By Beth Eakman
Book Review: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick (Viking 2016)
After years of serial relocation, Melody Warnick and her professor husband, Quinn, thought they’d found a permanent home in Austin, Texas. They had two young daughters now, so they bought a house, made friends, and settled in. But only two years later, Quinn was offered his dream job in Blacksburg, VA, and the family was on the move, again.
Warnick, a freelance journalist who’s written for publications like Parents, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Psychology Today for a decade or so, found herself in a quandary familiar to moms. What was best for her kids—putting down roots—made her want to run. She did not love the town that the locals jokingly called “Bleaksburg.” She felt stuck.
Then, one evening as she was driving through the mountains, returning from an interview with an elderly woman who lived in the middle of nowhere, Warnick had an epiphany. She’d always assumed that people who lived in tiny, isolated places stayed because they were stuck, but this woman had had options. She loved her tiny hometown. She didn’t feel isolated; she felt connected.
Could connection to place be cultivated?
Warnick’s search for answers to these questions and her experiments applying what she learned form the foundation of This is Where You Belong (Viking 2016). The book is loaded with social science, advice, humor, and encouragement and reading it feels like a chatting with your smartest, funniest girlfriend.
When, with kids and husband in tow, Warnick hikes, attends festivals, and marches in a holiday parade, she feels increasingly connected to Blacksburg. When she doesn’t, she fakes it. That’s a thing, too. Acting like you love where you live works, by some magic that only psychologists really understand, and makes you love it more for real.
She calls out every recently relocated mom, starting with herself, for turning to the tawdry consolation of big box stores. No matter where you are in the world, nothing soothes a homesick, disoriented mom like popping the kids in that red cart and strolling the predictable grid of Target’s aisles. Warnick breaks to us gently what we already know: shopping locally is better.
In fact, investing in your community with time, money, skills, and creativity is good for more than just keeping money in the local economy. It’s a whole movement, called “place-making.” People are making their towns, old and new, into places they want to live. They participate in everything from the PTA to city planning committees. They initiate. They become “creative placemakers.”
In a beautifully written scene, Ella, Warnick’s twelve-year-old (and natural scene stealer), is flipping through Instgram photos.
“You know what we should have in Blacksburg?” Ella says. “A sidewalk chalk festival.”
When the Warnicks had lived in Austin, they’d gone to a street art event. “Sidewalk chalk,” in Ella’s own words, was her “true medium.” Their driveway in Blacksburg always “looked like someone was filming a Beatles movie….” Before her experiment, Warnick might have said, “That would be fun,” and returned to her novel. This time, she felt the call.
“Creative placemakers,” she writes, “…aren’t superheroes.” They’re just regular people, including moms and artistic twelve-year-olds. They make the leap from “That would be fun” to “Let’s give it a whirl.” I won’t spoil the fun of the rest of the chapter.
Movers and stayers alike will enjoy This is Where You Belong. I originally thought I’d pass my copy on to a friend who’s moving to Colorado, with teenagers, but I decided to keep it. I bought a couple more for housewarming gifts.
Beth Eakman teaches writing at St. Edward’s University and lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two teenagers who provide her simultaneously with inspiration and interruptions. Visit Beth at www.betheakman.com, or on Twitter @BethEakman.
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