I saw a black man with a bible and a sparkler in his hand.
He was holding a tent revival and running a firework stand.
He said the end of the world is coming, you better get on your knees.
Today bottle rockets are two for one, but salvation’s free.

—Paul Thorn, “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand”

Praise the genre! Reflections as my blog approaches its 7th year.

FlagxOf course it was summer, my favorite season, when I started this blog almost six years ago. I was working on the third version of my memoir. As if the world needed another blog about writing—but that’s what excited me. It was July. Within summer, July is my favorite month—the lawns under control, the daylilies in bloom, the gin and tonic flowing. So it wasn’t too surprising that when I picked six favorite posts, to be discussed on the blog’s birthday next Thursday, that two of them were uploaded in July.

What was surprising was how many of my pets were posted in December or January. Two of my top posts were uploaded in January; four of my six finalists, below, were written in December. I guess December makes me reflective. And January seems the July of winter—the leaf collection over, the Thanksgiving and Christmas frenzies past, the slower winter season still stretching out forever but not yet unpleasantly.

My 12 favorites are just the ones that swam to the surface of my mind, ones I wrote with great pleasure or maybe were about a subject I’ve continued to worry. Frequent themes that have developed include the aesthetics of nonfiction, the use of self in nonfiction, and storytelling structure.

But of the six runners-up below, not one is about writing per se.

To read the original posts, click on the red headlines—they’re live links that take you right there.

September 14, 2008

Behind the barn:

The story of the Krendl family’s Obama barn in northwestern Ohio.


[The Krendls’ barn, proud in the soybeans.]

The blog’s first fall, my wife’s sister Kris shared a great photograph she’d taken of the Krendl family’s barn near Spencerville, Ohio. I knew the barn’s and its owners’ history from years of gatherings there, plus having written about the family in my book. I loved the way the Krendl family’s progressive immigrant lineage was expressed in the barn’s history and in its new incarnation as a campaign sign for Barack Obama.

At a campaign rally in Dayton, Obama got to meet some family members—also captured by Kris with her camera—whose barn was one of the few in Ohio, and none in its region, a Republican stronghold, to cheer his candidacy from amidst its fields.

Writing history is fun when it’s personal and you’re connecting the dots. In this case between a rebellious Austrian immigrant brewer and farmer named Adolph Krendl and America’s first Hawaiian president. 

December 16, 2008

People understand the constraints:

Solstice musings on poetry & nonfiction & Mom’s Christmas letter.

Balancing blogging’s relentless demand to come up with something, you seize moments that might otherwise be lost. Such as this post from the blog’s first winter that immortalizes my wife’s efforts to produce our annual family Christmas letter. Her sweet efforts occurred, in life as in the post, in the face of her husband’s and children’s immature and unhelpful teasing.

What a merry moment on our old farm it brings back. And, I admit, I like my little poem inspired by that evening.

December 23, 2009

Christmas at the coffee shop:

I eavesdrop on two groups, one male and one female, as they talk.

Our first winter after moving to town, I was struck by the differences between an especially combative male coffee klatch and any of several regular female gatherings at the neighborhood Panera. Presented in dialogue and without commentary, this post amused me, even if it fosters gender stereotypes (grimly competitive politicized men, humorous emotionally attuned women).

As with the post discussed previously, it’s something I wouldn’t have done without a blog—or an obsessive writer’s notebook. Hmm . . . There’s a thought: writing stuff down without publishing it, at least not immediately. Old school. Either way possesses virtue: your self and its sensibility encountering the world and its ways.

A misty morning at the Summer Palace in Beijing

[Misty morning at the Summer Palace, Beijing. I took this on our visit.]

December 13, 2010

With a song in our hearts:

Touring mainland China with a college choir stirs the spirit.

Favorite guide, Kathie of Xi’an, in her Minnie Mouse dress

[Guide Kathie wears Minnie.]

 I hadn’t intended on writing anything about my experiences with the Otterbein University concert choir. Too much pressure going in. And, as usual, I hadn’t wanted to travel when it came down to it; and then, as always, I was surprised by travel’s comparative difficulty. I gave up a cozy seat by my fire for an endless flight, jet-lag, and digestive upset? Yes, you did. Though this is the only travel narrative among these posts, at least two that made my upcoming best-posts list came immediately after travel experiences. Travel forces you to slow down, unplug, ponder. Thus artists of various stripes are among those who, historically, do travel.

I liked the individual Chinese people I met, was sometimes appalled by their concert manners, and fascinated at their inability—these westernized survivors of an ancient land—to speak of their awful government. But you cannot rub shoulders and break bread and talk with people from another place, another race without seeing how alike we all are. What this led to was a meditation on nations’ and individual’s historic inability to include the Other under the umbrella of their God. This is my definition of a pagan, that he will not grant me access to his God, and it still afflicts some peoples and nations, whether religious or not.

But that is changing. As I conclude in the post, “the trip grew my spirit as it shrank the world.” To me, this enlargement of human spirit as nationalistic barriers fall is the meta-narrative of our time, and China crystallized it. The post’s epigraph came from Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being—in part about her own China trip—and comes close to expressing my hard-won personal definition of God as human goodness welling from our depths:

The consciousness of divinity is divinity itself. The more we wake to holiness, the more of it we give birth to, the more we introduce, expand, and multiply it on earth, the more “God is on the field.”—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (page 40; reviewed, a favorite post.)

