Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: In “Three Twirls,” we’re drawn in by the exploration of the identity crisis a mother goes through when her children grow up. What brought you to write through this experience?
Laura Grace Weldon: One of my community memoir writing classes is entirely made up of older women, average age probably mid-70’s. They are powerful storytellers but largely new to writing. In a session a few months ago we’d been talking about juxtaposition and I asked them to write about a “delicious transgression.” There was an awful lull. No one put pen to paper. Normally I never narrow a topic by giving examples from my life, but this group seems to write more freely when I illustrate concepts with one of my own tales. I’d nearly forgotten about my wild snowmobile ride, but shared it with them that afternoon in nearly the same form you see it in now. I’m thrilled to say it helped them let loose with far more feral stories.
RR: We love the moment that the snowmobile goes airborne, when ‘time warps,’ as you put it. In the actual moment, did you feel that? How did you approach putting that sensation into words?
LGW: Chances are we’ve all come to those junctures when time elongates out of proportion. Science can explain why we perceive time differently, but the experience feels singular. Those moments for me were packed with vastly increased perception and even more tightly packed with meaning. Since the memory is so vivid it would seem easy to describe but I have no way to truly put it into words.
RR: This piece feels driven by its strong narrative voice. How do you approach voice going into such a short piece?
LGW: Finding something wry or absurd about a difficult experience is part of my voice.
When my husband was lying in the ER with a broken neck, head and upper body taped to the gurney, both of us terrified, I asked the doctor if I could to be the one to drill holes in his head for the neck stabilizing halo. My husband and I laughed. Everyone else in the room treated me like The Worst. I showed up on this planet with wide-open receptors for suffering and injustice. To cope, I have learned to balance it with levity.
RR: You’ve published several books of poetry as well as articles and essays. Are personal nonfiction pieces also a regular genre for you, or something new?
LGW: Creative nonfiction is my first love and a regular outlet for me. I still avoid writing about many pivotal coming-of-age experiences out of concern for the privacy of others, but I’m hoping bravery will someday prevail.
RR: What are some of your favorite reads or inspirations for your work?
LGW: I’ve been a voracious reader since I was six years old and every writer I love has made a difference to me. Beyond the book, I have long been inspired by stories people tell. I discovered this in my first job at a nursing home when I was 13 years old. People in their 80s and 90s told me all sorts of stories, often while holding my hand. They told about leaving the Old Country knowing they’d never see their families again, about a cute boy in a bow tie who owned the jitterbug, about a sister locked away for a disability, about a baby who died when they couldn’t afford a doctor, about the best dog ever. All of us have necessary stories. I am captivated by the way stories ring bells deep in the listener, the ways sharing a deeply personal experience can’t help but connect us.
Laura Grace Weldon’s work in Issue 7.2: