I started this website and blog the same day I submitted a revision of an essay formerly known as "Motel Road" to The Sun. I mention this submission in my first blog post. In that post, however, I am vague about the nature of it (i.e. the title of the essay and its destination), as though naming either would manifest some literary version of superstitions that inspire a cast to say "The Scottish Play." I worried that speaking too openly about the submission might jinx the outcome or, more logically, that it might make a negative outcome that much more difficult to face. I'd started the essay in 2011. It wasn't long after I'd read one of the original iterations of the essay at a WLA conference in Missoula, MT (back when the essay was called "The Woman Without Shoes: A Parable of Homeownership in the Era of Foreclosure") that I received, via campus mail, an important looking envelop from The Sun. Inside the envelop was two copies of the magazine, as well as a letter of solicitation. I was thrilled by the contents of the letter, and I was happy to have received a couple of free copies of the magazine. But I was also very confused because the letter wasn't addressed to me. a few months before the magazine had solicited work from me in 2011, and the revision of it I'd sent, which I'd hoped would be the "final" revision, was one I'd really begun digging into when I moved into my in-laws' in 2013. The essay revolves around an encounter my dad and I had with a woman at a foreclosure in 2009, and is also a story about our relationship and past loss of home.
So far, in addition to exploring the numerous ways I've come to define what "the field of foreclosure" means in the context of who I am as a writer (particularly who I am as a writer of these so-called notes from that field) as well as in the context of the subjects I write about (here and elsewhere) — i.e. the field of foreclosure not just as the field in which I worked with my dad, emptying and cleaning foreclosures, but also as a status of identity, as Lacan's "psychical cause for psychosis," and as a state of mind relevant to the sense of "writing beyond my means" - I've also spoken about the struggles I've faced while writing my memoir-in-progress, What Remains: Notes from the Field of Foreclosure, and I've provided updates (however cryptic in nature and sporadic in frequency) regarding the process of submitting my writing for publication, namely the part of that process that involves awaiting notice of acceptance/rejection. I'm happy to report that, in the meantime, "Let's Put on Kathy Kelly with Music: A VHS Home Video," a flash essay that examines a snippet of VHS footage my mom filmed of me circa 1986, was accepted for by The Boiler, and that another flash essay titled "Ode to Barbie Now," which explores themes similar to those in "Let's Put on Kathy Kelly..." was accepted by Sundog Lit not long afterward. I've also published a handful of poems this year as well.
I'm very happy about these recent "wins." Looking back, however, I can help but feel as though it was by the skin of my teeth that I "won." For lack of better descriptors, I'd say my submission process for "Let's Put on Kathy Kelly" and "Ode to Barbie Now" was fairly impulsive and careless. I polished each piece of writing to the point at which I couldn't stand to tinker with it any longer (let alone to look at it) or to the point at which, if I did continue tinkering with it, I feared I would destroy it (the Penelope complex again). When I'd reached that point, I had a beer (or two), hopped on newpages.com and reviewed my list of publications that others had recommended I submit to, and, after double-checking submission requirements, I paid the respective submission fee(s), and I pressed "SUBMIT," after which I immediately regretted having done so, after which, in my sleep, I dreamed dreams pregnant with symbols of fear and failure: I was pregnant, for example, and there was something wrong with me or the baby (the baby, I presume, symbolic of the work I'd just "labored" to "deliver"), or Mt. Rainier had erupted due to a shift in the San Andreas fault and my efforts to share my work with the world were therefore pointless because I wasn't going to survive "THE REALLY BIG ONE," the so-called "destiny" aspect of this city a cosmic joke, or, more simply, my teeth were falling out.
