Keep Up with Essay and Memoir One Paragraph at a Time
A New Feature Every Friday
May 22, 2020
from “The Physics of Sorrow”
in River Teeth 21:1
by Leonard Winograd
and from “On the Intimacies of Revision”
in Essay Daily
by Kathryn Winograd
“…maybe it's this black hole we're in, waiting until the right time to come out and show itself.”—Leonard Winograd
“Revision is an act of intimacy. It is a process of craft, a process of heart.”—Kathryn Winograd
“The Physics of Sorrow” by Leonard Winograd is about the fragility of human beings in a dynamic and evolving universe pocked with black holes, and the inability of a father to protect those he loves. His anxieties come into sharp focus when he learns that his newly-married, twenty-eight year old daughter Kitty had an epileptic seizure in her bed followed soon after by another while talking with her sister Mira, and a new black hole opened in his life.
It is only the second published essay by Leonard, who is a playwright, but it is accomplished and artfully constructed. His wife, the essayist and poet Kathryn Winograd, worked with him on the revision. She helped him frame the original, which Leonard dismissed as “a list of everything that sucks about retirement,” and identify the main thread using colored markers. At her urging he made cuts and revised sentences and each time when he came back with a draft from the basement the essay improved. Kathy described the process in a piece she wrote for Essay Daily called “On the Intimacies of Revision,” and it is a brief but illuminating clinic on the revising process that I urge all essayists to read.
So here it is. Our first husband and wife team at The Humble Essayist! Leonard Winograd is a playwright who taught English and literature at the Community College of Denver for over 30 years. Kathryn Winograd, poet and essayist, teaches creative writing at the Regis Mile-High MFA. Her most recent book is Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children.
The Paragraph of the Week
I can't forget, much as I try, Mira’s description of her as she had that second seizure. Sitting in the dining room, Kitty began talking about experiencing déjà vu, smelling something burning. When Mira asked her what she was talking about, she slowly turned to stare at something in the corner. There was a look of horror on her face, and then she began to shake fiercely, drool coming out of her mouth. What dark thing so terrified her? Where did it come from? All their lives we tried to shelter and protect them, insulate them from the encroaching fires. Where was that insulation now, those wall anchors, that siding wrapping the house, that defensible perimeter, keeping the darkness, the flames out, keeping the cracks, the rot from infiltrating? How had it got in? Or maybe it hadn't, maybe it's inside her, maybe it's inside all of us, all along, some dark monster we try to hold back, keep down, repress, maybe it's this black hole we're in, waiting until the right time to come out and show itself.
Revision is an act of intimacy. It is a process of craft, a process of heart. The writer bears down into what he had originally, intrinsically, only touched on, and did not yet fully know. And that knowing, when it happens, makes its presence felt in even the smallest changes: an added phrase for context at the start of an essay, “Since I retired,” or a change of phrasing from “smelling gas” to “smelling something burning” that links inner fires to outer fires, or the heightening of a transition from “Maybe it’s all the solitude, introspection that darkens things” to an allusion—here, to King Lear, Shakespeare another passion of the husband’s—“The mortal smell hasn’t only come off me.” Or, more heartbreakingly, through the switch from a throw-away cliché like “a kick in the teeth” to a father’s cry against the blackest of holes: “And yet, and yet, it is Kitty, Kitty, who has incomparably suffered the most.”
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Folly Beach, Steven Harvey's 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.
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.
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