Kerry Headley

An Introvert’s Thanksgiving

I’m not a big holiday person. Calendar-based social expectations make me feel claustrophobic and resentful: We’re going to spend a day off cooking and cleaning? When we could sleep late, drink coffee in bed, and read online astrology websites until noon?  I like days with no commitments because they seem more open to possibilities, which feels holier to me than filling up the empty spaces with what I experience as too much conversation and busyness. But then I’m an introverted hermit who uses her tiny reserve of extroversion  to remain employed and minimally social.

I am the person who enjoyed spending a Christmas alone, eating Thai food and watching the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

So, it’s Black Friday, and I’m planning to walk forty blocks so I can buy cat food at the drug store instead of getting trampled at Target. Later, I’ll hang out with my sister whose wife and kids are out of town, which means we can swear as much as we want and watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy if we choose–something we did on New Year’s Day a few years ago. I know that sounds like a sucky day to some (many?) people, but like me, my sister also just wants a day to unwind, free from responsibility. We’ll enjoy being together, but in a way that asks virtually nothing of either of us–something that restores us.

I’m thankful for so many things this year. I’m back in the West where I’m simply a better, more charitable person. I have a spacious, adorable apartment that I love. After two solid months of looking, Portland opened up and offered me a place to settle just when I was about to get in my car and drive away. I bought a queen-sized bed to affirm the idea that I’m not going anywhere. I bought dishes–new ones instead of the thrift store china I usually buy and leave behind when I leave. I love my job at the high school for many reasons. My co-workers are friendly, genuine people who care about education. I’m learning new skills while getting paid to use the ones I already possess. The students I work with are sweet and happy to be directed toward resources. I’m not living at the poverty level and being told how lucky I am to teach for virtually nothing in the hopes that I’ll be offered a tenure track position.

In 2006, I lost my career in one day due to an arm and shoulder injury. It’s been a long, often scary journey that led me away from what I thought I was supposed to do to who I am supposed to be. When I was still flailing, in pain, and broke, I couldn’t see that I would eventually recover enough to get into grad school or that my resourcefulness would show me how to make a way out of no way. I got used to working with so little that I now feel abundant and grateful–as if I have something to give.

I need a lot of space to let that in.

Acquiring Empathy through the Essay

Kerry Headley:

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately. This showed up at an interesting moment. So much good writing on the Internet!

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

calling manBrevity contributor William Bradleyhas written a truly perfect tribute to the power of the personal essay to promote empathy. The fact that he mentions other former Brevity authors and cites Debra Marquart’s powerful essay from our May 2008 issue is just icing on the excellent cake.  A link to the full essay after the excerpt:

It’s impossible for us to live the lives of others, of course, but essays give us a record of someone else’s consciousness—the act of reading these essays and interacting with these minds on the page is the closest thing we have to telepathy in the real world. Part of the reason why I care so much about issues pertaining to racial justice is that reading James Baldwin’s experiences and thoughts in “Notes of a Native Son” and “Stranger in the Village” made the issue vividly real. These issues were personal for Baldwin, and thus…

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Can’t Find my Way Home

Dag, who knew it would be so difficult to settle back into life in the West? I haven’t been posting because I’ve been busy trying to find work and a place to use my new fancy Ikea garlic press. It’s all taking way longer than I thought it would, which has kept me from blogging. Normally, I would provide an update right here. Instead, you can read it here at Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour, where I’m guest blogging again about post-MFA reality. 

SPOILER ALERT: Part of the great news I share as an update at the end of my post did not come to pass. I’m still without an apartment. And my Ikea garlic press remains in its packaging. Thanks for reading. And thanks to Bill Roorbach for asking me to guest blog again. I’m finally reading his most recent novel, Life Among Giants, which is so great I’m going to have to devote an entire post to it. Check it out. It’s worth it.

Working on Your Memoirs?

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

kohler

Kohler, our favorite source for plumbing fixtures, has a stately, comfort height, two piece, round front new toilet available, so what do they call it? Kohler Memoirs (c).  Here at the Brevity corporate towers, we plan to redo the executive washroom immediately.

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On Not Publishing A Memoir

Kerry Headley:

I am still unwinding from my trek across the country. I’ll be back shortly, but in the interim read this. It’s way more articulate than I can be right now.

