It's an obsession. As I'm editing this book I keep seeing my editor instructing me to uncapitalize cardinal directions. I have no problem with lowercasing south or east or west, but my heart resists dropping the cap from North. I know it's wrong, against traditional style, but when I think north I think North, like a magnetic pull back there, a bodily or maybe spiritual need towards a kind of homecoming. But then when I come back North I feel alien, too, like this is not me, even though it is in me, obviously, like a virus, or like iron filings slowly pulling my body fluids in one direction. Iron is, after all, plentiful in the blood, and the blood directs us, sustains us.
It's unusual, maybe, in this age of decoupling our selves and consciousnesses from the natural landscape, to continue referring to directionality as much as I seem to do. After all, this isn't orienteering. It's not Boy Scouts. Does it matter what's North of what, what's southeast of something else, which way I'm driving on Sunrise Drive with the mountains on every side of me? Not really. And after all I have my GPS and you have your GPS and your Google Maps, and so why clutter our brains up with that sort of useless information when it could be better used for movie trivia or the plots of obscure literary novels, or to encode the full text of long oral poems, the stuff of heritage and lineage?
Still I have this urge for directionality. I think of my life and motions in terms of directionality. From North in Michigan far east to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then back to Michigan, road tripping out east to Pittsburgh to visit a friend from school whom I was interested in romantically, at least theoretically, and to scope out Carnegie Mellon, and to lightly rear-end some idiot in Pittsburgh and drive the hell away from that in my father's Aerostar, then back to Michigan along interstates littered with jackknifed semi trucks and other, sadder cars, southwest to Illinois for school, then west to Iowa for school, then south to Alabama for school, then back to Michigan for work, now southwest to Arizona for work. I do think of my life as map. It's hard not to think of it for me. All of these places coexist in my mind with the sense of being a Northerner, of being from a place that's close to as far North as you can get in the continental United States.
Everyone who grows up on a border must feel this way. Maybe not if the border is the sea. I can't speak for them. But my friends who grew up on the US-Mexico border have a profound sense of betweenness, of border fever, as I do. All of us borderers, we are from the cusp, our brains part edge.
Yet my editor is Northern also. Lives North. Works North. Possibly she is not from the North which is what I am arguing should make the difference. She should understand this. I could fight her over this. Maybe I will fight her over this, and this note will serve as an explanation, a mea culpa, a position paper to make it clear that North is intentional and not her fault (she is a fine woman and editor and does not deserve your disparaging thoughts or my own). And while I am generally up for correctness, this is one of those times to stand up for meaningful anomaly.