Writing

Earth Ride

Thank you for choosing Earth for your current lifespan. You will reach your final destination in approximately ninety years or at a cataclysmic event, whichever comes first.Please step forward to the moving walkway, making sure to take with you all children and other impersonal belongings that provide status.

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Writing Is The Best Revenge

Writing Is The Best Revenge

Give them their due, those enemies. Hey, maybe not even an enemy. Maybe just the ones who annoy you by their very presence. No need to concoct an elaborate plot about getting salt in their sweetener at the office coffee. No. They’re there, they exist, and who knows what might happen if you just picked them up and put them in a story.

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"How Can I Change?" by Michael McKinney

I became acquainted with Michael McKinney after my essay “Visiting Prison” was published in Quaker Life magazine. He wrote me via the magazine, and I responded. We have been in touch by letter ever since. Michael is serving a sentence of Life Without Parole, incarcerated in Raiford, Florida. He has spent a number of years in solitary confinement. He writes with difficulty, but with intense conviction on a variety of topics. Here is one of his essays he sent me in 2013.

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Letters vs. Email

It’s so old school, this letters on paper business. No, I don’t mean printing out my ABCs on blank paper to practice penmanship … (mine is now beyond hope. Though I remember learning to put pencil on paper and make cursive letters; I also remember deliberately deciding how I was going to change the important—to me—capital letters “R” and “M” in order to make them my own: extra flourishes on the beginning and end. No surprise there, right?) … I mean the exchange of letters on paper. Envelopes. Postage stamps. Signed in ink. The whole thing. Or maybe it’s just the writing part...

Boomers whine about email’s loss of permanence, the loss of language skills, e-mails emoticons etcetera and ad nauseum. I’ll grant all that, Boomer that I am. But for me, that’s not it. Not totally. I have a little secret. I treat e-mail as if it were regular mail. Not all. But the “letters” I want to keep. I make a copy and stick them in my journal. Sometimes with copies of the e-mail I’ve received and am answering. Then I can read them later, sometimes months or years later, and enjoy the journey.

For me, summer camp was the first letter experience: receiving letters as a camper (mail call was very important), and then as a counselor. Reading them in the bunk. Then writing back sitting at one of the lodge tables. Then at college, the daily stop at the campus PO to see which relative had written. Same in grad school, living in the boarding house. And definitely in the Peace Corps: Western Nigeria and Ibadan in the early 60s. No phone, just those thin blue airmail letters that I treated like gold, saved and savored. As I still do. Write me a letter, and I’ll take it to a special coffee house, order a latte, and drink in your words, one by one, along with the brew. And then the pleasure of a response. Special pleasures, easily crafted. Retro? Maybe. Or perhaps, like slow cooking and no texting at the dinner table, a new wave.

Way Back When Pt. 2

My new roommate is not in the room, but he has staked out a bed. There’s a saxophone case in a corner, by the desk he has staked out. I unpack my suitcase.  My trunk comes upstairs. I stow that.  Still no roommate.  I think I’m hungry. I go downstairs to the snack bar, there on the ground floor of the Castle, at the back. There’s something called a “cabinet” on the menu board. I order a milk shake and an egg salad sandwich on white bread. (Are we getting the picture here? Is this person’s gestalt coming into focus?).  The milk shake turns out to be ice cream-less milk and chocolate syrup. (The “cabinet” turns out to be what the West Coast calls a milkshake; lots to learn; like “scrod.”) The egg salad sandwich sits in the pit of my stomach.  I somehow manage to not throw up.  This sets a pattern for my first two years at Brandeis–sheer terror coupled with pride at not throwing up, with some sleep-terrors and almost-pneumonia thrown in.

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