Needless to say, the sense of regret that darkens my dreams after I click "SUBMIT" and a publication swallows my credit card information and the file I've attached and then says, "Thank you...." makes a positive outcome, however long in the making, a welcome cause for celebration. There is nothing more rewarding in such situations than when I've woken up, turned on my phone, seen I've gotten e-mails, tapped the envelope icon, and noticed that not every e-mail is familiar junk from organizations I've yet to unsubscribe to: Alaskan Airlines (I hardly ever travel far enough to have to fly...), Restore Hetch Hetchy (I've never been able to participate...), Redfin (I'm not yet even actually in the market to buy a house...), Simply Hired and HigherEdJobs (reminders of the phase of unemployment I endured when I first moved here). That said, when I do see, among this junk (which I routinely move to the trash), an e-mail from a publication I've submitted to, my first instinct is, of course, to assume its contents will, though never using the word itself, spell R-E-J-E-C-T-I-O-N. Underlying that sense of imminent disappointment (or, more aptly, maybe, that sense that the regret I'd felt when I clicked "SUBMIT" and sent the writing away wasn't unfounded) is a glimmer of hope. Not unlike the flame of a match struck in the wind (without having taken proper precautions), this glimmer of hope either quickly dissipates upon reading a word like "Sorry" (a gust), OR, if/when I see words like "We'd like to..." or "If the piece is still available...," rather than any variety of platitudes editors craft to lessen the impact of rejection, it grows strong enough that, even if I'm exhausted and have no obligations that would prevent me from sleeping another hour or even if it's winter and I'm so cold I'm convinced I can see my breath, I'm able to leave the warmth of my bed. "Let's Put on Kathy Kelly..." and "Ode to Barbie Now" are representative of this particular process. The hope I felt as I opened the acceptance e-mail for each, coupled with the fact that such hope wasn't thwarted by "Sorry," soon turned to a feeling of I'm so lucky. Instead of hope the flame of a match struck in the wind, sure, but, in these cases, that flame had stayed lit long enough that it had served its purpose: to light a cigarette, to meet the bulb inside a lantern in a frigid coastal setting, to, figuratively speaking, let me believe for a little while longer that I do, in fact, know how to write things that are meaningful to a readership beyond my friends and family, that my writing isn't, as I so often worry it is (as I certainly worried it was as I'd impulsively sent it out), of no greater merit than the things my parents might have attached by magnets to a fridge when I was a kid, saying "This is beautiful!" no matter what it was.
I couldn't help but curl up to such essays.
For the impulsiveness that defined my submission of that pair of essays and that has since driven me to submit other works that have, in fact, been rejected, belies the more methodical mood in which I submitted another essay of mine, an essay I submitted (for what I hoped would be the last time) just prior to conceiving this blog, the secret mission of which, I suspect, was to create a distraction from my feelings about having submitted that essay, the cryptic nature of my commentary in this blog about that particular submission having been born, in turn, from my superstition that speaking about that submission in any certain terms might not only increase the likelihood of the essay being rejected (pride goeth before a fall), but might, superstition (and allusions to the Bible) aside, make the disappointment I could potentially face upon its rejection that much more devastating. I wanted to distract myself from the hope I felt about the essay in question (maybe regret is easier to deal with). I wanted to believe the hope I felt about the essay was legitimate, but part of me also worried that the nature of that hope (namely in light of my concerns about the legitimacy of it) was not unlike the hope I'd felt in the past while picking a slot machine to play on at a casino. Still, I have a tendency to want to believe (if I don't actually believe this) that I have a kind of sixth sense about into which machine I should slide my ticket. More often than not, however, the hope I feel about a particular machine is soon thwarted or I "collect" my remaining dollars or cents before I go so far as to bet it all. Long story short, it's a good thing I don't spend a whole lot of time at casinos. More importantly, the feeling of I'm so lucky I felt when this essay was "accepted" was, nonetheless, like what I imagine I'd feel if I were to ever bet all that remained on my slot machine ticket and win big as a result. I put "accepted" in quotation marks if only because it wasn't until I received a physical copy of the issue in which the essay appeared and saw it in print that I truly believed what had happened had happened.
When I started this particular essay, the original title of which was "The Woman Without Shoes: A Parable of Homeownership in the Era of Foreclosure," I was in my second year of MFA school, and I had yet to doubt my abilities to the extent I do now. Writing while I was in MFA school was like writing from within a cocoon, or a cozy sleeping bag, at least compared to writing after I'd graduated, emerged, and was therefore supposed to have opened my wings, and readily so. Back then when my professors had said that little of what they'd written in school had wound up in their first major publication I didn't want to believe them. Or more accurately I didn't want to believe that all the hard work I was putting forth would be for naught, that the real transformation would occur beyond what had become the familiarity of the university, of the classrooms in which I'd pass around copies of the essays I was working on, "The Woman Without Shoes" included.
