The Flood, Then and Now

The March I was a year old, it rained for two weeks in the South. My mother tells me that she could never get my diapers dry because she couldn't hang them out on the clothesline (we didn't have a dryer, of course) and even when she hung them all over the house, our tiny little trailer was too damp for them to dry.  

"Everything we had in the world was in that little trailer," my mother told me last night. At the time of the flood my father had been back from Vietnam about five years and worked as a mechanic in a local gas station. My mother was a part-time assembler at the refrigerator factory in the next town over. They worked all the time. I have very few memories of them being still.  
Our trailer sat snugly between the rise of the L&N railroad track and the normally placid waters of the Little Laurel River, which was now becoming swollen and violent. In other words, there was no chance we'd make it through fourteen days of continuous rain. They watch…

Songs of Summer 2017

When I think of summer songs, I think of songs that would be good for a day out on the lake, or a long bike ride, or while enjoying my own back yard.  Songs of summer tend to be more upbeat, lighter fare.  So the larger culture's "Songs of Summer" tend to be more on the mindless, pop side...not that there's anything wrong with that. But I like something I can tap my foot to that also has a lot going on between the lines of the song and in the production as well. I couldn't resist throwing in a couple of ballads that I'm loving right now.  I wanted to pick songs that have only come out recently, too.  So below are the videos of my picks for this year's Songs of Summer, in no particular order.  Or you can just go straight to my Spotify and listen to them there.  

Shine On Me-Dan Auerbach

Should've Been You-Imelda May

Better Way-Andrew Combs


Over-Kings of Leon

Electric Love-Serena Ryder

Green Eyes-Aubrie Sellers

Hungry Ghost-Hurray for the…

Evening in America: 31 Years After the Challenger Explosion

January 28, 1986. We were out of school that day for snow. My best friend, Donna, and I were riding sleds off the strip mine across the road from my house.  My mother came out onto the porch and hollered, telling us to come in "right now". She didn't say why but her words telegraphed over the frozen air to us that something bad had happened.  I had not wanted to miss school that day because we were scheduled to watch the launch. There had been a special station set up for schools to watch via NASA and it was always exciting when the massive television was wheeled into our classroom on its metal stand.  This was a time when children were very interested in the space program and the space shuttles had made us even more interested.   There were action  figures and model kits and toys dedicated to the space missions.  We learned all about the astronauts in class. We were the children of the Cold War, still three years from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there was national p…

Favorite Movies of 2016

1.  Manchester by the Sea is a heartbreaker that feels so real you leave the cinema feeling as if the story has happened to someone you know well and care about.  I think it also boasts the best performances of the year in Casey Affleck's heartbroken handyman and Michelle Williams as a woman doing everything she can to survive.  Rarely does a film so well use sense of place as this one.  It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, who also made You Can Count on Me, and--a favorite film of mine--Margaret, an underrated masterpiece inspired by a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem.

2. Sunset Song.  Terrence Davies is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers ever yet this film didn't make much of a splash in America.  It should have, as it is the film that has most haunted me this year with its sweeping scenes of farmers working their fields or the rising chorus as they stroll to church (as shown in the short scene I'm embedding below).  It's a film that uses words like "g…

Books of 2016

My favorite books published in 2016:

1.  News of the World.  Paulette Jiles's short and beautiful Western was deeply moving and it is one of those rare books of which I can honestly say that every single sentence is a gem.  Absolutely the novel of the year for me.

2.  Mothering Sunday.  Graham Swift wrote this elegant and stunning 192 page novel.  Its shortness emphasizes just how masterful it is because in just a few pages Swift creates an entire world and gives us big themes like class, the power of storytelling, and loss, all delivered in prose that is erotic, economical, and powerful.

3.  Raymie Nightingale.  Kate DiCamillo wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Because of Winn Dixie, but this one is almost as good.  A look at the definitions of friendship, family (chosen and blood), and the desire to be a good person.  I absolutely loved it.

4.  Miss Jane.  Full disclosure here:  the author, Brad Watson, was one of my mentors when I was studying for my MFA.  But that doe…

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Walking to Write: An Exercise in Observation and The Abstract

I'm sharing a writing exercise I'm giving to my writing students tomorrow.

I'll be taking the students into the woods along Brushy Fork Creek here in Berea, Kentucky. This is a quiet area (pictured here as it appears in early spring) full of old beech trees and the meandering creek that begs for people to wade in it, offering a music of running water that is instantly calming.

Once there, they will be given the following handout, which includes a prompt directing them to make a list of sensory details which they will use to write about an abstract emotion. I'm sharing this exercise because I want to encourage more people to incorporate walking into their writing lives. It is absolutely the door to all writing for me.

I hope you might print out the handout below and use it for your own writing exercise. And even if you don't, I hope you'll go into the woods, or walk amongst trees, wherever that may be.

Comments or questions are welcome in the comments sectio…