Give Thanks for Good Reading!

essay writing

In the latest issue of Longridge Review (Fall 2017):

Victims or Others?
Gina Ferrara (New Orleans) remembers a colorful crew of men who play cards at her grandfather’s bar and clubhouse in the French Quarter. “Chicago Mike” always seems to have an assortment of random gifts on him. One day, Gina and her sister are the recipients of some of those gifts, and she finds herself asking herself questions about what it means to be involved in something you’re not even sure you understand.

How to Be on Time
Andy Harper (Illinois) weaves a narrative that goes to an unexpected place. When he finds his young adult self beset by unexpected anxiety, he is determined to follow the bread crumbs to its origin. The conclusion is shocking. This essay broke a couple of hearts at our editorial table, and is an excellent example of why we publish Longridge Review.

Anne Muccino (Kansas City) reflects on the first time she repeated a term spoken inside her family and realized it wasn’t something said aloud to others, most importantly not to the people being labeled with that word. This is a poignant snapshot of a child’s dawning awareness that not everything said casually or even said warmly has a causal or warm effect on others.

Shooting Stars
Jonathan Sonnenberg (New York City) deftly tells us something about himself by writing about an influential teacher.  Mr. Bell likes to ask his students prickly questions. Have they ever been drunk? Tried pot? Cocaine? The class is pretty used to his provocations, until one afternoon a question sucks the air out of room. Mr. Bell is after more than discomfort. He has something he needs them to know.

A Bowl Full of Jelly
Victoria Waddle (Claremont) is devastated by her grandmother’s death, but learns how to conjure her presence in dreams. These visits help, some, but become increasingly dissatisfying as her grandmother never comes fully back to who she was in life. Eventually, the dream woman sends a message that makes it plain her visits are over. But will she ever truly not be there, somewhere?

Sentence Enhancers
Teige Weidner (Oregon) has a story about his childhood that will ring familiar to too many readers. He is bullied, a lot, and the abuse is taking a toll. No one seems to appreciate how bad things are for young Teige, but they are about to find out. After all, we all only have so much fuse, and his is about to burn down.

via #9, Fall 2017: 6 New Essays + Deb Farrell = Your Longridge Review

Young Writers: The Bad Guy on Snail Road

I am working with various other adults to create a program in my community. It is called Charleston Young Writers and you can read more about it here:

This morning I simply want to share a delightful snippet of an original story by a friend’s daughter. It was posted as part of her mother’s Facebook status update, and I immediately begged to share it as an example of how even very young children can thrive in the joy of creative writing.

Without further ado….

Up, Up and Away the Sailboat and The Train Go | by Adrienne N., age not-quite-5

The Bad Guy went to Snail Road. The Bad Guy said, “Can you help me?”
The snail said, “I am delicious.”
He said, “Why are you delicious?” in a very strong voice.
The snail said, “Cause I’m delicious.”
The Bad Guy was very angry at the snail.

There is just something so uninhibited about this crazy rambling that reads almost like a Beat poem. The random and calmly persistent snail response, as well as the frustration of The Bad Guy to said response, reminds me of so many useless adult conflicts.

Shhhhh….they’re listening to us.

In a Man’s Voice: Self-Portraits by Steve Alberts

Somehow the pundits had milked the year 2000 for all it was worth with stories about the end of the world, crashing computers, and other cataclysmic projections that never took place.  During the last days of 1999 many of us had looked into the mirror hoping to see a face that had made some positive profound difference for all of humanity before eternity replaced the present.

Then January 1, 2000 turned out to be just another day.

None-the-less, that was the day that I earnestly began trying to document my history.

But, since then I have grown to believe that facts and figures are for the engineers and scientists.  Since then I have grown to believe that the feelings and attitudes which guide us through life are so much more important than the fables that have been repeated enough to become accepted as fact… to be accepted as history.

Now, some dozen years later, with my 67th birthday behind me, as I think about Essays on a West Virginia Childhood, I realize that I wish to paint a portrait of my childhood rather than try to provide you with a photograph.

Yes, a portrait, not a photograph.  And, since I am the artist I can apply the colors and hues with strokes that compliment the caricature I wish to portray.

