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...]

Finding God in Updike Country

9294082808_489ce8bc7c_mIt took me more than a year of living out here to realize I am living in Updike Country. It just never occurred to me. The first time I ever read the Rabbit books, I’d never been to Pennsylvania.

All I knew was that Updike was writing about small-town America. Doesn’t really matter where, I thought. Could be anywhere. I didn’t think the specific location mattered much to Updike, either. I didn’t understand how it could have mattered. [Read more...]

Sexist Assumptions and the Difficult, Dirty Work of Grace

IMG_7501My husband was deep into a bathroom remodeling project when he asked me to stop by the home improvement store to grab a faucet connector. He had purchased the wrong size on his previous trip, and I was out running errands anyway.

A young female employee met me in the plumbing section. I tried to decipher the details from my husband’s text but couldn’t figure out what the succession of measurements meant. The employee didn’t know either, so I called my husband to confirm.

After I hung up, the employee shook her head: “Don’t you love how men send their wives out to do their dirty work?” [Read more...]

Jesus: Here, There, and Everywhere

16764657475_2481ef80df_mGertrude Stein once said of her hometown, Oakland, California, where she was raised after having been born in Pittsburgh, that “there is no there there.” This is often taken as a knock on Oakland—a city that is not really a city, that has no center, that lacks an identifiable sense of place. This is how I felt about Los Angeles when I was teenager growing up there.

Looking out into the smog from a vantage point in the Hollywood Hills, I’d ask no one in particular, “Where is the damn city?” Los Angeles, to me, was an infinite sprawl of one-story structures stretching off into the desert and the scrub brush and the impossibly dry hills.

I moved to New York City as a young man partly to find a place that had a “there.” The density of Manhattan seemed the very antithesis of Californian spatio-temporal malaise. When you walked down the streets of Manhattan, I thought, you’d know you were unmistakably somewhere. [Read more...]

The Soul of the Law

e7eccc8e1b84a088At the beginning of the old Norton Anthology of English Literature (4th Ed.) appeared this account from the medieval chronicler Gerald of Wales:

The Lord of Chateau-Roux in France maintained in the castle a man whose eyes he had formerly put out, but who, by long habit, recollected the ways of the castle, and the steps leading to the towers. Seizing an opportunity of revenge, and meditating the destruction of the youth, he fastened the inward doors of the castle, and took the only son and heir of the governor of the castle to the summit of a high tower, from whence he was seen with the utmost concern by the people beneath. [Read more...]


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