Where do you come from? Our origins make all the difference in the stories we tell.
I lived when I was young at the end of a long road, or a road that seemed long to me.
Thus begins Alice Munro’s story, “Dear Life,” the title story from her most recent collection. This autobiographical story and the three others which conclude Dear Life map out the contours of Alice Munro’s origins in rural Ontario where she grew up.
Here are a few responses from writers in the Sanibel workshop who wrote about origins:
I come from the sea.
Born beside the Atlantic on the west coast of Scotland.
I search for the sea.
Born on January 23rd, in the sign of Aquarius,
I look for the water.
Sand in my shoes a constant.
Pebbles and shells in my pockets, reminders of where I’ve been.
I come from a tiny state, a big Italian family, and a kitchen with wonderful smells. -Arlene MacDonald
My two sisters and I were born in a small city, Utica, known as the gateway to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Seems romantic enough I know, but in truth it was a town cobbled together by Italian immigrants who settled here after building the Erie Canal in the late 1800’s. Yes, the city’s future on the cusp of recession in 1929 probably still looked good to my father and twin brother, Canadians eager to leave behind the prospect of socialized medicine for the greener fields of the U.S. Not that they were money grubbers–far from it. They were lucky to be able to get through the University of Toronto compliments of their missionary great aunt (another story to tell) who was left a decent sum of money by her lumberman brother killed in a hotel fire on one of his properties. -Jill Dillon
I like the way each of these writers launches into story, poem, or memoir with confidence. We are ready to follow these voices anywhere they will take us.
Mahmoud Darwish, often spoken of as the Palestinian national poet, writes of exile and loss and home in his poems.
I Come From There
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…..-Mahmoud Darwish
In contrast, listen to country singer Alan Jackson tell us of his origins: “…where I come from it’s cornbread and chicken.” Click here to hear him sing and see the lyrics: Alan Jackson “Where I Come From.”
The prompt we used in the Sanibel workshop is from Bonni Goldberg’s Room to Write, a book I recommend if you’re looking for “daily invitations to the writing life.”
Today write about your origins. Start with the phrase, “I come from.” Include words and sounds you remember hearing, smells, tastes, and sights. Write about all those things which, had you not known them, would have significantly altered who you are.
You could also adapt this prompt to apply to a fictional character you are creating in a novel or short story. Where do your characters come from and how does that shape their stories?
“Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley