8/24/2012 1:09:11 PM
Rachel Eddey (www.RachelEddey.com) is a freelance writer in New York. Her first book, a humorous memoir
of the Bride: My Frenzied Quest to Tie the Knot, Tear Up the Dance Floor, and
Figure Out Why My 15 Minutes of Fame Included Commercial Breaks
, is now
available. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, or at any dive bar in New York City. This essay was originally published in the Chicago Tribune (June 24, 2012), and shares how her struggle to find an editor for that book coincided with her father's heart attack and emergency sextuple bypass surgery.
In May 2011, I had a good reason to be in Dublin: I was mad about life in New York and trying to escape. I had written
a memoir three years earlier and couldn’t find a publisher. Four failed agents,
a handful of opportunities inches away from my grasping hand, and countless
margaritas later, I was burnt out. At 29, I contemplated retirement.
I wasn’t only disappointing myself. My dad, Lawrence J.
Epstein, has always been my mentor and biggest cheerleader. A retired English
professor who has published ten books on subjects ranging from comedy teams to
folk singers to Jewish affairs, he and I often spent hours talking shop. Though
I’d had some success with newspaper and magazine publishing, a book contract
for me was our shared goal. We had been waiting for this moment my entire adult
life. I felt like I was disappointing him, too.
Five days into my soul-searching trip, my mother-in-law
called my hotel room—at 3am—to say that my then 64-year-old, previously healthy
father had suffered a heart attack and needed emergency sextuple bypass
surgery. Ireland was 3,150
miles from my dad’s Long Island hospital bed.
I changed my flight, packed my bags, and cried the entire seven-hour trip home.
It didn’t help that when the plane landed, the only message I had was from a
friend announcing her brother's death.
stopped at my parents' house on the way to the hospital to drop off my
suitcase. The car was still rumbling in the driveway when my Blackberry pinged.
I was annoyed at the interruption—a far preferable mood, admittedly, to the
sheer, unequivocal terror that had been gripping my insides
since I’d left the hotel. Cue a this-never-happens-in-real-life moment: It was
from my dream editor. And he was offering a book contract.
An internal cloud covered me. Selling a book was the
first step in a much longer process. I would have to go through rounds of edits
and get magazines to review it and write a stump speech and schedule myself on
radio shows and take countless other measures I couldn’t yet define. This
wasn’t a battle I had entered alone and it wasn’t one I wanted to finish alone.
But here I was, about to head to the hospital, unsure whether my father was
even alive. I did the only thing I could think to do. I got back in the car.
frightened me. So did my dad. I pretended like the oxygen mask over his mouth
didn’t exist. His arms were black and blue from countless needles that had
prodded his veins before the surgery. I pretended those marks weren’t there,
either. I focused instead on his short, gray hair, the only part of him that
seemed untouched. He wouldn't be able to speak, the nurse told me. But he could
hear. I fussed with his pillows as he stirred awake.
only have a few lines after a hello. I knew just what they were going to be.
I’ve got exciting news,” I told him, gently squeezing his hand. “I sold my
book!” My long-standing idea of how this moment would go down—screams and
laughter and a Carvel ice-cream cake—gave way to a new reality. My dad's eyes
bulged, the only movement his groggy body allowed. They stayed wide as I
relayed the details of the contract and expected publication date, then slowly
faded into slits and disappeared behind closed lids. I’m positive it took all
his energy, but he squeezed my hand back before falling asleep.
doctors released him to me and my mom 10 days later. The depression they had
warned us about in hushed tones never came, but complications did. Two months
after the surgery, still frail and cloudy, my father fainted
twice—both attributable to rapid atrial fibrillation (increased heart rate) and
pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs). An ambulance brought him back to the
to his room once he was stable. Short of sneaking him an extra Vicodin (don’t
arrest me—I refrained), there was only one way I knew to help. I pulled out the
newest version of my manuscript.
reached for it the moment he was well enough to sit up. He juggled a carton
of applesauce and a red pen, inking notes in the margins as he interacted
with nurses and swallowed pills. His five-day stay went by in spurts of
talking with me about my contract, scrolling through the publisher’s
website, and compiling—from memory—a list of marketing books he wanted
me to read.
pleural effusions followed and my dad was re-admitted each time. The hospital
became our office; our work day, the visiting hours. He ordained his top
dresser drawer, in which we stored pens and notebooks and sticky-notes, as
“book supplies.” We used medical tape to secure diagrams and spreadsheets
to the wall. Him on his bed and me in a worn wooden chair, we worked together
on a publicity plan, drafted talking points, and designed business cards.
