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Asheville winter submerges us, weeks of unseasonable cold expanding January into multiples of its actual duration. My beer-loving colleague — let’s refer to him as “Jim” — is in town for a client meeting he celebrated as an excuse to visit my peak-brewery town, weather be damned. His old friend, whom we shall call Kurt — some of whose money I manage (well, if I do say so myself) — has tagged along for a sexagenarian Hangover. Both wives bowed out of the trip with a set of excuses as carefully crafted as a local IPA. Jim and I make plans to drink and dine after our wispy meeting and take leave of one another so that I can collect my son from kindergarten, and he can begin beer sampling with Kurt.

When I next encounter Jim, he and Kurt are hours into their tasting tour and have bellied up to the long communal table at the Wicked Weed brewery. I wedge myself into a space between Jim and a non-English-speaking couple (German I think —consonant-tinged beer terminology like hefeweizen seems easy on their tongues.) I shake hands with Kurt across the farmhouse table, take stock of his heavy lids and irrepressible — charming, I admit — smile, the kind of face that only alcohol can paint. Kurt’s hand doesn’t as much shake mine as allow mine to rest in it, with a tingle that surprises me. More… “#MeSomething”

Ellen Carr is a bond portfolio manager and adjunct finance professor. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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One afternoon in Marrakesh, a French pilot in dusty boots came into my wife’s restaurant for one of her famous hamburgers. He’d been out scouting parcels of land vast and flat enough for his dream which was to build a flight school for women and name it after Touria Chaoui. We’d never heard the name, but in 1951, at age 14, she had become Morocco’s first pilot, North Africa’s first aviatrix. This had made her a hero to the resistance against the French who had occupied the country for over 30 years, and she spent her short life fighting for the freedom of Morocco and its women. Then in 1956, on the eve of Independence Day, she was killed by an unknown assassin and forgotten just as quickly.

Inspired by her story, my wife swore to enroll at the flight school that would someday bear Touria’s name. As if in preparation, she started flying up to Casablanca in a Cessna with a pilot friend of ours. She dressed like a 1950s stewardess, low-heeled shoes, fitted skirts to the knee. Our friend was also the British Consul and flew with a co-pilot so that he could drink himself to sleep over moonscapes of sheepherders and scrub. Sometimes as he snored, or half-consciously hummed Cat Stevens tunes, the co-pilot would gamely nod for my wife to take the yoke which she did happily before envisaging their fiery deaths, smoke and scrap metal provoked by an involuntary twitch of her wrist. Sitting straighter then and furrowing her brow, she would attempt to make her hands as dead as a statue’s — terrified, and yet I imagined that feeling of control must have been exhilarating. More… “Post-Revolution”

Josh Shoemake was born in Virginia and attended Columbia University, after which he moved to Morocco. He spent three years in Tangier, where he taught literature at the American School of Tangier and formed close friendships with Paul Bowles, Mohamed Choukri, and other local writers. At age 29, he was named headmaster of The American School of Marrakesh, a post he held for five years. He has published short stories, essays, and books, including a history of literary Tangier, which was a Book of the Month in The Sunday Times, and one of Condé Nast Traveller’s all-time best travel books. He now lives in Paris.
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In graduate school, a female classmate told me I read like a girl. We were at a house party. Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep had recently been released in paperback, and I mentioned that I’d read it over the summer and enjoyed it. “Really?” my classmate said. Her face began at surprise and then traveled toward disapproval. “I don’t know any other men who liked that book.”

Or maybe I was only imagining disapproval. She was one of those people who likes to amuse themselves at parties by playing armchair psychologist. On another night, drinking canned beer in someone’s patchy backyard, she referred to me as “one of our program’s alpha males,” a claim so absurd I did an actual spit take. A couple of months later, at a post-workshop dinner, apropos of seemingly nothing, she turned to me and said, “I bet you were popular in high school.” That time, at least, I knew I was being insulted.

It’s funny, the comments that stay with you and bury themselves deep in your pockets — small, smooth stones you can worry over in idle moments. I can still hear the voice of the boy who called me a sissy on a school-sponsored weekend trip to the North Carolina mountains when I was in the fifth grade. I can see his face too, ruddy in the cold, chubby with baby fat. I no longer remember the point of that trip, except that it was sponsored by the gifted and talented program and brought together kids from three or four different schools. But I remember walking through the woods with a girl I’d just met, a girl I was quickly developing a crush on, though at that age I didn’t know what to do with my crushes except stand near them, like a wood stove in a drafty cabin. I remember that she had an unusual name, hippie parents, and the kind of chunky, plastic jewelry I associated with much older women. I think we were supposed to be identifying trees. More… “My Trouble With Men”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00

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When my twin daughters were infants, I would buckle them into their stroller and take long, meandering walks. As summer turned to fall and then winter, we visited bustling coffee shops, leafy avenues, and frozen waterfalls. When you are about to have a child (or children in my case), people who are trying to be helpful will say that it is going to change your life. That statement was always frustrating because of its perfect combination of obviousness and obliqueness. Of course, life was going to change dramatically, but how? I knew there was going to be more love, more fear of the future, and less sleep, but I hadn’t expected how much being a parent would bring up starker realizations and acknowledgment of how I myself was parented. As I walked, I thought about how I didn’t want my girls to feel abandoned or unwanted, how I wanted to actively nourish their humanness. On these walks, I was creating our own local patch, the physical and emotional space of their childhoods, imbued with old memories and newly-created ones. In both parenting and walking, I was practicing not knowing as a way of knowing, as a journey toward knowing.

