snacktime! with ree sherwood
Image courtesy Ree Sherwood.
What’s your snack of the day? Is it an old favourite or a new discovery?
Black coffee. Which counts, I assure you. If I’m feeling fancy, I might get an americano.
How are you doing these days? What’s on your mind right now?
I’m in the middle of an intense Shirley Jackson obsession. I’m not sure what it means that The Haunting of Hill House is now my comfort re-read to fall asleep, but here we are. I suppose it’s a natural progression when there’s an apocalypse of the week.
You proposed and wrote “Respect for Hands” within a year of graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which marked the end of 19 straight years of existing within one educational institution or another. Now that you’re a little further away from that experience, how/has your thinking around the topics of the piece changed?
“Respect for Hands” was my first attempt at naming the complexity of the service industry. It’s a knot I keep toying with, but every time I think I’m closer to the centre, it gets a little tighter. For me, “Respect for Hands” was the story of a divide I was just beginning to feel in myself between the McDonald’s Counter Kid and the university student. That feeling continued through undergrad, through grad school, but then March 2020 hit, and there was no longer any question what side of the divide I was on.
Serving tables through the pandemic, I’ve found a deeper gratitude for the kindness of strangers and my coworkers. But I’ve also found a bitterness that’s sharper than I imagined possible. The pandemic has cracked the already weak glue that was holding the industry together. In the last year, there’s been so much lip service to thanking essential workers. But those who have put their lives at risk to keep their jobs still don’t have health insurance. Hazard pay was rare and often pulled away the moment the public stopped looking. Companies talked big about protecting their communities, then left employees crossing their fingers. When I wrote “Respect for Hands” and other attempts at stories like it, I never knew what to do with all the pieces that felt wrong. But now I know more about the weight of bitterness.
I love your bio line: “Ree comes from Western Pennsylvania and wants to tell you all about it.” This interest definitely comes through in “Respect for Hands”, and I also know you’re working on a poetry manuscript that focuses on the same subject matter through quite a different lens. Could you talk a little on your more poetry-leaning explorations of such topics?
I lived in Western Pennsylvania until I graduated college. I grew up hearing all those tired stories about industry leaving town. They all had the sensation of “What we could have been…” Meanwhile, I was a queer kid feeling a lot like the tree on the corner of Oakland and Budd slowly growing against the broken glass of an abandoned kitchen. I’ve been trying to tell the story of a town that holds on so desperately to the past that they let the future burn around them. It’s a story that needs the imagery of poems, though. The house that was burned to nothing but a cement block and brick chimney. The property-lined high grass where groundhogs roam. The stack of an empty factory with the words God less Am rica.
Are there any upcoming projects on your plate that you’d like to tell us about?
I have a couple poems coming out in journals sometime this spring (give or take a season)—one in Birdcoat Quarterly, another (after 3 years and 21 rejections) in Portland Review.
Interview conducted late February, 2021