We begin with “The Clothes I Was Wearing,” by Sandy Ebner. Usually I like to say a few introductory words about a piece, both to praise the writer and to intrigue the reader. In all humility, I don’t feel even remotely qualified to add anything to this essay—to speak of it here would only be to detract from its terrible power. Please read it for yourself and allow yourself to feel what you are going to feel. And feel it you will.
As a person who hasn’t had a drink in 25 years, I always enjoy a harrowing addiction story. J.J. Anselmi, in this excerpt from his memoir, Heavy, gives us booze and drugs and violence and rock-and-roll and, ultimately, the redemptive perspective of sobriety. This is some intense material, but an extremely rewarding read. Anselmi’s is an important emerging voice in the literature of addiction, and I’m proud to be presenting his work.
From time to time, I get a piece that is too poignant and moving for me to comment on it at length. These special essays speak much better for themselves than I could ever speak for them. Such an essay is “Dan Cole—An Appreciation,” by the acclaimed filmmaker, Charles Evered. Let us allow the writer, and the essay, to speak for themselves: “There are in this world, captains of industry, scholars of great works and heads of state---there are so called ‘celebrities’ and sports stars and billionaires---and then, there are people who---even though they are in great pain and know they’re dying, will dress up in a threadbare court jester outfit with a tumor sticking out of their chest and walk across the street to make first graders laugh.” The person the author loves is his brother. Enough from me--read the marvelous essay for yourself and allow all of your feelings to play out.
It can be fun to watch a ridiculous person go nuts. It can be even more fun to watch the reactions of a person who’s watching a ridiculous person go nuts. And it is even more fun when the observer who is being observed is only now realizing that the ridiculous person was nuts all along. This is what happens in Michael Leone’s “The Day I Realized My Mentor Was Crazy.” While there are plenty of writers who have suffered insane mentorships (many of whom have gone on to mentor insanely themselves), the crazy mentor is not limited to the literary world. And so everyone who has ever been apprenticed by a lunatic should enjoy Michael Leone’s essay.
Do you believe in witches? Whether you do or not, you should be aware that witches certainly believe in witches. This is true of good witches and bad witches. “The Strega’s Story,” by Joan Vardaro McMillan, which is excerpted from a book of the same name, is an engrossing exploration of the Italian practice of stregheria. Her account dramatizes what happens when centuries of tradition collide with the realities of dysfunctional family life in modern America. The results are on the spookiest of all possible levels—the personal level.
Sometimes I find a piece that makes me laugh so unexpectedly hard that I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Should I be laughing? Did the author intend this story to be hilarious? This was what I was wondering after reading “The Mark He Left,” by June O’Hara. After I emailed the author to tell her this was one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever read, I was gratified to learn that she indeed considers herself a comic writer. Whew! I am so grateful to be able to laugh with a good conscience.
I was also highly intrigued by Scott Campbell’s piece, “The Year the Press Came Calling, or How My Girlfriend Mainstreamed Polyamory,” because it does such a fascinating job of dramatizing the problematic relationship between the serious artist and the modern media. Most artists—whether they be actors, filmmakers, musicians, painters, or writers—dream of the day when the world-at-large will take note of our talents and broadcast our achievements worldwide. Of course, this almost never happens, and instead we live in a universe of raucous video games, recycled blockbuster movie plots, and all of the manufactured American idols of plasticity. But every now and then, the media does aim its spotlight at a serious actor, filmmaker, musician, painter, or writer. While this is nearly every artist’s fantasy, the real-world repercussions can be quite unexpected, both in their capriciousness and the scope of their negative impact. As Campbell tells us through his own experience, this can be the case even when Newsweek, HBO, the Learning Channel, Inside Edition, and Oprah are all calling for you at once.
In “You Should Go Home Now,” Anath White presents a narrative that could easily lend itself to cliché or gratuitousness. But in White’s masterful hands, the story of a man whose doings might not naturally be sympathetic becomes an empathetic tale, since we can all identify, at one point or another in our lives, with finding what is spiritually and emotionally nutritious about the forbidden.
The brilliant “No One Watches the Old Lady Dance,” by Faye Rapoport DesPres, while specific to her own experiences, addresses the near-universal theme of the fear of aging. Let me quote from the piece: “Friends have been relentless in their crusade to convince me that forty is not old. It’s a beginning, they explain, not an end. ‘Remember,’ one said, ‘on your birthday you are just one day older.’ Still, I sense that I am running out of time.”
Finally, Cindy Zelman’s “A Smirnoff and Coke” conveys, with narrative magic and page-turning poignancy, the rewards as well as the challenges of dealing with an infirm parent. As many of you know, I started caring for my parents in their home in 2008, when they both had strokes. My mother passed away on May 18 of this year, and I am still caring for my dad at home. Although I’m a pushover for a good eldercare story, I’m sure all of you will agree that Zelman’s tale is a powerful one—regardless of whether you’ve ever had to deal with an infirm elder yourself.