You are here. Those three words are the name of a 14-part series of columns that Alta Journal launched in partnership with the Writers Grotto last May; we published the final installment earlier this month. During its eight-month run, the columns examined the idea of place in its many manifestations: physical, geographical, mental, spiritual. Bonnie Tsui took us swimming near and far, Rita Chang-Eppig connected the journey of a Chinese junk ship from Taiwan to California to her family’s history, Laird Harrison contemplated the grief for a house destroyed by fire.
The series was conceived as COVID restrictions were easing and the world was grasping to return to something approaching normal, and You Are Here authors wrote of place with an emotional urgency. The Grotto, a pillar of the Bay Area’s writing and artistic community offering coworking space, classes, and events, was also confronting this challenge. In the inaugural column, Mark Wallace, a former executive director of the organization, wrote:
It might all go back tomorrow, but even if it does, we’d be remiss not to consider what the places in our lives mean to us, how we plan to nurture and care for them, and the role they play in our communities—and that our communities play in how we relate to those places.
This series delivered writing that was positively grounded in, well, place. It’s something that is sorely lacking in—and desperately missing from—much of today’s media. Whether radio, TV, print, or digital, the race to ever-bigger audiences has forsaken the importance of place, of reminding people where they are.
Here are some highlights from the You Are Here columns.
“You Are Here: An Exvangelical’s Self-Care Sunday”
Mary Ladd returns to the site of a summer Bible camp—now a wellness spa—and makes peace with her past.
“You Are Here: Street Art in Suburbia”
Maw Shein Win describes the joy of encountering anonymous creations in unlikely places.
“You Are Here: Oakland’s Last Piano Bar Will Change You”
Rachel Howard visits the Alley for drink, for music, and to find her voice.
“You Are Here: Chinatown Is Worth Fighting For”
Celeste Chan finds community through a volunteer street patrol.
Visit You Are Here to read the full series of columns.