I took the photo on the “Home” page of this website from the passenger’s seat of my dad’s Dodge Dakota pickup. It was July of 2009, and we were en route to a foreclosure in Big Sky, the farthest I’d traveled since I’d started working in the field of foreclosure a month earlier. The house in Big Sky, “a million dollar property,” my dad had told me, had already been emptied or “trashed out” (and it had been cleaned at least once). But once a foreclosure had become Real Estate Owned (REO), or was on the market, and after having dispatched contractors to empty it and clean it an initial time, the bank/mortgager would also send contractors, later, to do “touch up” cleaning and/or maintenance. People like my dad and I would thus become caretakers for houses that might otherwise suffer from total neglect. Traveling over 600 miles to vacuum, dust, and wipe down counters for a meager $25.00 — which was an even more meager wage when split between us—was absurd, especially once the cost of fuel, supplies, and motel rooms had been factored into the equation. In fact, it seemed we were actually paying (and steeply) to tour these vacancies. But that hadn’t been the only work order we had completed (or would complete) on that particular Montana route, let alone on that particular leg of the route, and at many of the houses we’d visited (or were going to visit in the coming days), we also had work orders for a grass cut, which, depending on the size of the yard we’d mow was another $25.00 or so. Moreover, we’d traveled enough miles together and had done enough work as a team that we were quite efficient by then in that we could cover upwards of 300-400 miles (or more) each day while also stopping at several foreclosures along the way, unloading our equipment, completing our cleaning and/or mowing in under an hour, reloading our equipment, and then getting back on the road. My dad would map our course so that we’d complete as much work as we could in a single day, while also covering as much ground as we could, and so that, before dark, or not too far into a given night, we’d land at a Motel 6 (or a motel equivalent in price and pet friendly) nearest the next address on our route, Tom Bodett’s ever-left-on light a welcome beacon by the time he’d shut off the Dodge’s engine and we’d unbuckled our seatbelts. “We’re not sight-seeing,” he’d say as we passed happy-go-lucky occupants of RVs, “We’re working,” and he was right—we were not on vacation. This fact, however, didn’t prevent me from keeping my camera around my neck as though our journey were one of leisure, that Dodge a little Winnebago, or as though the moments I documented were those I cherished or didn’t want to forget. I remember the rush of air as I rolled the window all the way down, the whir of our tires as they turned upon that ribbon of asphalt, the purpose of our mission at once urgent and inconsequential, that mark we were making upon the landscape at once colossal and diminutive. I’ve said before that if someone were to paint the zeitgeist of the Great Recession, a scene from the field of foreclosure would be a strong candidate. I’ve argued that the photo in question, in fact, resembles a contemporary rendering of the aftermath of the scene in John Gast’s 19th Century painting “American Progress,” a painting that depicts Manifest Destiny as a hopeful enterprise, mostly, progress the angelic figure in the foreground, who is leading settlers West, from darkness to light. I’ve said the photo captures the zeitgeist of the era of foreclosure, or the mood of that so-called field my dad and I were navigating when I took it, a field scattered with debris from a long ago party for what my predecessors—among the hopefuls in Gast’s painting—called “the birthday of the New World,” debris that, however thanklessly, we’d since been tasked to clean up. But to say that was my intention when I took the photo would be a lie. It wouldn’t be for a while that I’d make the connection and recognize how, there, in that Dodge, what we were driving toward was a dark sky, the light behind us. If that photo can, in fact, be said to symbolize a contemporary rendering of the aftermath of the scene depicted in that historic painting then, in that rendering, or in this, my commentary about it, my role is not equivalent to that of any of the figures on Gast’s canvas, as I might have once thought, least of all progress herself. If you were to ask me my role, I’d say I’m the one holding the paintbrush, or, in the case of that photo, the camera, or, in the case of this commentary, the pen. The aftermath I’m trying to convey: my and my dad’s struggling operation, what led us to that field, that road, in the first place—what fueled us, why we had to or chose to stay.