So Much for the American Dream

Daisy YardMy six-year-old son caught me off guard. “I wish we had a backyard,” he said one afternoon. He had been playing more or less quietly with his Legos, and I was enjoying a book.

“Oh, yeah?” I responded. “Why is that?”

“Then we could just play outside and you wouldn’t have to watch us,” he said, and I knew he meant that he could play outside while my wife and I could stay inside doing the kinds of things we give as reasons we can’t take our children to the park, like working, cleaning, preparing dinner.

“Yeah, buddy, that’d be nice,” I agreed and let the subject drop.

I omitted any mention of how he hit on one of the only regrets I have about not owning a home—and the only regret on that short list that makes my heart ache when I think of it. [Read more…]

Drive-By Memory

nastroeniya-cvety-cvetkiMy first memory takes place in Lakewood, CA, a small suburb south of Los Angeles. Lakewood, the nation’s first planned community, also happens to be the subject of D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. “In a suburb that is not exactly middle class,” Waldie writes at the beginning of the book, “the necessary illusion is predictability.”

Because the families that settle there are anything but predictable.

After they married in 1969, my mom and dad bought one of those small, square dream homes from my father’s parents. It was my dad’s first marriage and my mother’s third. Heidi, my sister born during one of my mother’s prior lives, was in junior high. The street, Maybank, figures nicely into the Facebook formula for “my stripper name,” along with Penny, my first dog.

On August 4, 1972, Penny Maybank took the stage. [Read more…]

Eden’s Border: Where Objects Have Stories

IMG_8506We’ll have to go back to the gun shop today. There’s no way around it. It seems that the barrel with the modified choke got left there when my mother placed the twenty-gauge up for sale sometime before Christmas. But since there weren’t any takers, we went back to the shop to retrieve it when I got home in December. Unfortunately, the owner forgot to give us the other barrel, so we’ll have to go back. My brother has decided he wants it.

The only reason she was selling this shotgun out of the many others we have is because nobody could remember how we came to own it or whose it was in the first place. Coming from a long line of hunters, our family has stories behind these weapons. Among them, there’s a rifle with a scope my grandfather deer hunted with (we used to have two buck heads that he kept mounted on his wall in the study), an A.H. Fox with an engraved plate that my other grandfather traded a man for during the Depression, a 410 that my own father began to hunt with, and an Ithaca with a sawed-off stock that I was given as a boy because the gun was originally too long for me. [Read more…]

The Tyrannical Self-Gaze

5516869922_016eaf4251_zI’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…]


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