Guest Blog Post, Christopher Kuhl: Fractures

The world is fractured. History is fractured. The ecosystem is fractured. Is the universe as we know it fractured? Is there a broken space beyond which there is another universe? Or is it a joke, like the “Fractured Fairytales”? Fractures shape each of us, giving us to do whatever we were meant, and have the desire to do. Yet it is not always what we want or expect.

I criticize the dark, the light; the night, the day; the sun, the moon and the stars. Night seems a betrayal for diurnal people, yet there are people who are nocturnal, by choice of work, or temperament, or a combination: do they take a job because it is a night job, or does the job transform them into a creature of the night?

I am fractured: a Jew, a Christian; introverted, extroverted; an Estonian, an Italian, with a piece missing that would help to heal one of my fractures: conflicted as a Jew by my German blood. I am an ethnic orphan, but embraced by parents who fight and beat each other, and then caress one another with long, broad strokes, and disappear into their room. As a child, I wasn’t sure what went on in there, but if it was the master bedroom, who was the master guiding the marital ship?

I am a glutton; I am a skeleton; I scream and I am silent. I am the first generation in this country, born of a mother, guided by my grandmother, who were the only ones of the family to survive the Holocaust. They were truly displaced persons, not refugees: they were not fleeing for a principle that threatened their lives in their country; they had no country or place to go, no verifiable identity. They, like many DPs, were given new papers: birth certificates, religious identities, names, papers for a tight-fisted, antisemitic president, who thought they were Nazi spies and refused to let them in. Think of the SS St. Louis in 1933, forbidden to land in the United States for fear of the evils these thousand Jews threatened: they were forced to turn back and return to Europe, where many of those on this “luxury cruise” (which is how it was billed, but the passengers didn’t buy it for a minute: they were refugees) ended up in the death camps, the labor camps, dying just like everyone else. Even Anne Frank, put into a camp, was no more heroic than her fellow inmates, screaming, fighting over bread, soup; dying of typhus two weeks before the camp was liberated. Saintly Anne: no less fractured than anybody else, but fractured in circumstances designed specifically to bring such features out in their many ways.

Fractured, I am a man who is a woman who is a man; a woman who is a man who is a woman. LGBTQ! Peaceful, wanting a quiet, loving family life, and the others who persecute them: they are God’s abomination.

Fractured, I am well-educated, but for what matters in my life—writing—I am an autodidact; I am wise, I am a drooling idiot. Disciplined, I am loose, narcissistic: I look to the heavens (if there is such a place; it depends upon your beliefs), but my feet are walking to Sheol. Or is there, in fact, no afterlife, no paradise, purgatory or hell. I’m taking my chances, I know, risking the evil eye, and by the time I know, it’ll be too late: I’ll either be awash in endless liquid fire, or I’ll disappear, soulless: a bit of space dirt.

I am fractured, fractured. I am the hunter and the prey. I am honest and a cheat. And so, in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness, I lie alone, or with a companion whom I may or may not know, and come face to face with myself, in a shattered glass.

 

Guest Blog Post, Denise Emanuel Clemen: At the Heart of Memory

A woman's shadow on sand.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Editor’s note: This piece contains discussion of sexual assault and rape. 

I’m interested in lies. I’m interested in truth. And in memory. How accurate are my memories? Do I trust that what I remember is true?

A few days ago I had coffee with a friend I see only every couple of years. Rebooting our conversation from when we last met, he wanted to know if he correctly remembered the story of the end of my marriage. “You were on a weekend get-away with your husband in San Diego,” he said. “He told you as you were unpacking your suitcases that the marriage was over, he was in love with someone from the office, she was pregnant, they were getting married, and he wanted to keep the house so he could raise his new family there.” Except for the weekend in San Diego and the pregnancy my friend’s memory had served him well.

