If you weren’t awake and listening to WYSO at 7am Eastern a few Saturdays ago, have no fear! You can now hear my conversation with Vick Mickunas at the Book Nook on WYSO at your leisure. I’ve long been a fan of Book Nook, and it was such fun to talk with Vick. I’m grateful that he took the time. I hope you enjoy!
I’m extremely honored to have been invited to write about Virginia Hamilton for the Dayton Daily News. Virginia Hamilton was an early and abiding influence on me, as a writer. In the essay, “A Rememory of Virginia Hamilton,” I reflect, as well, on Virginia’s impact on literature and our local community. The piece was published in print and online on February 6. 2022. (It was a further honor to have this piece appear in print alongside pieces on Paul Lawrence Dunbar by Dr. Herbert Martin and Ralph Ellison by Sierra Leone. And I’m grateful to Leigh Adoff Hamilton and Jaime Adoff for their support, and to Ron Rollins and Nick Hrkman for the invitation.)
Catching up on some book notes, I’m thrilled to spend a moment recommending that you hurry up and read Chris Tebbetts‘ fabulous & fun novel, Me Myself & Him.
I read this novel in 2019, but because the author is a beloved friend from early days, I was “only” able to absorb and enjoy. (There is nothing wrong with reading for pleasure! Please, let’s read for as much pleasure as we can! We need all the pleasure we can get—these days, any days.) In 2019, I was happily distracted by familiar details and voices, and I let myself get swept away in the experience. But recently, I re-read the novel with a blog post in mind.
Even if Chris Tebbetts were not my friend, I would still call this a friendly book. There’s an amiable generosity in the self-deprecating humor of the narrator—the voice—and I can imagine being a friend to the fictional Chris. Fiction or non, I love reading books like this, where the narrator seems honest, earnest, and trustworthy, fully human. In the case of Me Myself & Him, some of this trustworthiness comes from the narrator’s willingness to show his imperfection, his mistakes. I found that aspect of this novel extremely life-affirming. We make choices, we make mistakes, we fuck up. We keep going, despite injury and heartache. We endure shame. Sometimes people grow, and sometimes, people forgive each other.
This novel is a beautiful artifact of connection and friendship. (Very necessary in these times of isolation.) It centers friendship as an openhearted pursuit, through many twists of fate, or plot—and speaking of plot, this novel is so appealing in its puzzle-parts, its twin lines of possibility, in being a rumination on what might happen if.
One of the most compelling textures is the narrator’s storytelling voice. Readers glimpse the interior of the character as he grapples with a complicated relationship with his father. Such as:
p. 13: In a conversation with his father about college:
“Birch had been my first choice, and against all odds, not to mention my own expectations, I’d gotten in, as a film and English double major. I had no idea what I wanted to do yet (as in, when I grew up), but I knew exactly where I wanted to be for the next four years—at Birch. And, just as important, anywhere but Green River, Ohio.
I couldn’t not go to Birch, and Dad knew that, didn’t he?
‘I know you feel forced right now,’ he said. ‘I’d feel the same way. But this is all about choices you’ve made. You do understand that, don’t you?’
This is what I’m talking about with him. It’s like falling down a hole and there’s nothing to grab onto because it’s all lined with that stainless steel logic of his.
Then on p. 28:
Then he did this one thing that he and my mother share. They’ll smile in this patronizing way when I’m acting stupider than I actually am. It’s a harder habit to break than you might think—for me, I mean.
He took a sip of coffee, to let my stupidity sink in. Then he said, ‘Actually, I want two things. I want you to speak with a counselor, and I want you to come work at the lab this summer.’ Felicia moved her head, like maybe an eight of an inch. ‘Assuming you’re still planning on Birch in the fall,’ Dad added.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the bottom of the hole. Please remain seated until we’ve come to a full stop at the terminal and the captain has turned off the HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS COMING? sign.”
And later, on p. 217 in the alternate narrative strand, re: his father’s second wedding:
“I kept forgetting—or losing track of the idea—that everyone else who was coming to the wedding thought of it as this champagne-soaked, all-good thing, and entirely worth celebrating. Mark and Felicia, together forever, whatever.
At the same time, there was a little bit of What the hell is wrong with me? mixed in there. Seriously, why couldn’t I just be neutral about it, or even, god forbid, happy for them? Why did everything always have to be so considered and examined and dissected? By the time you finish dissecting anything, it’s a disgusting mess. So what did I expect? That I was going to chew on all this wedding stuff, spit it out, and like what I saw?
Honestly, what I really wanted—what I’d always wanted with regard to Dad—was to not think about it. But that never seemed like an option. He had this sway over me; this way of invading my thoughts that only got worse when I was around him. Whether that was about my own weak-mindedness, or his strength, or something else, I don’t know, but I resented it as much as anything.
It was going to be a long three days.”
Although I recoil a bit at implying that authors have a responsibility to make characters “relatable” (no pressure, writers! and I just don’t like that word), I do find the gently neurotic flavor of the narration…familiar. :) Appealing. Reassuring? (Proving that maybe neurosis/over-anxiety is not only in my head.) Maybe because the neurotic bits are so artfully balanced by a round, complicated character. Interior rumination is used judiciously here, by a writer who knows well how to handle texture and pacing—so the rumination is, to me, one of the most delicious parts of this novel.
You can learn more about Chris and his work at the website above, and on Instagram here.
