Thoughts on Research from our Authors: Natalie Vestin and “The Sea of Crises”

As writers ourselves, we’re always interested in our authors’ process. Here Natalie Vestin shares the inspiration and research behind her essay “The Sea of Crises,” which appears in our current issue: 

My essay “Sea of Crises” was inspired by one of my dad’s stories about Mare Crisium, a valley on the moon. I’d known about the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, but I didn’t know there were other geographic features with names on the lunar surface. Part of my research for this essay included Giovanni Riccioli’s Almagestum Novum (his 1651 atlas of space) and astronomer Thomas Gwyn Elger’s 1895 treatise The Moon. The rest of the research happened accidentally. I had the moon and the Sea of Crises in the back of my mind, and I was reading Vera Rubin’s Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters and books about science and religious faith. I was also walking a lot at night during the winter. January in Minnesota is nightmarish except for the bright, bright stars and planets; the sky becomes a sort of solace you can look toward when the rest of the outdoors is trying to kill you.

 While I was learning more about lunar cartography, I became fascinated with Riccioli, the Jesuit priest who drew maps of the moon and named its features. He’s a cipher; not much is written about him, save for a few accounts of his odd scientific experiments and his unfortunate testimony against Galileo. I was drawn to him, because I was thinking about why people love – really love – the moon, and here’s this astronomer priest trying to walk a fine line between using science to say what he thinks about God and attracting the attention of Inquisitors. What do you write when you’re too terrified to write anything? I guess you write about the moon.

I wrote this essay in a series of poems first – poems imagining this priest, poems about the broken moon, poems about how astronomy grew out of thinking about the physical nature of God. The facts that came out of the research were important, but I also wanted to capture what first fascinated me about the Sea of Crises – that moment when I learned about it and wanted to make it me, wanted to map the moon to myself and think that all bodies can have seas of crises. That’s what’s lovely about research: what you look at and write about has the ability to speak for you and map you when you lack other ways of expression.

–Natalie Vestin

Thoughts on Research from Our Authors: Alicia Catt

We asked some of the authors that we have published to reflect on research in their nonfiction work. Alicia Catt wrote the essay “On Saliva” published in our second issue. What follows are some of her thoughts on the research that she conducted for her essay.

My essay “On Saliva” actually began as an assignment for my CNF workshop: write about something you know about that not many other people do. For some reason, saliva was the thing that came to mind–I remembered the time I spit on “J” for money (which I can safely say is an experience most people are not familiar with!). After that, it was pretty much just a matter of following a single bodily fluid down the rabbit hole, so to speak. I’m actually still pretty fascinated by the things I found–I never imagined there would be so much to say about something as mundane as spit.

I had only recently retired from my escort job when I wrote the essay, and I was in a bit of a writing rut: all I wanted to write about was the sex industry, but I didn’t yet have enough distance to really do it justice. Incorporating all this research, I think, allowed me to sort of write around it–I got to write the scene with “J” and the scene with the threesome, but instead of really having to analyze and reflect on those moments, I could just zoom out again and talk about pheromones or venom or whatever, and trust that the reader would make their own connections. Maybe in a way the research even humanizes my admittedly bizarre experiences, makes them easier to relate to. Or at least, that’s my hope.