It’s easy to explain the insertion of these two erroneous details. I had probably told my friend that only a month before our end-of-marriage conversation, my husband and I, and our children, and grandchildren had gone to San Diego for a family vacation. As for the pregnancy, in the fractured aftermath of learning that the life I knew was over, I concocted a scenario for my own survival. My husband didn’t want to end our marriage, but he was in a tough spot. Yes, he’d slept with her. Once. Maybe twice. She was on the pill, she’d told him, but that was a lie. Now she was pregnant. Or said she was. She wanted the baby, but her parents would be devastated that she was unmarried. They’d been saving and planning for her wedding since the day she was born. After much angst, my husband promised her that he’d leave me. They announced their engagement to her parents, and then she had a “miscarriage.” My husband had been duped, but he didn’t know it.

This tale helped me get out of bed in the morning. It was the story I told myself in the dark, alone. But as far as I recall, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. Then again, where did my friend come up with the idea of the pregnancy? Had I recounted my byzantine fake pregnancy, fake miscarriage theory to him? Was I so unhinged that I uttered it aloud? Maybe. And maybe, in the course of my ramblings, my friend was paying more attention to how I was negotiating the wreckage of my life than to the parsing of theory and fact. Regardless, the heart of the story as my friend remembered it was true.

Forty-two years ago I was raped by a business associate. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t remember if it happened in Indianapolis or South Bend. A couple of years earlier an acquaintance attacked me and nearly strangled me. I don’t remember his last name either. In fact, I don’t even remember his first name. What I remember is how swiftly he pinned me to the front seat of my car. What I remember is the pressure of his thumbs against my throat.

I write both nonfiction and fiction, and sometimes when there are details I don’t recall while writing an essay or memoir, I ask myself if it might be better to use my idea as a jumping off point for a short story. How can I write the piece as nonfiction when there are so many things I don’t remember? How do I flesh out the missing pieces of a true story?  Is it even necessary to do that?

Since watching the Senate testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, I feel stronger than ever that the bones of a personal essay can stand on their own, sans padding. Those exposed bones, like a skeleton hanging from a porch on Halloween night, are more dramatic without additional detail. The bareness delivers commonality.  My skeleton, in so many ways, looks just like yours.

There’s power in forgetting. Sometimes forgetting saves us. What we don’t remember is what we want to forget. The details that stay with us, in combination with the details that lay submerged beyond the access of memory, combine to render a story woven with complexity. There’s no need to embellish or invent. There’s a whole story lodged in our bones. Negative space is part of the picture. The erasure wrought by trauma tells its own part of the story. Just as sensory detail can engage the reader, the writer can draw the reader into the emptiness. I cannot recall a single feature of my attacker’s face. I can’t see his eyes, or whether or not he had a mustache, or freckles, or any type of a scar. He was quite pale, I think, or maybe just seemed so there on the dark street where he’d offered to walk me to my car.

The emptiness unites writer and reader. We struggle together to make out that pale face in the dark car. You are with me, clawing back your own memories just as I am with Dr. Basey Ford, running down the stairs and out the door of a house on a street with no name—a street that led us back home without knowing how we got there. Our memories can fail us. That failure is part of the story.

Guest Blog Post, Elizabeth Maria Naranjo: Start at the Beginning– Using Titles as Prompts

Lightbulbs glowing in a brick warehouse.

Photo credit: Patrick Tomasso on unsplash.com

In the spring of 2015, I was beginning to emerge from the midst of a post-publication funk. Since the release of my debut novel the year before, I’d been swept up in the thrills and disappointments of book marketing, and after several abandoned projects I spent a long quiet winter simply reading.

Giving myself permission not to write had the desired effect; come spring I felt ready to dust the cobwebs from my creative brain and begin again. But the ideas wouldn’t come. Staring at the blank page day after day, I began to fear they never would.

My breakthrough came in the form of a prompt provided by my son, then seven years old. We were taking our evening walk around the neighborhood, hand in hand, and I confided to him that I’d been struggling with ideas for my writing and did he have any good ones? “Just give me a title,” I said, “and I’ll write you a story.”

It was a bold promise in the face of my persistent writer’s block, but that’s what I needed—accountability and conviction. I also hoped to tap into the unselfconscious well of creativity that all children possess and that makes writing fiction so much fun. I knew that my seven-year-old wouldn’t say “I don’t know,” or “I just can’t think of anything,” because kids can always think of something. And mine did: when I asked him for the title to my next story, he said, without hesitation, “The Shell of Light.”

“Okay,” I said. “’The Shell of Light’ it is.”

The title sounded ominous and ghostly, and its weirdness intrigued me. I imagined something dark—a tale meant for Halloween. I pictured a boy my son’s age, and a night out trick-or-treating that goes horribly wrong. I pictured a conch shell that emitted not the sound of the ocean but the sound of screams. I pictured a haunted house, girls who disappeared in the night, another girl with a black heart who gets what’s coming to her in the end.

Not exactly a kid’s story, but at least, finally, I had something. Soon I was writing again, not only “The Shell of Light,” but other stories; in fact, in six weeks’ time I wrote more than 30,000 words of new fiction. I wrote about a woman who finds her childhood diary and decides to rewrite her past, about a boy with a terrible secret who steals away at night to meet a girl beneath a willow tree—only to discover she has a secret of her own, about a father going through a divorce who witnesses a seemingly impossible motorcycle accident and is forced to question everything he thought was real.

One idea led to another that led to another. Of course, not all of them turned out the way I’d originally envisioned. Ideas often come in black and white, but the writing always finds shades of gray. In “The Shell of Light,” for example, my black-hearted antagonist wasn’t quite so simple, and neither was her fate. Characterization superseded plot, forcing me to change the title that had kickstarted my inspiration. Now that story is called “The Lost Girls.” It won runner-up in a contest last year and was published this Halloween in YA Review Net (YARN). My son, now eleven, is still not allowed to read it, but maybe in a few more years. He doesn’t mind waiting, or the fact that his title changed.

The important thing is that his odd little string of random words unlocked my imagination. Prompts do that, and it’s because they’re restrictive—they give a writer something to visualize and work with. In his book of essays Zen in the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury discusses how, when he was a fledgling writer in his early twenties, he began making lists of titles: The Lake, The Crown, The Fog Horn, The Carnival. He would then choose one of these titles, free-write for a page or two until he discovered the story, and then he would write the story. Sometimes, as in the case of The Carnival, he wrote a book.

Another beloved author, R.L. Stine (creator of the children’s horror series Goosebumps), has written over 300 books in his 30-year career. When asked where he gets his seemingly never-ending wealth of ideas, he reveals that he always starts with a title—just a title—and from there he builds the story. 

Essentially, he gives himself a prompt.

It’s been four years since my post-publication dry spell and I’m happy to say that I’ve never suffered from writer’s block like that again. Never sat before a computer screen day after day and agonized over the blinking cursor on a blank page. Never sat at the coffee shop for an hour with a pencil poised over an unmarked notebook, convinced I had nothing to say. I’ve gone through periods where I didn’t feel like writing and allowed myself time off—weeks, months even. But it was intentional, something that felt healthy and needed at the time. If I’m ever at a loss for ideas, I simply pick a word, a phrase, or even an image, and begin to free-write. Knowing the prompt will lead me to the story and trusting the story enough to follow.

Guest Blog Post, Judith Sara Gelt: But Some of My Best Friends Are Novelists

But Some of My Best Friends Are Novelists

By Judith Sara Gelt, Memoirist

Photo of author with family.

Source: http://www.judithsaragelt.com/about.html

Novelists don’t need to wait for people to die.

 

Novelists don’t have to use their families’ real names.

 

Agents don’t wear a cheesy smile and declare that a novelist’s true-life narrative “cannot be differentiated from others in the market.”

 

By creating names, places, people and events (and, well, whatever they want), novelists build a bulwark of invention to keep their agonizing, lived experiences at bay while concealing them in their fictions.

 

Novelists don’t create in a genre tagged with terms like “naval gazing” or paired with adjectives like misery as in misery memoir.

 

Agents don’t shake their heads and explain that novelists’ life stories don’t have enough of a “hook.”

 

Novelists don’t workshop their manuscripts in mixed-genre groups only to be neglected—

“I couldn’t really write my opinions or leave comments. I just wasn’t comfortable. After all, yours is so personal.”