Oh, and p.s., thank you, Chris, for giving young people (and old people) such a beautifully engaging novel as Me Myself & Him that feature LQBTQ+ protagonists! What the world needs!
June 12, 2020
Dear Yellow Springs Village Council,
I am writing in support of declaring racism a public health crisis. It is a health crisis everywhere. Naming is important.
YS is a white-heavy town. We like to think of ourselves as part of the solution. But are we really part of the solution, yet? Even (maybe especially) in “progressive” places like this, (we) white people need to do real work–toil–not just giving lip service–to dismantle racism and white supremacy. Kindness is not enough. I know we humans are all at different stages in the process (internally and externally) of the walk toward true equality, and I think that calling racism a health crisis is a reasonable early step.
And: it’s just a start.
We have years of work to do, in our bodies and in our communities. Listen well. Listen well. White people need to listen before talking, and do what we can. Every day we can do more. Do what we can, inside and outside ourselves.
I hope this will be the real start of real change. I am committed to doing what I can. I hope the YS leadership will, too.
I encourage you to read this important book: My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem (read more and order it here: https://www.resmaa.com/books/). Resmaa Menakem writes about the trauma that racism inflicts upon bodies, specifically Black, white, and police bodies. We Americans (yes, even in YS) all carry racial trauma in our bodies, and until we work through and resolve that terrible condition, we won’t have real, lasting change, in YS or anywhere.
What a beautiful opportunity we have right now.
It’s going to be the most worthwhile work we can do in our lifetimes.
Please let’s not go halfway.
WRITER’S PLAY TIME
Rediscover and liberate your sense of play! Unleash your creative spark! Demystify and disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding you back! Nourish any creative process. Inspired by the work of Lynda Barry (Artist and author of WHAT IT IS and SYLLABUS) we will write and draw and move. Please wear comfortable clothing. Must be 13 years or older.
WHERE: Yellow Springs Library
WHEN: Sunday, September 10, 2017 from 2-4 PM
Overheard, Yellow Springs, Ohio, on a single day in my grateful life: People singing show tunes around the piano at Emporium Wines & The Underdog Cafe this morning; Antioch College students singing together in the Olive Kettering Library; Grace itself in the form of the World House Choir singing, this evening, singing to the Mother of us all, the earth.
The world feels full of beauty and love, at the moment. I’ll cling to this notion, make it my lifeline, for the rainy, dark days that are surely ahead.
(Caution: tired writer. Mixed metaphors ahead…)
I grew up in a small town. Though we had our quirks and craziness, and we were not immune to death and grief, the town felt safe when I was a kid. It has felt safe to raise a kid here, too, and I am grateful to live in a true community, where people see each other, pay attention, and in the ways we can, take care of each other. Having moved within walking distance to town, this summer, I was looking forward to echoing my own childhood: biking with my kid, hot afternoons at the swimming pool, soft serve ice cream, fun. This sense of safety in my own town (yes, “my,” because I have a sense of investment and ownership in this place) is a cozy blanket I’ve enjoyed, and taken for granted, most of my life.
But since June, my security has been rocked by several situations that leave me feeling vulnerable. I think back to the moment of Truman Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood; I think back to the moment when people began locking their doors.
Earlier this year, there was a rash of burglaries that had many in Yellow Springs feeling vulnerable. That situation ended in the arrest of a troubled man who grew up here. Add the accumulation of things that is making me feel vulnerable this summer:
1. On June 12, someone sprayed undiluted herbicide on the grass at the pool, opening a controversy in our small town that is still going on;
2. On June 27, reportedly, someone with a gun was seen near the outdoor education center at Glen Helen where my daughter had been a camper earlier in the summer, which turned out to be a hoax reported by a camp counselor, who was then put on administrative leave;
3. On July 11, a local man attempted suicide, which resulted in a police search and brief lockdown of my workplace during the Antioch Writers’ Workshop;
4. Last week, another local man, allegedly pissed off about the potential for a farm lab at Antioch College, threatened to shoot the members of the Village Council and was arrested (sorry, I couldn’t find a link to this story);
5. Last night, there was a shoot-out resulting in a man dying, less than a block from a house where I used to live.
Notice: four of five of these summer situations involve guns, or the idea of guns. Big deal, right? This might not sound like much to people who live in larger cities, or dangerous parts of the world. For a town with population under 4,000 people, however, these are big, and rattling. I know people live (and even thrive) in war zones. But this summer’s accumulation of trauma in the village, the pile of things that shake our sense of safety, is palpable. It takes brute effort not to pass my worry and fear to my five-year-old daughter. (Oh, and, nothing to do with guns, but two difficult events this summer: 1. Camille Willis, Yellow Springs resident and mother of my dear childhood friends–and a second mother to me–died very suddenly during the second week of June. No gun involved, but the loss is central in wobbling my feeling of home, and safety. 2. Jimmy Chesire, beloved T-Ball coach, had a serious head injury. Luckily, he is healing well, and so there’s some bright spot in that fact.)
When I think about where to focus efforts for controlling the proliferation of guns, I don’t even know where to start. I know we also need deeper support for people who are afraid, for people who are in (mental, spiritual, emotional, physical) pain. I know it’s more complicated than “guns kill people” but I also know that if it weren’t so damn easy to get guns, guns would kill fewer people.
I’ve been brewing a blog post about this soup of summer grief. Today, after the latest event, I am sad and ragged. Sad and ragged for all the people who’ve been hurt and affected by these situations. I wish the bubble were sturdier.