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Remembering Brian Doyle

This is my post for Memorial Day. Rather than reading my words, read these words from Brian Doyle, a wonderful writer and person, who left us much too soon. Last Prayer by Brian Doyle Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever. Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let along understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened! And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, [...]

By | 2017-05-29T14:11:13+00:00 May 29th, 2017|Blog|31 Comments

Storytelling in a Slower Time: Have We Lost Our Oral Tradition?

Summer Sundays, my thoughts turn to baseball and the way my father would “listen” to a St. Louis Cardinals game on the radio while he napped. Our house was full of stillness those days. After a week of labor on the farm, we slipped easily into rest come Sunday. My mother read the newspaper and sometimes nodded off herself. I did what I did so much of the time as an only child; I lived inside the stories I made up in my head, or else in the ones someone else had invented and put into a book I could [...]

By | 2017-05-22T08:01:38+00:00 May 22nd, 2017|Blog|8 Comments

Making Research Creative

This morning I find myself in my native southeastern Illinois on a day that promises to be summery: temperatures in the mid-80s and plenty of sunshine. In fact, I’m writing this from the public library that I used during high school back in the day when there was still something called a card catalog and a Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature in thick bound volumes with green covers. This library is where I first began to learn how to do research. I love the quiet here. I like to tuck myself away in the genealogy room. Sometimes, just out of [...]

By | 2017-05-15T13:51:53+00:00 May 15th, 2017|Blog|5 Comments

Pay Attention: Kindness and the Writer

One night, when I was in grade school, our landlord took me to a baseball game. It was the night of the second Clay/Liston championship fight, May 25, 1965. I was nine years-old. Our landlord was a man named Louie Hiskes. He lived in our small string of apartments in a larger one that formed an el at the end. It had a large picture window. He lived there with his wife and son, who was yet to start school. I don’t know what Louie’s day job was, but in the evenings and on weekends he kept up with repairs [...]

By | 2017-05-08T06:11:24+00:00 May 8th, 2017|Blog|4 Comments

Wait, Wait, Wait: Patience and the Writer

My wife and I have a mallard duck—a hen—sitting on eleven eggs that she’s camouflaged well in our landscaping. You really have to know where she is to see her. On occasion, she’s gone, seeking food, I assume, although now Cathy has made that easy for her by putting out some cracked corn. Mostly the hen just sits, incubating those eggs while she waits for them to hatch. From time to time, I consider her patient task. It takes twenty-eight days for the eggs to hatch. That makes for a good deal of time spent sitting and waiting, which, apparently, [...]

By | 2017-05-01T08:53:49+00:00 May 1st, 2017|Blog|4 Comments

Not Fade Away: The Memoirist at Center Stage

Not Fade Away: The Memoirist at Center Stage My wife and I just got back from the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, where we got to spend time with friends we haven’t seen for quite some time. At dinner last night, stories were abundant and laughs were plentiful. At times, though, we talked about serious matters, and empathy and understanding were widespread. This is what I look for in the people I think of as friends, this willingness to accept me for who I am, this refusal to judge. I want my friends to laugh with me, yes, [...]

By | 2017-04-24T07:22:03+00:00 April 24th, 2017|Blog|5 Comments

The Year When: An Exercise for Starting a Narrative

Richard Ford’s story, “Optimists,” begins like this: All of this that I am about to tell happened when I was only fifteen years old, in 1959, the year my parents were divorced, the year when my father killed a man and went to prison for it, the year I left home and school, told a lie about my age to fool the Army, and then did not come back. Notice how Ford maps out a narrative—beginning, middle, and end. Now all he has to do is connect the parts. Sometimes storytelling is that clear. Here’s what happened, the writer says. [...]

By | 2017-04-17T07:48:39+00:00 April 17th, 2017|Blog|4 Comments

From the Past to the Future: Resolution and Forgiveness for Memoirists and Teacher

Two incidents this week have me thinking about the importance of forgiveness—not just forgiveness of others, but forgiveness of ourselves as well. It’s an important lesson for any teacher to learn—and believe me, we learn it again and again and again—the lesson of how to get past one’s own mistakes and shortcomings. We want to think we’re invincible. After all, we’re the ones at the head of the class. We have to accept, though, that there will be times when we’ll feel like the dumbest one in the room. We also have to accept the fact that we’re always teaching [...]

By | 2017-04-10T07:51:17+00:00 April 10th, 2017|Blog|4 Comments

Change Your Angle of Vision; Open up Your World

My wife and I are moving to a new home this week, so I may be off the grid for a short while. I’ve moved a number of times in my life, and each time I’m reminded of how important it is for us to adjust our vantage point from time to time. Writers have a tendency to become insular, and, if you’re like me, you also have an inclination toward routine. When it comes to my own writing, I know it takes a certain degree of stability and constancy to do my best work. Putting words onto the blank [...]

By | 2017-04-03T07:15:05+00:00 April 3rd, 2017|Blog|6 Comments

Just Take the Damn Thing Out: Revising by Excision

The salesman said it would take us about thirty-five minutes to put the desk together, so this morning my wife and I did our signature pinky swear as we united and readied to face those fearful words, “Assembly Required.” Six hours later, we were frazzled, weary, snippy, hungry and by-God fed up with the task that was proving to be an impossible one. At one point, I struggled to put in a screw, got it in crooked, and then couldn’t budge it. My wife said, “Just take it out. Just take the damn thing out.” Such an excellent editor she [...]

By | 2017-03-27T06:53:41+00:00 March 27th, 2017|Blog|4 Comments