 

When someone asks, “Come on, did that really happen?” Novelists answer, “Of course not.” (Whether it did or not.)

 

When novelists compose outrageous fictitious scenes, readers don’t flinch. When a memoirist records an outrageous real-life scene, readers complain—

“No way this happened!” “I don’t believe it.”

 

Novelists don’t confront questions like—

“What is a memoir, again? Okay, and who wrote it? But, who is it about? Shit, you must have had a really amazing life!”

 

After their books are published, novelists aren’t in jeopardy of family and friends ostracizing them or of being disowned. They don’t witness their families and friends sob and dodge others when their lives are exposed.

 

Okeydokey, novelists, bring it on!

Guest Blog Post, Ashley Roach: The Privilege and Anxiety of Catharsis

Note: Since time of writing, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court

This month we endured the grueling twin testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh and are facing a very likely confirmation of (another) proven liar to the Supreme Court. It’s been rough. It seems impossible to think about anything else, or to experience anything other than continuous retraumatization. I’ve been working on a book of poems dealing with my own embodied trauma rising from the steam of a decade of forgetting and then remembering, then remembering, then remembering. And asking myself over and over – who is culpable, who invited what, what was forgotten in the darkness, in the not-negotiating? Interrogating the lines, yes, the blurred lines. I have written a book, considered every angle, plumbed my most vulnerable memories. I thought I was strong, self-congratulatory even. I remember telling a friend: I was raped, but I don’t let it determine my life.

These two weeks, I have triggered my own trauma over and over again, looking at the New York Times first thing every morning, checking Twitter every few minutes, calling and writing senators, building and bleeding rage. I’m so angry all the time. I can’t sleep. I lie awake and try to breathe. I go the gym to try to out-aggro myself. I need to feel strong but I’m exhausted. I’m so goddamn mad.

I’m supposed to be planning poetry readings this Fall to sell a few copies of my chapbook, to feel and act like a poet, but it feels so distant. The first reading is in mid-October, on my wedding anniversary. I had completely forgotten about the anniversary and now it seems almost beside the point. I have no interest in conversations with men, even my husband. I want to explode in elemental heat and gravity and destroy this corrupt world. The privilege of all of this (gym, marriage, news subscription, white woman rage) is astounding. I want to crawl into a hole and die. I steam like a volcano. I see a poll that shows a majority of white women believe Brett Kavanaugh over Dr. Ford. I don’t sleep. My mother tells me that she doesn’t think that men should be judged by what they did in high school. I argue with her, then leave. Senator Susan Collins argues the importance of the #MeToo movement then votes for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. My throat is always closed. I can’t stop talking about the injustice of this nomination. I try to tell myself to be prepared for the obvious outcome. Thirty years ago, Anita Hill came forward against Judge Clarence Thomas and was dragged. Need I say it? Donald Trump is president. Here we are today. I steam.

I am also worried that if I read any of the poems I’ve been writing that I will cry, that I will make someone else cry, or worse, I will show that I was wrong, not wronged. All these years later, I still have the internalized misogyny of a lifetime of being told that I put myself in a place where I was vulnerable, and I invited what happened. My mom asked me why I didn’t report it. I don’t know where to begin. It took a decade for me to realize that it happened. I don’t want to share the details, so I leave. I am a coward in my own life. Am I a coward in my own life? A poet recently tweeted that she would not be reading poems of sexual trauma at an upcoming reading because everyone deserves a break. I wonder if I should do the same. But if I don’t read the poems I’ve been writing, why am I reading? If I read them and people are upset, or I am upset, or create a sense of catharsis, am I being performative and insensitive? If I center myself, in my privilege and whiteness, am I perpetuating injustice? I feel sick. I steam.

