Writings

The Biblio File September 2017 Essay: “Shattered”

When I tell people that, for six years in the eighties, I taught psychology at an historically black college near Jackson, Mississippi, they often say, “So you got to feel what it’s like to be a minority?”

As one of the few white teachers at Tougaloo College, I did feel “different”, always aware, if only slightly, of the contrast between my skin and the skin of my students and colleagues. I was mostly accepted, but something of an outsider. “I suppose I did get to feel that,” I’ve answered.

Recently, though, I remembered something that makes me question my response.

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The Biblio File August 2017 Essay: “Let Us Be True”

I used to wonder, reading a novel about Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, how oppressed and threatened people managed to carry on in a constant state of fear. When I saw them going through “normal” motions, I’d feel wary, off kilter, as if evil were about to burst through the drapes into rooms where people drank tea and knitted scarves and quarreled over petty things and laughed at silly ones. Did those people have some way of turning off the fear? Or were they just braver than I?

Recently, during our annual “Revelry on the River” reunion, I watched our family avoid talking about our country’s perilous state…

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The Biblio File July 2017 Essay: “Let Freedom Ring”

I don’t know exactly when I began flinching at the sight of an American flag. I know it’s been since last November’s election, as I’ve watched civil rights crushed and truth trampled and our beloved national landmarks turned into private assets. I know these wrongs have dealt me an internal seismic shift, leaving me off balance, angsty, scared. And I know that for some time now, when I glimpse a flag, I automatically assume it belongs to a family or business group of Trump supporters, and I check to see if there’s a billboard close by, blaring “Lock Her Up!”…

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The Biblio File June 2017 Essay: “Bustin’ Out”

Dogwoods are blooming among the cedars and alders and cottonwoods across our river. Rhodys sport clusters big as cabbages. Buds on our rosebushes are fat, about to pop. They’re doing their June thing, the one I celebrated in seventh grade Choral Music class. They’re bustin’ out all over.

We twelve years olds were bustin’ out ourselves, budding breasts, hair sprouting in new places, voices that cracked– June is bustin out all over! All over the meadow and the hill! School bored me, but bustin’ out some songs was all fine.

It was fine with me too, that year, to “join the church”, as expected before turning thirteen in our Southern Baptist congregation. The choir crooned Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, their voices as tender and soft as the beige mouton jacket I wore as I slipped from my pew and walked, anxious but determined, down to the aisle to the preacher who clasped my hands and said, “Welcome, Welcome.”

My baptism was scheduled for Wednesday night two weeks later.

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The Biblio File May 2017 Essay: “Oh, Goody!”

On the wall in the coffee room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, WA, hangs a three by three foot display in a simple black frame filled with squares, each square representing two letters of the alphabet. It’s titled “Fictional Character Alphabet Chart—Egads!” When S intersects with F, the character in the square is Scout Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”. When J meets E, we have Jane Eyre. Since there are 676 squares, many characters are obscure. The T and L square, for instance, is filled by Taduz Lemke, a gypsy in Stephen King’s “Thinner”. It is a massive project and impresses me to no end.

People who frequent the hotel know that Goody, the owner, made the chart. Goody is a character herself, who lives in Portland where she also owns the Rimsky Korsakoffee Shop. She named The Sylvia Beach for an ex-pat who ran a bookstore in Paris in the early nineteen hundreds.

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