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...]

The Beast Without


“Isaac’s being a jerk,” my seven year-old, Isaiah, says about his older brother. They have been sledding over new-fallen snow.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he keeps knocking me off my sled.”

“Why do you think he does that?” I ask. I’ve been trying to help my children consider how sometimes they incite one another.

“Because he’s evil.”

Well, then.

“My sisters pregnant I can’t wait to find out if im gonna be an aunt or uncle,” is what the girl tweeted. By the time I saw a screenshot of her words, they had traveled pretty widely. What an idiot, people said. Glad I’m not that stupid. I thought the same things. [Read more...]

Let Me Die Like This

redWhen I die, Lord, let me go in a plane crash, spiraling down, earthward, earthward, apportioned enough time to pray but not nearly enough to forget what we’re all prone to forget: that the end comes, it rushes up to greet us, every one in flight.

What I’d pray in my downfall is: forgive, sweet Christ, forgive, and this: let me see. Let me see myself in your mirror so I may know, before the end, if I am known.

They say it’s easier to conjure faith in desperation, but I suspect the opposite is true, that all we hold in our trembling hands, when the earth charges up to embrace us for the last time, is what’s really there, what we really believe, what we really love, be it God or ourselves or our children or our comforts, or likely some combination of these, with salvation turning perhaps not on a choice so much as on the algorithm, on our hammered-out parameters of love. [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...]

Seeking Refuge

KK_Boat_Drop-OffI’d just put my two young sons to bed when I opened the computer to see the picture of Aylan. My sons are two and five, and the youngest has round soft legs, like Aylan, and little shoes, like Aylan. I saw the picture of Aylan and felt my blood go cold.

That day I had been humming through hymns in some music planning for our small startup Episcopal community in rural Washington. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,” came to mind, an old camp song. Good energy for coming back together at the end of a summer. Now the music stopped.

One in the spirit and one in the Lord? I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. How blind I was to God’s people struggling each day just to live? Aylan must have tussled and played with his older brother just like my little one, but his brother drowned too. Aylan’s mother must have tucked them both in the same way I tuck in my sons, until she drowned that same day. I started to feel desperate. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the hymn goes. How was I showing Christ’s love?

My feeling of discomfort grew. I emailed a friend who does overseas mission work, but she didn’t know a way to plug in directly. What if my family flew somewhere, worked in a camp? There were places to give, but that didn’t seem enough. We could take a family into our home, but the US has only permitted immigration to 1,500 Syrian refugees. [Read more...]