Friday, May 22, 2009

Introducing Our Summer Intern: Henry Gass

My story begins much the same as anyone else’s: in the womb of my mother. My life has also followed paths less traveled than most, taking me from country to country and continent to continent, but back to my mum’s womb, and the subsequent fallout. This womb was more crowded than usual, but after two agonizing minutes I was born after my twin sister in Winchester, England.

Days later I began growing up in my childhood home: Yew Tree Cottage, in Worlds End, Hambledon. Yew Tree Cottage – deceptively named after two giant yew trees that bathed my garden in shadow – might have been the perfect place for a writer to grow up. This quaint English cottage, with bleach white walls, timber frames, and ivy crawling around dusty windows, provided in liberal doses the torrential rains and caressing sunlight the nurtured my bud of creative energy into the seething jungle that now runs wild in my mind. Worlds End, the peaceful country lane and definition of irony, was in Hambledon, the sleepy rural village with four pubs, which was over the hill from Portsmouth, the historic Navy town I went to school in.

My dad was in the Royal Navy, but as far as naval families go we remained largely sedentary. I was thus able to enjoy six years at Portsmouth Grammar School, a converted military school in the middle of the city, surrounded by pubs, cobblestone streets, and antique ships from the Napoleonic Wars.

History lurks around every corner in Portsmouth, naval and literary. Admiral Nelson died literally down the street from my school after the Battle of Trafalgar. The Mary Rose sank in the harbor, Charles Dickens was born there, and writers including Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and HG Wells lived there.

All this was relegated to the dusty shelves of my memory when my dad accepted a job at the British Embassy in D.C. six years ago. I was transported in all my quaint, rural English naiveté to the capital of the free world and its wide streets, sweltering summers, and outspoken residents. Now, after five years at the Bullis School in Potomac, I have been sufficiently integrated into American life.

I have been at McGill University, in Montreal this past year, a city that filled my heart faster than Canadians fill a hockey rink (despite the fact I don’t speak a lick of French). The narrow streets, gothic architecture, reckless driving, and vibrant, multi-lingual atmosphere reminded me curiously of the Europe I left behind. Maybe it’s come full circle, for those of you reading into any allegory here, or maybe it’s just another unpredictable turn on the road from Winchester nineteen years ago. I like to think that every new country I live in does not change me, but adds to me, and lets me see the world from different mountaintops.

Either way I hope I can help the Writers Center as much as they can help me, and I hope to see you all around in the coming months.

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