An Alien in Arkansas: Marck L. Beggs on Kyran Pittman’s Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated LifeApril 23, 2011 Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life
by Kyran Pittman
Riverhead Books. 256 pages. $25.95
Release Date: April 28, 2011
By Marck L. Beggs
Kyran Pittman is from Newfoundland. However you pronounce it, it is not the way the locals do. In an episode of South Park, Newfoundland is half an hour into a different time zone than the rest of Canada. In the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, one can learn at least four different ways to refer to a lean-to: boughwolfen, bough wiffet, bough wiffen, and bough tilt. In other words, Pittman comes to Arkansas from a different mindset.
She also carries within her DNA some serious literary pedigree. Her father, Al, was an accomplished poet, story writer, and wordsmith-in-general. Pittman, herself, is a decent poet and prolific blogger who was good enough at the latter to have inched her way up to a position as a contributing writer for Good Housekeeping. This is ironic because, according to Planting Dandelions, her debut memoir, Pittman could not keep a house in order if her life depended on it.
Subtitled Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life, Pittman admits to craving the common life: “Some people come here automatically, this town called Ordinary…some people never know anything else. But I hitched in by the backroads, peered over the fence, and chose it.” Indeed, the ordinary world appears as one big wonderful, three-dimensional puzzle to Pittman. She did everything in her youth to avoid it, but it kept rearing its average head and taking her into its common arms.
She found love through adultery: “I don’t play the part of reformed sinner very well. When stories of extramarital affairs come up, my friends are used to me withholding judgment… ‘Adultery kind of worked for me,’ I tell them with more honesty and less chagrin than is probably seemly. It did work out for me, but I’d hardly write it up as a prescription for anyone.” She found peace within chaos, and herself as a woman through a calm (occasionally distant) husband and three wild sons. Over time, as she tries to avoid motherhood, Pittman’s home brims with testosterone and penises, despite her firm belief that only girls would ever pop out of her.
Also, through motherhood, she found her way to other women: “We were all on the same mission, mothers-in-arms. I’m not going to pretend it was a utopian matriarchy. It wasn’t. We could be unkind, sanctimonious, and petulant. But it was a sisterhood. And to me, it was oxygen.”
While Planting Dandelions, clearly, is a celebration of life, Pittman’s piercing honesty, humor, and deft, unpretentious prose keep it from reading like a daily affirmation. This is the story of an Arkansawyer from outer space (ie. Canada), an alien’s view of what we take for granted. From waitressing at the White Water Tavern, to working for a feminist Episcopalian minister, to confronting her father’s (and her own) infidelities, Pittman tells a story we can all appreciate without guilt or judgment. Unlike reality television, by the end of this book, you’ll know that you were in the presence of a real woman.