When It Comes to Love, We’re Beginners

MV5BMjAyNDcxNTk3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk4MDU2NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_By Jeffrey Overstreet

During a lecture last March [2011], I spoke fondly of a friend whom I had recently lost to cancer. Halfway through the anecdote, I suddenly recognized his wife, the mother of his two young children, in the audience, listening in rapt attention. She was far from home, a surprise visitor. I almost choked. And I suddenly began weighing my words with much greater care. Had I represented her husband well?

Loss makes artists out of all of us. We become storytellers, portrait painters, recreating the departed.

During grief’s early days, we break heavy silences to recall the scenes we want to remember. For strangers, we’ll sketch an outline, fill in some details. We simplify, generalize, organize.

We consider questions that will never be answered, dreams never realized. And we might carefully acknowledge their rougher edges, the ways they tested our patience—but we’ll wince if anyone blurts out words of criticism or judgment.

It’s a challenge, to keep someone’s memory alive with honesty and honor. It’s a responsibility, a delicate art. [Read more...]

Checked Baggage

13009696995_d346e1f88a_zBy Christiana N. Peterson

It’s evening and I’m about to meet my older sister in baggage claim. Trained by years of overseas travel in my twenties—and having lost enough luggage along the way—I have taken very little with me on the trip: my carry-on, my diaper bag, and my nine-month-old baby.

I regret to admit that I take some pride in meeting my family in baggage claim and hearing one of them say “this is all you brought?”

But today, I’ve brought heavier baggage than the visible kind: grief, anxiety, and a troubled sense that this trip will be different than every other trip before it.

My sister hugs me and takes my bag. I thank her for picking me up and until we get to the car, we are both silent on the subject of our parents. Usually my mom is the one who meets me here. But now, she is three hours away at a hospital with my father, who has just been diagnosed with cancer and is in unbearable pain. [Read more...]

A Requiem for Rejects

6496543295_1191ee1010_zBy Chad Thomas Johnston

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
—Isaiah 53:3

Six or seven years ago, a coworker of mine played a drunken game of chicken with a semi-truck on his bike at ten o’clock at night. His funeral doubled as a memorial service and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

My coworker, whom I will refer to as Flip, was an adjunct member of the faculty in the same university department that employed me as a lecturer. Flip was in his early forties, wore horrible Hawaiian-print shirts, and spoke with the glibness of a used car salesman. [Read more...]

How To Begin a Book

4270156619_bb2e54ca50_zI’m a bit Type A for a poet—or for what people perceive as one. I like to know when and where I’m going with my writing, and why. This is no apology. Without specific goals, I wouldn’t have written a thing since becoming a parent twelve years ago. I make the time and space to write, even perching atop an ottoman in the corner of a stairway to scratch out drafts in the early, nauseated hours of my pregnancies.

My projects are clearly defined. Explore Paul the Apostle with fifty poems. Grapple with the book of Revelation from Patmos to the Great White Throne. Write at least one poem week, unless it’s Christmas or something, until the project is “done.” Then revise with intense, almost physical focus, as if scrubbing a yellow ring from the bathtub. Inspiration? Who has time to wait around for that when the elementary school is requiring five start-of-the-year events?

However, when I flew to Image’s Glen Workshop earlier this month, opting to spend most of the week on retreat, I had no such plan. I knew it was time to start a new collection of poems focusing on the violin, one of my lifelong loves. But I had no idea how to approach it, how to even figure out how to approach it, or how long any of these undefined tasks would take. I just knew I was about to spend a week in Santa Fe with artists, writers, mountains, chocolate, and wine. At least a couple of those are daily necessities. [Read more...]

Where’s the Guilt?

15698224630_85fddfa509_zI’ve had the experience of dealing with renters from time to time, though more in the capacity of property manager than as landlord. It has been one of the ugliest, most unpleasant things a person can go through in business.

You might say, “Well, everybody knows that—people don’t really respect what they don’t own.” True, I suppose, to a degree. But then, I’ve rented property for most of my life, in one way or the other, and it would be a slander to myself not to qualify such an adage. I’ve kept up the places and paid my rent. I’ve given them back to their owners in as good a shape as they gave them to me, “normal wear and tear accepted.” So I think there’s something else behind what I’ve gone through. Let me relate my woes:

Let it be said that this property is in a prime location, is practically brand new, and is marketed at a price that would chase away the kind of folks who aren’t paying much, so don’t care much. A professional set is the target audience and a professional set, by and large, has been interested in leasing it.

But you’d be surprised at what even professionals are capable of doing. The first group of people came well recommended and had good references; they had the money and were anxious to move right in. They were in transition (which now I know is always a dangerous state—volatile and unpredictable). [Read more...]


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