Rebecca Foust on Doing Pretty Much Everything
Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Foust was, along with her twin brother, the first in her family to graduate from college. Following some very bad advice about what to do with an English Major, she went on to Law School and practiced for a decade before gratefully retiring to raise three kids and to work as an advocate for students with autism and other learning challenges. At age 50 she returned to grad school, receiving an MFA in from Warren Wilson in 2010. Foust is the recipient of fellowships from the Frost Place and the MacDowell Colony, and her third full-length collection, Paradise Drive, won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry. As the Dartmouth Poet in Residence in 2014, Foust lived in Robert Frost’s house for two months, sharing living space with a bullfrog the size of her head, what was either a rat or a very large mouse, a bat, a mama bear and three cubs, and several kite-size Luna moths.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I write. And do a little teaching — more like coaching or mentoring really, and some editing work. For fun I read. And write. And take long walks and hikes.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Not being able to turn it off. Taking care of the physical body so it can do the mind’s work.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Be careful what you ask for.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
As what? As a writer? Moderately. As a parent? The jury is still out. As a good citizen? Sometimes. As a cook? Always.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
The one with the kid on the ASD spectrum that makes all the basketball shots. And that other one where the guy just dances the whole time he is walking anywhere on the street and gets people to dance with him.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
For whatever reason, I know nothing about family beyond the generation of people I actually met. My mother’s father — we called him Papap — was a character I wish I’d known better. He was a bricklayer by trade and damn proud of being a good one. Also a crack banjo picker and such a good baseball player that he was on the farm team for the White Sox. We have a photo of him on the field with Babe Ruth. Papap left behind an unfinished handwritten novel of some 600 pages that I’ve never been able to get my hands on.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I always wanted to be a writer and I imagine back then I wanted to be Charles Dickens or Robert Frost. Or maybe Louisa May Alcott.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I actually spent one night in the wilderness this summer with Maude Driskell, the director of the Frost Place who, thank God, is an expert wilderness guide. On the way to the trailhead (in the Pilot Range of the White Mountains) she said something to the effect of you don’t mind getting a little dirty, do you? Of course not, I said. Two hours later I found myself hiking through what she called “high bogs” — groin-deep sucking mud if you fell in. The way you didn’t was to hop from basketball-size-and-shape rock to rock, not easy with a heavy pack on your back. We slept in hammocks (made by Maudelle) strung in the trees and ate dinner cooked over a stove she built from a beer can. We were in real bear country and saw much evidence of but no actual bear. It was the most terrifying and exhilarating experience I have had in years.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Back in the day, maybe. Never with a pole, though.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Varies from day to day.
What’s wrong with society today?
Everything that was always wrong with society.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Prophylactic Advil when I attempt any strenuous physical activity, like that hike in the White Mountains.
What is your fondest memory?
I hate to get all gooey but the days my two daughters were born are certainly up there. I’d include the day my son was born, but that was a near-disaster and he almost died, so, no.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
A million, if you are not talking about with human beings.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Not having to feel ashamed of being an American. Being proud, as I was when a kid, would be great. But I’d take not being ashamed.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Didn’t Phil Ochs say that in such ugly times, beauty is the last form of protest? That is how I feel about art.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Pretty much everything.
What are you working on right now?
Always writing poems but recently have been trying longer forms: essays, short stories.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
Long fiction, and I find it completely baffling to write.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Less traffic. Better public transportation to the North Bay.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Going to or giving a reading. It wasn’t always this way.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
A huge meteor, close-up as it came down, when I was 9 years old.
What can you do with 50 words? $50?
With 50 words you can write just over three and a half sonnets. Or a good free verse or prose poem. Or a lovely thank-you note. With $50 you can subscribe to two years of a journal or donate to a public radio station to help keep them from going under. Or have a great afternoon in a resale shop.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Roses and cumin, not necessarily in the same whiff. Rain.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Three months alone in a small cabin in the woods to read and write. Make that six months.