By Derek Murr
1. Don’t worry about sounding lame.
Didn’t you get the memo? Enthusiasm is the new ironic detachment. Your hometown, whether you love, hate or are weirdly ambivalent towards it, shaped who you are just as much as did your weird family or your traumatic high school. It’s part of who you are. We carry our first homes with us wherever we go, in our heads. There’s good and interesting things to say about every place, stagnant suburbs, small towns, decaying industrial cities and tourist traps included. So say them!
2. Concentrate on the details.
Don’t try to describe your whole hometown when people ask; concentrate on the weird little details. (For example: when people ask what my hometown is like, I tell them that in a cornfield just outside the town limits, there is a billboard which reads “PREPARE… TO MEET THY GOD.” The ellipsis is important, because it’s completely inexplicable.) Just build up a library of these details. For one thing, it’s easier than trying to accurately describe a whole town. For another, it makes your hometown seem more strange than it may actually be, which maybe you could parlay into a deal with CTV to write an unfunny sitcom about life in a small quirky town, if that’s your kind of thing. If your hometown is unique and has no odd details, feel free to fabricate some (see point four, below).
3. Change the names to protect the innocent.
If you’re of a mind to write about your hometown, try calling it something different, like Mariposa (n.b.: do not actually use “Mariposa”). This way, you can let slip all manner of dark secrets about the people and places you grew up with, and get away with it: the healing power of fiction will magically transform ‘libel’ into ‘satire’. For added value, let slip that your ‘fictional’ town is based, in varying degrees, on your actual hometown. Your audience will start doing your work for you once they ‘know’ that Everyville is actually Paris, Ontario, and will reinterpret everything they see. This effectively doubles your mythologizing potential without doubling your workload, as the attributes of the real will be applied to the fiction, and vice versa. Which brings me to my next tip:
4. Make things up.
Tell tales. Exaggerate. Erase that pesky line between fact and fiction. Hint at dark secrets in your hometown’s far past if you wish, though I must draw the line at saying hateful or hurtful things about people or places. What we’re after here are clever, careful contributions to your hometown’s pre-existing myths. No, they’re really there. I don’t care how small or boring your hometown is – every town and city is built, not just of bricks and buildings, but of people and their stories: the stories they live, the stories they tell each other and themselves. Why not join in? Do you know who founded your hometown, or after whom your childhood street was named? If not, make it up. Make it good. Don’t think of it as lying; think of it as helping build a town. This one’s admittedly easier to get away with if you moved from a small town to the big city, and no-one you now know has ever set foot in your hometown. (Bonus tip: if anyone does visit your town and calls you on something you’ve made up, put on a world-weary tone and say: “Well, it was that way when I was a kid. Gosh, things sure are different now.” It’s like a Get Out Of Jail Free card.)
5. Use a wistful tone when speaking of your hometown.
The trick here is subtlety. Heaving sighs are discouraged, as are long gazes at the horizon line. Those are annoying, and people may leave. The tone you’re after is well-worn affection, slightly tinged with sadness, like you would use when discussing someone you used to date, many years ago, and with whom you may still be in love. That is, after all, exactly what you are talking about when you talk about your home. Crinkle the corners of your eyes like you’re smiling to yourself at a fond memory. Try not to make it look like a wince.