A Sit-Down with Current Poetry Editor, Heidi Czerwiec

As we just barely catch the tail-end of National Poetry Month, we thought it might be a good idea to sit down with Heidi Czerwiec, our current poetry editor to discuss her aims and ideas for the future of the poetry section of the journal. Heidi is a poet, essayist, translator, critic and professor at the University of North Dakota. When Heidi approached her first issue of The North Dakota Quarterly, she didn’t have any submissions to draw from. She states that she “welcomed the opportunity to start from scratch” with that first issue, and when I sat down with her at Archives Coffee house on the UND campus, she stressed very much how important it was and is still to her to include a diverse range of writers and subject matter.

She said that the first issue, 80.1, included mostly models of poems that she was looking for in future issues. Of course, she leaned toward most of her own interests in writing, but also pointed out how interested she has become in less formal poetry. She told me that she is drawn to people who work in traditional, received forms of poetry but that she also has become more recently interested in poets who do really “interesting things with form and structure” in their poems. She listed prose poetry and the lyric essay as two types that she has been drawn to lately. She stated that what she loves most about these two are the intersections of prose and poetry. She also said that she tends to like poets who adapt a form to these intersections, even within their structures. Heidi also mentioned how much she appreciates wordplay in poetry. She looks for writers who “have a terrific ear for the music of language and putting words together.”

Along with being interesting in prose poetry and the lyric essay, Heidi also told me that she is interested in narrative poetry, and how certain writers are able to tell a story within the lines of their poems. Despite the fact that she has been recently drawn to these nontraditional types of poetry, she also has been trying to challenge herself to choose other kinds of poetry as well. While she doesn’t subscribe to any one style or school, what she is trying to promote are well-crafted poems that are playing with the structures of the forms in interesting ways and that have a very musical and playful sense of language.

One of the things she stressed most during our meeting was how interested in these intersections of form, structure, content and language she is, along with the fact that one of her biggest aims is to publish as much diversity in the poems as possible. What one can take away from this sit-down with Heidi is that she intends to make the poetry sections of The North Dakota Quarterly even better than it has been in the past. She intends to do this through diverse writers, forms and subject matter in the poems she chooses to publish.


Interview with Joseph Rathgeber, Author of “Not Black: An Education”

Joseph Rathgeber is an author, poet, and high school English teacher from New Jersey. His story, “Not Black: An Education,” appeared in Volume 77.1 Diversity and Its Discontents of North Dakota Quarterly. His debut story collection The Abridged Autobiography of Yousef R. and Other Stories was published in 2014 by ELJ Publications.

In what genre would you place your writing? What draws you to this?

Jeez, I hate to self-identify my writing. That’s like telling a publisher to put “Literary Fiction” above the barcode on the back of your book. It’s too wrapped up in ego and pretension. That said, I’ll do it anyway. My writing is realism; sometimes it’s gritty; sometimes minimalist; largely contemporary; striving to be subtly political but occasionally failing to do so. I wish my writing were Southern Gothic, but I’m firmly entrenched in the North. On some days I’m fabulist; on others I’m metafictional. I think of an author like T.C. Boyle who dabbles in just about everything—that’s a good model.

You seamlessly mix academic and colloquial language in “Not Black: An Education,” how would you describe your writing style?

Juxtaposing high and low, I think, is near impossible to avoid in our present literary climate. It speaks to our times, and to deny that is to be anachronistic. As far as balancing academic and colloquial language, I think that’s an attempt on my part to undermine my own speakers whenever things seem to be getting too lofty. There’s no denying the aggrandizement of building an ivory tower, and so I routinely try to chisel away at the foundation. Combining high and low language allows for destabilization, and that’s something that’s always on my agenda. I want to topple as many institutions as possible.

What can you tell us about your new book, The Abridged Autobiography of Yousef R. and Other Stories?

This collection is comprised of stories I’ve written over the past five or six years. All but two of them have appeared previously in journals and magazines, but they all have some common threads. Each story takes place in New Jersey, and several characters (or at least several characters of similar station, interests, or activities) reappear here and there, usually only in passing reference. The stories, though disparate, inhabit the same ecosystem. So, yes, there is a revolutionary graffiti crew, a disability cheat, a slew of petty thieves, a wayward youth, a pregnant cynic, an inquisitive and faithless adolescent female, a Palestinian activist, and a monkish high school basketball player, but many of them are struggling with similar problems.

Do you have a particular favorite story from the book? Why is it your favorite?

Today my favorite is “Cirrhosis of the River.” I’m proud of it because it stands as one of the few instances where I feel I achieved what I set out to do. I wanted the story to be driven by voice. The narrator (or, rather, me writing the narrator), Darlene, is channeling Lorrie Moore, for sure, and Thom Jones, too. Quirkiness, cornball jokes, and cynicism with a bite. I admit plot takes a backseat to voice in the story, and that’s okay by me. Not much happens in the dramatic present; rather, it’s a framework for the narrator to reflect and recollect about how she got to where she presently is (on a lake with her deadbeat father).

What was the hardest part about writing The Abridged Autobiography?

