Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (A Resurrection Artist)

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll occasionally be posting previews from the 17 stories in my new short story collection, Before and Afterlives. If you like what you read, take a hop over to your favorite online bookseller and purchase either the print book or the e-book, and leave a review when you’re finished reading. It helps other people figure out if they’d like to read the book (and strokes my ego, at least when they’re good reviews). 😉

Today’s excerpt comes from “A Resurrection Artist” which was published in 2004, in the UK magazine, The Third Alternative, which was rebranded a year or so after the story came out as the magazine now called Black Static. It’s a story I was thinking about while my reading took me across both Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” and Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus”. I’ve always been interested in writing about characters whose talents (often magical gifts and/or curses) are somehow used or abused by others for personal gain, and I’ve always been interested in cultures of spectacle (like our own here in the U.S.). This is one of my stories where those interests converged.


A Resurrection Artist

Lying here in this abandoned hotel, I have done it once again. Once every year or so, depending on my finances, I allow myself to die. It’s a way of life, a means to an end, or an end to life as a way of surviving. Any way you look at it, my body is a miracle.

Now comes the burning sensation of re-entry, a tingling that grows to feel like fire.  As I find myself returning to my body, every cell expands, flooding with electricity. Then my eyes blink over and over, making adjustments to reality and to the grade of light. I gasp for a first breath, then howl like a newborn. After this I can begin to see the people who killed me hovering over my body, their oval faces peering down, curious, amazed.

This audience has been the eighth group to kill me. It was a thrill for them, I’m sure, even though some have already seen me do this. I’m developing a following. Times are rough, Jan constantly tells me. People need something to believe in. Jan is my manager. She’s my sister, too. Improvisation, spins on old ideas, variations on a theme, she advises, is what’s needed to keep this act alive.

This act can’t die, though, even if I tried. Like the cat, I have nine lives. More than nine most likely, but in matters like this there’s always the unpredictable to take into account. So far, though, Jan and I haven’t figured out how to mess up death.

A young man wearing a dark suit says, “This can’t be happening.” I cough and spit up blood in my hands. There’s a golden ring on one of my fingers that wasn’t there when I died. This must be what I brought back this time. I try to recall how they killed me, but can only remember in pieces: a burn under my ribs where a knife slid in, the jolt of a gunshot splitting my chest open, my eyes flooding with blood after the blow of a hammer.

“Believe,” says Jan. I follow her voice to find her standing beside me. She waves her hand over my body, from head to toe. “You did it yourselves,” she tells them. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is his body, his arms, his legs, his head and torso. You’ve kept vigil beside him since the moment of death. I hope the experience has been satisfying.”

There’s an old lady whose eyes have slowly narrowed to slits. “I’m not so sure,” she says. “I mean, I know he died.  We saw the heart monitor, the flat line. But now that he’s alive again, it just doesn’t seem fair.”

A typical reaction, really. Some people are confused about what they truly want. She didn’t pay for a resurrection; she only wanted the death.

But we have their money, ten thousand dollars a head, and there are eight of them. We kept this group small since outings like this–a killing instead of a suicide–are illegal. Hence the abandoned hotel, once known as The Flamingo. The carpet, the striped wallpaper, the floor of the drained pool, everything here is pink.

“Mrs. Bertrand,” Jan says, “you’ve just witnessed a miracle. My little brother, barely twenty-three years old, allowed you to kill him so he could return to us from death. How can you possibly be disappointed?”

Mrs. Bertrand sniffles. “Oh yes,” she says. “I know. I wasn’t really complaining. Don’t mind me.”

Jan smiles. Mrs. Bertrand smiles.  The rest of the killers smile. I try, but only manage a weak sneer.

My anger is that I was put on the market

After writing about Leonora Carrington today, I was perusing Youtube and came across this clip from a documentary about her life, which also includes a filmed rendition of her short story, “The Debutante,” which is both humorous and grotesque, as you’ll see if you watch the clip.  It’s about ten minutes in length, and my favorite part is toward the end when Carrington, while being interviewed, says, “My anger is that I was put on the market,” in reference to the compulsory selling of upper class daughters into marriage during her youth.  In a world where women are still being bought and sold and controlled, I think the voice of an old crone (I mean this positively) like Carrington still resonates.

