I HEART NY sticker, suddenly understanding the meaning of all those I HEART stickers from around the world, derived, I realized, from this Mother of all HEART stickers. New York is a creator’s heaven. Probably a foodie’s heaven and a shopper’s heaven too, though I am an unorthodox foodie and an unenthusiastic shopper. Every day: theatre, musicals, opera, jazz, amazing meals, rich art. I came back sated and inspired in my own writing practice for many months afterwards.
This February, I was at Banff Centre for a week, which is like a second heaven for any artist: so much creative energy gathered in one place, so much natural beauty to touch, not to mention the heaps of award-winning food doled out three times a day. And where else do they give you an ID card that has ARTIST in capital letters under your name? I always say it’s the best scenery in Canada at 30 below, And yes, I would say I HEART Banff Centre.
In both places, there’s a many-layered energy, that owes a debt to generations of creative people who have dared over and over again to present their dream-visions of the world. On my Banff retreat, I took with me Eugene O’Neill’s Complete Plays. Most were first mounted in New York. He was a complex man with many personal demons and great hopes, all of which come through in his characters and their relationships. He wrote about racial prejudice, gender stereotyping, religious hypocrisy, and dysfunctional families long before any of these themes were in vogue. Some of his plays won Pulitzers; some bombed. O’Neill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936. Of perhaps his most famous play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, about a family in deep pain, O’Neill said that he had written it “in tears and blood... with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.”
In the end, what makes the soul of a place, whether a Centre on the side of a mountain or a metropolis with a chilling east wind, is heart. This practice towards a vision, this piece of ourselves we each leave behind as we pass through, literary or not, builds the heart of a place and will be built upon by those who follow. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I walk into a centuries-old churchyard or a circle of standing stones. Many people have come before me, lived their lives fiercely and boldly, and I owe it to them to risk too.
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!