Archive

Winter 2018

 

(Click on the name of the author or simply scroll through the text.)

 

The End of Nature Series

from “The Ecology of Magic: A Personal Introduction to the Inquiry”

in The Spell of the Sensuous

by David Abram

“…countless fireflies [flickered] like the stars, some drifting up to join the clusters of stars overhead, others, like graceful meteors, slipping down from above to join the constellations underfoot.”—David Abram

 

“It was in Indonesia, you see, that I was first introduced to the world of insects,” writes David Abram, “and there that I first learned of the great influence that insects—such diminutive entities—could have upon the human senses.” Abram had put himself through college by performing magic in front of Alice’s Restaurant, a place made famous by the Arlo Guthrie song.   Later he traveled to Indonesia on a research grant and used his magic as a way of meeting the local shaman.  The result was his book The Spell of the Sensuous which begins with the passage about fireflies below along with a follow-up paragraph by the author that I have included here as commentary.  This is the first in a month-long series of paragraphs about nature and global climate change which we will use to start off the new year.  It is part of our End of Nature Series which began with a Paragraph of the Week by Bill McKibbon last year.  You can learn more about Abram and the Center for Humans and Nature that he founded here.—THE

The Paragraph of the Week

Late one evening I stepped out of my little hut in the rice paddies of eastern Bali and found myself falling through space. Over my head the black sky was rippling with stars, densely clustered in some regions, almost blocking out the darkness between them, and more loosely scattered in other areas, pulsing and beckoning to each other. Behind them all streamed the great river of light with its several tributaries. Yet the Milky Way churned beneath me as well, for my hut was set in the middle of a large patchwork of rice paddies, separated from each other by narrow two-foot-high dikes, and these paddies were all filled with water. The surface of these pools, by day, reflected perfectly the blue sky, a reflection broken only by the thin, bright green tips of new rice. But by night the stars themselves glimmered from the surface of the paddies, and the river of light whirled through the darkness underfoot as well as above; there seemed no ground in front of my feet, only the abyss of star-studded space falling away forever.

—David Abram

Commentary

I was no longer simply beneath the night sky but also above it—the immediate impression was of weightlessness. I might have been able to reorient myself, to regain some sense of ground and gravity, were it not for a fact that confounded my senses entirely: between the constellations below and the constellations above drifted countless fireflies, their lights flickering like the stars, some drifting up to join the clusters of stars overhead, others, like graceful meteors, slipping down from above to join the constellations underfoot, and all these paths of light upward and downward were mirrored, as well, in the still surface of the paddies. I felt myself at times falling through space, at other moments floating and drifting. I simply could not dispel the profound vertigo and giddiness; the paths of the fireflies, and their reflections in the water's surface, held me in a sustained trance. Even after I crawled back to my hut and shut the door on this whirling world, I felt that now the little room in which I lay was itself floating free of the earth.

—David Abram

 

The End of Nature Series

from “Planet of Weeds”

by David Quammen

 

“Like weeds, humans ‘reproduce quickly, disperse widely,’ and ‘take hold in strange places’, so it will take time before a ‘generalized misery’ sweeps the planet, but it will happen, and by that point nothing will stop it.”—THE

 

As part of The End of Nature series, we would like to devote the month of January to the most pressing problem for our planet during these desperate times:  global climate change.  What exactly do we face?  What would life be like on the way to the next mass extinction that most scientists predict?  The writer, David Quammen describes this dystopia in the essay "Planet of Weeds" in the October 1998 issue of Harper's. To make his point he borrows a metaphor from Homer Dixon:  "Think of a stretch limo in the potholed streets of New York City, where homeless beggars live. Inside the limo are the air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the emerging Pacific Rim, and a few other isolated places, with their trade summitry and computer information highways. Outside is the rest of mankind, going in a completely different direction."  Here is David Quammen’s Paragraph of the Week on this metaphor for ecological disaster followed by my commentary.  You can read the entire essay here.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

So the world's privileged class—that's your class and my class—will probably still manage to maintain themselves inside Homer Dixon's stretch limo, drinking bottled water and breathing bottled air and eating reasonably healthy food that has become incredibly precious, while the potholes in the road outside grow ever deeper.  Eventually the limo will look more like a lunar rover.  Ragtag mobs of desperate souls will cling to its bumpers, like groupies on Elvis's final Cadillac.  The absolute poor will suffer their lack of ecological privilege in the form of lowered life expectancy, bad health, absence of education, corrosive want, and anger.  Maybe in time they'll find ways to gather themselves in localized revolt against the affluent class, and just set to eating them, as Wells's Morlocks ate the Eloi.  Not likely, though, as long as affluence buys guns.  In any case, well before that they will have burned the last stick of Bornean dipterocarp for firewood and roasted the last lemur, the last grizzly bear, the last elephant left unprotected outside a zoo.

