The Tyrannical Self-Gaze

5516869922_016eaf4251_zBy Elizabeth Duffy

I’m doing most of my walking after dark these days as night comes a little earlier. Night walking always makes me feel lighter, almost weightless, so it seems like I’m walking faster than I do in daylight, and since the scenery no longer differentiates one day’s walk from another, my thoughts are in a tunnel. I’m ageless and united in memory and feeling with almost every dark walk I’ve ever taken.

Tonight that weightless feeling, which somehow never blesses me in daylight, reminded me of being about fourteen years old, “running away,” barefoot, in the dark. I’d slammed the door on my way out, not taking time to assess my readiness for a new life on the go, nor the environment into which I was fleeing. Turned out it was raining.

But I did succeed literally at running away, up on the balls of my bare feet. I remember feeling like a gazelle, and somehow all the little pebbles that gather on the side of the road didn’t hurt. I ran about three miles, and then I ran back home, pumped up on romance and adrenaline, only to find out that no one had worried about me, which was disappointing.

In hindsight, the experience of no one worrying about me—because I really was always fine—has been one of my life’s hallmarks and great letdowns. [Read more...]

Not Your Mother’s Book Tour

Runyan imageIn my world, a typical book signing involves sitting behind a small publisher’s table at the annual AWP Conference book fair. Along with dozens of other poets throughout the day, I peer at passersby like a shelter dog whose time has run out. If I’m lucky, someone might stop to say hello, taking a complimentary butterscotch disc as they shuffle away without my book. “Got just one carry-on bag this year,” they’ll say. “You know how it is.”

The book signing I attended this week was different. In fact, it wasn’t really about books—or signing them—at all.

Jenn McAllister, otherwise known as Jennxpenn, is a nineteen-year-old YouTube sensation who started making videos about her teenage life several years ago. My twelve-year-old daughter, Lydia, and her friends follow Jenn and other millennial vloggers, like Super Woman, Taylor Oakley, and Miranda Sings, on their four-inch screens every day. So when Lydia and her friend Emma heard that Jenn was coming to the Chicago area for a signing, we had no choice but to take a ninety-minute road trip—on a school night—to see Jenn in real-life retina display. [Read more...]

Prayers in the River

9186219783_2c482b06e7_mI stand hip-deep in a river, casting into the eddies. I am not the kind of man who routinely stands hip-deep in anything, but the kids are still asleep, and I need to pray somewhere—God knows—so here I stand. The water is frigid and it soothes my feet, sore from stumbling over stones to rescue my lure. All I’ve caught in this damned river are rocks.

I’m here mostly to pray and because I want to fish in peace. Lord Jesus Christ—cast—son of God—lock—have mercy on me—reel, reel, reel—a sinner. In his last scene in The Godfather II, Fredo tells Michael Corleone’s son his fish-catching secret is to say a “Hail Mary” when he casts. Maybe that works for Catholics; this Orthodox Jesus Prayer is getting me nothing. [Read more...]

The Beautiful Attitudes

By Dyana Herron

2956313375_8e911e6a09_mI clearly remember the last day of being nine. I stood in front of my house on the porch, its cement stained from summer, when my brother and I felt through the thick fur of our chow chows for fat ticks that we plucked, shook off, then smashed with rocks.

On the last day of being nine, I stood on the stained cement crying. I was upset because although the next day was my birthday and would bring all the extravagances of a birthday, I would be turning ten.

As in, going from a one-digit age number to a two-digit age number. And I realized I wasn’t likely to reach the three-digits. [Read more...]

Go Ahead and Have the Damn Children!

3724627479_62ac89a307_mI was working from home a few days ago, on a day when both of my children were sick, a day that teetered back and forth between writing memos and proposals at the dining room table and wielding the digital thermometer aloft as I re-tucked the covers around hot little bodies.

It was the end of the day and I had turned to random housecleaning when I happened to hear, on the public radio program Marketplace, the latest installment of the show’s series on “first jobs,” pegged to a new book out called First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Jobs, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks. In it, a young man named Jesse Kovalcik talked about his first job as a gravedigger at the South Florida pet cemetery where his father was working.

Aside from the built-in oddity of the job he described, the story was compelling for the family portrait it provided: The reason the family was in South Florida in the first place was that the father had gone there to enter a rehab program, and the pet cemetery job was the position he was given on release. [Read more...]