One story in particular, “An Oral History of IRAQ,” gave me plenty of trouble. Balancing plot and structure was difficult. I knew I wanted to have many narrators, each a distinct voice, and I knew because it was being framed as an “oral history” I would be unraveling a plot through multiple perspectives looking to the past. I struggled with making the plot compelling while still connecting the disparate views of each narrator into an overarching narrative. I was also writing from the perspective of narrators who were years removed from the events they’re discussing, so I had to account for misremembrances and individual historical rewrites and fuzzy memories. The story required no less than three global overhauls. It was a headache at times, but I’m happy with where it settled.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Instead of listing a who’s who of the humanities, I’ll just say I’m a terrible date. I have a damn hard time keeping eye contact with anyone who accompanies me to a diner. I eavesdrop and write on my hand a lot (my cellphone is too antiquated). These tidbits often provide the extra padding a story needs, seeing as how my own life is rather dull.

How do you structure your work?

I’m eager to experiment with structure more so than probably any other aspect of composition. Of course, structure can’t be severed from language, but I often try to challenge both the reader and myself to format a structure that doesn’t conform to linearity. I often look to film for inspiration in terms of structure. I’m more than willing to sacrifice an ending with closure in favor of an innovative approach from start to finish.

Can you describe your writing process?

My writing process is much more tedious than I’d like it to be. To be able to still subscribe to the “first thought, best thought” philosophy (as I had as a young man) would free up so much time. But I do appreciate the laboring aspect of the process; at times, it almost feels more manual than mental. I typically begin with a small detail or an overheard anecdote that I feel could be shaped and developed into an entire plot. I pad out this foundational idea with bits of dialogue, considerations of where the story should go, description of character and scene. Everything, at this point, is a mess in a Microsoft Word file. It’ll usually sit there for months, even years. When I get down to it and start writing, I edit as I go. I long ago abandoned any plans for meeting a daily quota; I often struggle over a sentence or paragraph until it’s where it needs to be. Once that’s over and done with, I let the first draft sit. I won’t read it again for weeks. Put fresh eyes to it, first revisions. Repeat. Fresher eyes, second revisions. Repeat until the story is where it needs to be.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m in the nascent stages of a novel—pages of notes and some field research in the mountains of the North Jersey border. A project that’s much closer to completion is a hybrid book (poetry, assemblage, epistles, and more) entitled MJ. The book explores/critiques capitalism and consumerism through a reevaluation of the industry and brand that is Michael Jordan (my former hero and god). And I’m increasingly eager to get back to writing more short stories, but being a stay-at-home dad for the time being, most of my story creations are orally transmitted over breakfast to my two daughters.

Interview with William Caraher

William Caraher is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota. His contribution to NDQ Volume 80.2 titled “Slow Archaeology” studies the application of the slow movement to his professional field. Caraher’s blog, The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, features his “continued musings on archaeology, technology, teaching, and history.”

Your essay talks about applying the concept of slow to archaeology, your professional field. In what other areas of your life do you tend to incorporate “slow” and to what result?

I am an avid walker and (slightly less committed) runner. These two things force me to take time each day to slow down and engage the broader world. My wife and I are also very devoted to our “cocktail hour” at 5 pm almost every day where we take an hour or so to enjoy a cocktail and listen to some music and decompress.  Finally, I take time every morning (usually between around 6 and 8 am) to write for a couple of hours. Most of the time, that writing appears on my blog (Archaeology of the Mediterranean World), but sometimes I spend that time working on projects that would easily get swamped by the hectic pace of the day.

In your essay you talk about a time in Greece when you and a colleague noticed certain things that may have been missed if you hadn’t slowed down. What are some things people may miss in their hectic lives if they never slow down?

I wonder whether people get so involved in their lives that they don’t take the time to notice that they are part of an intricate, dynamic, and complex  world.  I find that when I start getting panicking about how much I need to get done that I enter into the selfish spiral of work related lock down. A simple walk around the neighborhood or across campus will remind me that my life and work is but a teeny, tiny part of the larger world. It also reminds me that my work has more of an impact when I engage with that world rather than burying myself in my own anxieties, deadlines, and workflow.

Are there any technologies that are supposed to make life easier but do just the opposite?

Of course! There is a tendency to see technology as the opposite of slow, but in fact, that is not the case. Technology has saved us from immeasurable drudgery. In fact, technology is perhaps the key reason that we can slow down. After all, if there is not fast in live, then there would be no slow.

So, for example, a smart phone allows us to manage our time more easily. We can respond to an email while sitting in sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room or we can quietly reflect. The ability to answer an email from almost anywhere allows us to make the decision to fill our day with these little distraction or put them on hold. It makes slowing down a conscious choice and this kind of reflective decision making is really what slow is about.

Are there any technologies you feel make it easier to live more slowly?

Another example is the car. We know that automobiles have fundamentally changed the structure of communities, architecture, and our lived space. (Oh man, there is nothing I hate more than the two-car garage with attached house architecture that is so prevalent in American subdivisions, but at least it’s honest!). Cars have basically invented modern walking. Taking the time to walk a route that I usually drive reminds me how diving simplifies our view of the world, but if we only ever walked places, I don’t think I’d encounter this contrast and the excitement of seeing some part of our community in a new way.

