Contributor Spotlight: Lauren McKenzie Reed

LAUREN McKENZIE REED on "What You Might Not Have Known"


I love antiques.  My home is furnished with my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ tables, textiles, and artifacts tucked in throughout.  When someone enters my home for the first time, after a few questions about where items have come from, guests can accept this “style” as a dutiful daughter, drawn to her own history.  This is partially true, however I learned in 2009, while spelunking through a secondhand shop in West Virginia, that I can become attached to other peoples’ histories as well.

It wasn’t me who stumbled over the inconspicuous boxes of 35mm slides in Bubba’s Garage; someone who knew my sentimentality called me over to them.  And it wasn’t instantaneously that I felt as if I needed them in my life; over several days they burrowed in me, and I just couldn’t shake them.  A couple had travelled the world and here were their memories lovingly categorized and labelled, yet left in a dirty warehouse, for sale alongside doorknobs, mattresses, and broken kitchen appliances.  Who were they; when had they taken all of these amazing trips; why did no one keep them?  After a day or two I realized what a treasure they were and knew I had to rescue them. 

I immediately ordered a slide machine and poured through their images; I slowly started to feel as if I knew these people, although I only really knew the truth I had invented for them.  No matter their real names, she will always be Bernadette, and him Henry, and their adventures abroad have forever aligned themselves with my wanderlust heart.  I, too, have travelled all over the world, and I too crave photos so that when I’m old I can travel back to the way all those places made me feel.

I knew I wanted to write about her, in particular – I saw myself in her, which is apparent when I assign her some of my quirkier personality traits (a love for random facts and trivia about nature and the Earth, for example).  Even though she gets her own separate sections, and moments are described from her perspective, I’m still in there, and couldn’t fully separate myself from her.  She has since become a part of several projects of mine.  Describing anyone is a frightening thing, and describing oneself is a horrible power.  Sometimes other voices are necessary to complete the picture, and somehow I knew she completed mine. 

What You Might Not Have Known” is a blending, of street scenes in Norway and me in my bedroom smelling the burning dust of the slide machine; of this woman I will never meet and myself; of then and now.

Her story needed telling.  I hope some memories of mine never end up caked with dust, having been sold at an estate sale, forever lost from those who actually knew me.  But if they are, I hope to be found, re-imagined, and considered by someone who comes along, and sees how much we may have had in common, despite never meeting.