These walks and many others happened in my often-frigid hometown in upstate New York. I have possibly-skewed ideas about what constitutes “appropriate walking weather” and am not deterred by icy sidewalks that need to be gingerly navigated bitterly cold wind, or the presence of damp rain-snow that seeps deep into your bones. I am like one of those large dogs who need to be heartily exercised or it will start gnawing the walls. Walking is the way I get most of my physical exercise, but perhaps more importantly, it is the way I work through things. While walking, I can access some of my deepest thinking and feeling; somehow the movement of my legs helps open the portal to understanding. As Rebecca Solnit describes in her brilliant history of walking, Wanderlust, “walking itself is the intentional act closest to the willed rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.” More… “Walking Myself Home”

Jennifer Tennant is an associate professor of Economics at Ithaca College. A health economist by training, her research focuses on disability and mental health policy. She has written a number of articles on health economics and disability policy and has recently started writing creative nonfiction. Her first piece of creative nonfiction, a personal essay, will be published in Pleiades in January 2019. An image text essay, created with the photographer Nura Qureshi, was published in July 2018 in A VELVET GIANT.

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“The medium is the message.”
—Marshall McLuhan

1. Nimoy (5:50 a.m.)

It’s a cloudy August morning just after sunrise, and my family and I are speeding about a hundred miles west of London in our rental car, bisecting the Salisbury Plain on the A303. Giant figures the color and heft of elephants appear on a treeless green hill, and an instant snaps before I recognize what they are. “Stonehenge! Hey, is that Stonehenge?” my son asks, my partner swerves as he takes a look, and I answer with a choked up, “Yes!” Latent emotions flood my system with embarrassing force, like I’ve run into a love-defining first crush.

The big stones are gathered in a circle as if around a watering hole, a campfire, some leaning into each other, others toppled over like they’ve had a few too many. I’m seeing them for the first time in person, and their jagged outline seems both familiar as my own hands and mildly hallucinated, as if the site had appeared from a distant universe made suddenly material — a fragment of a 5,000-year-old world.

Who built Stonehenge, how did they do it, and why? As a kid, I’d adored Stonehenge for these unsolved mysteries that had cleverly perplexed adults for so long, as if it were a benevolent entity visiting us continuously from the deep human past, wishing we could understand its heavyweight, three-dimensional language. I’d absorbed as revolutionary fact the beloved shlock 1970s TV documentary show, In Search of . . . the Mystery of Stonehenge, in which host Leonard Nimoy reported that the site was built as a mystical astronomical clock, whose time we could now tell using the most cutting-edge, van-sized computers (the results, I’m sorry to note, were a little off — but more on that later). More… “Setting Stonehenge”

Megan Harlan is an essayist whose work has appeared in AGNI, Colorado Review, Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Common, among other journals, and won the 2018 Arts & Letters Prize for Creative Nonfiction (judged by Joni Tevis). She is the author of Mapmaking (BkMk Press/New Letters), awarded the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. Her travel writing and book reviews have regularly appeared in The New York Times, and her poems have been published by Crazyhorse, TriQuarterly, American Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Daily, and PBS Newshour. She holds an MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program and worked as a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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I wound up hiking Mt. Brandon by accident. But it is an accident in the same way a traveler stumbles on ruins he didn’t know he was looking for. On Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, they say you don’t get lost, you discover. And wherever you go, someone has been there before, walking.

So it was with me. While meandering along Slea Head Drive, stopping to take in the coastal views and ruins, I passed the sign for Mt. Brandon. It was late afternoon, still lots of daylight left. No need to return to Dingle just yet. So I turned around and followed the sign to the foot of the mountain.

All day I saw it looming over the peninsula, snow on its flanks, peak in the clouds, a presence. At the trailhead, the gentle slope looked enticing. I could start walking up the trail right now, I thought, the way people have done for hundreds of years.

I came to Dingle because of a book I read many years ago. Honey from Stone: A Naturalist’s Search for God, by Chet Raymo. In eight essays, named for the canonical hours, the author tries to reconcile the many evidences of historical faith on the peninsula with the findings of modern science. He looks deep into geological time on the Dingle coastline, ponders early Christian and pre-Christian ruins, tells the tales of the land, and goes stargazing. Through it all, he walks and walks, and these meditative hikes stayed with me. More… “Climbing Brandon”

Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, is an adjunct lecturer in math, astronomy, and physics. He is the author of two books of nonfiction: a humorous intro to the universe, called The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos and a lyrical prose compendium designed to raise awareness about the biodiversity crisis, called Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction ReaderHe likes to go hiking and kayaking and to dance the Argentine tango. He can be found online at danielhudon.com @daniel_hudon, and in Boston, MA.

