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Here is an excerpt from my Work in Progress, titled Searching for Here: Mapping an Unfenced Life.

 

 

Preface

Human history is full of migration stories, of stepping past the border where we started and widening our territories. On a large scale, mass migrations include the Indo-Europeans spreading out across the Middle East, South Asia, and beyond during the Bronze Age, and the Great Atlantic Migration of the 19th century that took Irish, Germans, and other groups to North America. By the millions, we are at war, or displaced, or navigating a life that is much harder than it ought to be. We are fleeing the uninhabitable, a once-good place ruined ecologically, politically, or socially. We find ourselves not in search of a perfect place, but a suitable place, where we won't be poisoned by industrial contamination, arrested for our views, or harmed in acts of criminal violence. 

To consider deeply one's own path and how to find the greatest contentment—not because of mortal pressures, but simply because one can—is to be almost unimaginably privileged. But that doesn't mean it is wrong. It means that's what we humans do. It's using our imaginations. That's what I'm doing now.

My story isn't tortured or heroic or inspirational. Indeed, it's rather quiet and ordinary. It's the story of a late middle aged, middle class, college educated, straight white woman in the small-town Midwest. It’s the quiet story of a commonplace life.

The almanac which follows is set between two winter solstices. I think of 12/21/2019 and 12/21/2020 not as the shortest days, but as the longest nights. That somewhat upside-down vantage point allows me latitude to think not simply of those specific dates in the year, but of those dates over the 60-plus years I've lived through them, rearranged. 

By naming and connecting, linking and mapping, I find the borders and the joinings of my life that I hope are relatable to others. Childhood moves, young-adult brushes with disaster, three marriages, two divorces, infertility, cross country moves: each event is a landing point on the map of my life. Now I'm assessing yet another series of big life changes. I'm on a glidepath, to something, but the landing strip is still behind the clouds. Imagination defogs the glass.

A note about the writing. I never could have predicted the political and social upheaval that occurred over these 365 days. I never could have predicted a pandemic. But now, in the life-span of a work-in-progress, I’m seeing some of these publicly experienced shocks become not so much as an in-the-moment telling as a shift reflected upon in tranquility. In other words, I’ve made a strong effort to keep true to the version of myself as I was on the day of writing each almanac entry. And yet it is hard to pretend I didn’t know how Covid would look, or how the 2020 election would play out, just months later. So if certain passages seem “dated” as current events, I’ve intentionally left them that way. I’ve also included an Afterword, to catch us all up, together.

So, although I could not have predicted certain world events, I probably could have predicted I'd be thinking of yet another self-inflicted life upheaval. I have to ask myself, what am I searching for here? It's time to map this unfenced life.

 

Bellevue, Iowa.

December 21, 2019, the winter solstice.

The days are dark, the nights are cold, and I'm thinking of the tropics. What would it take to get out of cold dark Iowa, besides time and money? My husband and I could get in the car and drive south, likely traveling through weather even more wet and icy than it is here. I'm terrified of thundering semi-trucks, reckless sports cars, and heedless SUVs on winter roads. I wonder about the alternative of flying. Specifically, I wonder about flying with a dog. Therefore, I google the phrase "flying with a dog." I know people bring dogs with them when they travel. I've seen big hairy beasts crated up in travel kennels, loaded into the cargo bay of an airplane along with the luggage and golf bags. I can only hope those dogs are well sedated before they're strapped in. For my own dog, this would never work. At 8 pounds, this short-haired chihuahua would freeze to death before the plane left the tarmac. I'd have to find a way to carry her on board and wrap her in a blanket on my lap. I recall the times I've flow out of the nearby airport in Dubuque, which only has one destination: Chicago. From O'Hare we can board flights headed in all directions of the globe. Have I ever booked a flight out of that airport that has been on time? Nope. How on earth would I keep a skittish, 2-year-old dog settled on a long, unpredictable journey? I guess we're staying put. Not just for today or for the winter. Probably, forever.

December 22

Tomorrow, in Bellevue, Iowa, the day will be four seconds longer than today. That is, we'll start escaping the doldrums between the period of shortening days and shortening nights. On only one day do sunlight and darkness find counterpoise, and today is it. What better time to journey inward? Thus, my first go at daily writing since I was a ten-year-old in Kansas City, and just knew the world would be fascinated by my thoughts. Yet, I couldn't bear the idea of anybody knowing them. That's why I kept my little diary locked with the little key it came with. Nancy Drew-like, I tucked my mystery under the mattress of the lower bunk, while my sister spent her nights on the upper bunk. Four years older than I, Leslie knew where the diary was and where the key was. She couldn't have cared less although she teased me by threatening to read it. Fifty years later, I'm a middle-aged woman living in a small town in the middle of the county. I’m invisible to most of the world. Yet I still feel somebody out there will be fascinated by my every thought but can't bear the idea of anybody knowing them. That's why I'm sitting here on a dark Iowa morning, freezing rain spitting on my poet-garret window, secretly working out ways to illuminate my truth with fictional devices like character, conflict, narrative voice, and plot types. Of the seven basic plot types, I'm going with Voyage and Return. That seems to be the story of my life. Or at least the one I tell people.

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