A Sense of Place In Memoir

In writing memoir, a question I eventually had to grapple with was how does place or location affect the story? Place and location, I realized are not one and the same.

At least for me, place is each foster home I lived in. Each apartment I shared with my mother. Each home I was taken from that I wanted to stay in. Each small, quiet, safe-haven I created until something or someone took it away from me.

Location then is Cartagena, Colombia where my mother was born. Bogota, the city she was living in before she decided to leave it for good. New York, the city of my birth that through difficult and lonely years, was all I had to rely on. The buildings became landmarks of stability. These tremendous towers whose shadows I walked under, sometimes for many hours or miles gave me some sense of comfort.

And through the years, the interesting parallel between the state of my life and the state of this great city is that when I was growing up, neither of us were close to what we could be. In the 1970s and 1980s, New York City and I were fledgling in our existence, but we had potential. And as my walks grew longer, the city landscape morphed into something beautiful and full of promise. I myself grew full of promise and as the years passed we were both much better than we had ever been.

NOTE: In this photo is the entrance to 175 Rivington Street, the building my mother was living in in August 1973 when I was born.

Today it is a co-op building, but when my mother lived there it was an extension of the danger that lurked on the city's mean streets. It's amazing to think that time has changed the face of the lower east side so much that it is now a place where people go to enjoy a safe night out, fine-dining or even to settle down and raise a family.