On Football and the Pledge of Allegiance

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Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 | 594 views

My news feed is plastered with the face of Colin Kaepernick, a player for the 49’ers who quietly decided to sit during the national anthem. Outrage about his refusal to stand is broadcast across platforms: on television, in periodicals, in the comments sections of social media posts.

When wading through the vast swamp of news items and opinions delivered to my screen, it is usually my instinct to avoid any football related content. But my eye glimpsed a post from a friend of mine who shared Kaepernick’s statement about the incident:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses

black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it

would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street

and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

And in the few seconds it took to read those words, Colin Kapernick won my attention.

*

Since 1977, North Bergen High School’s football team has won six state championships in New Jersey. The number would have been seven, but after winning the 2011 championship they had their title stripped when it was discovered that they had been using unethical recruiting methods (the team’s two star players were tenants of coach Vincent Ascolese, who coerced them to transfer to NBHS to play for him).

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The Bastard Who Last Cut My Hair

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Monday, August 24th, 2015 | 1,620 views

It’s always been six or eight weeks since my last cut, and I always want the same thing, which is to get my hair back to the way it was when I last had it cut by DeWayne. DeWayne mans the chair next to the bastard in this three-chair barbershop in Oak Grove, Oregon, an unincorporated suburb of Portland that doesn’t boast a multitude of options, so I have to take what I can get. Of course, my solution should be to get my hair cut by DeWayne every time, but this is one of those antiquated places that doesn’t take appointments, which means my options are to come through the front door, declare “I’ll wait for DeWayne,” have a seat, and wait for DeWayne to finish his last charge. Or I can just get my hair cut by the always-available John.

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These Two Lanes Will Take Us Anywhere: Alice Munro and Bruce Springsteen

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Monday, August 17th, 2015 | 1,479 views

Having just published my first book, I am often asked about my influences. I have a great list to rattle off: Lorrie Moore, Jo Ann Beard, Laurie Colwin, Justin Torres, Amy Hempel, Junot Diaz. I could go on. But, if I had only two pedestals to erect, I know who they’d be for: Alice Munro and Bruce Springsteen.

Although I am from New Jersey, my love of the Ontario writer Alice Munro long predates my discovery of Freehold’s own Bruce Springsteen. Given my feelings toward my home state during the period I was first learning about music—like many people, my middle and high school years—it follows that I would have dismissed Springsteen as resoundingly not for me. Munro, on the other hand, I came to early. She was the first author I ever learned about who eschewed novels, publishing only story collections. Some consider Lives of Girls and Women or The Beggar Maid to be novels, but in those books, each story works separately, while still coming together to comprise a whole. Munro’s protagonists are primarily, if not always, girls or women. They are not always, or even often, beautiful. She not only allows tragedy to befall her characters, but she allows them to commit horrible acts. In other words, she lets them be real. I aspire to her bravery in this regard; I still find it hard to reveal the ugliness in my characters. Even more aspirational than her plot or her characters, though, are her sentences.

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Breaking Up With My Book

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Monday, June 1st, 2015 | 2,755 views

In the vernacular of writers on social media, a book is “born”—conferred with legitimacy and a life separate from its creator—on the day that it is published. The metaphors of gestation, labor, birth come easily, and everyone seems to agree that the big day arrives not after the first sentence has been written, or the last, but on the day a book becomes widely available to the public. What then of the manuscripts that never make it into print? What do we call a book that’s never been born?

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Notes on Poetry in the First Year Abroad

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Monday, December 8th, 2014 | 1,660 views

PHOTO COURTESY ERIK KENNEDY The image  is of a transformer in Heathcote painted by a local artist named Paul Deans with a scene of an early Cantabrian settler (that's the demonym for a person from Christchurch) and some native birds and flora. Get it? A man in a strange new land?

‘Perhaps to be in between two places, to be at home in neither, is the inevitable fallen state, almost as natural as being at home in one place.’ —James Wood

When I was thirteen, in the summer of 1994, the fragments of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter over the course of a week. Like a lot of young anoraks, I was excited by this. A world vastly bigger than my own, subject to forces I could barely comprehend, and then only by comparison with terrestrial examples (x tons of TNT, y number of Hiroshimas): that’s the stuff! I knew that what I was seeing was important for science, but it was not directly relevant. The explosions in the atmosphere of Jupiter were exquisite and amazing, but, importantly, the explosions there had nothing to do with me. I didn’t live there. I could relax as I watched.

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A Poet on Bombing Or Pretending to be a Comic

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Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | 1,999 views

People aren’t often taught how to deal with failure. Even watching interviews with famous people chat about missteps doesn’t seem to hit home because we never saw that part. Their disappointments seem cute as opposed to career questioning. For writers, failure is most evident on stage. Unlike piles of rejection slips one can stuff in a draw, light on fire, or scrapbook, in front of a crowd, a person has to respond. They must get comfortable with silence or deal with too much noise. This too is true of comedians and is why I sometimes pretend I’m a standup comic rather than a poet. Although maybe it’s because comics are the more socially acceptable of the low-paid artists. If you tell someone you’re a poet, they look confused; say you’re a comic, they fervently discuss Louis CK. Of course, a poet bombing looks rather different than a comic, but that image is fun to examine, and it still explores ideas of failure and heckling that are necessary for any artist.

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Solitude and the Proximity to Infinite Things

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Thursday, August 14th, 2014 | 1,995 views

One of the worst things in the world is when I decide that it is now— this instant— a perfect time to sing. The song is “Cuckoo.” The song is warm, short and sweet. Heated honey roasted peanut butter in a warm bowl. It is solitary. As it plays, nostalgia boils inside my body, caves […]

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In Defense of Rejection

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Monday, August 11th, 2014 | 3,424 views

Rejection has always been a part of being a writer, of being an artist. There is something heroic in the idea of the writer who persists in the face of crushing rejection, and it’s perhaps why famous writers seem to love talking about the rejection they suffered before finally breaking through.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes using a railroad spike to pin his numerous rejection letters to the wall. Sylvia Plath’s surprisingly optimistic take on rejection letters was that they “show me I try,” while Isaac Asimov said that they “are lacerations of the soul…but there is no way around them.” Writers bond over rejection like soldiers in trenches. In “The Eleventh Draft,” an essay published in a collection of the same name, novelist and short story writer Chris Offutt describes his goal as an MFA student at the University of Iowa of accumulating a hundred rejection letters in a year. Rejection, because it was inevitable, became a badge of honor.

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