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Julene Bair


As a young woman living in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, I never guessed that I would spend my middle age writing about the western Kansas wheat farm and sheep ranch where I grew up. In San Francisco, I co-owned and managed an audio equipment business and sound studio. I considered myself very sophisticated and thought I had evolved well beyond my Kansas past.

After living in the city for nearly a decade and after divorcing the man Iíd moved there with, I began taking camping trips into the Sierra Nevada and then the Mojave Desert. The desert enthralled me so much that I wound up renovating and living in a remote Mojave cabin. I thought I would become this modern-day Thoreau. Out of my solitude in that beautiful place, I would create profound short stories and essays. The desert attracted me because of my unexplored past growing up on the quiet, sunlit, semi-arid plains, but it wasnít until I noticed that Kansas inspired my best prose that I began to recognize the connection.

Because Iíve lived elsewhere, I see the place and people of my birth more prismatically than I could otherwise Ė from different angles, through different lenses than those available to the native who never left. My vision from these differing angles often puts me at odds with the views transmitted to me as a child and held by many western Kansans todayóthat menís and womenís work should be different both in content and value, that women should defer to men, that land is worthless unless it is farmed or ranched, that deeds entitle us to use our land and even whatís under it any way we wish.

Being at odds with these attitudes is partly what drives me to write. I also have an ambivalent yearning for the simple, fulfilling life I had when I was a member of a family that adhered to them In workshops, I compare the final, polished artifact that is a good piece of writing to a pearl. Like pearls, writing often takes shape around irritants. The things that donít line up in our lives, the mixed signals, the contradictory desires unsettle us the way sand granules irritate oysters. Books are born when we attempt to smooth the edges of these jagged fragments, to make them all part of a cohesive, sufferable whole.

Titles by Julene Bair
One Degree West

 


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