Interview with David Meischen
Rappahannock Review Prose Editors: We are drawn in by how “The Ties that Bind” negotiates the complicated dynamics of love, intolerance, and family. Can you talk about how you balance these themes in your work?
David Meischen: I was raised by parents who loved me. I grew up surrounded by German kinfolk who talked a lot and hugged a lot. My parents were strict, my relatives judgmental, my church and community prescriptive. When I sit down at my keyboard to reflect on seven decades of family life, I am reminded—once again—that my family dynamic is complicated, that every family dynamic is fraught. In “The Ties that Bind,” I’m trying to examine how competing family viewpoints affected my experience of several family weddings. As regards my father’s role, I have said elsewhere that often with him I observed “judgment in a tug of war with love.” I have observed much the same in myself. My motive here is not blame—but understanding.
RR: This piece takes a rather non-linear approach to time to show the evolving family dynamics at the heart of the story. When you’re drafting, how do you work to develop such a fragmented timeline?
DM: My goal when I write a memory-based essay is not to follow a fragmented timeline—but rather to explore a particular aspect of my life. I am aware before I begin that memory is not chronological; I allow myself to proceed by way of associations, letting a particular memory trigger other memories, letting myself reflect on the memories that arise. With “The Ties that Bind,” I wanted to write about the personal conflicts that arose for me after my sister announced her intention to marry. I started with a phone call, then brief comments about my father and his resistance to my same-sex relationship. A page in, I realized that my subject was not one family wedding—but the painful contrast between a wedding in my family of origin and a wedding in my soon-to-be-husband Scott’s family. The narrative drops back and moves forward, interweaving scenes and events that allow me to explore two versions of what family can mean.
RR: Texas and the southwest have a strong presence in your work. What about the southwest inspires you, and how does the idea of place play a role in your writing?
DM: I grew up on a small family farm in the brush country of the Texas coastal plain, about fifty miles inland of Corpus Christi Bay. The vegetation is southwestern—prickly pear, yucca, cenizo, mesquite, and other plants well-adapted to shallow soil and sparse rainfall. For me the landscape is inseparable from my experience of family and farm. Anyone’s Son, my poetry collection, explores themes of identity, including the shaping influence of landscape. Currently, I’m working on a second collection of poems, focusing exclusively on the landscapes of rural South Texas. Seven years ago, my husband and I moved to Albuquerque. Daily, I am awed by the desert mesa where we live, by the landscape of the Rio Grande, by the majesty of the Sandia Mountains. These, too, are shaping my written reflections.
RR: Are there any parallels between “The Ties that Bind” and your upcoming memoir, Crossing the Nueces: Reflections of a Divided Life?
DM: I’m so glad you asked this question. Actually, “The Ties that Bind” forms the fourteenth of fifteen chapters in my memoir, currently in the hands of an agent whom I hope decides to help me pursue publication.
RR: Can you discuss your work with Dos Gatos Press and how you seek to support other writers through your work?
DM: The primary goal of Dos Gatos Press is to support poets and poetry in New Mexico, Texas, and the Southwest. For a decade, we published the Texas Poetry Calendar, featuring original poems in each week of the year. We have published several collections by individual poets. We’re proudest of Wingbeats and Wingbeats II—nationally recognized, nationally distributed collections of poetry writing exercises. Currently, we present monthly poetry workshops drawn from our Wingbeats exercises. These workshops are co-sponsored by Bookworks of Albuquerque. Since the onset of the pandemic, our workshops are presented via Zoom.
David Meischen’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.