October 15, 2013 | by Geoff Bendeck
Just beyond the Sarah Lawrence Library there is a patch of earth where young children play. They bounce into each other, ricocheting off in all directions, exploring their new world, digging into the ground incessantly with plastic buckets, scoops, and rakes. I wonder if they are aware of what they are doing. We are constantly sifting through the dust of the past. Annie Dillard said, “We arise from dirt and we dwindle to dirt and the might of the world is arrayed against us.”
A little boy, his hair a cropped mohawk, wipes his muddy hands on a bright orange shirt. Next to him a little blond girl rakes calmly at the giant mound of earth he excavated. Then without warning they toss down their tools and are off chasing something out of view. A new boy and girl move in and take their place, digging.
When I was a child my father told me a story about growing up in Trujillo, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. The story was about the day he lost his sneakers gambling marbles with the Garifuna Indians, who lived in thatch huts right on the beach. Read More »
October 10, 2013 | by Simon Akam
At the end of last year I returned to England after two years working in West Africa. In my bedroom at my parents’ house in Cambridge I encountered my old diaries. They sat in that ancient space alongside a photograph of my intake at Sandhurst in the year I spent in the army before university, and a first edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom that my father once gave me. I was twenty-seven and uncertain of what I wanted to do with my life; I hoped reading my written record might give some better idea.
Reading the diaries in public garnered me strange looks on the London Underground. When a woman inquired I emphasized that that the handwriting was my own; I was not perusing another’s journal without permission. The process took about two months.
My oldest journal is a 1992–93 “mid-year” diary manufactured by a firm called Dataday. After a four-year hiatus, a series of page-a-days produced variously by Collins, Dataday, and WH Smith begins in 1996 and runs until 2002. Next come exercise books, one sheathed in a tan leather cover inset with porcupine needles, and a tranche of Moleskines. The final shift in format begins three volumes from the end of the archive. The books become larger; eight by eleven inches. They are bound in quarter leather and the covers are marbled. The first bears in gilt script Simon Akam and سيمون أكم , which is a rough transliteration of my name is Arabic. New York 2008 appears further down. In short, a slightly embarrassing trajectory of increasing literary pretension.
I first kept a diary in the summer of 1992, when I was six years old. I imagine it was a school project, a record-of-your-holiday-please, which in our familial case was to Brittany in northern France. My writing at this stage is wholly descriptive.
Thursday 16 July 1992
at school in the morning I did a jigsaw and in the afternoon I palys [sic] with clever sticks and after school I went canoeing with P palyed [sic]
The real, day-to-day effort starts four years later, at ten.
Monday 1 January 1996
I still can’t get to grips with the fact that ’95 has ended, it went so fast. T. H. … came round and rattled on about his Christmas presents, we showed him the end of the The spy who loved me and he piped down, probably scared stiff. In the afternoon Daddy and I fitted my bike computer, the black tape wound around the front forke [sic] to secure the wire gave the bike a mean look. We watched the worst Bond movie I’ve ever seen, On her Majasty’s [sic] secrat [sic] service.
I do not know why my diary began when it did, in the dead time of New Year before the Christmas decorations came down. Whatever its inception, that daily diary persists, with periods of greater and lesser enthusiasm, for seventy-eight months. It peters out entirely in the summer of 2002, when I have just turned seventeen. The last, rather embarrassing entry is scrawled as follows:
Friday July 26 2002
Pulled [British slang for made out with] F. H. in a punt [flat-bottomed boat propelled with a pole] on the way to Grantchester. [Photogenic village outside Cambridge, once haunt of poet Rupert Brooke] Read More »
October 3, 2013 | by Ross Kenneth Urken
Down among the counties that help earn New Jersey its Garden State moniker, there lies the hamlet of New Egypt. Within it is the sixty-acre blueberry patch my grandparents used to own. Drive down I-95 through Newark toward the shore to see the world flash from soot gray to Granny Smith green as you are surrounded by towering cornstalks.
Four years ago, my wife, Tiffan, and I made the pilgrimage to Jersey from Manhattan in lieu of our usual fall foliage trip (long story short: I had seen a movie that dissed soi-disant leafers and felt suitably shamed). Plus, I had heard that from back-to-school time through Thanksgiving, Emery’s Farm offered seasonal activities—pumpkin picking, hay rides. Tiffan is from Oklahoma, and I seize any opportunity to conjure country trappings.