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There we sat, Mom and I, side by side on the piano bench. A mirror on the panel above the keyboard reflected our fingers, perched to perform. Deadly piano-playing duo? Not quite. You see, I had decided to teach Mom to play the piano. She was in her mid-50s; I was 13.

Perhaps a grade eight history-teaching project had infected me with the teaching bug. More likely it was connected to Dad’s second bout with cancer. At the hospital, the radiation had zapped his tumor. Now he was back home and had returned to work, but Mom and I were left with the aftermath of his life/death ordeal. We needed a diversion to keep us sane in this sudden change to supposedly safe routine. Besides, my music credentials were impeccable — five years of learning Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on our pink Roxatone-coated piano.

“FACE,” I pointed to the white keys straddling the middle of the keyboard, “That’s middle C.” I followed the methods of my own piano teacher, Miss Garlick.

Every Saturday morning at ten a.m., I walked four and a half blocks to private lessons in Miss Garlick’s basement studio. Despite her name, she exuded sweetness and competence when her fingers flew along the piano keys of her black upright or black baby grand. Her pink puffy cheeks and short grey hair gave her the appearance of everybody’s grandmother. More… “Don’t Look Down”

Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance memoir and fiction writer, writing instructor, blogger, book reviewer, editor, and actor. Sharon was Writer-in-Residence (2009 to 2014) with the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch, currently is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Toronto Heliconian Club, and runs the East End Writers’ Group. Sharon writes the Beyond mystery series. Her latest mystery novel is Beyond Faith. Visit Sharon’s website https://samcraw.com/ and her author blog https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/.

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I knew Walden was a dangerous book from the first few pages.

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad” I read, “and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

I remember looking up when I read these words to see if anyone was watching me. I was alone, sitting in the English Resource Center, which was a small library controlled by the English teachers in my high school. On most days, there were a handful of students hanging around — all members of an unofficial clique of mostly freshmen and sophomores who liked reading and discussing books. This is where the literary magazine Savannah was cut and pasted together, literally, twice a year, and where six of us hatched a school newspaper in our sophomore year. Kids came to the ERC to read, hang out, think revolutionary thoughts, and practice our best avant-garde poses. There were several second-hand couches and chairs, which together formed a sad little lounge area; an adjoining office with a mimeograph machine, typewriters and filing cabinets; and of course, the books, which were displayed in several creaky free-standing bookshelves that leaned forward from the white-painted cement-block walls, threatening to collapse into the center of the room from the sheer weight of intellectual curiosity. The shelves were jammed with novels and literary nonfiction — some philosophy and history too — and the air in the ERC always carried a faint whiff of paperback, that mouldering acidic smell that any collector of books will immediately recognize. I had thumbed through nearly all of these books, discovering for the first time names like Hemingway, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. More… “Steal This Book”

Daniel Vollaro is writer and teacher of writing whose fiction and nonfiction has been published in Boomer Cafe, Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Crania, Creo, Fairfield Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Paperplates, and Timber Creek Review.

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Returning to the States after two years in Poland – during which I had married, taught English, and witnessed the rise of Solidarity and the imposition of martial law – I suggested to my wife that we live in Philadelphia.

I had always liked the city, not least because I owed my existence to it. Somewhere in its folds in 1941, my father, a student at Penn Law School, met my mother, a nurse at the Children’s Hospital. As parents, upriver in New Jersey, they introduced my brothers and me to the zoo, the Franklin Institute, Connie Mack Stadium, Elfreth’s Alley. Years later, as a student at Villanova, I took the Paoli Local in to watch Big Five basketball at the Palestra and, one memorable evening, strippers at the Trocadero Theater. In my junior year I bought my first pair of round tortoiseshell glasses – the same style I wear today – at Limeburner Opticians on Chestnut Street. More… “Out of Philadelphia”

Thomas Swick is the author of three books, the most recent being The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them. His work has appeared in numerous national magazines and literary quarterlies, and in six editions of The Best American Travel Writing.

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It began in the 11th grade in Dr. Hannum’s class on the 19th-century British novel. I was already a Dickens fan. I had read David Copperfield in the tenth grade and liked it so much that I spent the summer between tenth and 11th grades reading Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. But it was Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native that tipped the scales. I had bought the book for the course so that particular copy I already owned. By the time we had finished reading it, I wanted to own other books like it. Trollope, Thackeray, Austen, Meredith, the Brontës, all the great British novelists who wrote those tomes with complicated, melodramatic plots and dozens of idiosyncratic characters. Whenever I needed a refuge from 20th-century agnst, I would step back into Jane Austen’s Netherfield Park where men wore frock coats and pursued vaporous women, to Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers where determined clerics and their ambitious wives maneuvered for power and influence in a rural English diocese, or I would join Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they tracked their arch enemy Professor Moriarty through London’s fogbound streets. I wanted those books. I needed those books. More… “A Not-So-Curious Fascination”

John Capista is a reader who loves to write and a writer who loves to read. He reads, writes and resides in Drexel Hill, PA.

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