Written by Bryna Campbell and William Campbell
NOTE: “Five Questions” is a regular series in which one or both of us poses questions about a topic relating to the blog’s broader themes. Welcome to our early fall edition, in which Bryna asks questions of William
B: Q1. Hi William! I bet you didn’t expect me to contact you with Five Questions, but here we are again with another installment of this series, because, it’s the beginning of fall, and why not? And why not start with a biggie…how’s the novel going?
W: Well, that depends on how define “going” haha. If you mean how is the actual pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) writing going, then nothing is happening. Between Un/Settled posts, being a student, and working full time, I don’t have the space to work on new material. If we can expand the definition of “going” though to include the larger process of working on my creative practice, ideating plot lines and characters in my head, and being more public with my process (as I have with these posts), then definite progress is being made. I would like to have more time to write actual material at this point, but I also know that I’m just in a stage of life right now where I only have time for so much.
B: Q2. In that post you wrote a few weeks ago about your novel, you showed a photo of a cemetery with ancestors from our family. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to this cemetery! Can you talk a little bit more about how you ended up there?
W: That cemetery is actually the Martinsburg cemetery just south of Martinsburg, Iowa. For those reading this who aren’t familiar, Martinsburg is a small town of approximately 100 people that’s just west of the farm where we grew up. That trip was rather interesting because dad is in a process of chronicling much of our family history. He is pulling together records and old diaries that are fascinating because they share some of the intimate and unknown parts of our heritage. One of the most surprising facts to me was how many of ancestors largely stayed in the same county from the moment they immigrated from Ireland. Because of this, many of them are buried in the Martinsburg cemetery (which our ancestors helped build!) Dad confirmed that we are connected to the original founders of Martinsburg itself. Learning this history inspired me to write a future post for Un/Settled about the founding of a town.
B: Q3. On that trip to Iowa did you learn anything interesting about the history of that little pocket of the midwest?
W: I already spoke about this in the previous question, but it was interesting to learn how most of our ancestors largely stayed in the same county. We drove around all of the back roads, and at each empty intersection of two gravel roads Dad would say that so and so’s farm used to be there. Now it was either just tall grass or a corn field. Seeing this, I felt a profound sadness. I realized the impermanence of so many peoples’ lives. These memories and life experiences of people in the past are not only forgotten by most people, but not even remembered through broken down old homes. Simply nothing exists now. It reinforced the importance of Dad’s history project. As part of that project, Dad showed me one entry from when our ancestors, the Wilsons, moved from the Wilson homestead in Ireland to Illinois and then eventually to Iowa. The story is heartbreaking as it entails the journey of a boy and his father taking their livestock across the Illinois/Iowa border to Keokuk county, and the father died along the way. This teenage kid then had to bury his father, deposit the livestock by himself, and go back alone to share the news to the rest of his family. After they all made the subsequent move to Iowa, they all just
B: Q4. Let’s switch topics a bit. Culturally and politically speaking, this summer has been tough in many ways. In your “Resilience” posts, you talked about how personal and work challenges led you to take an extended break. I’m curious to hear if and how that break might have also helped with coping with the broader traumas going on this summer.
Maybe. The posts on resilience were far more about workplace resilience, though they do transcend into other aspects of life. Perhaps the concepts I wrote about that have the most personal salience for me are about mental toughness and vulnerability. I have to remind myself every day that what happens to me/around me and how I feel about it are not logically linked. The emotional consequences I personally experience are a result of how I let myself feel about the adversity. Because of this, though, it can cause anyone to put up mental/emotional armor, but as Brene Brown says, we need to put the armor down and open ourselves up. We build mental toughness through our ability to be vulnerable. Its paradoxical in a certain way. These practices definitely had a part to play in how I processed the trauma this summer, but I cannot say how in any explicit manner. It all happened on a more subconscious level if that makes sense. Because of the place I work (where we are engaging flashpoint identities and belief systems on a regular basis), personal/societal/professional events all become intertwined. It’s hard to pull them apart from each other.
B: Q5. Speaking of challenges, I’m still so proud of you for writing your two-part post on “Growing up Queer in the Country” a couple of weeks after the terrible massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Did anyone reach out to you after you posted that?
Interestingly, a few people did, but not in how I expected. Mostly it was people from my previous work in student development and ministry. I had one conversation with a former colleague who hadn’t fully heard my story. She reached out to me after Orlando, though, and not after my posts. The conversation stirred up some of the material I eventually put into my posts. I’ve reflected on the fact that as we built narrative identities, themes arise throughout our lives. I have noticed a cycle where one part of my identity becomes public and salient, only for other parts of me to be subsumed. In the last four years, the queer part of my identity has drifted away, and those posts helped resurface it.