In House

"In House" is a weekly column featuring trawlings and reflections from our editors.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user AdmissionsQuest

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 8:54am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user AdmissionsQuest

North of the Bible Belt and east of the Borscht Belt lies the Boarding School Belt. Of the 300 or so boarding schools in the U.S., 120 are in the Northeast, what might be called the Eden of American education. You know, that magical place where Andover and Exeter lead inexorably to Yale and Harvard.

Every fall, parents from all over the world descend on the region for the Tour de Boarding Schools, a grueling épreuve that can require three or more rounds before a match is found. Some foreign kids go alone in hired cars, which has a 19th-century sound, though it reflects a very 21st century phenomenon, Asian parents’ determination to get their children a rigorous, English-language education.

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 6:00am

We were on the small roads that sometimes turn gravel, sometimes dead end, when we found it. This was Vermont, about ten years ago, our first road trip together: a circuit of swimming holes, picnics, and stops for general store ice cream. We passed a series of “Take Back Vermont” signs. Somewhere along the way we came upon the man, who by all appearances seemed to be a Hare Krishna devotee, having a yard sale. It was here in the sunny warm greenness that we found THE PEOPLE’S CYCLOPEDIA OF UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE, WITH NUMEROUS APPENDIXES INVALUABLE FOR REFERENCE IN ALL DEPARTMENTS OF INDUSTRIAL LIFE. BROUGHT DOWN TO THE YEAR 1885.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Tom Gill

Monday, March 16, 2015 - 9:10am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Tom Gill

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore stretches along the southern tip of Lake Michigan in sixteen separate pieces—jagged, sharp-cornered patches of land that float in an industrial landscape of rail lines, factories, and tiny dilapidated homes. The official National Parks visitors’ map includes not just the usual hiking trails and bike paths, but also two steel mills, an electric company, and the machine-gutted inlets that make up the port of Indiana.  

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Monday, February 16, 2015 - 3:08pm

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Around this table we’d gather, cover it with food. In the end: scattered drippings and crumbs, bottles and glasses emptied or abandoned. A cat scavenging the remains.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user uusc4all

Monday, January 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user uusc4all

1.   A few days before I moved to Baltimore this summer, I read an article about the city’s racial dynamics that had just been published by D. Watkins, a relatively young black writer who’d grown up in Baltimore. He described a city so racially segregated that it felt like two different places: one black, one white; one dangerous, one quaint; one introduced to him as a kid growing up in East Baltimore and one that he found later as a college student in North Baltimore, attending the predominately white private liberal arts college, where I had just accepted a job. Watkins painted a picture of two adjacent but separate worlds, a place where, he says, white people somehow manage to host literary events in a city that is more than 60% black without one black face in the crowd.

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Monday, December 22, 2014 - 12:50pm

I studied history in college, because it seemed somehow practical (don’t ask me why), and after three years of study I realized that I was a mediocre historian at best, that what I loved about researching the past were the stories, and so I took a creative writing class.

By sheer luck that class was taught by Kent Haruf. I had no idea of the tradition of great writers who had taught at Southern Illinois University (before Kent, Richard Russo and John Gardner held his faculty position), nor the already strong and growing writing program that was present in 1995 when I was there.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Heather Katsoulis

Monday, December 8, 2014 - 7:00am

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Heather Katsoulis

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Even in the raw of winter, the succulent house will be hot and dry. The air in the palm house will be thick. These alternating glass houses of desert, forest, floral exotica—carnivorous pitcher plants and living stones—will be a refuge when New England is in February; one way to survive the cold.

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Monday, December 22, 2014 - 12:40pm

 

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To exist humanly, is to name the world, to change it. ~Paulo Freire

When I was 19 my full-time job was bartending a pub called Filthy McNasty’s. McNasty’s sat on Rose Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the roughest streets in the city center at the time. Fights punctuated each hour of the night and later, after I’d moved on up from McNasty’s, a friend was stabbed near there in a skinhead-like attack. Indoors, customers called me 
Garth” because of my wild, unkempt hair, like Garth in Wayne’s World. I didn’t wear makeup and favored baggy jeans and t-shirts; I guess this made me infuriatingly gender ambiguous.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 4:03pm

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I read Peter MatthiessenThe Snow Leopard in Ohio anticipating a trip to Kathmandu, via Abu Dhabi, where I arrived one bright day at the end of October. In the book, Matthiessen descends to grey Kathmandu after two months climbing the pristine crags of the Himalayas. In the city, the planar snows can appear only as an afterimage, a ghostly trick of the eyes. Matthiessen has not seen the elusive snow leopard he hoped to find, which represented Zen transcendence. He wanted to reach that state, but discovers that, being human, he can only approximate it. That, he decides, is enough. Returned to his worldly self, nature has explained itself and him. Where the snow lives, the Sanskrit himalaya, is eternal. He, by comparison, is nothing.

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Friday, November 7, 2014 - 7:00am

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We drive on a gray day in October, a scenic four-hour drive from my new home in Baltimore to my old home in Leechburg, a small steel town in the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania, where I lived from ages 8 through 15—the longest stretch of childhood I spent in one location. Though it’s a place I’ve often gone back to in my fiction, I haven’t returned in person in over 15 years. The trip is reconnaissance and romance: scene gathering for a novel and a chance to explore my memory with M.

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