He coached me on how to decode reviews, the best approaches to a launch party,
and why I needed to revamp my social media approach. (Seriously. The man
has more Facebook friends than I do.) Eventually, the nurses began
bringing me applesauce, too.
father turned to look at me as he signed the release papers on what would
become his last (we hope) surgery-related hospital stay.
you,” he said. “Thank you for needing me.”
him walk to the waiting car, I understood. Illness is a time when people
consciously consider what is important in their lives. He saw a purpose he had
not finished fulfilling, and he used that as a safety rope. I know, of course,
that it wasn’t my book itself that saved him; it was his will to let the book save him. My dependency stood
as a microcosm for all he still wanted to do and all the hope he had for doing
him in the passenger seat and shut the door. Though I’d had a good reason to be
in Dublin, I
had an even better reason to be home.
Image courtesy ofmuffet, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/9/2012 4:03:41 PM
This article originally appeared at Chronicle.com.
It begins when you read a piece of literature that reminds you why we
read literature: an essay with sentences you wish you had written, a
poem you receive like a gift, a novel that self-helps you better than
any self-help book. You find yourself writing in the margin, using
symbols that embarrass you (exclamation points!), scribbling YES!, and
making stars, asterisks, and vertical lines to mark passages that you
read and reread and read again aloud. With urgency and heat, you
underline and highlight.
You elbow room for the work in the syllabus. You adjust the whole
course to accommodate that one piece of writing. You can't wait to
assign it to students. It will change their lives. They will love you
Then comes the day. You wait for the class to weigh in. You wait to
hear from the student who always get it, the one you count on to point
out what others have missed, who serves as a proxy for you and often
leads the class. You wait to hear from the passionate reader whose mind,
free from the itchy constraints of critical analysis, always finds
something to like about a piece. You wait to hear from the student whose
spoken language is tortured by notions of what he thinks sounds smart;
usually you can barely figure out what he is trying to say, but that
doesn't stop him from going on about how much he got out of the reading.
And you wait for the slacker who comes to class having no more than
skimmed the assignment, yet who manages to say something, often funny, sometimes intentionally.
Then you notice they are all looking at their notebooks, fondling
their iPads, doing anything else they can think of to avoid looking at
you, with your face all kid-happy. Because they know that they are going
to disappoint you. And then they do.
It was OK, one of them says.
It was too long.
I didn't get it.
I thought it was boring, the slacker says.
The class leader claims it was sentimental, flawed.
The sentimental girl—the one who always finds something to love in a
piece of writing—checks that her pen is still healthy and won't make eye
The work that induced that reaction six times, in graduate and
undergraduate courses, at two universities and one medium-security
prison, was an essay by the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, Red Sox fan,
Renaissance scholar, president of Yale University, president of the
National League, commissioner of baseball, firer of Pete Rose, swarthy
smoker of cigarettes, and eloquent reader of texts, who died of a heart
attack at age 51. Written when he was 40, the essay, called "The Green
Fields of the Mind," begins: "It breaks your heart. It was designed to
break your heart."
He continued: "There comes a time when every summer will have
something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I
was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the
work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy. I was counting on the
game's deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three
innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to
return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight."
In class I ask: What is the essay about? Students understand that
it's about the ways that baseball helps us to live, the immersion in the
immediate, the appeal of illusions of something everlasting. It is not
that they do not get it. They get it. This is not like when I ask them
to read something challenging and complex, and their distaste comes from
intimidation. With difficult texts, after we discuss them in class,
they often see what they had missed and, in retrospect, come not only to
admire but to like the work.
At first I thought the problem was that the students were too young,
or that they hated sports, or that they were plain stupid. But no. My
students just tend not to cotton to Giamatti's flavor of sweetness. He
ends the essay with this comment on those who were born with the wisdom
to know that nothing lasts: "These are the truly tough among us, the
ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of
illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature,
tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something
lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a
game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun."
I love this essay. My students do not.
Read the rest at Chronicle.com.
