Reaching a new frontier

Book of the times
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 9, 2011

Is it weird that Caitlin Shetterly's book made me slightly envious? Yes. Shetterly's new memoir, Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (coming out this week from Voice) is the story of hardships — financial, familial, emotional — not usually the stuff that inspires switching places. She and her husband, Dan, set out from Maine to Los Angeles in 2008, searching for better opportunities, seeking not to defer their dreams. Instead, when they reached California, life (and the recession) threw countless obstacles in their path: joblessness and resulting broke-ness, an unexpected and physically complicated pregnancy, shitty apartments, loss of loved ones. And in 2009, with a two-month-old son in tow, they turned around and came home to live temporarily with Shetterly's mother Downeast. Made for You and Me describes their journey there and back.

Why would I envy Shetterly her miseries? I certainly don't want the bottom to fall out of my own precariously arranged life. I don't want to know the fear, desperation, or frustration that she eloquently describes in her book. But if those nightmares come true for me, I hope to emerge with my soul intact, as Shetterly did, surrounded by feelings of love and optimism. To learn, as she did, "that the bonds of family will sometimes support me more than my career."

I hope to find the Little House on the Prairie resourcefulness that allowed her to feed her family (plus two animals) on less than $100 a week — "which, when you're trying to eat organic because you're nursing is a major undertaking," she writes. "I had never in my life been this focused on my actual survival. There was a desperation and, also, an adrenaline kick to trying to pull everything together so that we could eat and keep our bodies going."

Let me be clear: I don't romanticize the harsh realities of not knowing if you'll be able to eat or pay your rent next month; for the most part, neither does Shetterly. She honestly depicts the meltdowns, marital spats, and mother issues that accompanied her experience — and I don't envy any of those. And she knows that she was luckier than many. She had a safety net in her family, who welcomed her with (mostly) open arms and supported her emotionally and logistically. She had a loving husband, a good education, and she knew how to bake bread. Not one of these factors goes unacknowledged. But still.

Of the ride from California back to Maine, she writes: "With Rain Man-like repetition and Rain Man-like rhythm I was saying over and over again, 'Our lives are chaos, our lives are chaos, our lives are chaos.' I couldn't help myself. Our lives felt like fucking chaos. Each time, Dan took a moment to painstakingly explain that when I went into this mode it made him feel like there was no air in the car." Nope, I don't envy that.

However, like thousands of National Public Radio listeners who appreciated Shetterly's audio diary, in which she described what she and her family were going through, I responded viscerally to her plight. (That makes extra sense in my case: Shetterly and I have some key traits in common — including the fact that she used to write a column, "Bramhall Square," for this paper; she's only a little older than me; we're both writers and actors; we're both in love with men who know how to work with their hands and take our, um, spirited emotions in stride; we both relish good food.)

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Chopsticks: A new and different 'novel', Strange world, Interview: Alice Bag of Stay at Home Bomb, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Los Angeles, Maine, Books,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE  |  July 24, 2014
    When three theater companies, all within a one-hour drive of Portland, choose to present the same Shakespeare play on overlapping dates, you have to wonder what about that particular show resonates with this particular moment.
  •   NUMBER CRUNCHERS  |  July 23, 2014
    Maybe instead of devoting still-more resources to food reviews, Maine’s leading news organizations should spend money on keeping better tabs on Augusta.
    Among last year’s 100 top-grossing films, women represented just 15 percent of protagonists, and less than one-third of total characters.
    Former Mainer Shanna McNair started The New Guard, an independent, multi-genre literary review, in order to exalt the writer, no matter if that writer was well-established or just starting out.
  •   NO TAR SANDS  |  July 10, 2014
    “People’s feelings are clear...they don’t want to be known as the tar sands capitol of the United States."

 See all articles by: DEIRDRE FULTON