—David Quammen

Commentary

 

Like weeds, humans “reproduce quickly, disperse widely,” and “take hold in strange places,” so it will take time before a “generalized misery” of total annihilation sweeps the planet, David Quammen argues in “Planet of Weeds,” but it will happen, and by that point nothing will stop it. On the way to this extinction the world will become miserable.  “My own guess about the mid-term future is that our Planet of Weeds will indeed be a crummier place,” he writes, “a lonelier and uglier place, and a particularly wretched place for the 2 billion people comprising [the] absolute poor.”  As the planet warms, vulnerable species will die off first, and the poor of the world will suffer.  “In fact,” Quammen writes, “this degradation of the world’s poor has already begun.” He realizes that wealthier countries like our own will adapt for a while creating artificial environments to protect themselves because “human resourcefulness … will probably find stopgap technological remedies, to be available for a price.”  Our military would keep the hungry at bay, and we would bump along through a potholed landscape of unutterable devastation, the doomed occupants of Elvis’s Cadillac with “mobs of desperate souls” clinging to the bumpers.

—THE

“On the rocks”

by Camille T. Dungy

 

“...to find myself paddling through a giant highball of vodka on the rocks.”

—Camille T. Dungy

 

The poet Camille T. Dungy continues our month of paragraphs dedicated to ecology and nature with a prose poem from her collection Smith Blue. The poem can also be found in The Ecopoetry Anthology edited by Anne Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street.  In addition to Smith Blue, Dungy is the author of two other full-length poetry publications:  Suck on the Marrow and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison.  She is also the author of the prose work Guidebook to Relative Strangers:  Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History.  You can learn more about her and her writing at the Poetry Foundation website and her own website.

—THE

The Paragraph of the Week

 

On the rocks

 

I said, the cruise line said we might see wandering albatross. I said, they said we could walk through penguin rookeries. I said, we might see at least four species of seal. What do you have against traveling where black people are? she said. That's not my idea of a nice trip, she said. My friend said, give me pink coral sand and a Mai Tai. Give me so hot men wear nothing but swim trunks, she said. Give me hot men. She said, all those days out there with nothing to do? She said, no bowling? no movies? no shops? I said, they said we would have a chance to kayak. She said I said the Drake Passage was notorious for bad conditions. I said that was true. I said, however, we'd be further south by then, in the protected bays where the Southern Ocean meets the most southerly continent. She said, oh. I said I thought if I paddled far enough from the ship I might hear icebergs melting. I said, they said we could hear gas escaping from the ice. I said, they said it would sound a bit like a soda can being slowly opened. I said I thought it would sound like what it might sound like to find myself paddling through a giant highball of vodka on the rocks, the can of tonic being opened, everything I needed right there. You wouldn't catch me out there, she said, floating with nothing but a life vest and a kayak. I said, quiet. I want to hear what quiet really sounds like.

—Camille T. Dungy

Commentary

 

Quiet is not on the rocks.  It is not where black people are or pink coral sand or Mai Tai or so hot men wearing nothing but swim trunks.  It is not the cruise line.  It is not the sound of a soda can being slowly opened.  It is not a nice trip.  What quiet really sounds like is not bowling or movies or shops.  It is not my friend.  Quiet is the wandering albatross, a walk through penguin rookeries no matter how clamorous.  It is all those days with nothing to do.  It is the Drake Passage notorious for bad conditions.  It is further south than that too.  It is the Southern Ocean.  Quiet is paddling.  It is the kayak on the protected bays of where the ocean meets the most southerly continent.  It is the sound of iceburgs melting, gas escaping ice.  It is a bit like a soda can being slowly opened. Quiet is however.  Quiet is oh.  Quiet is true.  Quiet is everything I needed right there. It is not a highball but it would sound like what it might sound like to paddle through a giant highball of vodka on the rocks.  You wouldn't catch her out there floating through quiet with nothing but a life vest and a kayak.  It is not she said.  It is not they said.  It is not she said I said.  It is not men wearing nothing but swim trunks.  Quiet.  Hear what quiet really sounds like. It is not men so hot.  It is not on the rocks.

