Autistic Lives Matter

4121837708_b3d12f0f30_oWhen I first met Daniel Bowman Jr. at the Festival of Faith and Writing, we both experienced that you’re-not-how-I-pictured-you-from-Facebook moment. While he may not have felt self-consciously compact, I became quite aware of my own awkward, lumbering stature that banged into a book table or two. Still, I tried to make a good impression while obsessing over the fact that I wasn’t wearing earrings twenty minutes before my appointment to read a poem at the chapel.

“I’ll feel naked up there without earrings,” I told him. “Wanna come with me to the campus store to find some?”

Nice to meet you. I’m neurotic and say inappropriate things.

Dan, on the other hand, was fighting a whole ninja army of thoughts: What do I say to de-escalate the anxiety rising up from standing in the middle of a conference with hundreds of people? How can I be endearing and likeable? If I’m witty will she want to get to know me better?

We not only survived the encounter, but over the next couple of years, grew in our friendship. We shared our writing, spent time with mutual friends at retreats and conferences, and even set up a co-reading at a local coffee shop in my area. Meanwhile, I began to observe some quirky patterns in Dan’s behavior—nothing too worrisome, since we are, after all, poets. But he often avoided eye contact or had trouble transitioning to hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes he became agitated during unpredictable social situations. [Read more...]

Going to the Manger as She Is


By Ann Hedreen

I drape a towel over Nick’s head and strap it in place with a bandana. I squeeze Claire’s arms into her bent-hanger angel wings. It is the morning of the Christmas pageant, and my shepherd and my angel are ready to go.

The question is: Am I? Because on this pageant morning, I don’t get to walk in to church with my scrappy, adorable children. Instead, I’ll be making an entrance at the last minute, with my mom and her ever-unpredictable companion: Alzheimer’s disease.

I wish I didn’t have to. Bring her. I hate myself for having that thought. Because I love my mom. But how I loathe Alzheimer’s and what it is doing to her. And how I hate it for bringing out the worst, not in Mom, but in me.

Nine-thirty on the dot: Time to get in the car and focus on the challenge at hand: precision timing. The Seattle weather is cooperating, December-style: wet but not a downpour, cold but not freezing. The kids and I race up the road to our old brick church. Nick’s towel and Claire’s wings flap as I shoo them out. I remind myself that it’s okay if scuffed-up sneakers and jeans peek out from under their costumes. What matters is that they know the carols. They each know their one line. They’re ready to walk right up to that manger, as they are. Unlike me.

“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I call after them. “Good luck with the rehearsal. Remember: Belt out those lines!” [Read more...]

My Wish for My Students

Students pray on lawn at SPU after shooting at the school.Only this I wish for my students: this semester, I hope you will learn to care for each other.

I hope you will learn how to create conditions in which everyone present in the room feels welcome to speak. I hope you will learn how to discern which of two competing voices within you is worth acting on: the voice that cautions you against speaking lest you confirm, for yourself and others, what you suspect, that you are a fool, and the voice that encourages you to trust yourself, that your thoughts, your questions are worthy of being heard by others. [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 2

By Jenny Shank

a manual for cleaning womenContinued from yesterday.

Catholic imagery appears throughout Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, the posthumous selected stories that has brought her singular fiction out of obscurity.

The magnificent “El Tim,” a story about a charismatic adolescent Mexican-American boy who disrupts a Catholic school with his sly behavior, begins: “A nun stood in each classroom door, black robes floating into the hall with the wind.” The grade school nuns keep perfect order, but the middle school ones have a harder time: “They could not use awe or love like the grade school nuns. Their recourse was impregnability, indifference to the students who were their duty and their life.” [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 1

By Jenny Shank


In September, Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection of selected short stories A Manual for Cleaning Women hit the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.

Vice called Lucia Berlin “the greatest American writer you’ve never heard of.”

Marie Claire predicted that this “highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult [Berlin] into a household name.”

And John Williams wrote in the New York Times, “She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”

I count myself as part of that “modest audience” who was lucky to know Berlin and her work before her death in 2004. I met Berlin when she was my teacher in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Colorado, and I was immediately taken by her as a writer and as a person. [Read more...]