Map for a Forgotten Valley and 631

Dear Locals (and those traveling nearby) who will be around Youngstown on February 15th.  I am giving a reading from my series of creative nonfiction vignettes called “Map for a Forgotten Valley”, along with a showing of Derek Jones’ short film “631”.  Here is a blurb of what the evening will look like.  Please click on the image to make it larger.


Please come, listen, watch, speak.

Also, the image of the feral house on this flyer was taken by Tony Romandetti, photographer extraordinaire. 😉

Reality Hunger

I’m reading David Shields’ new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.  It’s a really engaging nonlinear, non narrative, at times lyrical essay, always structured by way of collage or mosaic, appropriating snippets of ideas from other writers, thinkers, poets, and philosophers and critics, arranging in a mash-up style, voices layered over one another without attribution (until the last pages of the book, by compulsion of Shields’ publisher), that approaches the American need–no, hunger–for reality at this point in our history, when it’s evident to most people how constructed our lives are, how posed and self-conscious, positioned, where the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction are fairly thin, and perhaps better for it, when we understand that traditional point A to point B narrative doesn’t suit our understanding or experience of the story of living any longer.  It’s a compelling read, and I wanted to blog about it here a little bit to perhaps start a conversation with anyone else who has read it or is reading it.

An excerpt from the NYT book review:

The flood of memoirs of the last couple of decades represents an uprising against such repression. So why have there been so many phony memoirs? Because of false consciousness, as Marxists would put it. Shields (echoing Alice Marshall) is disappointed in James Frey not because he lied in his book, but because when he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show he didn’t say: “Everyone who writes about himself is a liar. I created a person meaner, funnier, more filled with life than I could ever be.” After all, just because the novel is food for worms doesn’t mean that fiction has ceased. Only an artificial dualism would treat every non-novel as if it were reportage or court testimony, and only a fear of the slipperiness of life could perpetuate the cult of the back story. “Anything processed by memory is fiction,” as is any memory shaped into literature.

But we continue to crave reality, because we live in a time dominated by innumerable forms of extraliterary fiction: politics, advertising, the lives of celebrities, the apparatus surrounding professional sports — you could say without exaggeration that everything on TV is fiction whether it is packaged as such or not. So what constitutes reality, then, as it affects culture? It can be as simple as a glitch, an interruption, a dropped beat, a foreign object that suddenly intrudes. Hence the potency of sampling in popular music, which forces open the space between the vocal and instrumental components. It is also a form of collage, which edits, alters and reapportions cultural commodities according to need or desire. Reality is a landscape that includes unreal features; being true to reality involves a certain amount of wavering between real and unreal. Likewise originality, if there can ever be any such thing, will inevitably entail a quantity of borrowing, conscious and otherwise. The paradoxes pile up as thick as the debris of history — unsurprisingly, since that debris is our reality.

You can read the whole review by clicking here.

I can’t wait to finish it, but had to stop in here to cast a bottle into the ether about it.  I’d say this is a book that really approaches the idea of interstitial culture, art, writing, experience.

Important things

Drove north and east to visit Erie, PA today, where my writing pals Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl were visiting Alan’s parents.  Had a great several hours to talk and catch up with them before having to head back home (and them having to catch a flight back to Minnesota).  But on the way home, I strayed away from the interstate and into the rural back roads that make up the geography of my childhood and adolescence. Which I’ve been writing about lately in a course I’m taking in my MFA program at Chatham University, which focuses on writing about place, nature, and the environment.  Lately I’ve been writing these tiny little lyrical essayistic things–I’m not sure what to call them–that make use of poetic lyricism and imagery and tone to convey more than the controlled logical arguments of a traditional essay, which all center around both the rural environment I grew up in, as well as the post-industrial urban environment I moved into for college.  As I write them, I’m starting to see they may be small word objects that go together as a mosaic collage-like exploration of some of the stranger or anachronistic sites, objects, and experiences that are specific to rural and post-industrial Ohio.