Image by Abraham Pisarek, 1948, licensed under Creative Commons by Deutsche Fotothek.
4/20/2012 4:57:32 PM
Margot Page wants her family to learn Spanish. She’d like
her children to understand, really understand, what a privileged life they lead in the U.S. She takes
them to Nicaragua.
Her kids aren’t the only ones to realize that our world is unfair, complicated,
and confusing on the norm.
On the first day's field trip, we watched a twelve-year-old girl make
a basket out of dried palm fronds in twenty-two minutes. She sat on a
stool in the family's living room, an area bound by corrugated roofing
lashed between trees to form walls. I hated to think how long it had
taken to gather the fronds—the surrounding area was largely denuded,
most trees having been sacrificed to cooking fires. I watched Hannah
watching; our eldest was exactly this girl's age. If the girl noticed
Hannah at all, I couldn't see it. She finished her basket, set it aside,
and picked up more fronds. Her brother was toddler sized, but he didn't
toddle; he sat quietly at her feet, scratching in the dirt with his
hand. A fellow student snapped his picture. The boy seemed used to it.
Ivy, who never met a small child she didn't want to play with and
generally treat like a doll, moved behind me.
That afternoon in the mercado, we saw we could buy a palm-frond basket for less than a dollar.
By the time they reach Granada, the entire family is thoroughly overwhelmed.
As we got off the bus, Hannah said, "It's like
the rest of Nicaragua,
By the time we got there, the kids were so
overheated, so exhausted, and their minds were so blown [by the surrounding poverty], we couldn't bring
ourselves to keep exploring. So instead of hauling them—or ourselves—through
the Sandinistas' network of underground tunnels, or learning about Francisco
Cordoba, the Spanish conqueror who founded Granada and then later got his name on the
currency, Anthony and I surrendered.
We gave up on history and architecture. We led no
thoughtful, age-appropriate discussions about privilege and power and how we
could justify our lives in the face of all we'd seen. Instead, we hung out at
our hostel, a converted Colonial beauty with fountains and courtyards and air
conditioning, and played in the pool.
self-conscious, apologetically honest observations in Brain, Child serve as a reminder to everyone that Americans (and
the rest of the West) are entitled. For all our self-loathing, though, the only
hope for decreasing global disparity is to confront it head-on.
Source: Brain, Child
Image:Woman in Granada by Tabea Huth, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
3/5/2012 5:18:59 PM
As time slips away, we find ourselves looking around in amazement at how things have changed in a flash: a job ending just when you were really getting settled in, children grown well past the magical toddler stage in which you remember them, middle age not some strange far-off place but well behind you now. Author Mark Phillips explores the fleeting nature of time in Notre Dame Magazine, where he writes about meeting up with his daughter at a Manhattan pub for drinks:
As parents often are when they study their grown children, I was moved by banality; during a pause in our conversation … I wondered where the time had gone and felt overwhelmed by love. Or was it self-pity? I pictured my daughter, bluish pink and weakly squirming, placed in my arms for the first time—none of the hair on my forearms yet gray.
It’s this kind of nostalgia, incidentally, that inspired the backlash post “Don’t Carpe Diem,” which recently made its rounds of the mommy blogosphere. That writer, a woman with young kids, is sick of older folks stopping her in the grocery store to say, hand over heart, “Oh, enjoy every moment! This time goes by so fast!” She clearly has not yet entered her time-has-slipped-away phase.
But for Phillips, the question of how rapidly the years disappear is a central theme in his life—and one to which he wants answers. The best answer, by far, comes from his grandmother, a widow:
The question I wanted to ask was in itself benign, but maybe not when directed at a person who is marking time on her final calendar….
…I asked, “Did it go by fast? The time?”
She nodded, dropping the slice back onto the platter. “Oh, yes.”
The raised window glass still rather damp from the steam, she looked through a cotton-plugged screen and past the bug-zapper hanging from baling twine tied to a beam of the white front porch and on past the marigolds and petunias and pansies edging the curving length of gravel driveway, into a pastured distance that I didn’t know like she did. She smiled almost imperceptibly at whatever it was she saw there. “It went like Grandfather ate a piece of apple pie.”