In “Slow Archaeology,” you write, “The rapidly vanishing elements of its earlier craft roots … represent more than just nostalgia.” What are some of these craft roots, and what does their vanishing mean for the field?

Archaeology has long been a field that is best learned by doing. No amount of classes, books, or even field schools will accelerate the slow process of becoming familiar with the material world (although classes, field schools, and books will enrich your encounter with the material world). Technology, academic pressures to “publish or perish,” and funding limits have pushed archaeologists to do more, more quickly, and to compensate for the lack of time to analyze in the field by collecting more data.

These trends have begun to change some things in our discipline. For example, at a recent conference one of the pioneers in digital archaeology proposed rationalizing the structure of an archaeological project to leverage increasingly efficient data collection techniques. This is great, except the goal of archaeology is not data collection per se, but understanding the past. An assembly line is a great way to build a car, but not a great way to understand how a car works.

There are some cool ways that technology could be leveraged to democratize the analytical process in the field. My projects on Cyprus, for example, encouraged students and staff to blog about their experiences doing field work and living on Cyprus and to create a reflective, public record of how working in a foreign country alongside a group of  cranky old archaeologists changed how they saw the world. The public nature of the blog opened the possibility that their impressions of the island, its people, its culture, and its archaeology could open the door to a dialogue. Moreover, by taking time throughout the week to write down their thoughts in a way that could be archived with the project, we blurred the line between the “official version” of our fieldwork and those other versions that are no less significant to understanding the experience of archaeology.

You seem to have a number of projects in the works. What are you keeping busy with, and how do you balance everything?

Over the last few months, I’ve been working to help NDQ to enter the digital world! I’ve also been working on a couple book projects. One is the second volume of my archaeological work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus; the other is a tourist guide to the Bakken oil patch. I’ve also been working to develop a little press here on campus: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

I’m not good at balancing things so I stopped trying to do that a long time ago. Instead, I concentrate on enjoying the process of doing work. Writing, reading, editing, and even digital data crunching make me happy in different ways, and I let my mood and the momentary pressures of deadlines dictate what receives the bulk my attention.

What are you currently reading?​

I’m reading a few works on toxic tourism for my Tourist Guide to the Bakken: P. C. Pezzullo, Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice. University of Alabama Press 2007; Timothy J LeCain, Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines that Wired America and Scarred the Planet. Rutgers University Press 2009.

Interview with D’Arcy Fallon, Author of “Camp Wonder”

D’Arcy Fallon is the author of “Camp Wonder,” an essay featured in North Dakota Quarterly Volume 80.2. The essay explores the author’s journey into discovering her grandparents’ letters to one another, along with her own personal travel to the place that their story took place; Leadville, Colorado. D’Arcy was very enthusiastic to share more about her essay for NDQ’s author interview series.

How would you say the knowledge of Blanche’s life that you have recently gained has shaped the way you see her, as opposed to how you would have viewed her prior to it?

You know, a lot of way I initially saw Blanche was colored by the few things my mother told me about her, as well as my own feelings of being “stuck” in a situation that sometimes seemed untenable. My mother felt that Blanche was limited in her later years—when my mother knew her—because she became so profoundly hard of hearing. My mother also clearly adored her grandfather, Blanche’s husband, because he’d had the more exciting, dramatic and stimulating life. He was charming and full of stories. Blanche, at least to a self-involved teenager, was not as attractive a character to my mother. So my mother’s version of Blanche—someone who had been a youthful beauty but not, well, a real intellectual—was how I initially viewed Blanche too. But as the years went by in my own life and I heard other stories about what kind of a person she was, and read her letters, and thought about her challenges and her fortitude, I ended up having a lot of respect for her. She was tough and she did the best she could. She had grit. She was not some hothouse orchid after all.

2. Have any aspects of your daily life changed since learning about Blanche’s life in Leadville?

Initially for me, Blanche’s story was bookended by that dramatic, larger-than-life beginning in Leadville where she met Richard and then the waning years of her life, when she was frail and living in an old age home in Monterey. I saw the beauty and drama and then I saw the isolation and descent into confusion that claimed her in the last years. I saw the beginning and I saw the end, but I somehow had glossed over the middle part. Beginnings are easy, and as for endings, well, sometimes the die is already cast. But the struggle for most of us comes in the middle, in the everyday doing of things, the richness of daily work, the disappointments and losses and adjustments we all have to make. That’s where the living is. And the beauty. That is where I am. I embrace that now. The thing that had seemed so hard to me—leaving a place I knew intimately and loved deeply—turned out to be a huge blessing. The life I have now is a good one and I’m very grateful for it. I have meaningful work as a writing teacher and I’m surrounded by people who love language and learning. I don’t know if I would’ve had that if I hadn’t taken a risk. We all have a chance to write our own narratives, shape our life stories. This is mine.