Driving through the place where I spent my formative years, back into Youngstown afterward, provided me with reminders of things I’d forgotten, details and memories evoked from those details, that make me want to explore this type of writing beyond my fiction in the future, regardless of my degree being nearly completed.  I wasn’t sure, to be completely honest, what I would think about a course on Nature and Environmental Writing, but it turns out it provides a rich writing (and reading) experience that I hadn’t expected.  I also hadn’t expected to discover I’d been reading and enjoying a certain amount of that kind of writing for years without knowing that’s what it was.  This past week, for instance, we read a piece by Ursula K. Le Guin that I had read years ago, from her collection, Unlocking the Air, called “The Creatures on My Mind” as a meditative piece on human/non-human life form relationships.  Rereading that, I was also reminded of one of my formative experiences as a writer, reading Le Guin, and how–if I could have my way, and be good enough on top of having my way–I wanted from an early age to be a writer like Ursula Le Guin, who did not do one particular thing, but many different kinds of writing, for children, teens, adults, science fiction and fantasy, magical realism, realism, poetry, nature writing, essays, literary translation.  I admired how she went wherever her material took her, and explored a variety of forms.  So along with being reminded of details and memories from the first twenty years of my life this weekend, I was reminded of my early writerly desire to work in a variety of forms.

It’s been good, lately, to find myself returning to myself, as I must admit that the past two years of being a full time teacher and a half time student has scattered my energies in so many ways that I sometimes lost track of important things.

Dreaming backwards

In another month and a half it will be three years since I returned home from Japan. Some days it feels as if I just got back.  I’m not sure of what that’s an indication, other than my life became the busiest it has ever been for the past couple of years, and perhaps that’s why it sometimes feels as if I just got back.  The passage of time feels as if it slows down when we move through it quickly.  I remember soon after coming home in 2006, perhaps just a month after I came home, I was at Wiscon in Madison, Wisconsin, and my friend Karen Fowler asked if it (my life in Japan) was starting to feel as if it were a dream.  I think I nodded and said yes.  But it was the wrong answer.  It was how I was feeling at the very moment, about being home again.  So her statement made sense to me because of that, but I was out of sorts. I can see now how out of sorts I was when I returned home for the first six months to a year, really, in retrospect.  It wasn’t Japan that felt like a dream, it was America. I felt as if I were stumbling through a very foreign landscape that was still somehow familiar.  My center of “home” had shifted, the foliage of my life and the meaning attached to seasons, flowers, trees, rivers, mountains, had all changed.  I had temples in my mind, not churches.  I visited shrines, not memorials.  There were a plethora of icons from folklore talked about on a more regular basis in Japan, and many gods surrounding you in so many ways.  Coming back to America felt as if I were stepping into a much smaller world, despite it being a much bigger country.  So it was a feeling of being in a dream I was having, not a feeling of my life in Japan as a dream.  I can see now what the difference was.

I can see now what the difference was because enough time has passed, enough time that my life in Japan has passed into feeling as if it were a dream.  Enough time has passed so that when I think of my memories of being there, I see myself almost as if I were watching someone else in my memories, as if I’m reading a story in the third person.  Enough time has passed that I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things. Which was the thing I unconsciously knew when I returned to America that I would someday do, the thing I unconsciously, obsessively fought against.  I brought with me absolutely everything that consisted of my daily self. I refused to buy new clothes on a regular basis.  I still wear articles of clothing that I’ve worn out.  I have shelves devoted to housing souvenirs I picked up in various places while living there. I reread novels I read for the first time then.  I continue to make Japanese meals that I once made on a daily basis.  I learn how to make new recipes for things I never learned how to make while living there, so that I can properly taste and smell something that I haven’t tasted or smelled in years.  It is all a kind of attendance to someone who is passing away, a kind of nourishing, a desire to keep memory alive for as long a possible.  Here, have this soup.  When you drink it, you will remember the first time you had it at Masako’s apartment.  Here, wear this sweater. It will remind you of the store in which you purchased it, and the word of welcome used by the women who worked there.  Listen to this CD.  You heard that music at a festival once.  The sound of drumming, the shine of lantern light on the sweaty faces of men and boys dressed in traditional garb, spinning a wagon full of musicians and dancers through the streets.  

