Nelson Algren spent a lot of time in homeless shelters in Chicago. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s. He wasn’t homeless, but when you read his novels and stories—especially when you realize the measures he took to get them right—you get the impression he wished that he was. He used to go to Pacific Garden Mission, a giant homeless shelter still in operation in Chicago to this day, and sit down with the drunks and down-and-outers. He’d eat dinner with them, play cards, and shoot the breeze. There’s one picture, taken by Algren’s photographer buddy Art Shay, which depicts a junkie with a hypo showing Algren how he shoots up.
Very recently, I turned thirty.
It’s a bit of a no-man’s land, emotionally, this turning thirty business. Anyone older, even by a few months, will dismiss all your grumbling (and will probably be strongly tempted to dismiss this post) with a patronizing chuckle and an eye roll. Anyone younger will take your grumbling far too seriously, and will try annoyingly hard to commiserate with and console you.
The film August: Osage County opens in the home of Violet and Beverly Weston. Their decades-long marriage has been an attempt to blend their divergent natures; Beverly’s is poetic, Violet’s is mean. She wreaks emotional violence against anyone who gets too close to her frayed center. Beverly navigates her tumultuous waters by gripping the gunwales. As the film starts, he is bearing the tempest that occurs when Violet learns he has hired “an Indian” (the tragically and recently deceased Misty Upham) to help care for her through her developing stages of oral cancer. Having provided for Violet in this way, Beverly launches a boat on the lake where he is later discovered to have drowned. His family considers it a suicide. His death brings their three daughters back home, as well as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae; her husband, Charles; and their son, a grown man they call Little Charles.
Sometimes, especially when I’m most in need of meeting myself—the actual Jill long lost within the daily, rigid busyness of life—I hunt for myself in the files on my computer.
I look for me between the lines of what I have managed to write down, in words and images that, over time, come together in patterns and threads and whispers. And I try to understand what I believe I have been trying to tell myself. I have discovered that the Jill who has been writing these past few months is one who can’t stop talking about the past, about memory, about loss.