December 3, 2012

Perchance to sit:

I observe a crucial difference between adults and college students.

Our fourth winter in Westerville, I got tickled by my wife and some college students she invited to our house to mingle for an hour. I’ve had a lot of fun at Kathy’s expense, and also gotten my best material—she’s the most interesting character in my memoir, too, along with our dog Jack and our ewe Freckles. Four of the six posts here are based on Kathy’s history or activities (her job led to our taking the China trip).

Your life does provide your best “material,” so have a good one!

March 31, 2012

Memories of me and Harry Crews . . .

. . . but mostly of me, 1973–1977.

Harry Crews, June 7, 1935 - March 28, 2012. He’s probably holding forth here at the University of Florida, probably in the mid- to late-1970s when I was there.

[Harry Crews holds forth.]

 l took a long trip down memory lane when writer Harry Crews died. The resulting post made me wonder when and if and how blog posts cross the line into creative nonfiction—and whether they should. Because this post burned through a lot of material. Well, it’s still my stuff, and I can’t regret it. If I ever figure out what it’s part of, I can just paste it into that magnum opus.

So many full works, from songs to novels, are made of disparate bits. I think of great Beatles songs like “A Day in the Life” that are collage. In this case, I think what happened is that I had written most of these bits, and when Crews died it galvanized them into an essay. My version of “A Day in the Life.” I heard the news of his death, oh boy, and it took me back.

[Next: I pick my six top posts from the past six years.]

July 4, '14, Cabin

[Fourth of July 2014 at our cabin in Ohio’s Hocking Hills.]


  • shirleyhs says:

    What a great idea, Richard. I wish I had time now to read every one of these posts. I have bookmarked this page for the future.

    We are in Seattle on the long BookTourAnniversaryPalooza. (Tonight I do a reading at Third Place Books.) Having a wonderful time.

    I am going to steal this idea in August, my fifth anniversary as a blogger.

    For you, what have been the chief benefits and difficulties after seven years of blogging?

    • Richard says:

      Thank you, Shirley, and what a great question! How about I try to answer in my next post on my six favorites? Or maybe the one after that I’m planning on dud posts – actually ones I never uploaded, because the actual duds are too painful to relive.

      I will say this for now, and maybe steal it for my post: I settled into a schedule of a post every five days, and kept that up for about five years, but with my book’s publication and its changes, I’ve set a new rate of a post a week. This is so personal, not a recommendation, but blogging has to be personal and that’s why I’m leery of experts who urge a post a day or some such. For some that works and for some it doesn’t. But the short answer about difficulty is that, for the first time, it’s much more challenging for me to post, for some reasons I understand and others I don’t.

      As for the benefits, I point to these posts! Fun. And I think blogging keeps my prose more colloquial, down to earth where it belongs, instead of filled with howevers, and moreovers, and other fat mouth-fillers. Also, I fully intend to steal from myself here for “real” essays if need be – my preoccupations that have emerged here may include what I should write at more length about.

      • I was going to say, “what a great idea…” but Shirley beat me to it, and then reading her post i thought, “what a great question…” but you beat me to that so I figure having had the words stolen out of my keyboard twice, gives me the right to jump in on your conversation.

        I started blogging because I felt I had to. I was write about that, but didn’t understand the reasons behind what I knew to be true. I really did have to start bloggging. I thought it was about social media and promotion/marketing, which it is, of course, but that part of it has become, for me, merely a fringe benefit of the benefits of blogging. Those include, as you mentioned, the fun. Also the truly amazing people I’ve found that I never would have “met.”

        I look forward to your more developed answer, Richard. I’m not going to be able to let go of this question.

        • Richard says:

          Wow, what great issues arose just because I was taking the easy way out on a couple blog posts by writing about the blog itself! One of the reasons I haven’t been very definitive, too, is that I’ve written about it in the past. I notice that an old post—well, last year’s anniversary marker—comes up as a Related Post: “Learning the blogging genre.” Can’t recall myself what I said except I believe I reflected on mistakes I’ve made. Thanks for reading and commenting, Tracy.

  • Wonderful variety, Richard! No wonder I read you with such enthusiasm–you’ve earned it.

    • Richard says:

      That’s a nice point, Victoria, and I hope it’s true! Variety. Devoutly to be desired. Doubtless another accident.

      • Yes, and I just got back from July 4th week and found my copy of “Shepherd” in the mailbox, so I’ll be reading even more of you soon. I want to loan it to my brother to read once I’ve finished, or maybe even buy him a copy of his own, because he also grew up in a more rural area, then moved to another rural area and though not raising animals other than chickens has done some farming, and now farms and teaches at a college. So, I think he’ll be especially interested to read what you have to say, the two of you having so much in common in some ways.

  • Reading these six posts brought back memoires of discovering you and becoming one of your many fans. :)

    • Richard says:

      What a nice comment. Making new blog-world friends, as a content provider and as a reader myself, has been a huge benefit of blogging for me personally. And it turned out to be good for my book. Of the 11 customer reviews of my book on Amazon, four reviews—all positive, including yours, thank you, Darrelyn!—are by people I have met virtually through my blog, including one I first met briefly at a writing conference who became a reader.

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