Buying the Farm
by Arlaina Tibensky
Issue #3 • May 13th, 2002•Buy Now!
Edited by Hannah Tinti
My mother is making an omelet again. She has a special hammer. There is a feather sticking to her bare heel. One egg can feed my family for one week straight, but not me. No way am I going to shovel forkfuls of ostrich embryo in my mouth. They are nothing but stupid shitty chickens from hell.
My father, the entrepreneur, plucked us from our green, suburban home in the western Chicago suburbs, and dropped us down in Southern Illinois to get rich quick.
Arlaina Tibensky was born and raised in Chicagoland. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in English where she received the Katherine Muller award for fiction. She completed her M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia University and is currently teaching creative writing and computer programming to children. She is at work on her first novel.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
AT: My cupboards were bare for a frozen package of ostrich burgers my mom bought for me when she was visiting. I made a kind of pasta sauce and offered some to my new roommate. She got this glazed look in her eyes and told me all about her dad buying an ostrich farm in California when she was in high school. That was the beginning. But then, the more I talked with people about ostrich farming all I ever heard were horror stories. The moral is: Nothing good comes from buying an ostrich farm.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
AT: It was tricky trying to make this story about a girl growing up and not a wacky ostrich riff—that and extricating my name from all these ostrich email newsletters. I still get one, once a month notifying me of feather sales, Ashanti ostrich oil makeup, feed questions answered!
HT: Are you a fan of teenage television shows?
AT: Love them. I used to like them more before they started to take themselves so seriously. Being a teenager can be very funny, don’t tell that to Dawson’s Creek producers.
HT: How do you think they affect the concept of “normal”?
AT: There is no normal, of course. But when you are a teenager you do not know this. I remember being a teenager and I thought I was all punk rock. With the safety pins and the Sylvia Plath. But so do all teenagers. I think my favorite show about teenagers is Seventh Heaven, with the Minister Dad because they are truly freaks, in a real way. They’re supposed to be ultra normal and they are really messed up. I mean they go to church together on Sunday and their dad is the guy in the robes. How do you top that?
HT: What is the most interesting fact you learned while writing this (about the world, not yourself)
AT: Being a teenager was time of turmoil for everyone who lived through it but I think of it as a time when you are the most yourself. Later in life you get the job and the taxes and everything else but deep down you are your 16 year old self making these adult decisions. That, and what they call “drab feathers” are a pet industry favorite.
HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
AT: I wrote it in a week and played with it for about 6 months.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
AT: I took this class in college with Lorrie Moore and she told me not to save anything. For instance, don’t think of one great thing and then “save it” for another story. Try and make it all fit. I wanted to take the casual driving in “Buying the Farm” and put into another thing I’ve been working on and I saw Ms. Moore, hovering above my head like a genie saying “keep it in there, Tibensky” and so I did.
HT: What are you working on now?
AT: Glad you asked. I’m working on a novel about a woman and her mother in this Czech suburb of Chicago in the early 80’s. The daughter is in her forties and after a breakdown moves back home and starts an alternative health clinic in her mother’s basement. Laughs, tears, catharsis all loosely based on actual events. That and the stories of which I have many in progress.