Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back where I began (Sort of)

By Julie

Last week, for the first time in more than 20 years, I visited Denver, the closest thing I have to a hometown.

The main purpose for my stay was a three-day Immersion Master Class taught by Margie Lawson out of her beautiful log home above Denver in Coal Creek Canyon.

The class was a great opportunity to dig deep, one final time, into my current manuscript, to take it apart, bit by bit, and put it back together shinier than it's ever been. I'm still applying what I learned, but hope to be querying again soon.

My visit was also an opportunity to reminisce -- to see some of the neighborhoods I roamed when I was developing my love of reading and writing, and to catch up with not only old friends who influenced the person I am while I lived there, but new friends I've made in recent years via the Internet.

It was bittersweet at times. My years in Colorado were not the easiest ones of my life, but there were also good memories made there, and I recognize that my writing is largely a product of that time.

Driving through Cherry Creek, the neighborhood where I lived while attending high school, was a true test of my memory. Most of the businesses from those years are gone, replaced by trendy shops, offices, and lofts.

Developers had bulldozed the odd little house where I lived with my mother and brother, together with the house next door, the lots covered now by a small, but beautiful condominium complex.

The sign for the one of the original Village Inn Pancake Houses, which appeared in the first novel I attempted to write, still hangs outside the building, but the windows are dark. Perhaps the owners found more opportunity in their suburban locations, but I remember a time when a trip to the Cherry Creek Village Inn was a special treat.

The original Cherry Creek locations of the famous Tattered Cover bookstore serve other purposes now, just as the new store on Colfax formerly housed the Helen Bonfils Theater. I attended plays there as a student on field trips. It was bizarre, but fun to see the comfortable reading nook created from the former orchestra pit. (photo, left)

My hostess for my visit, a friend and fellow writer I met through an online writing class more than three years ago, lives in a neighborhood that used to be an Air Force base. "Back in the day," we had to drive miles out of the way to get to anything on the other side – now you can drive straight through while admiring the modern, multi-use community.

A visit to Boulder, where I spent my late elementary school years, brought an emotional "aha" moment. We parked in a city lot to spend an hour or so at a coffee shop in the Pearl Street Mall for one-on-ones with Margie, then eat dinner at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House.

My throat thickened when I recognized the Boulder Public Library at the end of the lot -- my safe haven during a time when I'd moved from one part of the country to another and struggled to fit in, which seemed to become my theme, more or less, during my years in Colorado. (photo, right)

The librarians watched me arrive each week, nearly collapsing under the maximum number of books I could check out. They'd ask if I really read all those books, mock disbelief on their faces, but I knew they were delighted I was there. I suspect this influenced my decision to obtain my master's of library science degree eventually.

Strangely, I have no memory of the mountain that forms the backdrop for the building. As one of my classmates said that night, it was probably just wallpaper at the time. It took me completely by surprise.

I could go on, but it might take all night and a day besides to take you on the whole sentimental journey. Instead, let me ask you: What visits have you made to places years later, when they were hardly recognizable to you, yet as familiar as ever? Have these places appeared in your writing? Did you find, as I did, that not only have the physical locales shown up, but also the emotions you experienced during those times? Leave a comment and share if you'd like.

An advertisement for Margie – she teaches various classes online and in person. They're worth the hard work and money invested. I do believe the woman has more energy than anyone I've ever met.

If you take one of her Immersion classes, you might just get to see this view (which I used this week to make a new header for the blog!) on a quick hike to clear your brain from all the hard work you're doing.

Check out her website:


  1. Thoughtful memory pieces like this always appeal to me, Julie. I included such a reverie about returning to the library of my youth in an introduction to a journal one time; the place was a sanctuary and still remains within me, a rich portal to a world that awaited the "grown-up" me. One lovely book's spine that attracted me (The Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore)later comforted me when my husband died, and then became the subject of my honor's paper for the B.A. and the thesis of my M.A. Books on screen will never take the place of beautifully bound pages, for me, at least. Thanks for posting this essay.

  2. Julie, I feel exactly that way about Maine, where I spent eight years of my childhood. As a displaced Texan moving to a place where the Civil War may as well still be ongoing, it was a struggle, and I only ever became close to other kids who had also been displaced. However, two of my first three attempts at novels took place there. Yes, I did go back once, when training for a job I had here in Dallas required me to go to Portland, Maine of all places. On one of my weekends there I drove back to Kingfield. It looked much the same. My house was a different color, but many of the names on the mailboxes on my street were the same. The thing that struck me most is that everything felt so much smaller than I remembered, but also more beautiful. When you spend your life surrounded by rivers, mountains and forests, you don't see them anymore.