I have a hard time remembering Japan sometimes.  It’s difficult to access memory as you grow more and more distant from the place and the people with whom you made those memories.  But I can will myself back there despite that difficulty, with a concentrated effort.  It’s easier to do at night, when I’m becoming sleepy, and I sit back in bed, close my eyes, and think myself back into my last apartment there, remember the tiny heater that kept me warm in winter, remember ordinary things, like the canister of fuel I kept on the balcony, the smell of kerosene when it was time for refueling, the tiny burner I cooked on in a narrow hallway of a kitchen, or the deep and wide closet that held almost everything I owned at that time.  The smell of cedar in the woods around my first apartment, the feel of tatami mat beneath my bare feet.  And then suddenly there is the old man who bicycled past my place every afternoon as I returned from work, encouraging me with my learning of Japanese, inviting me to play tennis with him.  And the little girl who fell off her bike as she rode past one evening, who I picked up as she was crying, still startled by the fall for minutes despite not having hurt herself, asking in Japanese if she’s okay, hoping that a foreign man who must surely look frighteningly strange to her wouldn’t make her cry harder, and her completely unafraid response, “I’m okay now, thank you.”   The boys I ran with after school each weekday, in the sandy lot behind the school.  The teachers in the teachers office, chatting away throughout the day with one another, holding conversation over the desktops.  The cup of hot green tea that I’d find on my desk each morning on my arrival.  The first conversation I held in Japanese:  with a second grade boy who had asked me how I liked Japan, and if I missed America.  Him nodding knowingly as I told him I liked Japan but sometimes I did miss America.  The realization that he couldn’t speak English, so how had we held our conversation?  Why had I heard him in my head in English, despite him obviously speaking Japanese?  And then when I tell him, again in Japanese, that I think I’m starting to understand his language, he and his friends all raise their tiny fists in the air and cheer for me.  

Now, though, in these moments of dreaming backwards, they’re no longer cheering because I’ve begun to understand them.   They’re cheering because I’ve managed to make my way back to them again, if only for a visit.

Literary Homemaking

Being a writer, I own lots of books.  I’m sure there are probably some writers who don’t feel compelled to own walls and walls of books, and perhaps there are even some writers who have slowed down in their reading habits at some point in their life (though I would personally see that as having one foot in the grave, the same way I feel that when I see someone not engaging in what had been a usually vital activity for them any longer) and don’t have as many books coming into their shelves as they once did.  My own collection began a long time ago, when I was a teenager.  I’d always loved books and reading and writing stories since I was a little kid, but around the time I was fifteen I began buying books.  Books weren’t just another thing that came into my family’s home.  Besides myself, my family members weren’t really readers.  So when I began spending money on books and soon found myself in possession of fifteen or twenty of them and stacks were growing on the shelves above my bed, I’d sometimes overhear an aunt or uncle asking why I read so much, or a cousin would ask when they were hanging out in my room with me, “Have you really read all of those?”  Between fifteen and now, thirty-two, I’ve purchased hundreds and hundreds of books.  I’ve never counted, so I’m not sure exactly how many, but it feels like a ridiculous amount, and probably that cousin who once asked me if I’d really read all those (fifteen or twenty) books would see how many I have now and decide I was completely crazy.  Sometimes I wonder if I am too.  Couldn’t this be just one more compulsion or obsession that, if books weren’t associated with goodness and learning and information or various other cultural values, in some other form would be diagnosed as some form of neuroses? I don’t know if it’s a little overboard, and I really don’t care in the end; if it’s a neuroses, some compulsion that means something more than the thing itself, but it makes me happy, then it’s a neuroses worth having, is the way I figure.

For the past four or five years, though, I’ve moved around so often, from various places within the states, and from place to place within my city, and from the U.S. to Japan, and because of all this moving, my books have been stored in my folks’ basement, in boxes I sort of borrowed permanently from the Capital District Library in Lansing, Michigan, where I worked from the age of twenty-three to twenty-five.  When I moved back to Youngstown from Lansing, I had a bunch of books up there with me that I wanted to bring home, and these library boxes were perfectly shaped, with little handles, very sturdy, and lids rather than flaps to close them.  I’ve kept them ever since that move because they made moving my books more efficient and easy.   Now that I’m in my house and I’m settled (and still settling, really, day to day, because it takes me a while to sink down into a place, even just a change in house from an apartment on opposite sides of the city) I decided I should bring all those books I’d been storing with my folks to my new place.  I’d had some books in here with me since I moved in, but really, probably no more than fifty or sixty, and that’s just not enough.

So I drove out to my parents’ place this afternoon and borrowed my dad’s truck so I could actually bring all those boxes in one trip (didn’t work, I still have four left back there) and went over to a friend’s house back here in Youngstown when I returned, because I’d given her a bookshelf of mine to keep for me while I was away, and she’d been a good friend and looked after it till today, and I brought that back home too.  I’d already bought three new bookshelves earlier this week in preparation for today, too.  It took a good part of the afternoon and evening to get everything packed and unpacked and set up, and after unpacking a little over half of the boxes now, the shelves are full.  I still don’t have enough room.  So I’ll have to buy a couple more shelves to house them.  I can imagine if I keep up at this pace, I’ll have bookshelves in every room of this house at some point, except maybe the kitchen, and when I’m old and someone finds me dead here, they’ll have to pick their way through the stacks to get to my body.  I suppose there are worse scenarios than that, so if that’s my fate, I’ll take it.