Source: Notre Dame Magazine, Momastery
Image by Nikki L., licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
3/2/2012 1:59:56 PM
Déjà vu on steroids—that’s how an epileptic might explain the few surreal seconds before a seizure hits. Aura is the technical term for the pre-cursor sensation, explains Richard Farrell in his creative nonfiction essay “Accidental Pugilism,” published in Hunger Mountain (2011), an annual journal put out by the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Farrell’s essay contains the most beautifully vivid description of an aura that we at Utne Reader have ever read:
One of my most intense episodes happened two years ago, while living in Spain. It was a hot summer day and I was running on a deserted road along the ocean. As the road curved, a large stand of trees appeared before me. I felt a shallow moment of déjà vu, something about the sight of those trees seemed to trigger it. Then it grew rapidly, into an almost mystical series of sensations, images really, which appeared intimately familiar, like the most intense daydream. In those weird seconds, as the aura passed from something subtle to something more sinister, everything that was happening, every detail, every sight, sound and smell, seemed to have happened before in the exact same order and sequence. I became intensely aware of things: the trees, the angle of sun, the curvature of the road, the crisp blueness of the sky, bluer than I’d ever seen it. The road bent around to the right and a guard rail separated it from a low wash filled with reeds. I felt like I knew what was waiting beyond the curve, even beneath the reeds. The world became hyper-real, an intensely emotional feeling, not of the brain or body but, please pardon the over-amped language, of the soul. The moment felt familiar and strange, recursive in a way. I was filled with the oddest sense that something profound was about to happen, something almost indescribably sad but predestined, too. The future felt fully accessible—I knew exactly what would happen next. Then things shifted, and the sensation rose into an almost crippling weariness; I became nauseated, cold and dropped to a knee. The pleasant déjà vu had been infused with darkness, with fear, something Jones describes as the “typical epileptic aura, which is that of terror and impending doom.” But these darker sensations blended delicately for me. As loopy as this may sound, the moment felt life-altering, epiphanous, expansive and eerie all at the same time. Both terrifying and inexplicably peaceful. I felt no panic, just dread and calm, roiled together in a cocktail of lucid emotions.
Then the aura, which had hijacked my consciousness, almost as quickly, let go.
The feeling simply receded. It disappeared, reversed directions, and I woke from the dreamlike trance. The entire episode lasted less than a minute, I suppose, though I was alone and have no way to know for sure. All that lingered after was a slippery sense of uncertainty. Unsure what to do, I finished my run, as if nothing had really happened.
Don’t miss Hunger Mountain’s interview with Richard Farrell, about the author’s inspiration and writing process, or the rest of his insightful essay. The opening line will grab you—“My first diagnosed seizure occurred in the cockpit of a Navy T-34C Mentor, on a formation flight”—and it just gets better from there.
Source: Hunger Mountain
Image by martinsillaots, licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
12/23/2011 12:33:43 PM
For every issue, we at Utne Reader sift through 1,500 periodicals, skim hundreds of websites and blogs, and clamber over a mountain of new books to present the best the alternative press has to offer. All said and done, it’s interesting and often surprising to see which stories readers latch on to and discuss. The following five articles were your favorites from 2011.
5) 25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2011
Every year, Utne Reader picks a handful of world visionaries, people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them and lay their souls on the line for change. This year’s list included pioneers in the fields of ecology, television, progressive spirituality, linguistics, and more. An excerpt:
The 25 men and women in the following pages have probably ticked off a lot of people. That’s what happens when you have creative, boundary-leaping, uncomfortable ideas—and you pursue them. These people also have delivered hope and renewed faith and tangible improvements to the lives of millions. Their vision, paired with their action, has literally brought food, shelter, and medicine where it was needed. Successes that can be measured and held are wonderful—and much needed—but equally important are the new ideas, the new words, and the new dreams that they’ve engendered.
4) “The Dude Abides” interview by Katy Butler, from Tricycle
Right before his starring role in True Grit, actor Jeff Bridges sat down with Tricycle to riff on meditation, laziness, and his “groovy” Buddhist beliefs. An excerpt:
Jeff Bridges enters the living room of his hotel suite carrying a dark blue Shambhala paperback by Chögyam Trungpa titled Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness. “One reason I’m anxious—because I have some anxiety about this interview, like you do,” he says, as he arranges his long body on the couch, “is that I wish I could be more facile with these things that I find so interesting and care about and want to express to people.” He opens the book. “This will be a challenge for me,” he says. “But I’ll attempt it.”
