A Northwest Based Literary Journal

Newfoundland Home is an Inspiration, by Nathan Elliott

Like a lot of my writing, I only figured out what “Shiva Buys a House” was about a long time after it was written. Perhaps it’s because I’m still new to creative work: I published my first creative piece last summer; when it came up among friends and family, I would say that it was about my experience of immigrating to Canada. The piece was really about no such thing: it was a desperate love story, actually, the story of how my wife and I met five years ago, and made a series of decisions that completely wrecked the lives we had been building up until that point. I also realized, somewhat to my embarrassment, that piece might have been a literary love letter to the late David Foster Wallace.[1]

Sam on the sun porch

Nathan’s son, Sam, on the sun porch.

When I wrote the original draft for the piece that TLR picked up it was because I was frustrated with the old home that we had purchased in western Newfoundland about two years after we met. We love the house, we hate the house, the house was a bad decision, the house was a great decision, the house was cheap, but we don’t have the money to do to it what needs to be done to it. I’m afraid I’m wrecking it, I’m afraid I won’t wreck it enough to save it. I have thought about the house—a house that we are not currently residing in—every day for the last several months.

So I might be forgiven if I told friends and family that my piece in TLR was about our house in St. George’s, and what happened to us when we bought it from the eccentric elderly Newfoundlander who had to abandon it when she gave into the ravages of old age. And the piece is about that, of course.

Bird inside the house before we moved in

A wild bird managed to find it’s way in.

To my horror it occurred to me the other night, that the house may actually be a damn metaphor. I might—God help us all—be writing about myself, and about everything strange, beautiful, and devastating that has happened to me since I met a beautiful Newfoundland poet at a conference in Texas. Over the past few years I’ve become obsessed with the way that destruction, devastation, and the very real desolation that follows those things are also part of creation. I had to be stripped bare, destroyed in some sense, before even a little bit of creative work—creative work like this, that I find immensely satisfying to write—could ever begin to grow. Like the house we bought, I am constantly destroyed in order to be remade. Perhaps the house is actually the end result of my five-year-old self, seeing a single bird tracking across an apocalyptic sky a week after Mt. St. Helens vomited its ashy guts all over my childhood Idaho home. I need houses like the one I write about here, and live in much of the year, that show signs of generations of destruction and reconstruction and creative reshaping; it’s no accident that I started to write there. Volcanic ash generates the richest soil, as the Pacific Northwest is quite aware.

Nathan Elliott’s “Shiva Buys a House,” will appear in TLR #6, coming out March 28.

[1] There were a lot of footnotes in that immigration piece. I had spent a good chunk of the prior year reading Infinite Jest. I don’t think I actually made the connection until I saw the proofs. I’m extremely dense.

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