—THE  

 
 

from The Ninemile Wolves

by Rick Bass

 

“They catch their prey from behind, often, but also by the nose, the face, the neck whatever they can dart in and grab without being kicked.”—Rick Bass

 

“They eat everything, when they kill,” Rick Bass writes about wolves, “even the snow that soaks up the blood.”  Wolves are a synonym for the American wild, though they were systematically driven out of the lower 48 states.  Efforts to reinstate them have been successful despite the protests of ranchers, but the pack that Rick Bass writes about in The Ninemile Wolves drifted into the U.S. from Canada on its own.  Their tenacious lupine spirit is his theme. 

 

The Paragraph of the Week and commentary both come from Rick Bass.

The Paragraph of the Week

Late at night I like to imagine that they are killing: that another deer has gone down in a tangle of legs, tackled in deep snow; and that, once again, the wolves are feeding. That they have saved themselves, once again. That the deer or moose calf, or young dumb elk is still warm (steam rising from the belly as that part which contains the entrails is opened first), is now dead, or dying.

 

—Rick Bass

Commentary

This all goes on usually at night. They catch their prey from behind, often, but also by the nose, the face, the neck whatever they can dart in and grab without being kicked. When the prey pauses, or buckles, it's over; the prey's hindquarters, or neck, might be torn out, and in that manner, the prey flounders. The wolves swarm it, then. They don't have thumbs. All they've got is teeth, long legs, and—I have to say this—great hearts.

 

—Rick Bass

 

from “The ‘N-Word’”

in River Teeth

by Ted Gup

“He wondered if his curse ‘unleashed a demon.’”—THE

 

Let’s devote a month to the work in River Teeth magazine from the Fall 2017 edition.  We’ll start with a piece by Ted Gup called the “The ‘N-Word’”.  In it Gup comes to terms with a haunting traffic accident and a curse word that slipped through his lips.  The author of three books, including The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA, and A Secret Gift, Gup is a known for his writing on government secrecy. He wrote for the Washington Post before joining the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston. Gup currently contributes to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Post, and other publications.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

And in that instant, that blink of an eye whose aftermath can last a lifetime, I, a white man, said it. The n-word. "Nigger." It was not shouted or even truly spoken, but simply passed between my lips as a toxic whisper, two syllables that never before had come out of my mouth, a venomous utterance that, once unleashed, could not be recalled but seemed to instantly turn on me. What had I said? Was this who and what I really was, beneath the polish and the sanctimony? It had taken so little to extract from me—a mere bump—and now I had joined that legion of faceless others with whom I had imagined I shared nothing and for whom I had nothing but contempt. Christy never even heard me say it.

—Ted Gup

Commentary

 

The n-word slipped out when a car with two black men in it nudged Ted Gup’s bumper and passed him—“leering as they shot by”—going more than a hundred miles an hour.  Moments later he and his girlfriend, Christy, came upon the wreckage of two cars that had collided at a combined speed of 150 miles an hour.  No one survived—four victims in all.  Gup was haunted by the wreck and by the unconscious racism that revealed itself in the moment.  “Was the word always on the tip of my tongue?” he asked.  “Is it still there? Is it upon all our tongues?”  He wondered if his “curse unleashed a demon” that caused the crash. Thirty-nine years later he sought out the surviving family members so that the n-word would not, he explains, “stand for my final commentary.”  He discovered that a history of alcoholism and reckless driving had led to the accident, not his curse, and found sons and daughters of the dead whom any parent would be proud of.  There was another lesson here as well:  “that there was something inside me,” he explains, “a seed of which I had been unaware, that outed itself, and put me on notice that I too could be brought low.”

