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(Author's note: With my second novel now making the rounds, figured I should re-post the following essay. It discusses my relationship with my hometown of Buffalo and the need to write about it, both pertinent as my Queen City-set When the Lights Go Out starts to find its way to the public. Enjoy.)

I saw the streets all ripe with jewels
Balconies and the laundry lines
They tried to make me welcome there
But their streets did not feel like mine
So long, I’m goin’, goin’ home
-Dan Auerbach, “Goin’ Home”

One’s connection to home can be like one’s connection to family. At its best, home is a wonderful thing. It is the one place that feels like yours, the place you’re truly attached to. At its worst, home is a suffocating beast, full of frustration and timeless annoyances. I somehow overlooked the enduring duality of this relationship while living elsewhere. Now back on my hometown streets of Buffalo, New York as a returned resident, I’m surrounded by the daily complications of this association.

Buffalo has been both haven and harrowing for most of my life. It’s the city that hosted my birth, my Christmas mornings and high school basketball games. It gave me friends I’ve kept since preschool, girls I kissed in elementary school. It instilled the competitive grit I’ve used to tough through professional obstacles and rejection. And it infected me with the underdog mentality that western New Yorkers are born with. Every Buffalo kid grows up with a chip on the shoulder, earned from condescending New York City scowls and southern state insults—the ones about snow and rust, urban blight and Super Bowl losses. I’m from a city that no one understands, compliments or respects. This has bred intense loyalty, one that’s ignited arguments with ignorant strangers and Florida waiters. It’s been an inconvenient loyalty, but it’s always been considered necessary. This is my hometown, to defend and support. In good times and bad.

Unfortunately, the whole defend-and-support thing isn’t always reciprocal. Home can agitate, frustrate and torment. It can be like a Springsteen song, but not in a good way. No matter how your beliefs, attitudes and aptitudes have progressed, home drags behind. No matter how many positive memories you’ve generated away from it, home can rekindle the painful moments you’ve forever tried to shake. No matter how many out-of-town successes you’ve experienced, home can preserve your failures for family dinners, Friday night socials and supermarket reunions. Buffalo is where my mother wants me to become a teacher, where my father thinks I should become a salesman. And it will forever be where my high school English teacher said, if he had one piece of advice for me, it was to never pursue a career in English.

But it will also remain the chief source of my artistic inspiration, just as it has for my entire writing life.

I lived in Boston for eleven years; I worked inside Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center for a summer. I once fell asleep in Spain and woke up in France. I’ve been to Ireland twice, Italy, Iceland and Scotland once, and to nearly every major American city for more than a weekend. I’ve never felt compelled to write about those places the way I do about Buffalo. It’s forever been an underutilized backdrop, full of faded glory amid glimmers of progress and waterfront panoramas; it’s loaded with complex characters striving for genuine salvation in the shadows of economic stall. Its story has surrounded my own story, and continues to affect me with its successes and failures. Some days, I smile at nineteenth-century buildings being refurbished by flanneled laborers; other days, I seethe down sidewalks as another Hunt Realty sign finds an empty storefront. Both experiences sear through me in different ways, both eliciting intense feelings usually reserved for personal hardships. But that tightening cringe in my stomach—whether from excitement or resentment—proves I care. It’s undeniable evidence of an intense and, at times, exhausting personal connection. And it’s a multi-faceted emotional connection that’s injected a voice, passion and literary purpose into every Buffalo-set item I’ve ever scribbled.

And maybe that’s why I moved back here last year. Maybe I grew tired of disrespecting this connection, of treating it with distance when it’s actually truly special. Maybe I got sick of not contributing to the place whose avenues, buildings and barflies have given me chapters of narrative inspiration. Or maybe I’ve simply grown weary of writing essays, columns and novels about the only home I’d ever claim, all while keeping it four hundred miles away.

Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: I’m back, living and writing in the Queen City of the Lakes. Our winters are cold, but our summers are gorgeous. Our local economy’s inconsistent, but our neighborhoods are varied and vibrant. All our streets aren’t ripe with jewels, but many of them feel like mine. If you need me, I’ll be here.

This is my home.

(Author's note #2: This entry was posted while listening to "Vagabond Moon" by Willie Nile.)
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