The Two Lists

imageSeven-year old Isaiah found a small desk in the back of our garage and claimed it. “I want to paint it red,” he said. So we prepped it with a hand-sander, and I bought him a can of paint. Familiar with Tom Sawyer and being no fool, he recruited two of his brothers. Determined to let this be Isaiah’s project, I left them to their labor. Soon the desk was drying in the sun, and I was preoccupied with cleaning brushes along with whatever boy flesh I could lay hold of long enough to scrub it with mineral spirits.

Isaiah returned to the scene of the crime to survey his work. It was a damned atrocity. Paint ran haphazardly against the grain, tacky pools of it collected on the surface, and thick rivulets had crawled down the sides and hardened.

“Look at it,” the boy said, his arms spread wide. “It’s beautiful!” [Read more...]

While My Pen Gently Weeps

6742625959_af858306f8_mMy daughter Gracie was helping me prepare dinner one evening. We were doing the bœuf bourguignon from Virginia Willis’s amazing cookbook Bon Appetit, Y’all, which puts a southern spin on every recipe—this one, by adding bacon.

As Gracie stood on her cooking stool and crisped the bacon at the stovetop, the aroma filled the kitchen and mixed with the onions I was cutting at the counter. She talked over the bacon’s hiss and sizzle about being a chef someday, quitting cross country, girls at school she liked and didn’t like, boys.

I drifted as she chattered, but snapped back to attention when she said, “And if you’re going to be a writer—”

“I am a writer,” I cut in. I wasn’t sure how we’d come to this. [Read more...]

In the Marrow of Depression and Anxiety

8025692978_ddec2400e8_mBy the time you read this, I’ll be feeling much better. Therapy will have commenced, medications will have been adjusted, and clinging to the One who clings to the brokenhearted will have kept me affixed to a drip line of peace.

I can say this with some confidence, for it’s not my first time off the high dive. An episode with postpartum depression knocked me out in the spring of 2005. A thyroidectomy, and the resulting difficulty with getting my levels adjusted, incapacitated me in 2011. Today, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. Hormones seem to be fluctuating. Obsessive thoughts have sparked actual conflicts, causing more anxiety and guilt. Constantly trying to “hold my thoughts captive” has depleted my energies and now sunk me into a depressive state. [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...]

My Rainbow Connection, Disconnected

by Chad Thomas Johnston

2067021449_5fea38708a_mIt was a Saturday night and my wife, Becki, wanted to stream the documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, on Netflix. As a new father, I protested. Our seven-month-old daughter Evie carried with her the promise that Elmo would invade our house soon enough—but this was too soon.

I also protested because I lost much of my enthusiasm for puppets when Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990. When Henson’s silver cord was severed—a phrase the writer of Ecclesiastes uses to refer to death—the rainbow connection Henson sang about as Kermit the Frog was disconnected for me.

People said Henson’s death could have been prevented if only he had gone to the hospital earlier. In my eleven-year-old mind, I thought this meant he had given up on living, much as people give up on hobbies they no longer love. [Read more...]


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