    I know that at least part of why I am so drawn to the Georgian Bay area of Ontario is that there is a similarity in landscape to what I grew up with - the place that could never quite feel like home. Yet in Ontario, I have close friends and a true sense of belonging, something I yearned for as a child. This, combined with the family history associated with the area, makes Georgian Bay my heart's home, even if I can't actually live there.

  3. Julie, I can relate, though in a slightly different way. Since I lived my first 45 years in the Washington, D.C., area, I never experienced that feeling of returning somewhere after a long absence. However, reading books and watching movies set in England exposed me to the culture, landscape, and British-ness of everything about the country; white stucco houses, window flower boxes, gardens, Dickens, Austen, the London stage, bubble-shaped taxis, Oxford, horses and hounds. Both times I visited England felt like homecomings. There’s a rumor floating around our family that my paternal great-grandparents were English, but I think it’s just wishful thinking.

    My visits, in addition to my combing through non-fiction resources (Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography, for one), enhance my writing. I’ve got years of research to go to call myself an expert (I’m rooting for the total immersion plan). One day, I hope to be able to say, I write what I know.

    Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class class sounds fantastic. Thanks for telling us about it.

  4. Thanks for your comments Delores, Kim, and Joan.

    Yes, I did recognize you, Delores, by your voice, which is as clear as ever and a true sign of a writer. How amazing that a book had such an effect on you. It influenced so many stages of your life.

    Kim, it's hard to be dropped into unfamiliar territory when you're a kid and don't quite have the coping mechanisms in place that adults might, isn't it? But the memories created are still valuable.

    Joan, you know I had the same experience when visiting England, Scotland and Wales last fall. I felt a strange sense of homecoming (as I also did when I moved here to Texas), and I have been homesick for it since. Our roots really may go even deeper than we think. I'm willing to bet you've got some English grandparents back there somewhere. :)

  5. Julie, your voice comes across clear and strong in this beautifully written memory piece. Years ago I returned to the Chicago neighborhood where my maternal grandparents had lived for over forty years. During my early childhood, I lived in the upper apartment of their apartment house with my parents and sister nearest my age. I was so happy to see what was once our home and the neighborhood it's in are still beautifully maintained, but was surprised over how small the home I'd loved, despite fearing its dark musty attic and basement,looked through my adult eyes. A flood of memories hit me as I stared at the porch where so long ago I'd played and at at times snuggled on my grandmother's lap, as we rocked in one of the porch rockers, listening to the familiar rhythmic creak and smelling fresh cut grass mixing with the heady scents of baking breads or pies, while watching neighborhood story scenes unfold.

  6. Thanks, Deborah, and thanks for sharing your story as well.

    I was amazed that it only took a few minutes to drive from place to place in Denver. When I rode the bus or walked, as I did much of the time, it seemed like forever!

  7. Julie,

    It's too bad you weren't here about a year earlier. The Village Inn was still viable and I met with my critique partner there. Alas, corporate restructuring is what closed that VI. Interestingly enough, my daughter worked in the restaurant UNDER the VI, Mad Greens. That entire building we learned is going to be razed and a new multi-store building built.

    The Tattered Cover moved about two and a half years ago and was in an expensive building where the rent continued to climb. They found better prices at the end of the 16th Street Mall in LoDo, and in remodeling a theater near East High School on Colfax. Two for the price of one. The TC in LoDo is having hard times and has gone from several floors of books to a pair. I hope the largest Independent Bookstore in the U.S. gets through this economic situation and is still here in another fifty years.

    I grew up on the old Lowry property, probably where another of our classmates is living; my home was bull-dozed. At one time I'd heard there was a park, but it was a rumor and the fact is, the city didn't even keep the name of the street.

    Of course, McNicols areana is gone and the Collesium has seen better days and Mile High Stadium is now Invesco Field at Mile High and they widened major sections of I-25, but it still isn't enough to handle the rush hour traffic, but that's progress and change and time marching on for you. (Did you catch my rhetorical devices?)

    It was terrific spending time with you at Margie's and having all our brains challenged. Our walks were beautiful and we missed the foot and a half of snow that came for the next class which I think was probably a good thing.

    I am much happier with the opening of my work, and while I'm not as fast as some at the surgery, it is becoming a far stronger novel because of it. It sounds like you are experiencing the same. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could be the first class to achieve 100% publication? After all, we did have our NYT sentences. Heck, even the witchiest of my critique partners (I swear her greatest joy is to bleed red ink on my pages and no one elses') couldn't find anything to comment on. Now to keep it up.

    You keep it up yourself. I want to haul my backside down to Texas for a booksigning!

    aka Lucynda Storey

  8. Hey, Sandy! Thanks for stopping by our blog. I hope you'll bookmark it. And thanks for the other updates on Denver stuff. I wish I'd had more time to visit places, but it gives me an excuse to go back again, right? I am glad your work is going well -- the class is one I won't soon forget, the things learned, and also all the new friends!


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