When I’d found out I was pregnant with Mia, I’d thrown the application for the writing program of my dreams at the University of Montana into the garbage. Five years later, I filled out the application again. Once my admission was granted, I never doubted my decision to move us to Missoula, so far from anything we’d ever known. Mia’s dad consented, somewhat easily, and signed the court documents to allow our relocation. Maybe he knew my determination would will me to fight. Or maybe the offer of lowering his child support payment by $200 was too good to pass up. He still blamed me for moving his daughter away from him. It fueled his anger and, far more than the physical distance, made him separate himself more from her emotionally.
By the spring of 2012, I was walking the same halls of generations of writers and poets before me—James Welch, Richard Hugo, William Kittredge. And I met Judy Blunt, whose book, Breaking Clean, had a story similar to my own. She was the head of the Creative Writing department that year. I sat in her office, knowing that she, too, had started college at the same school later in life, with not one kid, but three.
“I want to be a writer,” I said out loud, maybe for the first time. I wanted to tell her that it was all I’d ever wanted to be since I was in the fourth grade, when my English teacher Mr. Birdsall made us keep a journal, and that I’d kept one ever since. I knew of no other dream than to write. I wanted to tell her that I’d put off settling into being a real writer to live a life worth writing about. Now I needed to learn how to process my experience, to put it on the page in a way that wasn’t just late-night scribbling. But Judy didn’t respond to my proclamation. I figured she probably heard that a lot. I lowered my eyes. “But I’m a single mom. It seems so frivolous to get an arts degree.”
“Paper is Good.” So reads the packaging on a ream of 8.5in by 11in, 20lb, white (92 on Tappi’s T-452 brightness scale), acid-free, curl-controlled, ColorLok Technology®, elemental chlorine-free, Rainforest Alliance Certified™, Forest Stewardship Council® certified, Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Certified, Made in USA Domtar EarthChoice® Office Paper. “Great ideas are started on paper,” the packaging reads. “The world is educated on paper. Businesses are founded on paper. Love is professed on paper. Important news is spread on paper.”
Domtar is right: paper has played “an essential role in the development of mankind”. And yet, for decades, civilisation has been trying to develop beyond paper, promoting a paper-free world that will run seamlessly, immaterially on pixels and screens alone. How did paper get here? Where does it go next? For that matter, why is paper – which does its job perfectly well – compelled to keep innovating?
The check curtains, the tiny shakers
of olive oil and balsamic
shiver in the strong slow draft.
A plate of muscle floats to me.