Today’s blog post is inspired by Courtney Kersten’s appearance at The Local Store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she read from her recently published debut memoir Daughter in Retrograde.
Avoid flippancy as you pack your bag in California. Yes, you really will need wool socks. No, despite any Midwestern fantasy of that one spring where it hit 82º, it won’t happen again. Yes, do bring pantyhose if you’re really going to wear that skirt. Bring your reading glasses. Bring that chamomile tincture. Don’t leave the door without deodorant.
Embrace the urge to ask the flight attendant on your flight from San Jose to Minneapolis for another Biscoff cookie. She’ll hand you three and tell you to stash them quickly. You do. You take her generosity as an omen of good luck. You realize you forgot your book.
When you arrive in your old home, embrace the brown leather jacket your father found in his closet that might be a forgotten leftover from his ex-wife. You look at the tag. You smell the armpits. You dig in the pockets and find a creased receipt. It’s dated from February 2001, a Gordy’s grocery store purchase of one rotisserie chicken. You’re not sure what this means. You decide to wear the coat. You may even take it home with you.
While strolling around your hometown before your reading, avoid the westside Dairy Queen where you once locked yourself in the bathroom as a child and screamed until you heard your mother’s voice on the other side. If you were to return, it would feel metaphorical. Avoid the park where you and your mother once threw bread to the ducks. This wouldn’t feel metaphorical, but it would smear your mascara. Avoid the mall where you and your mother spent hours shimmying in and out of jeans. Avoid the streets around the hospital and the entirety of downtown Chippewa Falls. These places would derail you entirely.
Avoid eating all three Biscoff cookies still stashed in your bag before reading. You’ll fantasize about their sweet snap. You’ll desire their powder on your fingers. You anticipate that it would be reassuring—they were your omen of good luck, weren’t they? You eat all of them five minutes before you’re supposed to read.
Now, embrace the water fountain. Embrace drinking slow. Embrace the book your Aunt Delores offers to let you read from. Embrace the heat shuddering through the vents, causing you to sweat—maybe this is your Midwestern fantasy come true. Maybe you didn’t need those wool socks after all . . . Embrace the familiar sight of slush near the door reminding you that, yes, you really did need them. Embrace the nostalgia that blossoms within you upon seeing this dirty snow. Embrace turning to the podium and opening your book.
Avoid the quavering that wants to creep in your voice. Avoid that old tick of rocking back and forth in your shoes. Avoid channeling your nervousness into your hands that want to grip the sides of the podium—this may seem bizarre. You don’t want to seem bizarre, but calm and confident—though every sensation pulsing through your body assures you that, indeed, you are not. Avoid fixating on this.
Embrace the silence of an audience listening. Embrace your friends and family who clap for you. Embrace their hugs and congratulatory words whispered into your ear. Embrace the knowledge that the only reason you are here, in your hometown, reading a book you wrote, is because of their role in your life. Embrace this gratitude. Allow it to sit with you like a kitten curling up next to you, snug and purring. Allow this to glide you home and lull you to sleep. Embrace this tranquility.
is an essayist and scholar. A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, she teaches creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her essays can be found in River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, DIAGRAM, The Sonora Review, Black Warrior Review, and The Master’s Review.