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

scoldIn Salon this week, Emily DePrang discusses her decision not to publish a memoir of her marriage, a decision she made between getting a publisher and waiting on the final contract. DePrang offers a frank and complicated look at the reasons one might reconsider a “tell all,” the role of publishing a book in the life of a writer, and how the wisdom in some of the rejections she received from publishers ultimately rang true to her.

For many of us who work in memoir, it’s worth a careful read. 

Here’s a snippet:

What stopped me was that a memoir’s quality correlates to its honesty, and my book deal would be built on a kind of lie. I would only be pretending to be at peace with my past and ready to share its lessons with the world. I’d only be acting like I thought it was okay to dish…

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My Own Private Idaho is a Dumb Post Title

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I can’t even remember what state I spent the night in last night. I’m not sure I can remember which ones I drove through today. I pushed myself to drive just a bit further so I might arrive in the Pacific Northwest tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that today was my first time in Idaho. It was windy and dusty and beautiful. This motel doesn’t have a bathtub, which was disappointing until I realized how nice the shower is. I stood underneath the water a long time, wondering how I ended up with splotchy bruises on both hips.

The door to my room here is so difficult to open that I decided to forgo dinner at the restaurant next door so I don’t have to deal with it. It might need a quick spritz of WD-40, but calling the front desk seems beyond me. So, I’m eating trail mix for dinner. Some part of me is aware that this sucks, but it’s a part of me buried underneath the exhausted, why-are-you-even-blogging-freaklord? part of me.

Tomorrow: Goodbye, Idaho. Hello, Pacific time zone.

 

Day 5: Pretend I Came Up with a Witty Title

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I am even less articulate tonight than I was yesterday, though I am happier. My heart physically hurt as I drove further into Nebraska today and on into Wyoming. But I mean that in a positive way. Something primal was restored in me as I reunited with the West. As each landscape changed from roadside sunflowers to scrub bushes to hills studded with rocks, I felt my chest expanding. I could breathe more easily. The sky nearly broke my heart because it was so blue, and the clouds were so wide and white.

That’s what I got for now. What more could I add to that anyway?

Day 4: Toto, We’re Not in Our Right Minds Anymore

So maybe GPS isn’t my personal Jesus after all. It wasn’t a big deal. I was still heading west, so I don’t think I lost more than an hour. It’s possible that it was my fault that I stayed on I-70 longer than I was supposed to. Part of I-70 was closed and so was part of my brain, so who can say? The smaller roads I ended up taking north to catch I-80 took me through a breathtaking part of Kansas I am sure I’ve never seen before. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because today I started feeling the journey and wishing just a little that there was another person here to validate my reality.

Chloe has figured out that our new morning routine ends with her in a crate, so today she hid under the king-sized bed in the motel and wouldn’t come out. This is my fear every morning–that my cat will find some crawlspace and refuse to move, possibly forcing me to rent another day in a motel so I can wait for her to come out after reasserting her position as boss. I had to lie down on the floor and stretch my hand out to her and pet her for fifteen minutes until I could pull her out. Thank God I had gotten a tranquilizer into her. Unfortunately, stressing about Chloe caused me to overlook the fact that I hadn’t packed one of my bags into the car. (It’s being mailed to me by the kind staff of the Days Inn in Concordia, Missouri.)

Today was also the day my ATM card stopped working at gas stations. Turns out my bank viewed all my cross-country charges as potential fraud so they put a block on my account. I spent a half an hour in a gas station parking lot on the phone with two different representatives straightening it out. I’m grateful that they erred on the side of caution, but it was another kink in the day that left me confused and worried: What if somebody emptied my entire account and I have to find work in the sex industry after all????

I’m getting a bit tired of public restrooms. And I’m really tired of getting up so early to get on the road at a reasonable hour. This afternoon I started to worry that my cats think I am abusing them for taking them on this journey even though they always rub their faces into my hand when I check on them whenever I stop for for food or gas. This is where it would be helpful to have a driving companion, someone who knows me well and who could say with authority: “Kerry, you would breastfeed your cats if you thought they needed it. Snap out of it.” And I would nod. Yes, that’s true. And then I would let it go.

There isn’t anyone to double check the map while I drive or to look into the backseat to see if the cats are sleeping or if they look dehydrated. There isn’t anyone to help load and unload the car or to make sure I didn’t forget anything at the motel like a bag of toiletries.

