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with Elissa Washuta

Something that makes you smile

The last thing that made me smile was something awful. Someone told me a secret last night—he had done a bad thing—and I smiled. I said that I was sorry, that I didn't mean to smile, but—I couldn’t finish the sentence. This morning, I have the rest of the sentence: but it becomes funny, after a while, to remember what it was like to carry myself from one crisis to the next, feeling like I was about to split in two. I did, and to my surprise, there was a geode in there, crystals where I expected rot.

A confession

I had a hard time making happiness with other people so I had to buy it. This is why I own a big house and live in it alone.

The last thing you wrote

An email in which I had to revise, as usual, my overuse of “thank you.”

Your favourite city

That’s complicated.

What you’d place in a time capsule

I own a time capsule, actually, that I took out of a wall with a hatchet. In it, I had placed the final paragraph of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book I didn’t really like but had just read when I was asked to place something in the time capsule for future generations of people working at the literary nonprofit where I was an intern. It was around 2009, Seattle. Back then, I couldn’t imagine I’d live long enough for a future generation to spring up around me. I was going to be murdered in my sleep by a man I loved, or drink myself to death, or be disappeared from the sidewalk by one of the men who would call to me in the night when I walked from the bus stop to my apartment. And then, seven years later, the building was about to be demolished, and I rescued the time capsule by swinging the rusted blade into the drywall. What I hadn’t remembered was that I had written it on the back of a map, which would prove to be an oracle when I left Seattle for the place centered within the map’s square folds: Ohio, a place I had never been or had even thought about, just the center of a page. I thought I would die in Seattle, youngish. Now I am growing oldish in Ohio. Now the paragraph is beginning to make sense to me:

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

Elissa Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a nonfiction writer. She is the author of two books, Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, 4Culture, Potlatch Fund, and Hugo House, and now she lives in Ohio, where she works as an assistant professor of English at the Ohio State University.