Weekly Featured Essay
In this week’s featured essay, Kelly Garriott Waite weaves together music, her father’s musicianship, and the heartbreak of mental illness.
by Kelly Garriott Waite
The picture, taken before color photography was ubiquitous, is gradations of light and dark, bright and shadow. In it, my father straddles a three-foot log, a jagged vertical crack down its center like a lightning strike. The bark is rough and covered in places with moss. The grass surrounding it is mostly short and neat, as if the log had been dragged to this space specifically to make a seat for my father. But it can’t be comfortable: Dad’s right leg bends back, the toe of his shoe dug into the ground as if for purchase. His left leg is forward, his heel pressed into the grass. His pants—the seventies equivalent of Dockers–are sharply creased down the center. He wears a button-up shirt, untucked, and Converse tennis shoes, their dark laces loosely tied. Dad holds a five-string resonator banjo, its round drum resting on one leg. His smiling face is in profile, that characteristic dimple in his cheek as he looks at the middle finger of his left hand, pressed behind the D string’s third fret.
by Sarah Belliston
Ever since my son Jack could walk, he’d head to my bookcases and pull the books from the shelves into a pile. Sitting there like a hen hatching chicks, he’d pick a thick volume and set it on his outstretched legs. He’d turn it sideways so the weight of the book rested on his feet and the cover opened into his lap. Then his dexterous middle fingers would run along each side of the book, catching just one page, and flip it down. One by one. Over and over. When the book was finished, he’d turn it around and repeat the process. My family joked that he was reading; I joked that he loved books as much as I did.
At eighteen months old, a team of doctors diagnosed Jack with autism spectrum disorder.
My father was a mathematical genius. He could calculate long columns of numbers in his head in a flash, count cards at a Las Vegas blackjack table, and estimate the number of pennies in a jar within, well, a few pennies.
I, on the other hand, can barely operate a calculator and cannot convert kilometers into miles.
Yet when I think of my father’s life, it is through numbers that I can best recount his story.
by Gary Fincke
I was sixteen the first time I was inside a police station. My mother took me after I received my first traffic ticket.
My violation was making an illegal U-turn around a median strip at the end of the block where my father’s bakery was located. I’d made that turn every Friday after I finished my shift at the bakery, working until 5:45 a.m. when I then drove the station wagon back home and gave it to my mother to drive to the bakery and open the store at 6:00 a.m.
But that Friday, because I was scheduled to take the SATs Saturday morning, I’d worked from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. like I’d done when my mother had picked me up in that station wagon every Friday from eighth to tenth grade. She’d made that U-turn every time and so did I, completing it, this fateful night, while a police car sat at the light.
“Whose name is on that ticket?” my mother said when I showed it to her. She was in her pajamas, but she buttoned a coat up over them and slipped on a pair of shoes while I tried to make out the signature.
by Danusha Goska
Now, see, if I were a true and deep artist, I would look at my cancer scar and write a poem or sculpt something uplifting. I’d create art like that famous black-and-white poster by poet Deena Metzger, the one where she is naked, arms stretched against the sky. You see her breast cancer scar, now a tattoo. One of the most stunning, generous, and brave images I have ever seen.
As it is, I look at my scar and think, “Duct tape.” I am a spinster with no man of my own. I’m related to lots of men—brothers, uncles, cousins, nephews—who would, in accord with my family’s tradition, not pee on me if I were on fire. As a man-less spinster I use a lot of duct tape. It really does fix everything, and anything duct tape can’t fix is not worth salvaging. So, yes. I look at this mess of a scar and think, not poem or essay, but, rather, “Duct tape.”
by Carl Schiffman
By early January of 1952 I had a new after school job, this time for the Composing Room, a print shop on West 46th Street. The High School of Performing Arts was just next door. I worked picking up and delivering layouts, proofs, and revised proofs of advertisements composed by printers working at giant linotype machines and from wooden boxes of hand‑set type in a bright noisy space on the far side of a counter to which we messengers would be called to be assigned our trips.
I was generally given three or four good‑sized manila envelopes to deliver and about as many pick‑ups to make, written out on separate slips of paper. Deliveries were usually made to a receptionist and pick‑ups too, would often be waiting for me at her desk. I wouldn’t have to say a word. Other times I would be sent beyond the reception area to contact a specific individual or department. I took particular pleasure in those occasions, especially once I had begun to learn my way through the frequently labyrinthine interior offices.
Edge of Obsession
If I told you that when I was a kid I used to double numbers over and over, 2-4-8-16-32 until they became page-crossing monsters lined up in identical pairs, you might say “Man, that’s pretty OCD.” I used to collect license numbers, too, peering out the windows of our station wagon and copying them into the green lines of a journal my dad had given me. But that was mainly to feed a fantasy of telling baffled police that yes, as a matter of fact, I did know the plate number of that blue Gremlin, getaway car in the crime of the century.
Nerd hobby or superhero daydream, whatever that was it didn’t last. I must have tired of writing numbers in rows and not solving crimes. But I still recall old addresses and phone numbers and can recite pi to fifty places, which friends consider amusing or strange depending on their own relationship to numbers. And I have my habits like anyone. In coffee shops I always order a double espresso, because why tempt the writing gods unnecessarily, and I always put new groceries behind old, fresh towels at the bottom of the stack. These are probably relics of a college stock boy job, I tell myself. On the way out the door I always pat my pockets for the holy trinity—keys, phone, wallet—but I don’t do it ten times. Maybe three.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Janitor
I’ve burned human feces on remote outposts, I’ve dropped bombs down mortar tubes, and I’ve rushed out to inner-city murder scenes late at night. I’ve been told by stern-faced cops I needed to “get the hell out of here now” or I’d be arrested. I’ve been singed by the pulsing heat radiating off a 1,600-degree Fahrenheit steel slab in a hot strip mill; burning fiercely like an indoor sun, the steel’s heat was enough to make me stagger back. I’ve live-broadcasted vacant house fires where billowing, black smoke choked the whole block. I’ve been followed by police cruisers as an intimidation tactic after reporting on city council meetings. I’ve been shot at and cursed at. Readers have left me rambling, profanity-laced voicemails; prisoners have sent me long, discursive letters in chicken scratch handwriting.
One could say I’ve had some interesting jobs.
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.
Winter/Spring: Volume 7, Issue 1 New Issue Released!
Twenty-two essays from Volume 7, Issue 1.
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.
Issue Reviewed at NewPages
Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.