It’s a commonplace among travelers that everything feels different when you’re far from home, but that when you look at the sky and see the same stars and the same moon, you realize that it’s all one planet and you’re really at home wherever you go—or something. The moon is the moon is the moon, no matter who’s looking at it and where they are.
As I write this I’m in extreme southeastern Italy, the region of Puglia (or Apulia), and even when I go up on the terrace and all I can see is the night sky, I still feel far from home. The moon is the moon and the stars are the stars, but the smells reaching up to me from the houses below are those of Italian dinner, and I can still taste the prosecco and olives I had a short time ago. I feel tired in that certain way that you feel only
when you’re traveling, and my mind is
full, not of my daily life at home, but of the Baroque church with the bizarre
painting of St. Agatha (I'll spare you—not for the squeamish); with the taste of the espresso and the local pastry that I had
for breakfast (and that I’ll have every morning from now on); with the
flickering silver-green of the olive trees on the road to the sea this morning.
|Pasticcioto: Filled with custard, served warm.|
What does this have to do with writing? I guess it’s that context is all. I can’t say, “She stepped outside and looked at the October sky” and have that mean the same thing to everyone who reads it. All experience, even one that humans have had in common for thousands of years, is filtered through the individual and her experiences—not just of that day, but of her whole life. Without a carefully imagined and constructed character, nothing—not a great plot, not a beautiful description, not a unique voice—is worth anything.