Research Notes · 10/25/2013

There

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Heather Rounds writes about her novel There from Emergency Press.

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First came some years of yearning to take a break from Baltimore, my home for over a decade, and then came Erbil — the capital city of the semi-autonomous, northern region of Iraq. I’d answered an online job advertisement. I was made of haste and dogged determination. Nobody wanted me to go. Some said to go anywhere but there. The decision to go changed the course of my everything and my everyone. But regret is fruitless. I am among the lucky ones walking this earth allowed to choose where I step.

I struggle with the word research. Research implies systematic observation and careful study. As an artist preoccupied with my internal responses to the world outside me, there was nothing systematic and careful to my engagement with Kurdistan — its environs, its people. I met it naturally reckless and messy. I scribbled, collected and cobbled. If I did research I did so with no methodology, no guiding objectives. I’m aware of (and in admiration of) others doing actual and concise research in and about Kurdistan. I can’t confidently say what overlap, if any, might exist between our practices.

This isn’t in the book, but, en route to Kurdistan, I lost my luggage somewhere between London and Dubai. It arrived back to my parent’s door one night in Maryland some 3 months after I arrived in Erbil.

You collect so much when you are stripped down. It was a self-conscious year.

I bought clothes that didn’t suit me because that’s all I could find. Sequins blouses and clumsy shoes. I got headaches and couldn’t find Ibuprofen. I watched myself in the mirror nearly as much as I watched others. I trekked through, hyper-aware of how the dust collects in the lines around the eyes, how the skin tightens in such strong, bright heat, how we are not the same person from place to place. That was the last year I kept a journal.

Kurds are made of warmness and invitation. They lead one into their homes and their stories. For me, there were times the homes felt more complete than the stories. I didn’t always ask enough questions. The barriers to communication sometimes outweighed the connection, leaving no true direction to the sentences. At other times the stories had their full breath and shape. Sometimes I didn’t want to believe what I heard.

Kurdistan, like anywhere I’ve experienced, is both beautiful and ugly. The ugliness settled into the loneliness, of which I found my share. What I recall is that, to see beauty in Kurdistan, I shoved the ugly and lonely aside as best I could. Straining, I looked inside, tried to keep as steady as possible so I wouldn’t miss anything. I took what I could.

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Heather Rounds’ debut novel There, based on her experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan between 2007 and 2008, won Emergency Press’ 2011 International Book Award and was published by the Press this year. Her poetry and short works of fiction have appeared in such places as Smokelong Quarterly, PANK, The Baltimore Review, Poet Lore and Big Lucks. She’s a co-founder of the roaming curatorial collective The Rotating History Project and currently lives in Baltimore.