All posts tagged: James Alan Gill

The Stables


stables horizontalLocation: Galatia, Illinois


Now I’m thinking of the time my father worked in the horse stables for Tom Wilson. This was after the coal mines had shut down for good, and at 40 years old, after spending most of his adult life underground, he now found himself adrift. I was just 13 then, and while I was certainly old enough to understand the strain the loss of his union job put on our family, my parents did what they could to shield me from the realities that lay ahead.

Griffin LessellThe Stables

Love in the Absence of Persephone


Do you remember when we’d go walking in the rain, and your coat was too big for you so that I couldn’t see your face under the hood? And we’d lean against one of the giant cedars growing among the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery, tree and stone planted over a hundred years before by ancestors unknown to us?  And when we went to kiss, we bumped teeth because all sense of space had been lost? It was then I started falling in love with you.

Olivia ZhengLove in the Absence of Persephone

Friday Reads: March 2016


This month, invest in a book you can begin knowing you’ll return many times. These works range the world from Bombay to Russia to Nigeria to San Francisco, and in page count from the “slender” to the “massive”—you’ll find something here for every interest, every schedule, every commute length. But each of this month’s recommenders chose their work in part for the fact that it seems to yield a new story on every visit; as Nalini Jones puts it, you’ll “feel the world tilt to the side” in a new direction every time you dip into these pages.


Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto,  A Collection of Beauties at the Height of their Popularity by Whitney Otto, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: March 2016

Salt and Light

Seaside, OR

Two days after my birthday, we drove over the coast range to Seaside. It was a Monday, and I’d taken off from work, knowing I’d need a recovery day after the party that had lasted from Saturday afternoon till Sunday morning. Some might think that lazy or irresponsible; I think it’s just knowing yourself.

The weather had been sunny when we left our place in Newberg, a small town south of Portland in the Oregon wine country, but by the time we started up into the steep ridges separating the Willamette Valley from the ocean, the rain had started, which wasn’t a surprise, as it had already been one of the rainiest winters on record: in December there had been 25 straight days of rain, which is in the ballpark of 40 days and 40 nights. Jane took a nap, while I drove squinting through the water-blurred windshield. I always teased her about being able to fall asleep anywhere, and I smiled now at how peaceful her face was while I guided our 25-year-old Pathfinder—which we’d bought from a towing company for 500 bucks after it had been abandoned in downtown Eugene—along this curving road lined by 200-foot-tall fir trees growing up from the slopes below.

Olivia ZhengSalt and Light

Trailer Days

The town was segregated, not by laws but by economics. The lines were almost too stark. The northeast side of town was the “black side of town” while the southwest side of town, the farthest away from northeast, was the well-to-do, upper-middle-class “nice neighborhood.” The truly well off lived outside city limits in large homes built along cul-de-sacs in the middle of hardwood forests. I lived in the giant trailer park north of town, just across the railroad tracks from the NE housing projects.

It had nearly 400 trailers, a hamlet of tin cans. The trailers were singlewides, mostly from the 60s and 70s, and placed close together with small patches of grass between. They were set on concrete pads and anchored with “tornado straps,” metal bands bolted into the ground. It was a cheap place to live. A guy I worked with at Domino’s Pizza had lived there and sold his trailer to me and my friend Jon for $2,000. Lot rent was $100 a month, including water and trash.

Olivia ZhengTrailer Days

On Hearing the News of the Shooting at Umpqua Community College

I think of the winter years ago when I taught an evening class there made up of a group of nontraditional students studying social work and counseling, many of them driven to do so by the addiction or poverty or general hard times that affected, in one way or another, everyone. I’d leave the southern Willamette Valley in the dark and rain and cross the Calapooya Mountains towards the small city of Roseburg. That stretch of interstate still held remnants from the slower travel of the past where people stopped more often, sat down for meals, and had their cars serviced in the meantime. One exit still operated an all night diner and lounge, gas station and motor lodge, decked out in the original neon glaring through the night like brightly colored clouds; another exit twenty miles away with the same amenities along with roadside carnival rides, stood completely abandoned, as if at some point in 1963, everyone just walked away, not even bothering to flip the faded sign on the door from Open to Closed.

Olivia ZhengOn Hearing the News of the Shooting at Umpqua Community College

Continental Divide


We decided we’d stop for the night in Denver while eating at a Taco Johns in North Platte, Nebraska, and scanned the Expedia app on my phone. There was a 4-star hotel in the suburbs northwest of the city on sale for 86 bucks, so I reserved a room because it was the same price as the Best Western.

Emma CroweContinental Divide

Friday Reads: May 2015

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: May 2015

Where I Once Belonged: A Tribute to Kent Haruf


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. I walked into the first day of class like any other, hiding my nervousness with aloofness. I never had the text for any class on the first day.

Olivia ZhengWhere I Once Belonged: A Tribute to Kent Haruf

Thoreau’s Borderlands

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 forces—true wilderness, rather than just wildness—that stand in stark contrast to the pastoral that he often evokes in his writing.  

Olivia ZhengThoreau’s Borderlands