The Wintry Vagueness

Cathleen Calbert

Publisher’s note: In Cathleen Calbert’s story “The Star of the North” (in our anthology The Female Complaint), a Californian spends a disorienting year in St. Paul, Minnesota, “where people were nicer and taller and grayer,” and finds herself feeling ambivalent about all the things she thought she wanted. Here, Cathleen explains some of her inspirations for the story.

My story “The Star of the North” derives in part from a year I spent in Minnesota. I actually liked St. Paul: nice people (of course), lots of bookstores, and good cafés. However, the winter was indeed tough (though the magic of making snow out of boiling water provided a moment of delight).

Also, living in “the Star of the North,” I experienced something of what it is to be a “faculty wife,” since my partner had a one-year teaching position and I was supposed to be doing something . . . artistic.

I think it’s not easy to hold onto one’s sense of self when one suddenly becomes secondary, “the spouse” (even with the insanely good blessings of a sabbatical). The character of Laura comes out of that sense of displacement in both role and setting. And when I wasn’t trying to write out of my wintry vagueness, I too amused myself reading classified and personal ads. Introverts Unite!

Cathleen Calbert, winner of a Nation Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and other honors, is a Professor of English at Rhode Island College. She has published three books of poems: Lessons in SpaceBad Judgment, and Sleeping with a Famous Poet; a fourth, The Afflicted Girls, is forthcoming.