Four Questions on Farsickness is an interview series with creative writers for whom place is essential to their work. Each writer answers the same four questions—and featured here is nonfiction writer Courtney Kersten, whose memoir, Daughter in Retrograde, will be published in May 2018 by the University of Wisconsin Press.
1. Share a little about where you’re from. When you were growing up, what place—real or imagined—most fascinated you, and why?
I grew up in west central Wisconsin smack-dab between Rib Lake and the Mississippi River. The place that fascinated me most was the plot of land my father lived on outside of Colfax. He dug a moat in the back acre to attract geese. When they arrived, they swarmed the lawn and sat on the roof, leaving the moat untouched and piles of spiraling feces on the blacktop driveway. I would sit in the basement and watch them, surrounded by dozens of taxidermied ducks, caught in mid-flight, hanging on the wood-paneled walls around me.
2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?
I lived in Baker, Nevada, outside of the Great Basin National Park for eight-weeks during a writing residency a few years ago. It was inspiring in the sense that I couldn’t afford to be careless or take for granted what I was doing creatively and personally. According to the last count, Baker’s population was sixty-eight people. It’s all wind, dust, and wild sage. It was beautiful and terrifying. I would wander around the scrub and think about how fragile life is. One wayward turn, one forgotten water bottle, one misplaced map, could you find your way home? Would one of those sixty-eight people find you? I would watch the chipmunks skitter outside my window; sometimes they would stop and pause for a moment, raising their hands as if in prayer. I thought about death a lot. My time there reminded me that sitting down to write is a gift, to be alive even more so. I also unsuccessfully tried to befriend the cows on the property.
3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?
Various places. Sometimes it’s my bedroom or a quiet bus ride home. Sometimes it’s wandering around second-hand stores in Idaho. Sometimes it’s beside a lake in Wisconsin. Sometimes it’s a friend’s spare bedroom or couch they’ve let me crash on.
4. Where would you most like to travel to next?
I want to visit Sedona, Arizona, with my ever-skeptical significant other. I want to visit the vortexes and get a picture of my aura taken. I want to plop an Ouija board down in the red dirt and see who shows up. I want to cleanse my soul and watch my husband roll his eyes at me. I can’t wait.
Courtney Kersten is the author of Daughter in Retrograde, a memoir forthcoming from the University of Wisconsin Press (2018). Her essays can be seen or are forthcoming from The Normal School, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, DIAGRAM, The Sonora Review, Black Warrior Review, The Master’s Review, Brevity, and elsewhere. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Riga, Latvia, and is currently a PhD student in Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz where she’s at work on a biography of the 1970s superstar astrologer: Linda Goodman. Find her online at courtneykersten.com.