When I started writing this, I determined that I would write a helpful post about battling imposter syndrome, overcoming doubts of self-worth, and getting over self-promotion anxiety. Work with your friends! Reach out to trusted members of your community! You are worthy! I deleted all of it. It felt so hollow. On Twitter, women post #WhyIDidntReport. I feel like shit every day. My mom wants to talk to me. If I don’t read these poems, how will I reckon with any of this? Is this ultimately the most selfish act – wanting reckoning, wanting catharsis, wanting wanting? My friend and poet Emma Bolden tweeted a gif of a wolf growling, baring her canines. The growl is practically audible. Caption: “YUPPPPPP actual image of me rn.”

Me too. Me too. Me too.

Guest Blog Post, Mary Ann Thomas: Asking for Elephants

Photo credit: she-explores.com

In 2017, I bicycled around India for four months with a friend. We witnessed an immense range of humanity: kind strangers who led us through chaotic cities, fellow cyclists who brought us into their homes to stay a few nights, pilgrims lined up outside of temples to pay for blessings, and barefoot men smashing rocks on the edge of steep cliffs as they built roads. I was an experienced bike tourist. My travel partner was well-versed in the complications of international travel. Our skill sets complemented each other well and, as we rode through deserts, mountains, and beaches, we became intimately acquainted with the multitudes of experiences within India.

I, a queer daughter of Indian immigrants, couldn’t have expected we would pull this off. It seemed like a pipe dream. Cross a country with over 1.3 billion people and 700 languages? Ride some of the tallest mountain passes in the world, carrying everything we need on bicycles? Even though I’d bicycled across the United States and Canada, riding across my parents’ homeland seemed like an impossible feat.

When I returned to the US, I was shaken: my cells rattled from the unpaved roads, my eardrums damaged from the persistent honking, my lungs coated in diesel fumes from trucks and autorickshaws. I sought stillness. I moved to upstate NY, where I lived on a property with four horses, thirty chickens, two dogs, a cat, six ducks, and wild turkeys.

While in India, I posted on my social media every day. I documented my emotional truths as they happened. At times, I was ecstatic as I cycled through busy streets with Indian bicyclists during festivals. At other times, I was overwhelmed by the men, the crowds, the chaos of the country. Because I was actively sharing these stories, people reached out to me. They asked for advice in planning their own bicycle tours. They told me that my daily posts were a source of inspiration as they drank their morning coffee. They told me that these stories made them feel like they could do anything they wanted.

As I sifted through my memories, I realized bike touring taught me a valuable lesson: Fuck Impossible.

My previous bike tour in 2014 helped me talk about my own queerness in ways that I never had before. I shared my writing for the first time through a blog. Biking across India in 2017 allowed me to be claimed by Indians as a child of the country, and allowed me to claim India for myself.

Owning my queer identity, sharing my writing and telling stories, and embracing India as where I’m from, were all things I couldn’t have imagined myself capable of. They seemed impossible to me prior to bicycling. Each time I’ve gone on a long bike ride, I’ve found myself unearthing new possibilities for myself and finding different ways to exist in this world.

The time and space of that house in upstate NY allowed me to assess why I’m writing. I’m writing for the people who messaged me on my tour. I’m writing for the kids of immigrants who are disillusioned by this country, its historical and current violence against our peoples, and who rage against the trap of the unattainable American Dream. I’m writing for queer folks, who have had our gender identities boxed in by a specific heteronormativity that lives in this culture, and who undermine colonial gender norms every time we choose to love.

My story is important in ways I couldn’t have a expected before this all started. So, my travel partner and I self-published a CNF chapbook, in which we included photography and writing from both of us. I planned a way to tell this story more broadly, to gift a physical object to the communities that have held me thus far.

I called it the Fuck Impossible Road Trip. I traveled between more than ten cities all over the United States, using my savings to give talks in bookstores, bike shops and coops, and REI stores across the country. I scheduled time in which I could sit in stillness with friends, organizers, and writers, in order to learn. I went on bike rides with Women, Trans, and Femme (WTF) folks of color in Portland. I organized a WTF Bike camping trip in Anchorage, where I’d once lived. I spoke to rooms with fifteen people and standing-room-only rooms of seventy. Everything about this tour has been outside my comfort zone. As an adult, I’d never made a PowerPoint presentation or spoke in front of a group. I’d never self-published anything, worked with an illustrator to take the experiences in my head and translate them visually, or edited the intimate work of a friend with whom I shared experiences with. It was a new experience for both of us.

