My post pregnancy body is something to behold. Stretch marks, loose skin, flesh flesh flesh, pale and abundant. I went on vacation with Ben’s family this week, to a house on the Chesapeake Bay that also included a saltwater pool. I wanted to swim in that pool, bad. Wanted to wear my anthropologie retro style blue gingham one piece and float for hours. But I didn’t want my body to be the way it is. I didn’t want Ben’s family, or even Ben, to glimpse my body, my fat body, having the gall to enjoy the sun upon its flesh. These are the thoughts I had. Because I am not comfortable in my body, my body does not deserve pleasure. Then I had a thought: I am already 34. Life is a tenuous, heart-achingly quick thing. And I wanted to be in that pool. So I got in. At dusk, I hugged a pool noodle and drifted. Gossiped with Ben’s younger sister. Parker wanted me to hold him at one point—so I brought him in with me. Stripped him naked and held him to me. Watched him discover the joy of a pool on a summer evening. Marveled at the beauty of his naked body. I will think of that evening for the rest of my life. My body holds me in these moments, and I am forever grateful.
I’ve been thinking about the little things, and how much they matter. We’ve taken Parker to Urgent Care twice, the ER once, and to the doctor five times since Christmas. Our experiences with the nurses and doctors at each place are so different each time. At one Urgent Care, the physician’s assistant barked at me to “keep him still,” my feverish, hive-ridden baby who was squirming a bit at the approach of a strange woman with a black prod she wanted to stick in his ear. At another Urgent Care, the nurse said, “You guys are doing a great job,” over and over, looking us in the eyes so we were sure to hear him, and was so gentle with Parker that I almost cried.
This morning, I had to take Parker back in to the doctor. He’d had fevers off and on and been rubbing his ears. I had rampant ear infections as a child, and I’m probably paranoid about them because of it. What I’m starting to realize during times like these is that experience trumps self for Parker. Or maybe experience is self. He is ill, and we were in a waiting room surrounded by strange people, but still he wanted to wriggle out of my arms, get down so he could walk and see and touch and encounter. He smiled at everyone who looked his way, waved at bowed heads until they looked up so he could smile. He offered his nibbler to a woman, then snatched it back with a giggle. He peered down at a man on the first floor mixing a dozen sugars into his coffee, shouted AH? AH! but the man was too preoccupied to notice. Parker is filled with joy at life, at everything he’s learning, at everything he’s learned. It is awesome to witness, in the truest sense of the word. I am awed.
We ended up waiting over an hour to see the doctor, well into Parker’s usual naptime, but still he continued on, finding new ways to look at the chair, or rummage through my purse, make funny faces into the mirror. Finally, the doctor came in. As she approached with her stethoscope, Parker tensed. I knew he would probably cry and I tried to explain to him what was going to happen. The doctor stopped and said, “Watch me listen to Mama first?” And put her stethoscope over my heart. I pretended it tickled, that it was fun, and Parker watched her and me very closely. She allowed him to touch the stethoscope, move it between his fingers, and then she tried again. He sat very still, very interested and calm, as she listened to his heart. When she moved to his back, he smiled at her like it was a joke she was telling. When she was finished examining him, I tried to tell her how much it meant to me that she considered how he felt, that she treated him like a person with fears and plans and desires, just like any adult. How she took the time to explain what was going to happen, how she understood that he’d understand. All I got out was “Parker likes to control his own destiny, so thank you for letting him touch your stethoscope first,” and I almost cried saying it.
I often feel perfectly together, and then something small like that reminds me how close to the surface my emotions are. Like a loose thread in a tent. Pull it and the rain comes rushing in. I’m so grateful to people like that doctor, and that nurse, who treat my son like a human, and treat me like a human, because they themselves are so human.
I just wanted to say something about being stuck, or thinking you’re stuck. When I decided I wanted to focus on writing I had no idea what that meant. Truly. I did not know where to begin. That could have paralyzed me; it could have forced me onto a more practical, tangible path, and I suspect that happens for a lot of people. But for some reason I held on, and I decided to start somewhere. I started writing, and what I was writing was utter shit. I had no confidence in myself. I started taking a class here and there, just so I could be around other people who were trying to be writers. I told myself I didn’t deserve to call myself a writer. I obsessively read the New Yorker, an act I believed all “serious” writers did. I shamed myself for not being able to write the kinds of stories they published. In order to feel anchored, to feel like my days still meant something, I worked a 9-5 office job for my boyfriend’s father, I trained for a marathon, we went to the farmers’ market on Saturdays, I loved my home and dog and boyfriend and family. Eventually I decided to begin applying to grad schools as a poet. I was rejected by all 8 schools. My boyfriend made me a card with pictures of the Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who went undrafted in the 1997 draft but ended up a star quarterback. I realized I was again doubting myself, believing poetry was “easy” and that I’d get in for sure, when really I wanted to write fiction. I tried again, applying as my true self, and was accepted. We left our home, I left my hometown and my family, and I wept as I closed that door behind me. Grad school was a blur of tries. Novel, stories, poetry, essays. All tries. I graduated not knowing where to begin again. And again, I kind of spun and then pointed: a reading series! A reading series would force me out into the community, would force me to generate new writing at least once a month. From that Daddy’s was born. From Daddy’s DON’T KISS ME was born. From DON’T KISS ME…who knows? In the meantime I’ve been nurturing that anchor: marriage, more dogs, home, son.
