Snowbound by Elizabeth Chandler
In 2005, I was young. Dumb as shit, but with a self-fantasy that allowed me to read and write as though history was at stake. This productivity made me less dumb. Another way of looking at it: a man I know says the first time he masturbated and came, he felt like he’d invented something. Not to be too predictable along gender lines, but when I was pregnant, the experience felt entirely mine. How could anyone have felt this before me? I had invented pregnancy. Writing as a young person was similar.
I wrote two stories in 2005. Others as well, but two for comparison’s sake because aren’t dichotomies convenient? Both stories about sexuality. Predators. Both feature lesbians. In one story, the girl “comes out” at the end. In the other story, her sexuality is private. None of your business. Guess which story everyone liked?
I’m including an excerpt from the published story. There are no lesbians in this excerpt. No young girls either. It’s about privacy, I think. It’s also about what should be written about and whether what should be written should have anything to do with the official public conversation. It’s the part of the story I like best.
There once lived a man and woman who thought with the same mind. The man loved the woman and the woman loved the man almost as much. They were independent people and had the hearts of warriors. Never afraid to offer an opinion, the man was often seen in the marketplace nodding his head in the rhythm of a new thought. The woman was often seen beside him, jotting down his thoughts so that the world could read them. One day, the man and the woman were in a crowd watching a Great Man speak some dictums. The Great Man smiled so that the man and the woman could see his gums. He paced back and forth in his uniform and threw money into the crowd. The man thought his thoughts, but he thought them in a direction away from the woman. He was afraid of the Great Man and was intimidated by the coordination of his uniform. He was afraid for the woman beside him, whom he loved. The woman waited for the man’s thoughts with the pen in her hand. When she saw the thoughts were not given to her, she died of shame.
The journal where this story was published—The Orange Coast Review—is now out of print.
In late 2005, I moved to Maine with a man who I loved and who intimidated me by being so much what I wanted to become. We lived in a cabin on 40 acres of land near a town where I knew no one. Deep eaves over windows eased snow slide but also made the dark days darker.
To keep me honest about any conclusions I might draw about myself or writing ten years ago as compared to myself and my writing now, I’m including a diary entry. One page verbatim. I think this is the best page in the whole diary, so you can imagine what I’m leaving out. Lots of first-person speculations. Lots of transcribed quotes. Lists. What I’ve included below is also embarrassing, but representative of the person I was, regardless of cultural moments. In other words, this was what was possible for me, obviously and simply because it’s what I actually wrote, not after a revision process, but in a moment, at a desk in a dark room with lots of snow outside:
*Sherry’s mother has Chrone’s disease, carries a shit bag w/her, 8 feet of intestines left so food goes through her system quickly, she has to take 8 asprin instead of 2 b/c there isn’t time for it to be absorbed—6 kids 11 months apart each.
*Lacrosse team members accused of kidnapping and raping a stripper. Defense claims she was “impaired.”
*Maine women—1st husbands beat them—2nd husbands quiet sweet men.
*How having a baby affects dating life
*Buying oil from African dictators—repeating the same mistakes
*Last night I felt like I was apart from myself, sitting on the bathroom floor—AJ said I didn’t smoke that much so I thought I was crazy, that I would never stop feeling like this—distanced—my legs heavy—I thought I might be dying and I didn’t want to die—there is always the danger of an accident—I feel the possibility of the end of my life, driving a car—or the end of how I perceive my life—the end of access to my memories—looking at AJ in the bathroom I loved him so much b/c I missed him and I felt like I was looking at him through someone else’s eyes.
*Write a novel where the narrator feels this—I’m also interested in our double-faced morality, a sound interior morality (be open and fair to other people w/n a group) and harsh mercantile approach to people outside our “family”—people naturally divide into units, it’s a way of coding information.
*Jen’s miscarriage—got pregnant, ate a lot, had a miscarriage so now she’s just fat.
*Kava tea, licking the inside of the tea bag
*Looking into a toilet bowl, yellow pee in it, raising head, everything looks yellow.
Sherry was an acquaintance from work. Jen—I have no idea. The reference to African dictators implies a scope outside my immediate world. More truthfully, yellow pee was my yellow wallpaper. I was yellow-wallpapering myself.
Regarding cultural moments and the usefulness in defining them, and whether defining them constricts what people are willing to read: what’s considered smart is often self-serving. Slavery in the United States before the cotton boom was generally described as a necessary evil that would soon be phased out and was obviously perpetrated due to a profit motive. After the cotton boom, when slavery was very profitable and the money came pouring in, the practice was described as paternalistic, not for profit at all. The going wisdom serves itself. This goes for literary wisdom, too.
So what? Write against the going wisdom? Also write against the movements that go against the going wisdom, or you’re just as bad. Or just write what you think. If you do that, you may not get published.
The cultural moment is silly. It’s a compromise. An average. There are always people who don’t fit into it. Elias Hicks was awesome. He lived a long time ago. A Quaker, he said that if you don’t like slavery then don’t be a hypocrite and don’t buy cotton, sugar, rice. He didn’t like science. He also didn’t like the Erie Canal. But he must have been of the cultural moment because we know about him now?
I don’t know how private I want to be. I don’t know if I care about or respect cultural moments. If I should be proud or ashamed if my themes now are only marginally different than they were ten years ago.
In 2015, I published a story in apt about a woman and her children in a snowy isolated place. It has been described as apocalyptic, which is true, but the drive for me is privacy. In our very public world, maybe privacy feels apocalyptic to some people.
The unpublished story I wrote in 2005—the one with young girls and predators—was also set in a snowy isolation.
I think it’s possible to foster privacy within a public. To be vocal, but unfound. Gathering a community to support your voice seems more solipsistic, in some ways, than staying in the attic.
To be truly diverse, the patterns in diversity—or what we’re being diverse about—should be less obvious than demographics or cultural movements. The categories less blunt. This is an ideal, but I think it would be great if how writing changed over ten years was personal, with some influence from the loud-mouth public, the crowd, but only because that can’t be helped. The Great Man was never that interesting.
More work by Elizabeth Chandler in apt:
“Evergreen” (Fifth print annual, January 2015)
Elizabeth Chandler has an MFA from UC Irvine and has stories published or forthcoming in Bodega, The Kenyon Review, and Burrow Press Review. She lives in Pittsburgh.