CAMPUS Closeup: Erin Anderson
Erin Anderson (English) calls it “the ineptitude of suburbanites” that led her to impulsively trade the long commutes, expensive housing and ready-made existence of her native California for her then-husband’s romanticized notion of country living in the remote and peaceful Upper Peninsula. He was a metro Detroit native and had a passing familiarity with the beauty of the region through summer visits. But neither was prepared for the inordinate work and expense required to manage a three-bedroom farmhouse with outbuildings on 77 acres, while also holding full-time jobs. They soon realized the dream was beyond their capabilities and finances. Anderson’s humorous and touching reflection on that period—“Confessions of a Failed Yooper”—was published in the inaugural issue of Old Northwest Review.
Anderson’s essay describes early obstacles—no running water, no legal access to the back 40—and the stress associated with her evolving role as the “constricting force, a spoilsport,” scaling down his ambitious plans. She balances that with a clear appreciation for the U.P. environment:
“I’d never realized before how starved my olfactory senses were," Anderson wrote. "The predominant odors I remembered from drought-ravaged California were car exhaust and pool chlorine. But here I could smell the sharp exhilaration of pine and rancid sourness of swamp. And once in a while, the smack of skunk. It was great to be in a place that marked the seasons a little more dramatically than by an angle of light. There was just something about a winter forest pierced by the staccato of a chick-a-dee-dee-dee, or the breathless gush of water beneath a sheath of ice, or the explosion of color in a snowy crystal prism, showing me that reality could be so much more dazzling than the opiate of dreams.”
The marriage dissolved amicably and the farm was sold. That is where Anderson’s essay ends, but it marked the beginning of an entirely different lifestyle. Since 1993, she has volleyed stints at Northern—first with the former University Language Program, then as a graduate assistant while completing her MFA and most recently as a contingent instructor—with international assignments teaching English as a foreign language through the Peace Corps and other organizations (she is pictured at the Mqvari River in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia). She has worked in Saudi Arabia, Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic. Anderson learned to speak Czech, which has made it easier to adapt to other Slavic languages. Now she is studying Armenian for a 27-month Peace Corps assignment in that country that begins in August.
“By the time I leave, I will have been in Marquette for a little over two years,” she said. “I’m grateful to Ray Ventre because he gave me this opportunity after remembering me from the MFA program. My primary motivator for traveling abroad is unarticulated, unexamined strong intuition. I get a sense when something is finishing, so I look around and see what’s available, who will have me and what the conditions are. It’s a rhythm that has to be trusted. I’m lucky to be able to return periodically to reabsorb American culture and reconnect with my social network.”
Anderson never regretted her decision to move to the Upper Peninsula, even during the challenging initiation. She remains impressed by the area’s beauty and said Marquette is the only place she chooses to live in the United States when she is between overseas adventures.