I guess what I’m trying to say is there is no plan. There is no path. You have to hack your own, and sometimes all you have are your own dull fists. Talent helps, even if that talent is a diamond lodged in a turd, but I’ve met plenty of talented people who just didn’t want it. From the time I decided to truly focus on writing to the time Daddy’s was published was a decade. It happens in less time for some, and it takes more time for others. But that decade was full of love and travel and fear and doubt and tries and tries and tries. There are approximately one million doors. Just choose one. Often, behind that door are one million more doors.
If you’re wondering if there is a secret, I guess I do have one: never stop being grateful for the things that have happened and for everything to come. Did you sit on a chair outside and listen to the trees? Be grateful for that. Did someone compliment you on something you wrote? Be grateful for that. Did you spectactularly or minorly fail, and because of that you learned something new and valuable? Good God, be deeply grateful for that. Are there moments where you’re truly happy for no particular reason? Say Thank you into the air. Say it to everyone, say it to yourself, say it to the trees.
There are three things you should know about Lindsay Hunter and her story, “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula.”
One. This story is the first in Hunter’s second, and wonderful fiction collection, Don’t Kiss Me, which came out on last week from Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. Hunter writes, in part, about our bodies and how we live in them. The grotesque is treated as banal—which, in reality, it generally is. She is not afraid to write ugly (or is it real?). Her characters fart and piss and scratch and fuck. Hunter also writes about the kind of people we rarely see in contemporary fiction—there are no sons and daughters of privilege here, and her characters revel in who they are and where they come from.
“Lindsay’s style is what I’m going to call “linguistic terrorism.” She’s the punk rock equivalent of a literary talent. She doesn’t so much tell the story as slaps you in the face with it. You barely have time for a decided sentiment before you’re carried on to the next. Its a refreshingly bombastic assault, and it’s probably one of the most enjoyable reads you’ve had in a long time. It’s her gift to you.”
-from my fun interview with Robbie Imes, my childhood friend, over at The Ink and Code.
“Hunter’s work manages to evoke the grotesque without ever seeming contemptuous — no small achievement.”
-from my interview with the ever-generous Tobias Carroll over at Vol. 1 Brooklyn.
“Hunter’s second short story collection is a bold, haunting, and beautiful observation of lives lived outside the scope of the mainstream.”
-from my interview with the very kind Rebecca Rubinstein over at Kirkus.
Finally, here is the epic side eye a friend gave another friend for kissing DON’T KISS ME.
I got the chance to talk to Lindsay Hunter about her brilliant new collection, Don’t Kiss Me, then write a few words on it. Truth be told, I was sad to have to distill our conversation down to a few choice pull-quotes; she had a lot of incredible things to say about writing, Chicago, marginalized characters (and by extension, marginalized members of society), and why critics attributing the words “gross” and “grotesque” to her new book is really bothersome. In any case, I look forward to reading more interviews with Lindsay. And get Don’t Kiss Me. It’s gritty, fun, and a language/imagery enthusiast’s wet dream, for sure.
The current proposals for the redesign of the intersection at Iowa 330 between U.S. 65 and Jasper County Road F-17 would destroy Cleverley Farms, and…
Hey everyone. If anyone has a spare minute today, if I know you personally or not: would you consider heading to this site and signing this petition to help save my wife’s family’s organic farm? Basically, the Iowa Department of Transportation has decided that the only solution to fixing a nearby dangerous intersection is to COMPLETELY DEMOLISH A 200 ACRE FARM in order to build a looping highway overpass. They claim that this is a better solution than a movement-triggered STOP SIGN down the road. I know it might sound dry, and boring, and that you probably don’t know me, and I know you probably think petitions do nothing, but this one will actually help stop the DOT from exercising Emminent Domain and will save a great organic farm.
Honestly? This is what happens sometimes when disconnected bureaucracies problem-solve. Massive failures of imagination. It’s dumb. Can you help us stop it?