3. You say that “anything could happen in Leadville,” can you expand upon your line “Somehow Leadville seemed synonymous with optimism?” Was it based off of your desire to experience some of the things Blanche had, or was it merely an escape from reality?

A lot of my feelings about Leadville are tied up in my deep love for Colorado, where I lived with my husband and son for fourteen years. When we first moved to Colorado from congested California, even though we had moved east, it felt like we had really moved to the west, the real west. We moved from earthquakes and the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge to mountains and prairies and blue skies and crystalline snow. There was land and sky and coyotes. For someone who drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic across the Golden Gate Bridge everyday and then struggled to find a parking space in downtown San Francisco, Colorado was the Promised Land. Leaving Colorado was wrenching for all of us. Moving to the fertile, low, green, wet countryside of Ohio was a shock to the eye and the heart. I had just turned 50, I was homesick, we were all trying to adjust to a new life, and I was afraid of failing. I wanted to escape. Leadville with its brick Victorians and crazy ski culture and tilting streets took on a totemic power for me. I wanted to start over again, to be at the beginning of my narrative instead of in the middle of it. I was resisting being older and living in a new place. The idea of living in Leadville became psychologically attractive to me. To be up high in the sky, close to the clouds and sun, to be back in the West—this was a very potent draw.

Our fantasies, of course, never square up with reality. In truth, Leadville is a scrappy, blue-collar town, despite some of its upscale trappings. I love that about Leadville. It’s not Aspen or Vail, it’s a real place with real working class people. It’s cold there. It gets a ton of snow. It is the highest incorporated city in the nation. I could not hack living in Leadville year ’round, despite my romanticism about it. Winter is just too long.

4. Why do you think you originally became so preoccupied with learning about Blanche and Richard?

My attraction to Richard and Blanche is like a zen koan. The dynamic of their relationship resonated with me in a way that, originally, I didn’t really understand. There’s the man who goes forth looking for adventure, the risk-taker, the romantic. There’s the woman who has to stay behind and be patient, attending to the tasks of living. He’s out on the farthest edges of consciousness, out there in the desert looking for that big score, excavating, and she’s in the jangling world, minding the store, attending to here and now. Both deep searching and attentiveness to life are required in the act of writing. We are rooted, yet we soar. We’re tethered and we wander. I identified with both Richard and Blanche. Sometimes I liked one of them more than the other, but in the end, I claimed them of both.

5. Overall, were you disappointed with your visit to Leadville or did you find what you were looking for?

I’m going to be honest. It was a disappointment to me. I thought I was going to go there and have a great epiphany about living. I was going to steal some of my great-grandparents’ mojo, just scrape it up like Pixie Dust, and use it in my own life, as a kind of courage elixir, a tonic for grief. But when I got there I felt lost. I kept hoping to feel something big, to realize something grand, but what I found were echoing streets and T-shirt shops and bars. Isn’t that the way life goes? Blanche and Richard weren’t there anymore. Not a single atom.

6. You say that you used to believe their story after leaving Leadville was one of defeat. After learning more about their lives, how do you view their story now?

I had been ready to see their story that way because I had such limited information about them and I was feeling fatalistic myself about life. He makes his fortune, wins the girl, they ride off into the sunset. And then they lose everything in the Great Depression. Boom! But after digging around I realized that Richard’s great passion in life, mining, didn’t end with the Great Depression. He worked in mining most of his life, in Arizona. He managed an extremely successful mine. He wrote a book about mining. He loved mining, and although they lived modestly, they did all right for themselves. They raised four delightfully vital, curious and big-hearted girls, one of whom was my grandmother Mary. They thrived.

7. At the very end, you say, directly to Blanche “Knowing your story gives me the courage to live mine.” I thought this was a very powerful statement; after learning of Blanche and Richard’s story, do you view your own life in a different light?

Blanche had character. She did what needed to be done. She was so courageous. After their fancy society wedding in Leadville, she moved with Richard out to Nevada and they lived in a tiny shack out in all that dust and cold and nothingness. Life was very primitive for them. He took risks, but she did too. She cast her lot with his, she partook, and she didn’t complain. Hard things came her way, like her isolating deafness, or being alone with their four children for long periods of time, but she struggled to stay connected to the people around her. That could not have been easy. She prevailed and even at the end of her life, there was a sparkle to her.

8. Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on a collection of essays right now about what it means to be home.

Interview with James Knisely

James Knisely is the author of “Riding the Storm,” an essay featured in North Dakota Quarterly Volume 80.1. The essay talks about the author’s experience as a fire lookout and compares them to those of another author/fire lookout, Jack Kerouac. Knisely was kind enough to answer a few questions about the essay for NDQ’s series of author interviews.

  1. In “Riding the Storm,” you literally are “riding the storm” that came in that night. What made this experience stand out more than others you may have experienced? Also, how longdid you end up working at Little Mountain Lookout?

In a place like Little Mountain where visitors are rare, the life of the lookout is a life of solitude. And sometimes boredom. And loneliness. Those experiences stand out in their own ways, as Kerouac found—but one like flying utterly alone through the furious heart of an electrical storm stands out in its own way, believe me!