One of the things I noticed after I got more shelving and have more of my books surrounding me, especially here in my office, is that the house suddenly felt a bit more like home to me.  It already felt like home, I think, but I suppose home is something that can be estimated by a matter of degrees the same as just about any state of mind or being, and if that’s the case, then it made my home feel even more like a home, and it also served to remind me of how much I’ve always appreciated just having the physical presence of books around me wherever I write.  I like having them around to remind me that I’m not writing in a vacuum but in a conversation, and as inspiration of a sort, I guess.  In Japan this wasn’t always easy–my selections were more limited overseas, and also I lived in a tiny apartment.  It’s all that less-is-more minimalism, I used to joke to myself privately in reference to my lean collection of books there, because I’d gotten so used to having stacks in every corner of my apartments back in the states.

I guess I’d gotten used to having only a small selection since I lived in Japan, though, because I hadn’t anticipated how I feel right now, overwhelmed and surrounded, but also, somehow, more myself.

Life with a house

I feel like I’m at the end of the strangest and somewhat stressful three or four months of my life. More stressful than those first few months of living in Japan even, getting used to a different culture. In the past four months, my first novel has come out, I’ve been teaching three classes at the university, one of them a fiction workshop that I dearly loved to teach but which took a lot of my energy because my students were ridiculously awesome and I wonder if it was a fluke or if it is just teaching a fiction workshop that got me so psyched and consequently I delivered a whole lot of energy and time to that class. And I’ve bought a house, and moved in. And of course have been doing a lot of promotional events around town and in nearby cities. Which is a new thing for me, and seems odd at first but I’ve gotten quite used to going to bookstores or whatnot and giving a reading or signing books. It felt slightly uncomfortable at first, doing things like that, mostly because I get sort of shy when a lot of attention is directed towards me specifically (unless it’s karaoke we’re talking about, ahem) but now it’s got to the point where I look forward to events because it’s at those that you really do get the experience of talking to your readers, which is really an amazing experience. In any case, I feel like I’ve constantly been running after a bus this fall. I always manage to stop it and get on, but I’m that guy who gets on and is out of breath and sweating as he looks for a seat as the bus starts moving again.

Anyhow, it’s been a completely faster pace of life for me. Having the house, too, is something that I’ve realized I have to get used to also. I’ve spent the past twelve years moving around from apartment to apartment, and now I have this whole place and neighbors and a street (a tiny little street, which feels like its own little community) and, and, and…it feels really different being a homeowner than a renter. And I hadn’t expected that. It’s a good thing, I think, to feel that you have a place of your own. In some ways I feel like it’s more of a shelter to retreat from the rest of life than I’d ever considered in previous places I’ve lived. The first few weeks I kept feeling like there must be a landlord lurking around somewhere, and I realized how odd it is how we come to incorporate certain presences into our consciousness, like a landlord, and how something as little and seemingly banal and ordinary as that can change your perspective and relationship to everything, or lots of things–so small but it makes real ripples. At least this is something I’ve noticed.

Noticing and feeling this, it makes me even more sad for the people who have lost their homes in recent times to bad mortgages. I have to say here, I don’t like the way this home foreclosure problem is being presented in most media. The media and the government language for dealing with this clearly indicates that it is the fault of the people who are losing their homes, that they shouldn’t have tried to purchase something they clearly couldn’t afford, and that they deserve what’s happening to them, having their homes ripped away from them by banks that have received thousands and thousands of dollars from them as they tried to hold onto their personal shelters. These mortgages are called bad mortgages because the language of them was cryptic, and most mortgage officers for the banks didn’t go out of their way to explain the way they worked in this particular case to the borrowers because if they had, most of the borrowers would have realized they couldn’t have afforded a home with a whack interest rate that demands a couple hundred dollars a month one year and fifteen hundred or two thousand a month the next. But it’s the borrowers’ fault, the tone in the media takes, because really in the end they should educate themselves about these things, right? Whatever happened to a business like a bank being completely honest with its customers though? What happened to businesses that are held accountable for the services they’re offering? I don’t understand why they aren’t being treated as criminally as they’ve behaved in this whole phenomenon, and find it just another symptom that America truly is more a capitalist government than a democracy. A government run by business for business. Screw the people. They’re there to be screwed. And unfortunately people just take it and say, That’s life.

