Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time

A New Feature (Almost) Every Friday



from “Ordinary Time”

in Ascent

by Sarah M. Wells


Ordinary Time is for watching “the sunset through the pines in the valley below our home before the next episode of The Office begins.”—Sarah M. Wells


Sarah M. Wells is the author of poetry, devotional books, and essays, including a novella-length essay The Valley of Achor available on Kindle. Poems and essays by Wells have appeared in Ascent, Brevity, Full Grown People, Hippocampus Review, The Pinch, River Teeth, Rock & Sling, Under the Gum Tree, and elsewhere.


She is also my former student—a remarkably talented and accomplished one—and the first to encourage me to create The Humble Essayist when I retired from teaching.


In this paragraph she contemplates when Ordinary Time becomes something else.—THE

Paragraph of the Week


I think about death almost every day these days. I’d prefer not to, but it doesn’t seem to want to give up its grip. There are times when I drive that my mind will flash, imagine what might happen if I just let go of the steering wheel, what would happen when my car strikes against the guard rail. Sometimes when we’re walking on the sidewalk and my son is riding his bike I picture his balance wobbling, him falling wrong and into the road and into the path of a speeding car, and I blink and panic and push away the way ordinary can become extraordinary in a hot second, just like that, just like that and everything I’ve written off as typical and mundane becomes scarce and precious and gone.


—Sarah M. Wells



Ordinary Time is the forty hours a week that Sarah Wells writes marketing plans at work. It is for making breakfast and dinner and paying for school lunches. It is the middle years when she turns 40 and her husband 42 “at the middlest middle” of their “middle-income, Midwest life.” In the liturgical calendar it is the time between Easter and Advent when “Jesus just walks around and teaches his disciples, heals a few people, holds a few dinners for sinners and tax collectors.” Her mother, diagnosed with cancer, is no longer in Ordinary Time, but in the Lent or Holy Week of her life—“maybe even Maundy Thursday” and since she thinks about her mother often Sarah finds, even in Ordinary Time, that she ponders death more than she would like. Ordinary Time is for watching “the sunset through the pines in the valley below our home before the next episode of The Office begins,” she writes. “Its bright notes rise orange and red until the green of the trees is made black.” It is for “time and stillness, habit, a solid night’s sleep for all the neurons to rewire and restore and recycle the day’s memories.” It is “when nothing tragic or ecstatic is happening,” but, as the Paragraph of the Week makes clear, Ordinary Time can “in a hot second” become extraordinary and what she has “written off as typical and mundane becomes scarce and precious and gone.”


You can read the complete version of “Ordinary Time” in Ascent magazine here.

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We at The Humble Essayist Press are proud to announce publication of Put Off My Sackcloth: Essays by Annie Dawid. Her book was runner up in the category of biography/ autobiography/ memoir at the Los Angeles Book Festival this year! You can learn more about her book and our fledgling press at our website here. You can read The Humble Essayist feature on the book in the Archives 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.

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 of "The Old Man Reading" that is the logo for the site.