In House

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

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Monday, February 16, 2015 - 2:08pm

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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.

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Monday, January 19, 2015 - 6:00am

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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 - 11:50am

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.

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Monday, December 8, 2014 - 6:00am

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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 - 11:40am

 

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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 - 3:03pm

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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 - 6:00am

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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.

Monday, October 20, 2014 - 5:00am

When the planes hit on September 11, 2001, I was in the F train. The conductor made a bland announcement regretting delays following “an incident.” “What incident?” I asked my neighbor. He shrugged. I arrived at my office at BusinessWeek, then at 6th Avenue and 48th Street, and watched the towers collapse on TV. My baby son was home with the sitter, my daughter at kindergarten. My husband was safe. No one I knew was hurt, miraculously. For months, I cried. I was terrified of a subway bombing. I tried to plan how we would evacuate in the event of a nuclear attack.

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Monday, October 6, 2014 - 10:59am

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In Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking” he writes, “Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure.” It is this longing for wildness that drove Thoreau to live and continue to return to Walden pond; to seek out nature whether along rivers, or the seashore, in the Maine woods, or his home town.

But at times Nature complicates Thoreau’s idealism by presenting raw, untamed forcestrue wilderness, rather than just wildnessthat stand in stark contrast to the pastoral that he often evokes in his writing.  

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Monday, September 22, 2014 - 8:34am

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The ending place is empty—nearly. I am writing this in the beginning place because it seems not quite right to start in a place that is ending.

On the phone, completing the last of the cleaning, he describes to me the ending place. He is there and I am here. He describes the span of those walls (now spackled) in which we made our lives these past eight years. Walls from which we hung postcards and pictures, pieces of metal and lace, the mirrored shadowbox, the plaster cherub, all the instruments. There, where the doors were painted a sloppy garish teal long before our arrival, where the ‘beautiful hardwood floors’ finally gave up, splintered into thick spears.

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