From the Prose Editor
“Any accomplished piece of writing is a journey. You start someplace and are changed when you are finished.” – Scott Russell Sanders
In 1864 my Scottish ancestors came to America and bought 80 acres of land in Iowa, just north of the Des Moines River. The piece of land was owned by family for 150 years, and it was my foundation, my home, my pride, my stability. Even after I moved to Chicago when I was in my 20s, I thought of this land in Iowa as home. My family called it The Old Home Place.
We tell ourselves stories about the places we are from. Some of those stories have been handed down for generations, and we add our own stories, and the arc of the narrative continues. It evolves, and grows, and changes. And in telling these stories we are changed as well.
What that 80 acres meant to my father, who loved that piece of land with his entire being, and was proud of it, and never lived more than a half mile from that place all his life, is different than what it means to me.
Six years ago my husband and I adopted our daughter, who is black, and gradually I came to understand the Old Home Place differently. One day, as I was walking along the shore of Lake Michigan with my daughter searching for beach glass, I was reminded of hot summer days in Iowa, walking the plowed corn fields hunting for arrowheads with my dad. Suddenly, it occurred to me that in 1865, when my white, northern European ancestors bought that 80 acres in the richest farmland in America, Native Americans were being forced West, and my daughter’s ancestors were just being freed from slavery. Suddenly, the stories I had been telling myself were no longer the whole truth.
My daughter’s ancestors were not able to buy land in 1865. Even 100 years later, when they came to Chicago during the Great Migration, my daughter’s great grandfather was unable to buy a house because of redlining laws.
As I sit across the table at McDonald’s from my daughter’s biological grandmother, I wonder how the color of her skin determined the trajectory of her family stories, her foundation, her stability, her prosperity. I bear the guilt of adding “white privilege” to my story. The nostalgic, sentimental stories of our past, of The Old Home Place, have evolved into the cold hard truth of injustice.
I’ve been thinking recently about stories and the lenses we tell them through. Which story is true? The nostalgic and immigrant-family-coming-to-America story, or the story of white privilege that I now understand the 80 acres to be? They both are, really. But maybe one is more true than the other because I have a deeper understanding, a more complete picture, a more mature view of it. So I will keep writing this story to unravel its complicated thread. I must untangle the thread to find out what is true.
Our stories change over time, and the writing of them changes us as well. And so are the stories that we write as we are older, looking through the prism of a life lived and a perspective broadened. That’s why it’s important to keep writing, maybe even the same stories over and over again, in a different way and through a different prism. Because our stories need time to ripen in our souls, and we as writers need time to develop the maturity to understand them.
Book Briefs by
EIGHTh DAY Books
In Issue 6.2
written by luci Shaw
I thought I saw an edge of God
nudging sideways at me after
I glimpsed my initials written in sand.
Then he showed himself
as a honeycomb with bees,
and when I still didn’t respond
he presented me with
a small forest of trees with
red and yellow leaves, and
finally I recognized him and
wrote this thank-you note.
written by Marjorie Maddox
“Happiness….requires transforming greed into gratitude.”
— St. John Chrysostom
Standing sandy-footed among
the multitudes as if on the edge
of the Dead Sea, she becomes again her- self—behind are soldiers of scorn
rushing in; ahead waves of relief
curling back—and the welcome sun
warming everything in this country
of familiarity and loss, where she is
and is not what she left—slave of some foreign identity—but also, further back, like the dispersed salt blowing across land where she,
in a moment of want, almost turned
her head; almost, before remembering—
by magic or miracle—the burning,
pure, transformational deserts