Tuesday, December 01, 2020

the slow burn

Mother was afraid of ghosts, but I am afraid of mother. She appears at night

in the corner of the room, starving and moaning.  Foaming at the mouth

and in need of bread.  I feed her and she grows fat on fear. 

-unusual creatures 

(you can see a couple past posts about this project here...) 

In the fall of 2011, an aunt bequeathed to me a box of old family cabinet card photos that had come to her by way of relatives in Nebraska.  She had held onto them for a few years, and had only vaguely identified many of the people as cousins and such on my grandmother's side of the family. While some of the faces had been lost to memory, there were a couple of my grandmother as a child I had seen before, but otherwise, no one I would recognize.  She had grown tired of them and wondered if I might be able to use them for creative purposes. 

Unlike my dad's side of the family, which was sprawling, but rather orderly in its genealogy records, my mother's by virtue of the rather early deaths of both grandparents, was much less clear.  I had come upon some information during grad school that traced back a few generations on my grandfather's side with some interesting points of note--the lineage of "Marie" as  (my own middle name, as well as my mom's).  A legendary circus bareback rider from Michigan named Ida Marie Van Brunt. But while my dad's side was largely collectively encapsuled in Wisconsin, Nebraska was this far off place.  When I was really little, we'd visited my grandfather's sister, Aunt Marie often in Blair.  I only remember that she made excellent banana bread and owned what I remember was supposedly a haunted breakfront in the corner of her kitchen. Also, a basement filled with creepy school desks (her husband worked for the district--a couple of which went home and sit still in my dad's basement to this day.)  Also, that they had lots of rabbits in a hutch behind their garage. 

The cards were cool, but it took a minute to figure out what to do with them.  I didn't want to destroy them, so wound up scanning and then collage-ing over them. I wound up, courtesy of thrifting, some cool old frames and soon had a collection of "family" portraits I started calling unusual creatures.  All along, there were some plans made for text pieces to accompany them. Possibly a book-in-a-box project off in the distance.  While I made notes and did research on various things like folklore and taxidermy, the framed images themselves made it into a more general library exhibit and then into our Creepy Curiosities A of R exhibit in the fall of 2015.  Here, they appeared in a cluster on the wall like some strange family's staircase gallery, and opposite, I created an installation piece that is still one of my favorite pieces of work--involving anatomical drawings, bones, creepy dolls, and all sorts of weirdness. 

I still didn't have much in the way of written content then, but over the next couple years, I filled a notebook, handwritten with notes and snippets of letters, diaries, etc.  I spent the summer of 2017 finishing what I thought I wanted for that book, intending to type up much of it that fall, except my mother got really sick and had to be hospitalized, and by the time I returned to it early 2018, my enthusiasm had worn off and it seemed weaker than I remembered it.  So it sat, in it's raggedy orange spiral notebook next to my desk since then, and I'd pull it out sometimes, type up various bits, but on the whole, was unenthused.  And besides, I had moved onto more interesting projects than this strange story of a family of women told from three points of view.Still,  I imagined, when it was done, a box of letters, diaries, postcards and ephemera. 

In the spring of this year, Tupelo Quarterly featured some of the bits in an issue, but I still wasn't happy altogether with the text portions.  This fall, after finishing up some newer projects, I  decided to rewrite and re-imagine the project in fits and starts, and that, in recent weeks have been where my head is.  Maybe not so sprawling and large, but smaller and tighter, but the same story.  I've been mining that notebook for jumping off points and inspiration. And truthfully, I'm not hating this newer, slimmed down version at all, and that's a positive sign. 

It occurred to me that if I manage to finish it after the new year, it will have been a project 10 years in the making, which is strange for me, someone who actually turns things out pretty fast most of the time.  But I like the twists and turns of process in this one, so am content to hold on a bit longer to get it exactly right. 

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