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.
Of 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
The story of the Krendl family’s Obama barn in northwestern Ohio.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
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
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.
December 13, 2010
Touring mainland China with a college choir stirs the spirit.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
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
. . . but mostly of me, 1973–1977.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.]