3) “21st Century Sex” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, from A Billion Wicked Thoughts
Data researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam know that sex was on everyone’s mind this year, including Utne Reader subscribers. Their unconventional study on the nature of human desire provoked immense controversy and debate. An excerpt:
In 2010 we conducted the world’s largest experiment: We sifted through a billion different web searches, including a half million personal histories. We analyzed hundreds of thousands of online erotic stories and thousands of romance e-novels. We looked at the 40,000 most trafficked adult websites. We examined more than 5 million sexual solicitations posted on online classifieds. We listened to thousands of people discussing their desires on message boards.
2) “The Art of the Police Report” by Ellen Collett, from The Writer’s Chronicle
Collett’s surprising portrait of an erudite beat cop from Los Angeles took us inside the head of someone intensely aware of human pain and how it’s dissolved by government of bureaucracy. An excerpt:
Crime reports are written in neutral diction, and in the dispassionate uni-voice that’s testament to the academy’s ability to standardize writing. They feel generated rather than authored, the work of a single law enforcement consciousness rather than a specific human being.
So how can I identify Martinez from a single sentence? Why do his reports make me feel pity, terror, or despair? Make me want to put a bullet in someone’s brain—preferably a wife beater’s or a pedophile’s, but occasionally my own? How does he use words on paper to hammer at my heart? Like all great cops, Sergeant Martinez is a sneaky fucker. He’s also a master of inflection and narrative voice.
1) “Look God, No Hands” by Blaire Briody, from Bust
Perhaps the most salacious story reprinted by Utne Reader this year, “Look God, No Hands” profiled the Dirty Girls Ministry—a Christian group devoted to “cure” adolescent girls of masturbatory habits. An excerpt:
[Crystal] Renaud’s advocacy is labeled antipornography, but it aims to treat all masturbation, whether it involves porn or not. When you peel back the layers, the core of her crusade is against sexual thought—even within marriage—unless those thoughts are about your husband while you are engaging in intercourse with him.
5/13/2011 10:47:27 AM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for best writing, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
Since 1932, The American Scholar has provided a forum for the spirited exploration of ideas. The “venerable but lively” quarterly, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, enlightens and provokes readers with thoughtful prose on public affairs, history, science, and culture.
An arts magazine with a decidedly literary bent, The Believer covers books, film, music, and pop culture with barely contained intellectual glee. Part of the McSweeney’s empire founded by author Dave Eggers, it constantly finds new ways to showcase the creative impulse.
is published biannually, and the wait time between issues is agonizing. In 2010, the Canadian literary magazine published pieces by emerging writers alongside prose by giants Robert Hass, Geoff Dyer, and Mark Doty. The editors’ mandate is “to create a beautiful product,” and they succeed twice a year, every year.
Oversized and stuffed, The Brooklyn Rail opens with an eclectic blend of cultural discourse and political debate, then segues into an engaging array of reviews and down-to-earth interviews with both up-and-coming and established artists.
The stories told between the covers of Creative Nonfiction are not the confessionals that dominate chain bookstore shelves; they are thoughtfully told narratives that present a universal sense of experience. Through its consistent publication of quality nonfiction prose, as well as essays examining the genre more closely, Creative Nonfiction has helped give the genre legitimacy, continuing in the footsteps of writers like Mailer, Wolfe, Capote, and Talese, who paved its way.
There are few university magazines that, like Portland, can be described as simply profound. At its core, the University of Portland’s beautiful publication is a Catholic endeavor, but faith isn’t so much the subject matter as the fuel for essays and reportage that challenge and inspire.
is the best of so many things—philosophy, spirituality, photography—but what always stands out is the writing. In essays, fiction, memoirs, and poetry, this ad-free, independent magazine lets all of its content shine brightly, whether it’s a story about a recovering alcoholic finding redemption in a new family or a poem about the sweet things we leave behind when we die.
Thirteen years ago, the founders of Tin Houseset out to create a journal “tantamount to being guest of honor at the greatest literary house party ever.” Mission accomplished. In its 10th year, Tin House is wildly delightful, showcasing a roster of writers both emerging and established.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by karindalziel, licensed under Creative Commons.
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