I worked as a lookout and fireguard a total of four summers. My tenure at Little Mountain was about three months, though unlike Kerouac, I was taken down from the mountain during periods of damp weather. If I’d been left up there the whole time, I might have been as overwhelmed by the isolation as he was.

  1. In the beginning of the essay, you state that you were still searching for your voice as a novelist or a poet, so you returned to the mountain in 1961. What drew you back to the mountain to find your voice (obviously it worked!)?

For starters, it was my summer job. But it was a job that gave me all the time and quiet a writer could want. Even so, as a twenty-year-old adolescent I hadn’t yet developed either a satisfying voice for my writing or a clear sense of myself, so I found myself in a kind of love-hate relationship with the solitude of the mountain. After I’d been on the mountain a couple of weeks I could hardly wait to get back down to “civilization.” After I’d been down a few days, I could hardly wait to get back up.

  1. Have you since returned to the mountain? Would you ever go back and “ride” another storm, or was it a sort of one-time deal?

I’ve never been back to Little Mountain because, as the source of Seattle’s water, the Cedar River watershed is closed to the public. And since those days, the tower has been torn down. The storm experience was one of those once-in-a-lifetime thrills. It might be fun to experience that excitement again (knowing I’d probably survive), but it would still be plenty scary.

I ask myself from time to time whether, as an older version of my young self, I’d like the solitude more now. I don’t know. The poet Tim McNulty spent a few weeks one summer during his mid-fifties at Gary Snyder’s lookout on Sourdough Mountain. He says the loneliness didn’t get to him—he savored it.

  1. One part of the essay that really stuck in my mind was when you saw the ghostly fireballs dancingon the shuttersI could almost picture it in my own mind. Can you explain further your initial thoughts when you saw this phenomenon? Were you frightened, or more amazed at what you were seeing?

Though I had read in school or somewhere of St. Elmo’s mysterious fire, it was simply one of those obscure phenomena you read about somewhere and then forget. I had certainly never seen such a thing. So when these balls of blue fire flickered forth before my very (and just then exceedingly vulnerable) eyes, I can tell you they caught my attention! Frightened? Amazed? Filled with wonder? With awe? Terrified? Have mercy, all of those and more!

  1. 5. When reading “Riding the Storm,” I initially thought your experience seemed pretty frightening. But you said that you felt happy, and you were glad to be there at that time. Were you at all scared? What exactly made you feel the happiness you felt, while in a very dangerous and scary setting?

It was a rush! It was partly an adrenaline blast and partly the fear of being obliterated by the universe itself and partly the understanding that I would probably survive, if only because the place was designed to keep me alive and had been tested by others—presumably with success. And it was a rare experience of astonishing power and beauty. To ride that wave of excitement and terror thinking I’d most likely survive was an amazing sensation—not just a rush but a kind of joy.

  1. Did you ever imagine that this experience would be one you would one day write about?

For some reason I didn’t write about it for fifty years. I don’t know why. Funny. One day Katie Klahn of the Cedar River Education Center asked me to write it up, and it was only then that I began to contrast my experience to Kerouac’s. Until then I had mostly noticed the similarities in our experience of that beautiful but haunting loneliness.

  1. What was the most importantthing (or lesson, thoughts, etc.) you took from the experience? What did you learn about yourself and about nature in general?

I suggest in my piece that I had a transformative revelation of some sort, which I did. But I’m not sure I can give it a name. A new sense of being alive, perhaps. A sense of Zen-like paradox—that I could experience opposites like terror and joy at the same time. Kerouac went to the mountain looking for God. For me the experience of the storm was not so much about God as it was about the chaos in which we live, the natural universe. But if our quests for God express our quest for life and order, my experience of The Chaos gave me a glimpse into the wild disorder through which we pass—and which passes through us. Pretty cool.

James Knisely is a native Seattleite. His novel, Chance: An Existential Horse Opera, was a finalist for the 2003 Washington State Book Awards. His poetry and prose have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Knock, the now defunct Point No Point, Summit, and online with several essays at HistoryLink.org. An interview with him appeared in The Raven Chronicles (Vol 13.1, 2007) He’s honored to be the Novelist-in-Residence at Seattle’s legendary Blue Moon Tavern, where Kerouac was also known to toast the muse.

Interview with John Picard

John Picard is the author of “At the Creation Museum,” an essay featured in North Dakota Quarterly Volume 80.1. In it, he talks about his experiences as a “heathen” in a family of fundamentalist Christians. Picard was kind enough to answer a few questions for NDQ’s series of author interviews.

In “At the Creation Museum” you talk about people being separated by ideas. What do you think is the fundamental difference between those who trust in the reality of supernatural or empirically “un-provable” phenomena and those who take a more scientific approach?

Putting aside the question of the God gene, I think the major difference is the ability to believe in something that defies rationality. In my case, I was desperate to believe. All I wanted was “the peace that passeth all understanding…through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) It didn’t happen. On the contrary, there was only anxiety and depression. I can hear a certain kind of Christian saying, “That’s because you didn’t turn your struggle with your faith over to the Lord.” I did, though, until I was forced to the conclusion that no one was listening. I could no longer ignore what my logical mind kept insisting wasn’t true. Giving up the struggle, embracing my agnosticism, was a relief, a relief I feel to this day.