I’m going to wash my hair now since this motel has free shampoo. By some hair god miracle, my hair conditioner was not in the bag I forgot. So, despite the weirdness of today, I will still have hair power.

My past, my present, and my temporary future are Nebraska.

Day 3: West of the Mississippi

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I’m going to keep this brief because I want to lay on this king-sized bed for as long as possible before morning arrives and I have to pill the cats again for another day of driving. Also, I chose rose geranium as the essential oil for the aromatherapy cauldron tonight, which has relaxed the part of my brain that generates wit.

I’m in Missouri, outside Kansas City in another pet-friendly motel. I drove many miles today in the rain and in the sun. I ate my lunch on the hood of my car somewhere in Illinois. It’s been unseasonably cool everywhere I have been, which means I haven’t had to worry about the cats getting too hot, but that I packed too many pairs of shorts. I sang songs from the soundtrack to Hedwig and the Angry Inch as I passed too many eighteen-wheelers to count. Anyone who really knows me knows that I sort of despise driving. Or at least I used to. Maybe it’s all the aromatherapy and the homeopathic remedies I packed. Maybe it’s because I’ve balanced all the weird road food like peanut butter cheez crackers with applesauce, nuts, and baked tofu. Or maybe I just evolved. What’s true is that I am driving like a badass, and I have no idea how. I want this to be the new me–the lady who can drive herself across the entire fucking country like it’s no big whoop.

Tomorrow: Iowa and then Nebraska for god knows how long.

Bastard out of Carolina: Day 2

I realize that people who aren’t familiar with Dorothy Allison’s book might be offended by my post title. People who are familiar might also be offended. But it made me laugh, so it stays. The point is that I drove out of North Carolina this morning. If I had been with my sister, I would have said, “Thank God we’re out of that godforsaken state” because that’s what we say whenever we’re on a road trip and cross state lines. Any state. It doesn’t matter. This is what passes for fun on a long drive that’s far from over. However, the scenery in western North Carolina is green and lush and hilly. The sun was shining, and I’d had two cups of coffee. So instead of shaking my fist, which is also part of the game, I said, “Bye, North Carolina” as I drove into Tennessee accompanied by “Taking the Long Way” by the Dixie Chicks. And then I cried. Not a full baby bawl-head moment or anything, but there were tears–of happiness and relief.

I loved my graduate writing program. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to live in the South. I am also excited that this period in my life is over.

So, now I am in Kentucky and in the Central time zone, which means I gained an hour. As a result, I sort of made up the time I lost to traffic yesterday.  I’m near Paducah, I think, which is near the catfish restaurant next to the Days Inn. I should have stayed in my room and eaten what I ate last night–baked tofu from my food stash. To be clear, the restaurant wasn’t horrible. We were just mismatched. I wanted a semi-pleasant environment in which I might get a salad and maybe a piece of baked fish. What I got was a loud, family-oriented place favored by large parties. The decor could be accurately classified as hyper-patriotic fisherman. Affixed to one wall in red, white, and blue letters larger than my car was the message: God Bless the USA. There were fishing nets, mounted fish, and oars mixed with wooden stars painted gold. I’m not making fun of all this, really. (Okay, I am a little.) What’s funny is that I was the one who walked into a restaurant specializing in bottom-feeding fish hoping to find renewal. So, I made the best of it. The three hush puppies I ate were very good and so was the water. And as it turns out, I wasn’t even very hungry. At least not for food.

I really wanted to take a photo of the menu so you could see the offerings of frog legs. But I thought that might offend the staff. The place is literally next to the motel, so I assume they see a fair amount of travelers who do that. So instead I wrote down the message written in block letters on the back of a t-shirt worn by an elderly woman. It read: NO WHINING, NO EXCUSES, NO QUITTING. I wanted to eavesdrop so I might ascertain how merciless she might be. I couldn’t stop imagining her interacting with grandchildren. Maybe in reality she was a big softie. The t-shirt was maybe a joke given to her by co-workers? Her husband was wearing a t-shirt advertising a Baptist church. I was wearing a white t-shirt with an embroidered floral design and an applesauce stain on the side.

I’m choosing an aromatherapy oil for my bath and watching Rachel Maddow. Somewhere just outside this room there is someone from Kentucky who would find that kind of funny.

 

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