We said: If we could bike across India, we can make this chapbook together.

And I said to myself, every time I got on a stage: If I biked across India, I can tell a fucking story.

As a young woman growing up in New Jersey to Indian immigrant parents, as a brown bicyclist for whom riding across rural North America seemed like a way to get killed, as a woman for whom queer love has seemed like an impossibility for so long, I’ve learned to say Fuck Impossible over and over and over again.

Fuck Impossible: a rallying cry for misfits who’ve always been questioned whether they can do something, who’ve always been told they can’t, who’ve drawn lines around themselves to keep themselves safe, to protect their hearts, and kept themselves from chasing the life they want.

Guest Blog Post, Tim Reilly: How a Former Tuba Player Becomes a Writer of Short Stories

I had played the mandolin since age seven, but when I entered high school, in 1964, I chose the tuba as the instrument I would play in the concert band. At the time I had little knowledge of the dented brass contraption in the corner of the band room, but it seemed to beckon me: like the Sword in the Stone. As it turned out, I had a natural talent for the tuba. The first notes I produced were stable and centered, and in less than five minutes instruction, I was playing a B-flat major scale. Four years later, I enrolled in junior college as a music major (I had been offered a one-hundred dollar “scholarship”). The junior college music department had no tuba instructor, however, so I set out on my own to find a private teacher, and in 1969 I contacted Roger Bobo—one of the greatest musicians ever to hoist that magnificent horn. He was then the tubist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He had also been the first tubist to give a solo recital at Carnegie Hall (see John Updike’s light verse poem: “Recital”).  

I can remember clearly my first lesson with Roger. His home, at that time, was in the Hollywood hills, not far from the Hollywood Bowl. I arrived a little early and he offered me some coffee (very good coffee, as I recall). He was wearing an Irish fisherman’s sweater and he looked a little like Tyrone Power (if Tyrone Power had been a tight end for the Rams). We sat and talked for a while, and then, before hearing me play a single note, he said: “I hope you’re not planning on making a living playing the tuba.” Becoming a professional tubist was exactly what I had been planning to do. I was stunned by his remark, but when the color returned to my face, Roger added that he was not trying to discourage me from pursuing a professional career, only that I should have something else to fall back on. “It’s a tough way to make a living,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition, few openings, and no guarantees.”  

I studied with Roger Bobo throughout most of the 1970s (the topic of “having something else to fall back on” was never again mentioned). Roger was (and still is) a remarkable teacher. During our first year of instruction, he would often perform with me in unison the etudes or solos I’d prepared for my lesson—his tuba-bell a foot or two from my right ear. This gave me confidence and a strong concept of proper phrasing and rhythm and sound. But he discontinued this practice after our first year. Instead, he would sit—or stand—and sometimes sing and/or conduct a passage. His comments were always precise and beneficial and never sugar-coated. In the following years, we worked almost exclusively on orchestral repertoire. I was encouraged to study the tuba part in the context of a full orchestral score. Roger helped me learn the principles of artistic discipline, daily regimen, and a reverence for the smallest details (attributes not foreign to a good writer). During one particular lesson, he said something that would take root in my mind.

“What would you say is a teacher’s job?” he asked.

I thought it was a rhetorical question and I answered without thinking. “A teacher’s job is to teach.”

“Wrong,” he said. “A teacher’s job is to help students learn how to teach themselves.”

By the mid-1970s I was making my living as a professional tubist. In 1978 I traveled to Europe and was offered the tuba chair in the orchestra of The Teatro Regio, in Turin, Italy. It was a wonderful experience (for the most part), but at the end of the opera season, I decided not to renew my contract, and I returned to the States. Once home, I took up where I’d left off, only now my situation had improved: I was offered more studio work and I performed regularly with several of the local orchestras and other ensembles throughout southern California. And then my friend and mentor, Roger Bobo, gave me the highest honor yet: he asked me to substitute for him in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This was something akin to being Olivier’s understudy filling in as Hamlet.

