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January 22, 2021


from “How to Leave a Room”

by Marcia Aldrich

in The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction


“She recalls, after her mother died, finding the familiar tube of lipstick while going through her mother’s things, and feeling ‘overcome with a desire’ to smear her lips.”



We thought we would celebrate the beginning of 2021 by devoting the month of January to works from The Best of Brevity, an anthology of the best essays from the first twenty years of the magazine. You can reach the website for Brevity here.


This week we feature the essay “How to Leave a Room” by Marcia Aldrich. She is the author of Girl Rearing and Companion to an Untold Story and her essays have appeared in many magazines including Gettysburg Review, North American Review, Witness, Arts and Letters, Northwest Review, Brevity, The Rumpus, The Butter/Toast, The Normal School, The Kenyon Review, Hotel Amerika, and The Seneca Review. You can read her full essay here.


The essay begins with Aldrich noting her mother’s belief that when you leave a room you should “leave no trace behind.”

The Paragraph of the Week


And yet, to my confusion, she wore lipstick, applied in a thick style that changed little from year to year, a signature of sorts. In the bathroom she had her own sink, mirror, and cabinet. Out of the top drawer of the vanity she’d pull her single tube of lipstick—Revlon’s Mercy, a buoyant shade of red, a bit shrill. Leaning in close to the mirror, she puckered her lips and applied her Mercy, careful to stay inside the lines. At the end of the application, she’d brusquely rip a tissue from a nearby box and blot. And there would be the telltale red imprint of a kiss.

—Marcia Aldrich



Marcia Aldrich’s mother taught her daughter to “leave no trace behind” when you “leave a room” and yet when she wore lipstick she would blot her lips with a tissue “leaving the telltale red imprint of a kiss.” As an adult, Marcia also wears lipstick favoring “Black Honey” exasperating her daughter’s circle of friends who prefer piercings. “Pierce, Don’t Paint” they say “with a lisp on studded tongues,” causing Marcia to wonder why then she does paint her lips. It brings pleasure—her favorite “noir” color “throws people off”—but she knows that is not the full story. She recalls, after her mother died, finding the familiar tube of lipstick while going through her mother’s things, and feeling “overcome with a desire” to smear her lips. The lipstick she realized was the mark of a “twisted allegiance” to her mom. Discovering it in the room that her mother had left forever she imagines “finding a tissue” as well, “on which she had blotted her lips” and knows, if she happened upon such a kiss, “she would hold onto that tissue for eternity.”


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“The White Space”

Zone 3 magazine has published my lyrical prose ode called "The White Space" about the inevitability of loss. It draws on a translation of a truncated lyric of Sappho by Anne Carson that was later shown to be incorect when the complete manuscript was discovered. The piece begins this way:

"Deer surprised me this morning, eating ivy below the window. It’s early spring and snow melts in the mist leaving dark patches of leafy green for them to pick through. Knock-kneed fawns nibble at the broad leaves, ears like wimples, while the doe, bending graciously from the neck, turns onyx eyes on me..."


Learn more at the Zone 3 website here.


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Folly Beach 

Folly Beach, my newest book, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word.  In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.


In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.

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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.

Post-Script Press which started last year has become affiliated with The Humble Essayist and changed its name to The Humble Essayist Press. We plan to publish three new works of nonfiction this year under the new name.  You can learn more about the fledgling press at the new website here.


THE Mission

We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques.  A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought.  But what is a paragraph?  And what, in particular, is a good one?  You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith.  So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary.   We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life.  Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work.  We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.


The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork that is the logo for the site.

© 2014 The Humble Essayist

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