I read Legs Get Led Astray in my room drinking red wine on a Wednesday night. I read it on the bus to class. I read it eating tomato soup on a rainy day. I read it crying and I read it wanting to write.
I first discovered Caldwell’s work when I found her essay “Please Continue the Story” on the Rumpus. I just remember feeling so much and identifying so well—what it is to be a young writer, a young person, a young brave tender honest human being trying to share itself with others. There’s an understanding there. From the beginning of that essay:
“This is how I have been writing for the past month or so. This is how I’ve always lived. My mother says I thrive in chaos. Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter with FENG SHUI (the book is on the floor), says to calculate the percentage area of naked desk you can actually see. I say, I am writing everyday.”
Her personal essays in Legs Get Led Astray lie in the same vein of feeling so intensely that it spills like filled rain gauges into your hands. She writes of so many normal things—lovers, brothers, children, camp, carrots, sex. But it is transporting; it is poetry. It is repetitions of magics in what happens to everyone, secrets that are so intensely and specifically personal that they are all of ours.
My favorite essay in the collection might be “On Snooping,” which copies bits from her mother’s and lover’s diaries. The entries are haunting and true, and Caldwell’s method of alternating them blends them into some important mass of love.
“Mother, 2001: How long would it take for them to find me laying down, dead on this rock. Crazy woman in America found in a State park. I feel the fear of two crazy men raping me. I wish I could swim, just take off my clothes and jump in, I won’t though. I think my writing is juvenile but maybe if I keep going I can strike something.
. . .
Lover, 2008: I fell in love with her. Not the bullshit love that is supposed to last forever with marriage and babies. But a pure and immediate love. She is a beautiful thing to happen to my life.”
My favorite part, though, isn’t just these perfect excerpts; it’s Caldwell’s explanation, her willingness to admit that “A small truth in all of this is that I’ve always wanted someone to invade my privacy.” It lies behind her writing, behind her whispering in our ears through this private text of secrets needing to be told. And it is love. “On Snooping” ends with one of my favorite bits from the collection:
“I can accept that all I’ve ever wanted is not very special—all I’ve ever wanted, like most people, is proof of love.”