Performing with one of the world’s top symphonic orchestras is a near-approach to the gates of Heaven. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. All those years of hard work had paid off. And I was up for the task; I felt right at home. But something horrible happened during the second concert. A malevolent force suddenly weakened my left jaw and my embouchure muscles. I was terrified. I leaned over to Jeff Reynolds, the bass trombonist, and whispered my situation. Jeff’s response was outstanding: he doubled my part, where he could, and helped me sandbag through the rest of the concert, without a hitch.

The condition that ended my music career is called “Embouchure Dystonia.” (You can read about the different forms of dystonia in Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia.)

II

Midway on my life’s journey (the 1980s), I found myself with nothing to “fall back on”—except a series of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, and a major funk. My spirits rose a little when I took my mandolin out of mothballs and performed with a traditional Irish music band, but—tasteful and challenging as the music was—it didn’t supply enough nourishment to heal my soul or turn my life around.

I had been a hungry reader my whole life. As a child I loved fairytales and Arthurian legends and the poems and stories of Edgar Allen Poe. In my twenties, however, I started reading more nonfiction: history, biography, and science. It was an unbalanced diet. Fortunately, during a particularly low stretch of my mid-thirties, I instinctively increased my intake of poetry and fiction, and my soul resumed its proper course, leaving behind my overabundant self-pity.

It was about this time I encountered the first of two lifechanging events. The first event would end in an unintentional negative sell. I was at a party, engaged in a conversation about great literature. I was the greenhorn among the group, and I naively asked the Leader of the Pack about James Joyce’s Ulysses. I said I’d heard about the book and was wondering should I read it. The Leader of the Pack smirked and said that I should instead read something by Steinbeck; Ulysses was for scholars.

The next morning, I started a syllabus for what would be my self-taught course to conquer Mount Ulysses. (“The best way to get an Irishman to do something is to tell him he can’t do it.”) I made a list of the books I knew Joyce would have read: The Bible and Dante’s Divine Comedy; the works of Shakespeare, Ovid, Virgil, and, of course, Homer. I included Greek and Irish and Nordic myths and legends. I would also read Joyce’s Dubliners (three times) and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

I am a very slow reader. The process took about three years to complete. When I felt ready, I went to a used book store and paid a dollar-fifty for a hardbound copy of Ulysses. It was one of the most enjoyable books I’d ever read. I learned what I knew as a child (“The child is the father of the man”): a book is something to read; not conquer. One of the best side effects from all this reading was the uncontrollable urge to write something of my own. This time, however, I decided to go the traditional route of the university, and I enrolled for night courses. I tapped into my past musician’s discipline and developed the joyful habit of writing every day. (I would eventually earn a degree in liberal studies and an elementary teaching credential.)   

1991 brought the second of my lifechanging events. It was the year I met Jo-Anne Cappeluti: the most extraordinary human being I have ever known, the love of my life, and the woman I would marry. At the time we met, Jo-Anne was already a published poet and scholar, with a Ph.D. in English. She was then teaching creative writing and literature courses at a local university (a position from which she retired a few years ago, after thirty years of service). Over the years Jo-Anne has coached me on how to be my own editor—emphasizing a reverence for the smallest details and the necessity for revisions. She makes suggestions but never edits my work nor tells me what to do. Sometimes we disagree about things (sometimes we argue)—but she’s the one who usually had it right from the start. We listen to classical music and read aloud to one-another from great works of literature. Recently we read aloud from George MacDonald’s The Golden Key.

In 1997 my first publication, “The Awakening,” appeared in the Seattle Review. Since then I have had the good fortune to receive more than three-dozen acceptances in various literary journals (including two short stories in Superstition Review). Every acceptance is a magical experience; the excitement never diminishes. (I have received far more rejections than acceptances—but I quit counting them years ago.) God willing, I will continue writing short stories as long as I draw breath in this life. My passion for writing has given back to me something I had lost (and then some). I never intended to make a living by writing, and it looks like I’m in no danger of ever doing so. This doesn’t bother me in the least.