Earlier this year, I sat inside Rabbit’s Tavern—a dimly-lit townie bar, just off the main drag, in Grinnell, Iowa—to write my first obituary. It was noon on a Tuesday and I’d been staring at a blank screen for days. Desperate, I left my Grin City writing studio, a converted corncrib on a farm just outside of town, and told myself I wasn’t allowed to return until it was complete. The newspaper deadline was looming.
I sat on a stool at the bar, ordered a pint (my first drink in months), and started to write. But, the storyteller in me was pained by the formulaic requirements of an obituary (constraints, I might add, about which funeral homes and newspapers are frequently unbending).
Two pints (and a small bag of Fritos later), I filed the obituary. But, with an intense dissatisfaction weighing me down. And so, admittedly, this issue is an act of rebellion—a break from what one expects and a desire to pen memory, eulogize, or craft an elegy. Ultimately, this issue plays with ways of capturing the past—a person, place, or thing that is no longer with us. These are not perfectly glossy images, rather authentic and complex portraits of past life whether that be in a building no longer standing (or decaying before our eyes), an object long lost, an individual missing or passed, a time or place that no longer exists. And, in many ways, you have joined me in this desire to break the rules; writers responded to this call in record numbers, pushing and playing with form, finding new ways into unique subjects.
In this issue, our eighth collection of true stories, you’ll find nonfiction storytellers pushing form.
Heidi Hutner’s essay, “Notes for my Next Book,” pulls together a fractured portrait of her mother’s legacy—from parties in Paris to protests in Berkeley—and their complex relationship.
Tiffany Hitesman explores faulty memories wrapped around the loss of a classmate in “The Sticker Thief,” while Naomi Guttman’s essay “Red Elephant” uses a gift from the past to explore point of view and a long buried relationship in Quebec.
Sarah Ensor’s essay “Nelson Probably” pieces together the mourning and loss of her mother’s first husband on a cold winter night, just outside of Baltimore, while Ellee Achten’s deeply personal and interactive essay, “Is,” pushes us to confront the edge of death.
Erin Innes chronicles her family’s relationship with British Columbia’s Bute Inlet, their floathouse, and the war in the woods in “Westerly.”
Nico Cassanetti’s “Upper West Side,” an excerpt from a larger essay collection, crossing form and place with story, brings us to the waters of Central Park’s Hernshead Lake filled with tears, stories, and regrets.
Photographer Kija Lucas travels the United States on a botanical and historical search for her family—capturing the past in what remains and physically crossing paths with past generations. Visual artist Lee John Phillips re-opens and documents the contents of his grandfather’s shed, standing mostly unopened since his passing, and connects with the long line of men in his family in southwest Wales. Both are long-term works-in-progress.
And, not to be forgotten, Emmy Colon helped us bring the imagery and themes of several essays in this issue to life through her illustrations (snippets of which you can see on this issue’s home page), and Ellee Achten joined us again as assistant editor. Together, we hope this collection will leave you feeling challenged and inspired to find alternative ways of exploring (and documenting) what’s nearly gone, newly missing, or long-lost.
~ Maggie Messitt 10/15/15