The Ghosts of Home

natalie-vestin-drive-imageWhen I visit my family in northern Minnesota, I find myself on the same roads I’ve known—back and forth—since I was a child. Often I ride with others because I can’t orient, even in my small town and the outskirts made of barely-there townships and roads that veer only toward themselves. I think of small pathways on Midway Road, and I look for the town hall, for the church, for the dilapidated gray house with scorch marks at the roof. The churning root beer float of the St. Louis River to the south.

I gave up my car last year, though I still love the way the air and light changes on a drive, the way that movement and change of scene feels like prayer. Like close prayer, as if God is in the ditch or the jack pines, a new side of God available when you move a certain way or enter a different terrain. [Read more…]

The Prophet of Uninterrupted Complaint

Morning IvyI am grateful for deadlines, even when I have little time, or only brief windows of it, which I often manage to fill with reading the Internet. I know my cannons will fire, because they must, but lately I’ve experienced a sort of brain-fatigue, or perhaps it’s peace (I don’t really know the difference), that’s brought me back to this position, sitting, waiting for the words to visit me.

I’ll be generous with myself and call it peace, which would be a paradigm-shift for me, not only because if it weren’t for deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now, but also because I spent many years “writing to survive.”

One of my favorite leisure activities from adolescence to young adulthood, was passionately leaving my house to take long brooding walks whilst listening to emo-pop music and imagining that I was God’s deep well of spiritual wisdom.

It was how I signaled to the cruel world (mostly my antagonistic siblings), that I had an interior life that was enjoyable to me: Yes, there’s something within me that I like and cherish and want to spend time with, and also, you’re not invited. [Read more…]

The Abandoned, Broken, and Burned

1950s DishwasherBy the time you read this, inshallah, we will have the new dishwasher purchased and installed in our kitchen.

I’m not holding my breath. It’s been this long, so it is easy to envision a horizon of expectations that continues to recede into the distance a few more weeks or months.

“Oh, come on,” my brother said to me a while back, “what is a dishwasher? $500? $1000? Just buy the thing.” It’s not that we didn’t have $500 lying around to spend—it’s just that there are so many other expenses— private school tuition, church donations, the remainder of our 2014 taxes—to cover, and it is always well to have a little cushion lying around in case of emergencies. (Our cushion is pretty little.)

We are well-paid, middle-class professionals (upper middle class if you look at the average household income for most Americans, though we actually feel pretty working class in our expensive coastal metropolitan area where two twenty-seven-year-old lawyers can easily clear $450,000 a year—First World, problems etc., etc).

So $500-1,000, in our house, is kind of a big deal. [Read more…]

Drive-By Memory

nastroeniya-cvety-cvetkiMy first memory takes place in Lakewood, CA, a small suburb south of Los Angeles. Lakewood, the nation’s first planned community, also happens to be the subject of D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. “In a suburb that is not exactly middle class,” Waldie writes at the beginning of the book, “the necessary illusion is predictability.”

Because the families that settle there are anything but predictable.

After they married in 1969, my mom and dad bought one of those small, square dream homes from my father’s parents. It was my dad’s first marriage and my mother’s third. Heidi, my sister born during one of my mother’s prior lives, was in junior high. The street, Maybank, figures nicely into the Facebook formula for “my stripper name,” along with Penny, my first dog.

On August 4, 1972, Penny Maybank took the stage. [Read more…]

Precious Things Come from Staying

notebookJoan Didion’s family, she says, are a tribe of leavers. In her 2004 book Where I Was From, she begins with her great-great-great-great-grandmother and traces a family history lined with people who, she says, are always leaving, always pushing west.

“They tended to accommodate any means in pursuit of an uncertain end,” she says, unsparingly. “They tended to avoid dwelling on just what that end might imply. When they could not think what else to do they moved another thousand miles, set out another garden: beans and squash and sweet peas from seeds carried from the last place. The past could be jettisoned, children buried and parents left behind, but seeds got carried.” [Read more…]