—THE

from “Anchorage, Alaska”

by Nicholas Dighiera

in River Teeth

 

“This couple—who are divorced and struggling with a young family after the man’s love affair—are for the moment having fun.”—THE

 

For our second week this month featuring River Teeth magazine we choose another selection from the Fall 2017 issue. It is by Nicholas Dighiera who received an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage and is currently working on a nonfiction project called 53 Days With My Kids. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fugue, Catamaran Literary Magazine, Under the Gum Tree, F Magazine, and the book The Better Bombshell

 

Things are pretty exciting at River Teeth these days.  The magazine offers a 20% discount on social  media subscriptions here.  It is also available on Kindle here, and it sponsors a reading at AWP in conjunction with Under the Gum Tree, Hippocanthus, and Creative Nonfiction open to all which you can read about here.   You can learn more about this magazine dedicated to narrative nonfiction at its website here.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

We walk over to the [seesaw] swing and she gets on her side. I get on mine. We sit on small rubber circles attached to a rope that runs up to the seesaw part of the swing. As we begin swinging, the seesaw moves up and down, tossing us around on the ends of our ropes. I jump off and pull hard on my rope and jump back on. This works like a trebuchet, slinging her higher. The motion is cyclical. We are either flung around, careening through the air, or we are still, at the bottom of a cycle, watching the other person soar. Then she swings into me. And I into her. And I kick her feet. And she kicks mine.

—Nicholas Dighiera

 

Commentary

 

This couple—who are divorced and struggling with a young family after the man’s love affair—are for the moment having fun. “Her head is tipped back, vibrant hair catching and holding sunlight,” writes Nicholas Dighiera “and I can see the silver in her teeth too.”  She can’t stop laughing:  “Big laughs…the high kind that start with screaming and then machine gun their way to no air.”  The mean-spirited back and forth conversations and their seesawing relationship which leaves one at the bottom of a cycle and the other flung around in midair has not disappeared.  “Everything black and angry that’s between us,” Dighiera writes, “is still there.  The woman is still there.  All of the wrong that I made is still there.”  But the two of them feel young again and can see what they loved in each other, and for now they “get to be a family once again.”

—THE

 
 

from “Boom”

in River Teeth

by Anne Barngrover

 

“The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States released in the poet Anne Barngrover a cascade of awful memories.”—THE

Anne Barngrover is the author of two books of poetry—Brazen Creature (2016 Editor's Choice Selection, University of Akron Press), Yell Hound Blues (Shipwreckt Books, 2013)—and co-author, with poet Avni Vyas, of the poetry chapbook Candy in Our Brains (CutBank, 2014). Her poems have appeared in magazines such as North American Review, Ecotone, Crazyhorse, Copper Nickel, and Indiana Review.  Barngrover earned her MFA from Florida State University and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from University of Missouri. She is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University and lives in Tampa, Florida. The Paragraph of the week comes from "Boom" which originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of River Teeth.

The feature on "Boom" is the third in our month-long series celebrating River Teeth.  Things are pretty exciting at the magazine these days.  River Teeth offers a 20% discount on social  media subscriptions here.  It is also available on Kindle here, and it sponsors a reading at AWP in conjunction with Under the Gum Tree, Hippocanthus, and Creative Nonfiction open to all which you can read about here.   You can learn more about this magazine dedicated to narrative nonfiction at its website here.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

When I see our President-Elect on the news, my body reacts first. My palms tingle, and my feet sweat. I taste the metallic tang of fear. I curl my knees towards my chest like I am a child in the hallway, preparing for a storm. My hands cover my mouth, as if the body naturally falls silent to avoid danger.

 

—Anne Barngrover

Commentary

 

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States released in the poet Anne Barngrover a cascade of awful memories.  Here are a few:  A mouse that died in the walls and filled her rooms with stench.  An open window where a burglar broke in leaving the furniture in disarray.  An unexplained boom in the middle of the night that was not an explosion or an earthquake but “exploding head syndrome” resulting from a past trauma that “can sleep in the body for many years.”  There’s more:  an electrical shock while changing a fluorescent bulb, the shuffle of a possum her landlord trapped in a cage under her floorboards, ants.  “Something,” she writes, “is always wanting in.” She remembers the words men called her, a long list including bitch, sweetheart, prude and slut.  One man threw her bra at her and another “asked her to define rape in a Gumby’s Pizza.” Of course, there are the “men who didn’t hear ‘no.’” The morning of Trump’s election, these memories washed over her and her period started “fast and strong.”  She bled through her underwear and bedsheets.  Five other women told her they had their periods that morning.  “Everywhere women are crying and bleeding,” Anne Barngrover writes. “Our body politic has felt this trauma, a level of profound, public hatred our nation has not seen in my generation’s lifetime.”