Science tells us that the earth is a great deal older than 6,000 years. Why do you think there are still people who believe this to be untrue?

For fundamentalists, it’s part of the whole package, part of believing in other things that also have no basis in scientific fact. Like dinosaurs and humans co-existing. It becomes an article of faith. Not to believe the earth is 6000 years old is to cast doubt on everything else.

In your essay, when addressing the divide in your family, you hold yourself and your secularism just as accountable as your family and their fundamentalism. Do you think this is common, or do you believe most people take an us-versus-them view?

It’s hard not to take an us-versus-them view, especially when you’re outnumbered. I certainly took it, and still do sometimes. But I’ve also recognized that if my family and I are equally accountable for the divide, we’re equally innocent. We can’t help what we believe. (The God gene may be creeping in here.) I’m not at fault. They’re not at fault. We simply have different views and values.

What advice do you have for those who experience a similar divide? 

Keep it to yourself. Have the good taste and the sense not to parade your beliefs before the people you love and care for. In my family we have a tacit agreement. I don’t challenge their religious views and they don’t challenge my secular ones. What’s sad is that so much wariness and inhibition put up a barrier to greater intimacy. Not being able to share each other’s most deeply held beliefs creates a palpable superficiality, a constant and sometimes painful reminder of what you’re missing. I will never be as close to my family as I am to my like-minded friends, and my family will never be as close to me as they are to their like-minded friends. The best we can do is to keep our differences to ourselves and try to enjoy one another’s company.

Can you describe your writing process? 

Mostly trial and error, a paragraph here, a page there, over a long period. Incremental. Painstaking. I usually have more than one story going at a time, since I am constantly running into what feels like a dead end, then switching to another story that also felt like a dead end the last time I worked on it, but that I hope, thanks to the respite, will consent to advance another paragraph or two.

Which authors inspire you?

I was originally inspired by J.D. Salinger and Vladimir Nabokov. I did poor imitations of them for years. But they did their job; they got me to the typewriter. Like many prose writers of my generation I had a Raymond Carver period. Less typically, perhaps, I also had a Donald Barthelme phase. Since then I’ve been fairly free of influences, though Kakfa inspires me in a way I don’t understand, unless it’s how seriously he took his writing.

 What are you reading now?

I just read Donald Antrim’s collection of short stories, Emerald Light in the Air. It includes “Another Manhattan,” the best story I’ve read by a contemporary writer in years. As for nonfiction, I recently read The Short and Tragic of Life of Robert Peace, a heartbreaker, and I’m very much enjoying Charles R. Cross’s Room Full of Mirrors: a biography of Jimi Hendrix.

John Picard is a native of Washington, D.C., living in North Carolina. He has an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He has published fiction and nonfiction in Iowa Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New England Review, Mid-American Review, Gettysburg Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and West Branch, among others. He is a recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council grant for fiction. A collection of his stories, Little Lives, was published by Mint Hill Books. 

“Seasons of Violence, Seasons of Grace”

In light of the increasing attention to brain injuries in football, we offer this look at one man’s love of the sport.

“Seasons of Violence, Seasons of Grace”*

By Stephen K. Bauer

Some loves can’t easily be explained. My childhood passions for fishing and tennis have faded or withered away. Though they have been revived to some extent through my kids, they are largely relics. But my love of football is different. I sometimes wish I felt differently, but I fell for football young and stayed that way; it’s a love that still burns brightly through the years.

The first fields I played on were small, studded with hazards. At my dad and stepmom’s house in Minneapolis, a tree stood at one goal line, and part of a sideline was formed by brick steps. On winter afternoons, padded in snowsuits, we played two or three to a team. We kept the plays simple, each offense grinding its way forward. Later, when I was 11 or 12, during most visits to Minneapolis I played with my stepbrothers and their friends in a triangular island bordered by the close-rushing traffic of Franklin Avenue. Further north in Superior, Wisconsin, where I’d moved with my Mom and stepdad Ray, I played in a park across the street on a field surrounded by embankments. (In winter, the depression at the center was filled for ice-skating.) A telephone pole marked one goal line, and we designed plays to run a defender into the pole, or at least cause him to slow down while dodging it so the receiver could break free. My friend Duane, who could seemingly recover from anything, was sidelined only briefly by striking his head on the sidewalk after a late hit at the back of the end zone.

I remember the solid knock of Duane’s head against cement, but I don’t recall if it was that injury or another that prompted us to seek freer expanses. From the time I was 13 or 14, we played our pick-up games on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior, on the same fields where I had served as waterboy for the college team, the Yellowjackets. In Madison, too, I played on fields with plenty of room to run. By college, the games were co-ed and I had stopped playing tackle football in favor of the “touch” variety.

While in Junior High, I churned through biographies of football players, but found myself less interested in those players who were spotted early, the “golden boys” who excelled in high school and college on a fast track to stardom. Underdogs earned a larger share of my sympathy and admiration.

