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Life and Steel Mix in New Memoir, "Rust"

Rust book cover
Author Eliese Goldbach has written a memoir about working in a steel mill and life in the rust belt.

“Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit,” is the story of what it’s like to work at a Cleveland steel mill, but it also delves into a number of personal issues. Author Eliese Collette Goldbach also deals with Rust Belt identity, draws on her struggle with mental health, her relationship with family, and her evolution of thought on politics and faith.

The draw of the mill
Goldbach says she graduated from college at the start of the Great Recession and had a hard time finding a job in her field. She painted houses to make ends meet, but the work was unreliable and offered no benefits. Goldbach says the work at the mill was full-time with great pay and benefits. A friend at the mill connected her with the job.

Goldbach says she was a little hesitant at first. She grew up in Cleveland and remembered riding past steel mills as a child, holding her breath as she drove past because of all the smoke, but she says she was at a point where financially, she needed the work.

A complex story
Goldbach’s memoir is about much more than just taking a job at a steel mill. Among the very personal things she writes about is her own struggles with mental health.  She says it was difficult because you have to be very open about yourself, but she’s been writing about this for a while. She also says writing about it was cathartic.

Goldbach says one complicating factor is that a lot of work is shift work, which meant her work schedule was always in flux. That’s especially hard for someone who’s dealing with bi-polar disorder like she is. That led to a hospitalization. After that, she says the company was great about finding her a job at the mill that did not have a swinging schedule.

a photo of author Eliese Goldbach
Author Eliese Goldbach.

Working at a mill can be very dangerous. Goldbach says you have to always be aware because of all the things that can hurt you or worse. She says the company coordinated with her doctor to ensure that none of the medications she was on would endanger her.  She says the company also has a medical staff on site whom she also talked to.

Goldbach say her co-workers knew what she was dealing with. “Many people that I became close with… those people were definitely aware that I had bi-polar disorder. And then the mill, we call it the rumor mill, so sometimes when one person knows something, everyone knows.”

Rust Belt identity, family, politics and faith
This book covers many different facets of Goldbach’s life, well beyond the steel mill and mental health struggles. There’s Rust Belt identity, family, politics and faith. With all of these, Goldbach’s perspectives evolved or changed with her own experiences.

“It was definitely very difficult… to get to this version of the book,” she said. She started out just writing about the steel mill, thinking this would be a magazine article but it grew and grew. She realized that her religious identity, political perspectives and family relationships were important in understanding how she related to the steel mill and how it caused her to grow.

Difficult but cathartic
Goldbach says whenever you write about your life, you’re drawing up old memories, including the time when she was sexually assaulted in college. “It’s difficult… but helps you get to a level of honesty” and helps connect to others who may be dealing with similar issues.

a photo of the book Rust
Elise Goldbach's book is called "Rust: A memoir of steel and grit."

Goldbach says the assault led to an unlikely bond with a co-worker at the mill. “I’m in a crane with someone. We’re talking. He’s a Trump supporter…on the opposite side of the political aisle, and we’re talking about feminism.”  Goldbach describes his views as antagonistic, but when she shares her own story with him and tells him you can’t possibly understand, he instead tells her he’s sorry that happened to her and that he had a similar experience. To her, it shows that while this is an angry political environment, it’s still possible to connect at the personal level.

Advice on a career in steel
As to her advice for anyone considering a career working at a steel mill, Goldbach says it’s great for financial stability, and the union provides great benefits, “but there’s also a real sense of community," she said. "Definitely be prepared for shift work, be prepared for the dangers in the mill, and ask yourself, if that’s the path you want to take, but I think there’s definitely a lot of benefits.”


Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.