—THE

from “Epiphany”

in River Teeth

by Mary Haug

 

What a young Mary Haug is worried about, as this boy says “get out” and deposits her unceremoniously at her dorm, is the shame of being “a girl worth nothing more” than “a notch on a his belt.”—THE

 

Mary Alice Haug is a South Dakota writer of personal essays and memoir. She is the author of Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir published by Bottom Dog Press. "Epiphany" is an excerpt from a chapter in the memoir she is currently writing.  ​

The feature on "Epiphany" is the last in our month-long series celebrating River Teeth.  Things are pretty exciting at the magazine these days.  River Teeth offers a 20% discount on social  media subscriptions here.  It is also available on Kindle here, and it sponsors a reading at AWP in conjunction with Under the Gum Tree, Hippocanthus, and Creative Nonfiction open to all which you can read about here.   You can learn more about this magazine dedicated to narrative nonfiction at its website here.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

But this boy parked the car in a dark spot, turned off the ignition, grabbed me, and pressed me against the car door. He stared out the windshield as he fumbled with the zipper on my jeans. He didn't kiss me; he didn't even see me. There must have been other cars parked around us. Radios playing. Pebbles of gravel shining in the moonlight. I saw nothing. Heard nothing. I was only sensations: my arm twisted against my back; the door handle digging into my spine. I thrashed under his weight. “No, please take me home.” I didn't mean to the dormitory. I meant to the house on the grasslands, to a time when I was a small girl lying in front of the radio listening to The Lone Ranger, to nights when my mother puttered in the kitchen and my father read in his easy chair and the breeze coming through the windows smelled of spring and new grass.

—Mary Haug

Commentary

 

What a young Mary Haug is worried about, as this boy says “get out” and deposits her unceremoniously at her dorm, is the shame of being “a girl worth nothing more” than a “notch on a his belt,” so it is not surprising that she wanted to be transported to the “grasslands” of her family home.  Both tough and loving, her father was a complicated man.  He could be cruel.  When a steer kicked a metal bar in his face, injuring him badly, he took it out on the beast, beating the animal with a board until both of them were “exhausted.”  But he was also stoic, not complaining that evening about “his swollen lip, his missing teeth, and the purple bruises covering his face” when he “he collapsed into his easy chair with a book in hand.”  Later when her father, without insurance, contracted cancer, he willed himself to die quickly, understanding that “sometimes being a man is best defined as knowing when to quit.”  But after his funeral she remembered another side of him when she and her father climbed onto the wide boards of a hay stacker, and he said “Let’s fly, Toots” as the “ground fell away” and they rose above the house and barn.  “Always reach high,” he declared, “so you can touch the clouds” and she realized, thinking back on the competing qualities in him, that her father was no more defined by the day he beat a steer, than she was “by accepting a ride home from a strange boy.”

—THE

 

from Flock Together

by B. J. Hollars

“If birds are, as Roger Tory Peterson argues, ‘our ecological litmus paper,’ then we are in trouble since bird populations globally are dwindling.”—THE

 

The Paragraph of the Week goes to B. J. Hollars. In it he offers a metaphor for the dangerous fragility of ecosystems that also offers hope in the form of a challenge for us all to live up to.  Hollars is the author of several books, most recently Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds, From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test.   In spring of 2018, his latest work, The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders, will be published.

Hollars serves as a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and the founder and executive director of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. An associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he lives a simple existence with his wife, their children, and their dog.  The Paragraph of the Week comes from Flock Together.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

These days, it's a well-known fact that upon disrupting one community in an ecosystem, we risk disrupting the ecosystem at large. For the layperson such as myself, perhaps it's useful to think of ecosystems as nature's version of Jenga: when you remove one piece, you put the whole at risk. It's not only an apt metaphor, but a pedagogical activity adopted in schools throughout the country, the popular stacking game serving as a hands-on approach to helping students understand the fragile balance of life. As with Jenga, not every ecological piece removed from an ecosystem spells immediate disaster, though the more pieces removed, the weaker the ecosystem becomes. In the summer of 1869, long before the advent of Jenga, naturalist John Muir came to a similar conclusion: "When we try to pick out anything by itself," he wrote, "we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

—B. J. Hollars

 