I do not share the fear that those who believe themselves homely have for a great painter.  My essays will be self-portraits.  Warts will be removed.  Wings and haloes will be properly hung.  Only the scars that reveal great character will be left uncovered.

Then I will unveil myself to you.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

Essays on Childhood: Pick a Little Talk a Little by Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree has been telling stories ever since she understood the power of the Show & Tell stool in kindergarten. Words have always held a sense of magic for her, and she parlayed that magic into a 35-year career of bending them this way and that. She is the author of Nags Headers, a regional history set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and In Mother Words, a collection of essays about family life. Born and raised in Scotland Neck, N.C., a tiny town in the Tar Heel State’s northeastern corner, she studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. She is now Director of Communications for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, in Raleigh. The mother of two grown children and two very precocious granddogs, she has written for a number of national and regional newspapers and magazines. These days she blogs about the magic of daily life on her blog, Write Much.

Pick a Little Talk a Little | by Susan Byrum Rountree

My father was an amateur magician. With a sleight of hand, he used to pull coins from the ears of grandchildren, use his nimble fingers to shuffle a deck of cards into a magic trick. He could separate inseparable rings.

He was a busy man when I was growing up. One of only three doctors in my hometown, he was up and out early, and though he most always was home for supper, often in the middle of it, the phone would ring, or people would show up at the back door, and he was gone again. My mother, brother, sister and I shared him all those years, waiting at home as he delivered babies (12 in 24 hours once), treated hearts — both broken and diseased — mended bones and emotions, nurtured families as they took root, grew old, died.

Susan on her mother’s lap

I’m child #3, so my alone time with Daddy was limited when I was little. I remember him teaching me to bait a proper hook with a blood worm while the waves of the Atlantic lapped at my feet. A walk in the woods one day (with my brother and sister), I think because my brother was working on a merit badge. A day he came home from work to sew up a tiny injured rabbit my sister found in the yard. And a day he pitched the softball to me in the back yard so I wouldn’t embarrass myself during recess. (It didn’t work.)

But one of the many things Daddy shared with me in those times when he was home was a love for banjo music. We watched the Arthur Smith Show and Hee Haw and Porter Wagoner, Daddy tapping his size 13 wing tips against the ottoman as I clapped along.

Daddy loved Earl Scruggs. Somehow back then I felt like Earl and Lester Flatt were neighbors, they came so often into our family room. I’d watch as their fingers flew, coaxing sweet music out of those strings, and it was pure joy.

Daddy had a banjo, too, and every now and then he and I would sneak away into the living room while my siblings were bent over homework, and I would sit beside him on the dressed up sofa — my feet not yet touching the floor — and he would play for me. I’d watch as those same magical fingers that shuffled the cards and stitched up that rabbit plucked the stiff wire strings until Bill Bailey filled up the whole room. Joy again, to have Daddy all to myself, for him to be singing just to me.

My kindergarten class performed a play when I was five. It had something to do with Valentine’s Day, and I played the role of “a girl.” In the picture, I stand next to a boy wearing a cowboy hat and a sly grin as big as the waxing moon. I don’t remember a thing about the play except one of the boys played Pinocchio, and that I wore a pink dress my grandmother had made and white cotton gloves. I hated that I had to stand next to the boy with the grin, who sang the theme song to the “Beverly Hillbillies” because he told our teacher Earl Scruggs was his cousin.

Susan’s kindergarten class

When I learned that Earl, the sweet man who used to visit with us often and played his five-fingered magic had died, I remembered that boy, and my Daddy playing for me, and how much banjo music meant to me once upon a time.

Wouldn’t you know that the brother of that boy is a Facebook acquaintance? So the news hound in me couldn’t resist asking if the story was true.

Not true, exactly, he wrote to me. But his uncle played in a band with the father of Bluegrass when Earl and Lester Flatt performed live for the radio. And wouldn’t you know? He and his sly brother, along about the time of our kindergarten play, sometimes sat on the stage with Earl and Lester when they performed. If I imagined them as neighbors, to be sure to a five-year-old, sitting on stage with the performers meant you were kin.

I’ve thought a lot about my banjo memories since then and have even played a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown as I worked. Though I thought my father’s banjo long gone to history, come to find out that my brother has been keeping it safe for awhile, and two years ago gave it back to Daddy, all cleaned up and ready for picking again.