I have my very own home for the holidays for the first time in my life. I mean my *own* home, not my family’s. And having moved around and around between rented spaces the entire length of my adult life, I can now fully appreciate the comfort and sense of privacy having your own home can give you. When I think of those families that have been displaced in recent days due to being conned by banks, I feel like America is existing in a somewhat Dickensian shadow at the moment. Tiny Tim, no healthcare for kids Bush, Scrooge, all that. This Christmas, I hope the ghosts of past, present and future visit the people–the lawmakers and supposed leaders–who have ruined great things in this country in recent times, and I hope they give them hell.

Nature and Nurture

I think people sometimes take for granted the kind of environment they grow up in, and how it plays a part in shaping who they become. Of course we all know that’s a given, that we’re influenced by our environment, but I myself can sometimes get caught up in what-might-have-beens. Usually when people get caught up in what-might-have-beens, they’re unhappy, and that’s not the case with me. I’m actually feeling really good these days, which wasn’t always the case in the past. I’m, well, pretty happy. So when I say I get caught up in what-might-have-beens, it’s mostly in an sense of analytic curiosity.

Recently I was looking at job sites, seeing what’s out there for work in other cities, as well as my own, just to see. Maybe I’m strange, but I find it interesting to see what sort of means for people to make their livings are open in the country these days, and also where those openings are, and to see where the two things match up with type of work and type of region. In Youngstown, there’s not a lot of work, though this is slowly changing. We’ve had decent job growth in the past two years, and really any job growth here is better than it had been for the past three decades. I tried looking up writing jobs, and jobs that utilize foreign languages, and education related jobs, I tried looking up editorial or proof-reading positions, etc. Things I can do. These sorts of jobs aren’t really around this place where I grew up, and yet it’s the sort of work to which I naturally gravitated, even as a kid, working with words and learning. So without lots of positions of employment for the things I could do and wanted to do in life, in my region of the country, I started to wonder if there had been opportunities to use my skills in other ways, if I had grown up in a region that did have a variety of opportunities for me, would I have thrown myself into writing stories and novels the way I did from an early age. Could I have, looking at it from my perspective on the past now, been distracted by having some other form of writerly satisfaction?

I ask these questions because in recent days I’ve been looking at that finished copy of my first novel and thinking, how in the heck did I ever write all these pages? And then I think about the second novel I’ve written, too, and the one I’m working on now, and all the short stories I’ve written that would probably fill two collections (if I were to collect all of them, that is, which I wouldn’t–I don’t dislike any in particular, but some are better than others and I’d rather collect the better than the whole) and I think with even more disbelief, What has made it possible for me to do all of this writing? Obviously the environment I grew up in did not nurture or encourage me to choose the very invisible and hard-to-imagine path of a fiction writer.

I think that I fell in love with fiction from a very early age, made-up things, imaginary things, in general, so I like to think that no matter what, even if I were surrounded by lots of employment opportunities that would still give me the pleasure of doing work that engages my natural, favored skills, I would still write fiction. I think I would, simply because it’s the form of writing that makes me happiest. But I have a feeling I might have done less of it if there had been ways for me to use those same skills in a secure job. So in my own case, I took an environment lacking in opportunities and used it to benefit a part of myself that might otherwise have gone somewhat neglected if I’d had plenty of options.

I still worry and wish that my life, my future, felt more secure, but I’m also really glad that the lack of opportunity in my community for the kind of work I love gave me the time and nothing-to-lose perspective that enabled me to spend so much time writing about imaginary people and situations and places, as well as real ones, too.

Of course, I only get this far before I then think maybe I also lack some common sense. Most people who receive an education leave this area, and I have too from time to time, for spells in other states or, in one case, in another country. But I always come back here too. Some people have asked me why, and I can really only say because it’s my home, and the same way I won’t abandon friends or family, I won’t abandon this place either. Not without trying to help make it better so that maybe, in the future, people who grow up here don’t have to leave to have a better life unless they want to. Some people may find how I relate to the world in this particular way a little, well, not sensible. And there may be some truth to that. But you can love a lot of different things and different people in this world, and for me this place, my home, warts and all, is one of the things I love.