Dick “Night Train” Lane, the son of a prostitute whose name I haven’t seen recorded and a pimp known as Texas Slim, was rescued from a dumpster at the age of three months and raised by a widow who had several kids already. After serving in the Army and playing Junior College football, he worked at an airplane factory but tired of the job. In 1952, he walked on to the training camp of the Los Angeles Rams, undrafted and uninvited, and managed to make the team. In his first season, he had fourteen interceptions, a record that still stands. When a newspaper column referred to him as “Night Train,” Lane, an African-American, initially disliked the moniker, feeling it had “racial overtones.” He accepted the nickname, though, upon realizing it added to his fame. The derivation of “Night Train” is not clear-cut. One source has it that a teammate, Tom Frears, was playing the jazz hit “Night Train” and that another teammate, listening to the record with Frears and Lane, pointed to the latter and said, “There’s Night Train.” Another source claims the nickname sprang from Lane’s habit of traveling apart from the rest of the team: owing to his fear of flying he took a Friday night train to the site of a Sunday game.

Tapes of Lane capture his vicious tackles; nowadays he would be labeled a “headhunter.” In fact, his predilection for catching a receiver up high with a swinging forearm and dropping him like a lead weight became known as the “Night Train Necktie.” The NFL changed its rules, trying to protect the player being tackled, in response to Lane’s devastating hits.

As a boy, I identified with the anger of those hits. I listed to myself the disadvantages and slights Lane absorbed: he was abandoned (his cries, issuing from the dumpster, were first mistaken for those of a cat), then starred at Junior College but went unnoticed by the pros, then made the Rams when African Americans rarely had the chance to play. No wonder he tried to knock out opponents; I saw his life as one long fight from which he emerged victorious.

I viewed the portraits of “Night Train” Lane and Fran Tarkenton (“The Georgia Peach”) and “Broadway Joe” Namath from a single angle of heroic pursuit, and if I’d known then that Lane’s union with the jazz singer Dinah Washington was one of her eight marriages, or that Tarkenton was accused of fraud in his later business career, or that Namath acted boorishly toward a woman reporter on national TV, these revelations would have barely altered my narratives. And even now, I can set much aside. Far from holding the athletes to a higher standard, or idolizing them as I once did, I nonetheless strive to maintain my appreciation for their grace and strength and perseverance on the field of play.

I have sunshot memories of playing football in Madison during college. As I thought of it then, all of those with me in the huddle were beset by problems: one was hung over and just gaining an inkling, long after the rest of us, that he needed to stop drinking; one was struggling in his mid-30s to finish college; two were on the outs with each other, and I’d heard they had talked through most of the night until, I imagined, surrendering to troubled dreams, only to find themselves awkwardly paired on the same team this afternoon; and I could continue around the huddle, putting myself on the list too, with my sorrow over the divorce of my mom and Ray. But all of us, I believed, set aside our cares for a couple of hours on this green field on the shore of Lake Mendota.

When I played quarterback, there were some receivers I connected with particularly well; strangely, these connections had little to do with how we got along away from the game. I haven’t spoken to Liz Polcari in decades, and even when we traveled in the same circle (Liz was the girlfriend of a close friend) we rarely spoke for long, but on the field we had a great sense of each other. Once, on a mild fall afternoon, I was being chased by a defender, scrambling behind the line of scrimmage to get a pass off rather than throwing the ball away or taking a big loss. My other receivers were well covered and not improvising to find open space, but Liz read the situation and broke off from her route to give me a lane for throwing. Running hard, just a step behind her defender, she raised her left arm in encouragement and I floated a pass beyond her. She raced under it and gathered it in. I caught up to her in the end zone, after she’d scored a touchdown, and though she was fighting for air, bent forward at the waist, she smiled broadly at the sight of me.

Though more than thirty years have passed, I still sometimes replay sequences like that in my mind. I doubt Liz ever thought of that play again—the ball spiraling toward her, the reach of her fingertips, that perfectly-timed connection—but it mattered to me then, and still does.

Concussions in football are nothing new. As a boy, I read about the vicious hit delivered by Chuck Bednarik in the 1961 title game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. Studying the famous photograph of Bednarik standing triumphantly over the unconscious form of Frank Gifford, I felt deep satisfaction on behalf of both men, figuring that Bednarik won that particular battle, true enough, but Gifford had given it his all. The severe head injury caused Gifford to miss a full season, but he later returned to star for the Giants once more.

In spite of rule changes meant to protect players, and improvements in the technology of creating helmets, concussions are still far too commonplace, and if you watch an NFL game—even if you tune in for just a few minutes—you see why. The players are huge and fast; their collisions look and sound brutal. Heads snapped back, or helmets striking knees, all at high velocity. A silence descends on a stadium when a player lies prone on the turf, unmoving, tended to by a circle of medical staff. Then a cheer rises when the player is wheeled on a stretcher toward an ambulance.