Commentary

B. J. Hollars introduces the metaphor of the Jenga game to illustrate fragility caused by reduced ecological diversity early on in his memoir Flock Together which he describes as a “love affair with extinct species”—in particular the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.   Much of what the metaphor teaches us is bad news.  If birds are, as Roger Tory Peterson argues, “our ecological litmus paper,” then we are in trouble since bird populations globally are dwindling.  As we reduce the diversity in the system our Jenga structure is riddled with holes and “the tower continues to wobble.”  At the same time, there is—based on the most recent State of the Birds report—reasons for hope.  It is true that we have lost the Ivory-bill, but we are learning lessons from it and other extinct animals.  If we can adjust human behavior, many threatened species might survive.  The California Condor which was nearly as endangered as the Ivory-bill has made a modest comeback due to a “robust recovery plan” which includes “a captive breeding program.”  The endangered Whooping Crane tells a similar tale.  “What we often fail to realize,” Hollars concludes, “is how their futures shape our own.”  The solution is to adjust our desires to accommodate the needs of the other species that inevitably “flock together” with us.

—THE

 

from “Upon This Rock”

in Pulphead

by John Jeremiah Sullivan

 

“‘Put in there that we love God,’ Ritter says when he finds out Sullivan is a writer.  ‘You can say we’re crazy, but say that we love God.’”—THE 

 

John Jeremiah Sullivan is an American writer, musician, teacher, and editor. He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, and the southern editor of The Paris Review. In 2014, he edited The Best American Essays, a collection in which his work has been featured in previous years. He has also served on the faculty of Columbia University and Sewanee: The University of the South, and other institutions.

 

The Paragraph of the Week is from his collection of personal essays entitled Pulphead.  It begins with his attempt to drive a twenty-nine foot RV to a Christian rock festival called Creation.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

What do I tell you about my voyage to Creation? Do you want to know what it’s like to drive a windmill with tires down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at rush hour by your lonesome, with darting bug-eyes and shaking hands, or about Greg's laughing phone call to see “how it's going”, about hearing yourself say “no No NO NO!” in a shamefully high-pitched voice every time you try to merge, or about thinking you detect, beneath the mysteriously comforting blare of the radio, faint honking sounds, then checking your passenger-side mirror, only to find you've been straddling the lanes for an unknown number of miles (those two extra feet!) and that the line of traffic you've kept pinned stretches back farther than you can see, or about stopping at Target to buy sheets and a pillow and peanut butter but then practicing your golf swing in the sporting-goods aisle for a solid twenty-live minutes, unable to stop, knowing that when you do, the twenty-nine-footer will be where you left her, alone in the side lot, waiting for you to take her the rest of the way to your shared destiny?

 

—John Jeremiah Sullivan

Commentary

 

Self-deprecating humor is a staple of the personal essay and this paragraph from John Jeremiah Sullivan’s collection Pulphead makes clear why.  The metaphor of the windmill, the “shamefully high pitched voice” shouting a rising “no,” the blithe disregard for passengers held up because he straddles two lanes, and procrastination by golf swing—all of this adds up to a hilarious paragraph. And of course the humor continues:  “how many in your group?” asks the woman at the gate as he arrives alone in the twenty-nine footer.  Of course where he is going—the largest Christian rock festival in the world—offers many opportunities for Sullivan to direct his scathing wit toward others, but what makes this essay remarkable to me is that he does not.  What he sees in this essay, as he often does in this collection, is the best in ordinary people.  When his RV is about to topple onto “a literal field of Christians, toasting buns and playing guitars” a stocky man with a “Chaucerian West Virginia accent” tells him to “JACK THE WILL TO THE ROT” which got his RV on level ground and began his fellowship with a handful of truly good and irreverent Christians named Ritter, Darius, Bub, Jake, Josh, and Pee Wee who by their good nature avoided “the weird implicit enmity that American males…seem to carry around.”  In the way they care for him and for each other they serve as a reminder that the “breakthrough” of Jesus “was the aestheticization of weakness” and the admonition that care for those who are fragile and suffering is the way to sanity and salvation. “Put in there that we love God,” Ritter says when he finds out Sullivan is a writer.  “You can say we’re crazy, but say that we love God.”  Sullivan can no longer say that about himself, but he has the graciousness in this ribald essay to let them say it and live it and mean it.

 

—THE

 

© 2014 The Humble Essayist

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