But I did have some legitimate claim. This farm, after all, was whither the brand name “Ross da Boss Blueberries” sprang, emblazoned on the cellophane securing the fruit in its green cardboard cartons. When my grandfather, Danny Passoff, retired from running a successful tomato business, he bought the blueberry farm as a pet project with my grandmother, and during summers, my sister and I would work on the farm.
Standing there on that fall day, I told Tiffan about those summers on the farm, about picking the choicest berries and dropping them into my pail—an old coffee canister—with tinny thuds. In the onomatopoeic language of Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book Blueberries for Sal, this is described as “ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk.” By July, the bushes are heavy with the luscious blue fatties, their puckered sepals folded back, mushy marbles that squish deliciously between the teeth. In my memory, that time in my life is, like Sal’s, rendered in the book’s distinctive navy-and-raincoat-yellow palette.
In McCloskey’s book, a childhood favorite, little Sal goes with her mother to Blueberry Hill, only to get lost and temporarily switch mothers with a bear cub. Sal’s mother finds her wandering child by recognizing the cacophony of the berries—“ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk”—she throws into her bucket. Read More »
October 2, 2013 | by Jill Talbot
I am driving west on Highway 51. It’s Tuesday, the day before Indie’s ninth birthday, and as I pass the city limits of Stillwater on my way to Oklahoma City, I switch from the Sinatra station, the one playing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” to the seventies station, the one playing Marshall Tucker Band’s “Heard It in a Love Song.” I’m gonna be leavin’ at the break of dawn. I rarely listen to the song now, though sometimes when Indie is in the car, I’ll let it play, even sing along, assume the next time she asks me why he left, I can say, “You know that song, the one about the guy who never had a damn thing but what he had, he had to leave it behind?” She’ll know the song. So many times, when she’s singing along to Ambrosia or Bread, Jackson Browne, especially America, in the car, I ask her how she knows all the words to those long-ago songs, and she always has the same answer, “You sing all the time.” He used to tell me that, too. I change the station to NPR.
I recognize a familiar voice:
The American family has changed. The nuclear family in the house across the street is still there, but different kinds of families live on the block, too: unmarried parents, gay parents, people who choose not to have children at all and, of course, single parents.
A new Pew Research poll asked Americans about these trends and found almost 70 percent believe that single women raising children on their own is bad for society.
Of course, there is a wide array of single mothers. Some women choose to raise children by themselves. Others find themselves without a partner through divorce or abandonment. But when seven in ten believe this is bad for society, it makes you wonder.
So we want to hear from single mothers today. How do people treat you? Tell us your story. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
I grip the steering wheel and glance at my cell phone in the cup holder. I keep my eyes out for a rest stop. Read More »
October 1, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.
“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”
“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”
“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”
“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”
“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”
“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.
“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!
I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances. Read More »
September 25, 2013 | by Abigail Deutsch
My acquaintances rarely call me, but their pockets and purses ring me up faithfully. So it is for the Abigails and Aarons, the Abdullahs and Aaliyahs, A. A. and AAA—and one mustn’t forget the Yaschas and Yankels, the Xenas and Zinos. We alphabetical extremists, we who crown and conclude your contact lists: we aren’t a call away so much as a few unintended nudges. Perhaps your finger, seeking lipstick, flicks the “Contacts” key, and your phone highlights the earliest entry—dear old Abelard!—and your knuckle strikes “Call.” Perhaps, in the thick of all that accidental action, your pinky pokes the “Up” button, taking you to the list’s final entry: then it’s cousin Zabrina you’ve piped into your life.
Not to alarm you; not to suggest that, at this very minute, an army of Abners and Zilpahs are listening to their cell phones with unseemly interest, picking up on secrets you had never meant to share. No, it’s far more likely we’re hearing whish-whoosh, whish-whoosh: the song of your stride.
Is there anything quite like the pocket dial? Does any other form of social intercourse invite us—actually, mandate us—to spy on our acquaintances?
Mandate? you ask. Yes, mandate, at least for a few moments. “Hello?” we say, and listen. “Hello?” we say again. And hear the background music of our friends’ lives: the slamming doors, the roaring traffic, the whish and the whoosh. Where is he walking? we wonder. Why is she shouting? And we never find out. Unless, of course, we keep listening.
Which I don’t. Hardly ever. Only under duress. When, for instance, years ago, the enigmatic and taciturn youth I had recently started dating called me while he was catching up with his mom. This isn’t invasion, I told myself guiltily, as I noted his thoughtful inquiries and nodded with approval. This is research. This is good for the team. Read More »