I am often asked what's the meaning behind the nom de plume, 'Charlie Courtland.' Recently, I've given some silly answers crediting the hit 70's TV show, 'Charlie's Angels,' and my first pet, an orange and white tabby. Coincidentally, he was also named Charlie. Although it is true my father was a fan of Jacqueline Smith (angel 'Kelly') and I did own a male cat, my name choice has a deeper, more self-examining meaning that makes an interesting topic and deserves further explanation.
I got to thinking, as we grow up our personal identities are influenced by a number of things including experiences, people, place, race and gender. However, I believe each influence does not contribute equally. Some certainly carry more weight. For example, Barry Sanders did an exhaustive search to trace his roots back to Africa. He claims that not knowing the history of his ancestors created a hole he felt compelled to fill. During my brief reflection, I've noted that some individuals attach to family or people, while others embrace their culture and race, or even see a gender group as empowering.
I've always been curious about personal relationships and envious of the strong bond that many of my friends have formed over the years. Looking in from the outside, I admit at times I've been jealous because I don't readily identify. Instead, what I've come to realize is I naturally form attachments to places rather than people. Breaking from people, or enduring long separations does not pain me as much as leaving a place I love or seeing it change.
My childhood home was a two-story house on Courtland Drive. My recollection does not leap from sunny memories of a carefree time, but frankly quite the opposite. Trapped inside, as if permanently recorded on the walls, I recall the scenes. The time my Dad left and never returned; the years when cancer hung in my mother's bedroom, or abuse seeped into mine. I remember the amazing Christmas mornings, the terrible snowstorms and pool parties on my birthday. I cannot forget my first boyfriend and heartbreak. All of it woven into the setting and when I think of that house I feel an attraction as if the object is suddenly breathing with life, my life. For many years it was too painful for me to visit because I knew it had changed. A new family lived there, layering their stories over mine and covering my history with a fresh coat of paint.
However, as I've grown older I've come to realize that it is not just one place that evokes such strong emotions and memories, but several places that have played an important role in my life or held special meaning. Often, when I recall a memory I notice I always describe it in reference to a place. Courtland Drive was not just a street, but also an era much like my years at the 'Underground.' Sure people moved through my life, like characters in a story, but for me it is the setting that carries all the thematic importance.
I believe it is this attachment to places that lends to my love of history and architecture. I love old buildings and have so much respect for a structure that has endured. When I enter a space I sense the lives that have walked the halls. The walls are faithful witnesses unable to reveal a person's deepest secrets. When I think of my own home, the house I now live in and built, I cannot image ever leaving it. I joke that when I die I will haunt it, and a little bit of me believes that just might happen (future buyer beware!). So much love and thought went into every detail and there is not a piece that I did not have a hand in making come alive. It was my vision. It is a symbolic form; it displays my need for symmetry and balance, and is the body that keeps my heart and soul safe from the outside world.
Courtland is the first place that nurtured my spirit and a part of me will always remain. It symbolizes the core of who I am. It is from this place that my sense of self emerged. If asked to draw myself, I would sketch a picture of my childhood home on Courtland. It is from this seemingly unimportant piece of scenery that my stories are born.
P.S. R.I.P. Charlie the cat