Weekly Featured Essay
In this week’s featured essay “In the Matter of My Law Degree“, Barb Howard finds power and identity emerging from a past career that never quite fit her.
In the Matter of My Law Degree
by Barb Howard
We are moving. Packing must begin. But, first, a weeding out of the things that should not be packed. The junk. I bravely start in our ersatz storage space—known as the crap closet. In the closet, along with ski boots that don’t fit anyone in our house, a loosely-strung badminton racket, a ball pump, and a clothes iron (so that’s where it was!), there are certificates of education of the type that one might hang on an office wall if one didn’t work primarily in one’s kitchen. Among them is my law degree. Roughly three times larger than the others—making it about the height of a beer fridge—the law degree stands out from the pack. There it is: ironic (given its relative size and how little law I practiced), non-reflective (figuratively, but also literally because I paid for non-reflective glass), and, frankly, with all its self-importance and Latin curlicue-ness, kind of goofy. I won’t go so far as to say the degree looks like a joke.
Birds and Beatles
by Rick Bailey
I’m reading a New Yorker article about Paul McCartney at the breakfast table one morning. At the top of the page there’s a black and white photo of him and John Lennon, circa 1965. It’s the year, the caption tells us, of Help! and Rubber Soul.
My wife and I are leaving for Italy in a week. I’ve been downloading stuff to my Kindle to read while we’re away. I’ve got enough to last me quite a while, some novels (a few trashy ones, a few edifying ones), Clive James’ Poetry Notebook, a bunch of articles from the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and the New Republic. (I guess I’m keeping it New this spring.) When language fatigue sets in over there, and I know it will, with the constant strain of trying to listen very fast to decode flights of Italian, it’s a pleasure to lie down in silence and read in my own language.
“Photo by David Bailey,” I say to my wife. Our son’s name. “How about that?”
“This article about Paul McCartney. It has a photo by David Bailey.”
From Snitch to Scab
by Richard LeBlond
I began my newspaper career as a snitch, age nine, in 1950. We lived on the northern edge of Portland, Oregon, only three blocks from the cut-over bottomlands between the city and the Columbia River. This intermittently flooded wasteland had been partially filled by railroad beds, stockyards, and disposal areas for industrial waste. To a boy of nine, it was a frontier with high potential for treasure (some of it toxic), and one afternoon I found it. Down at the foot of a railroad embankment were hundreds of advertising circulars all rolled up like small newspapers.
by James Hanna
Those who say the truth will set you free have probably never been polygraphed. I had the experience in my early thirties during a campaign of self-renewal, leading inevitably to the West Coast. After spending a decade as a counselor at the Indiana Penal Farm, a provincial Midwest prison, I felt like a bastard at a family reunion. Was it because I built on my education instead of boozing with good ol’ boy guards? I had attended a nearby state university under a blind assumption: the patented belief that a master’s degree would open the door to promotions. Sadly, the reverse proved true. Organizations will stigmatize overachievers as surely as they flag the fuckups. (If you doubt this, watch any season of Survivor.) And so I was deemed overqualified when I faced the promotion boards. One of the inmates summed it up well when I told him I was leaving. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. “Do it soon. You don’t need to be hanging around Podunk, Indiana.”
by John Repp
One of the raising-a-kid pieties to which my wife and I felt most committed before our son’s birth went like this: “No Television ‘Til He’s Two.” Not for our child that mindlessness. He’d have engaged parents, not zombies slumped in front of a screen. He’d grow up with actual people using actual language, not an upholstered purple dinosaur singing idiotic songs. He’d make his own make-believe, and we’d help. Why, we’d scarcely miss the tube, what with all the exciting and educational adventures new parenthood would bring.
After all, we’d lived four thriving years in a valley that defeated all but a few of our occasional attempts—even my prayerful antenna adjustments during the late stages of the NBA playoffs—to attract a viewable picture from the one network affiliate whose signal reached us. Despite being confirmed addicts, we usually felt better off for the lack, but whenever conversation, music, and reading seemed too much like work, we fed our jones with rented videos. On those stupefied nights, we’d lie contented in the rural dark, the twenty-five-year-old set with the Flash Gordon remote flickering its soothing light into the living room.
Lost & Found
by Toti O’Brien
There is death, and there is untimely death. They are different. Twenty years after your passing I still wonder about the appropriateness of your early call. About its legitimacy. I think of these two decades apparently stolen from you—an expanse of days, weeks, months, inexorably attached, marching forward without hesitation. They did not stop and wait to see if you’d catch up, when you slipped off board. No. Time didn’t look back.
I do. When I glance behind my shoulder I see an intricate, colorful landscape you might have enjoyed exploring . . . I wonder why you weren’t given a chance. Is there any ratio to life’s diverse spans? Any reason beyond erratic sentencing? Any justice?
Papi and Me
by Ricardo José González-Rothi
A sixteen-degree forecast for North Florida was about the only type of day one would dare wear a herring bone wool sports coat and not look out of place. As I peeled the plastic bag off the hanger and pulled it from the closet, I noticed the handkerchief in the breast pocket.
The prior summer, I had found myself consoling a despondent mother, making funeral arrangements, and sorting through my dead father’s belongings. He had owned the jacket for over thirty years, probably only wearing it three or four times. Sporting hand-crafted leather buttons, wide lapels, and stitched lining, Papi boasted about “the thick and precise weave, that it was handmade in Scotland… .” He had bought it on sale at Schlessinger’s, paying cash. It was the only nice thing my father ever bought for himself since we came to America.
MORE RECENT WORK: Like what you’ve been reading? All the fine essays published throughout the history of the magazine can be accessed via the contributors/archives page.
New Anthology Released
We are pleased to announce publication of our new anthology Encounters, which features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.
Recent Issue Reviewed at NewPages
Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.