“Get him to play you a song,” my brother told me.

Well, I just believe I will.

What would this world be like, if every single one of us took the time to coax our gifts out and into the world —  like the unassuming Earl, or Daddy with his magic for healing, with medicine or music? Small gestures can become great magic, when shuffled with the right hands.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

Men, Writing, Expression: Their Way

John of thebeautifuldue.

Writer Michael Powelson introduced me to thebeautifuldue — the gospel according to john.

(Michael shared an essay last year with the Essay on Childhood project:

I loved reading this poem the first time and have re-read it several times since. It is a combination by the poet of “several male sources.” While it could be the experience of just one man’s childhood influence, it pulls together pieces of various lives to tell the story that may very well speak many men.

I encourage writers for this year’s project to consider unusual ways you might tell your story using creative nonfiction or even poetry if that feels right. It needs to be your story, but some truths are more clear with non-linear narrative or even prose poems.

Enjoy (and read more than once) weak but strong….

weak but strong….

‘Your shoulders are shit, Sport. Probably all those dips.’
Doctor Welch first called me ‘sport’ when I was thirteen.
I had wanted to put on a little muscle, maybe go out for
football or wrestling, so Mom took me in for a physical.
Any excuse to see Peter Welch M.D. was okay by her.
She’d had a grand crush on the man ever since Dad left.
I discovered later that was the main reason for Dad’s adios. 
Peter Welch had played football at SMU before med school.
Mom would always emphasize he played ‘tight end’ and giggle. 
I love the woman but she’s never had both oars in the water.
‘But you said bodyweight exercises were the way to
avoid injury. What about primum non nocere? No harm?’
I felt compelled to remind the physician of his sworn
oath, a veiled attempt to justify my chosen vows of
faithfully beginning and ending each day for ten years 
with chin ups and dips, the latter my forte. They were
my lauds and vigils, repetitive ups and downs, blood-flushed
prayers that Dad might come to his senses and run home. 
As a senior in college I performed 6 sets of 25 reps twice a day.
That Christmas I learned my father had died back east, alone.  
‘Hippocrates, Schmockrates. Your greatest strength is also
your greatest weakness, Sport. That’s the oath to swear by.’

2 Women. 1 Town. 10 Stories.

If you love to write, then you know how it goes.

One day you’re writing, drinking French wine and smoking imported tobacco in a garret, showering the village with sheets of your glorious thoughts and tales.

The next thing you know, Old Jed’s a Millionaire is about the most brilliant thing you can think of and you find yourself hiding from your own blog and taking pictures around town of things like this:

What to do….what to do….you love to write. You love your blog. You need inspiration.

I say try what my friend Karan and I just did. Go to lunch, talk about everything under the sun, maybe even talk about writing, but don’t over-analyze it.  Then drive home from lunch while the sun shines, listen to some music, blur the mind’s eye and — ta da! Receive a gift of energy and inspiration.

Karan and I both cherish writing, and we both find ourselves thinking and talking about writing a whole lot more than we are actually WRITING.

So here’s the deal: Starting on Monday, we will trade stories about life in Charleston, West Virginia. Our writing prompts to ourselves will be simply our experiences around town. Those experiences may be sad, happy, funny, enraging, or anything at all.  What they have to have in common is that they are real.  One of us will post, then punt to the other writer. We will share each other’s stories with our networks and encourage your thoughts on our posts.

We are going to tell you some real stories, and we hope you will come along for the ride.  We call it Esse-a-Go-Go.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!

Writing About Place: “Where I’m From”

I am from pastel and oil, acrylic and watercolor, pencil and ink, wood and ruler, hammer and nail, chisel, chainsaw, miter, drill, screw.

I am from Mr. Rogers and Bob Marley, Uncle Wiggly and The Rainbow Goblins, The Monkey King and Thumbelina.

I am from a marriage and a divorce, love and its opposite, the familiar clang of the world at its end and at its beginning, splitting apart and then reformed, broken and whole, the consistency of two people working out their distances across town and across a river and across a home and across a little girl.

Fascinated?  Visit the Essays on Childhood website to read the entire piece of writing and to connect with writer Valley Haggard, the founder of Richmond Young Writers!

Many thanks go out to Valley for her generous permission to share her writing on Esse Diem and Essays on Childhood.