In faculty member Mylène Dressler’s candid essay "Live Toy, Dead Toy," published in the winter 2014 edition of The Kenyon Review, she invites the reader to go back in time and memory with her to when she spent several months living by herself in her newly-bought, yet slightly disheveled, home in the desert of Moab, Utah.
Disconnected from the internet, miles away from her husband working in Houston, and only in the company of her dog (and occasionally her dog-trainer neighbor Diane), she is surprised by the genuine pleasure she finds in solitude while fixing up the unfinished house, busying herself with tasks of manual labor and experiencing the changing moods of the desert around her.
In her self-imposed exile of the narrative, Mylène questions what she calls “a human quandary”: How do you understand the times when solitude is productive and the times when you can't take another step on your own? What is the balance between these opposing forces and basic desires, especially in a lengthy marriage?
These themes of connection and isolation are expressed throughout the essay – the surrounding desert seeming to stand as the vast physical and emotional space between herself, her husband, and the rest of the world.
While it is ultimately up to the reader to decide if these questions have been, or even can be answered, “Live Toy, Dead Toy,” ultimately plays on familiar, primal human notions of fear: fear of death, fear of losing someone you love, fear of not knowing, fear of blindness, fear of acknowledging the darker, more selfish parts of yourself, and fear of mistake.
Inspired by this awareness, Mylène started writing the essay a few years following the events described, after leaving Utah and coming to Guilford.
“It took me that long just to be able to look back and at them. I often need that kind of distance before I can face the things that have haunted me. If you get far enough away from fear, I find, then (sometimes) you can actually start to play with it, study it. It becomes a kind of toy. That awareness is in the title. That it's easy enough to play with a thing when it's no longer deadly serious. But even thinking about that scares me – that fine line between play, between art, and the desert it is trying to describe.”
Mylène's published works include three novels (The Medusa Tree, The Deadwood Beatle, and The Floodmakers) and a Pushcart Prize-nominated novella (The Wedding of Anna F.), as well as essays in Creative Nonfiction and Pilgrimage magazines. She is currently a visiting assistant professor of English at Guilford College. Her website is mdressler.com.
Story by Rachel Leahy ’14