Smoking With Kate Nesheim

by Brandon Wicks Read the Story October 2, 2011

This might sound sadistic, but I love stories about the elderly, especially when they are institutionalized. When you began writing “I’m a Woman for Sure,” what brought your imagination to this nursing home?

That’s not sadistic at all! In fact, I highly recommend that any poet or writer visit nursing homes. They are some of the best places to interact with unique personalities and hear stories. You get the wealth of being among so many who have seen and done so much over the decades — a woman who bore and raised fourteen children, a guy whose first career was with a traveling circus in the 1950s, people who remember when Wisconsin winters regularly meant snow piling up to the rooftops. You meet people who are now watching their great-grandchildren grow up, and going to funerals for their peers. There’s more of a sense of urgency to what people say. And there are the odd characters, of course.

Your narrator has a strong sense of voice — and through it a strong sense of self — in this piece. She uses a fun idiom that in some ways reminds of Grace Paley. Was this something that you discovered through multiple revisions or something that began from the first moment you hit the page?

Thanks! The protagonist of an earlier draft didn’t have her spunk; it took a few tries to “find” her. I appreciate the reference to Paley — she had a wonderful tenacity when she wrote.

Could you explain a little about how that voice developed?

It had a lot to do with some of my favorite ladies at an Assisted Living facility. I knew I liked the character I’d created when she could reflect some of that petulance that was so charming.

Tell us something about that great phrase, “what’s doin.” Where did this come from? What kind of philosophy or attitude do you see in it?

I think I heard it from one of the ladies! I can’t be sure if she actually said it, but it matched her cadence & her idiom.

Where do you see yourself once you’re old and decrepit?

When I worked in elder care, it was fun for the aids to sit back and speculate who we’d be like at that age. I’d picked out a small lady who orbited the halls, smoothing her hand over every inch of the outer handrail of the facility. Sometimes she socialized with her friends, and other times she was off in her personal hand-railing world. Maybe something like that.

About the Interviewer:

Brandon Wicks is the associate editor for special projects at SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Philadelphia. His debut novel, American Fallout, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in 2016. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Sou'wester, and other journals.