MWD21 - On a Stretch of Highway in Middle Tennessee

Or why my twitter handle is fiftytwowest

Welcome to Midweek Dinner. If this is your first time here, feel free to poke around and ask questions (but not about the attic; we don’t talk about the attic). Perhaps you’d be interested in seeing the very first edition? Or maybe you missed last week when I revealed the secrets behind my secret identity? If you like the look of the place, sign up here to receive a new issue every Wednesday, delivered piping hot, right to your doorstep.

This morning, I stood outside the soon-to-be Gaining Ground Grocery, the first major project of the new Chattanooga Food Center. I chatted with the founder, learning that a grocery wasn’t her original priority, but the pieces just kept falling into place, leading her to this little storefront which should open in the next few weeks. We shared an appreciation for the way a path can bend in unexpected ways even as the destination never changes.

Like this newsletter. The way I originally intended it to look and feel has given ground to something unexpected, a place to be transparent about my story and the process I’m undertaking to make myself a writer. The vision hasn’t changed, but the path has bent. Recently, I tried to explain the purpose of the newsletter like this:

I have always been a writer. I am still a writer. This is me saying, here I am, being a writer.

Even better may have been: This is me saying, here I am becoming a writer. This week, here’s what that looked like:

  • submitted a nonfiction piece to several outlets

  • sent an query for a piece on a Nashville Public Library exhibit opening in August, and the editor wants to pick it up (!)

  • in development on two bigger ideas: one a nonfiction book series for teens and the other an article

  • flipped back and forth between two open tabs on my desktop with calls for submission that I want to work toward

  • created a research document for the short story I’m working on that might be outgrowing its short story-ness

  • finished a book that needs a review, reached out to an author about an interview, followed up with another who already has questions in hand, shared some Sunday poetry, and otherwise neglected the website

Here I am.

And sometimes I’m on twitter being a writer and a reader and all the rest. If you are also there, you’ve probably wondered why my twitter handle is @fiftytwowest? Highway 52 West runs through a little town north of Nashville, and right up against that highway is where my grandparents made their lives together. The part I know anyway. They had rich, complicated histories before they found each other, whole marriages and families, jobs and wars and heartbreaks, all before I was ever part of the equation. But their home off that highway has shaped me, continues to shape me.

My grandfather made their house, which started its life as a trailer. By the time I knew it, he had added a front room, a bedroom, my grandmother’s sewing room, and a garage. There was a barn that housed his workshop, where he cut off one of his fingers, and where I worked with my dad to replace the roof when I was in high school. There was the storm cellar dug into the side of a hill, where my grandmother stored all the green beans and corn and beets and potatoes she put up in the summer and also where she would go with her little dog anytime a big storm blew through when Papa was on the road. It was the highest part of the property, where we could run up one side and then perch on the top with our legs hanging down over the cellar door. There was a little woodshed and a covered patio and a pond, and my grandmother’s clothesline between the shed and the cellar.

They are the starting spot for every time I think I can do whatever anyone else can do. Cut hair? Sure. Groom that horse? Probably. Make a piece of furniture? Oh yeah. Turn an old shirt into a dress for my daughter? Yep. Become a writer? Hmmm….

They are why I put up refrigerate pickles and freezer jam. They are why I hang my sheets on a line. They are why I close the blinds in my bedroom as soon as dusk settles in. They are why I make chess pie for my siblings and why I love stories told around the dining room table.

They are also the voices I hear in every painful discussion about racism or about whether a woman should be President or about what makes this country great. They were wrong in countless ways. They were dear in countless ways. They taught me so much.

So. Here I am. Becoming a writer. Thanks for being here with me.

A few choice links:

Alan Jacobs via The Hedgehog Review writing about - of all things - garden shears.

Someone built a bird feeder platform that looks like a library and then put a livecam on that thing, and my heart - it is so full.

Patricia Lockwood wrote an account of her experience with the coronavirus, and it is somehow difficult and dark and also hilarious and wonderful, and you should read it.

Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered if a mourning dove could repurpose a robin’s nest, now you know:

Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.