The sources of that applause seem complex. There’s support for the injured player, certainly; the applause crescendos if the player manages a wave to the crowd. If he waves, then he may not be seriously hurt, and we’re glad for that, partly for his sake and partly because any guilt or culpability on our part is assuaged. There’s also relief that the unanticipated break is over and the game can go on. After all, we want more of the grace and the hitting. More tension and release. More beer. We appreciate all that the players put on the line, every week. Charles Seifert, who wrote about his nephew’s playing career in “The Hard Life of an NFL Long Shot,” quotes his nephew, Pat Schiller, while they listen to music—comprised of “soaring chords and tribal chants”—that gets Schiller psyched up, shifting into the “lunatic” mode he enters at kickoff time: “(W)hen I’m listening to this, I imagine myself running through a primeval forest somewhere with just a loincloth on and a huge hunting knife in my mouth. I’m really looking to kill something.”

For years, I was aware of watching, for entertainment, men who would grow old before their time, with bad knees and arthritic hips and other ailments. Now it seems much worse, as revealed by recent research and high-profile suicides. Concussions can lead to a degenerative condition of the brain known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. We read accounts of retired football players who spend their lives in darkened rooms, depressed and confused, even showing signs of dementia. Dave Duerson, former defensive back for the Chicago Bears, committed suicide after battling depression. His suicide can be read as an act both of helplessness and generosity, as he left a note requesting that his brain be sent to a Boston University Brain Bank researching CTE, then shot himself in the chest to leave his head intact.

Offensive linesmen receive relatively little recognition. Centers get their due sometimes for their leadership of the line, and left tackles are occasionally highlighted; a recent book by Michael Lewis on the childhood and football career of Michael Oher, entitled Blindsided, explains that left tackles like Oher play the central role of protecting a quarterback’s blind side, shielding him from the hits that leave him most vulnerable to injury. But, taken as a whole, offensive linesmen are under-appreciated.

Without good offensive line play, though, the stars are not afforded time and space to excel. On passing plays, the offensive linesmen sag back as the quarterback sets up to throw downfield. They’re knocked backward and shoved by the charging defensive linesmen. Sometimes their helmets are slapped, or their eyes gouged, but still they need to absorb the punishment and fight to stay on their blocks, giving their quarterback the crucial extra second he needs to find an open receiver. Then, on most running plays, the offensive linesmen become the aggressors. They battle forward, or turn their opponents sideways, so that running backs like Frank Gifford have a seam to burst through. It can be assumed, seeing the girth of the linesmen, that they lack athleticism, until you see a guard sprinting downfield to make another block on a long gainer for the offense. And it may appear that not much thought is required, but strength and speed alone are not enough. The linesmen have to memorize blocking schemes and match them to the play that’s called, a choreography of spacing the field that involves all eleven players. On draws and screens and traps, they use misdirection, or intentionally usher their defensive counterpart through the line, allowing him to run himself out of the play.

The quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs garner the headlines, their personal lives splashed across gossip pages. While the stars make millions in endorsement deals, fans don’t seem to care what shoes offensive linemen wear, what trucks they drive. If offensive linesmen come to the consciousness of the casual fan, it is often because a quarterback has bought them all Rolexes at the conclusion of a season, or because their legendary appetites are mentioned—the receipt of a night out eating BBQ itemized. And if one is singled out during a game, it’s often because he’s been penalized, when a mistake—getting caught grabbing the jersey of a defensive lineman—has cost his team ten yards, often robbing an offensive drive of its momentum.

One offensive linesman who did tell his story was Jerry Kramer, author of Instant Replay. Though I grew up a Minnesota Vikings fan, and Kramer had played guard for the rival Green Bay Packers, I was transfixed by his story of life in the trenches, as it is termed. The Packers didn’t fool anyone when they ran their sweep play during championship seasons in the 60s, but time and time again they overpowered the defense. Kramer “pulled,” running down the line to lead Jim Taylor going wide, and stuck his block on a linebacker, freeing Taylor to turn upfield. They played in mud and rain and ice. More than anything, and in contrast to myself—nursing a sore shoulder or fat lip or dislocated finger with inordinate concern and worrying obsessively about developing appendicitis—I admired Kramer’s toughness. He played through many injuries, and was nicknamed “Zipper” in tribute to his 22 surgeries in 11 years. In one post­surgical photo, he lies in a hospital bed squinting at a jagged piece of wood with a carefree, cocksure expression. It turns out that as an adolescent he was running on his family farm and the splintery end of a plank, pivoting like a see-saw, was jammed violently between his legs, up into his intestines. Only years later did the remnants from that accident start to bother him.

I can draw a line tracing the ways that football has served to lift my spirits during times of anxiety or awkwardness, discomfort or fear. I noted in my diary in 7th grade that for a string of days in General Business class I had to leave the room in a near-panicked state to escape the stifling atmosphere (that we spent several weeks learning to write personal checks surely didn’t help matters). I exhorted myself to be stronger, but what calmed me in the end was to daydream about the Minnesota Vikings or to plot out additions to the “sports collection” in my bedroom. Marked by bright yellow goal posts, the collection took up significant floor space with its stacks of magazines and cards, replica helmets and other knick-knacks, team photos, and prized items like a Joe Namath photo with his signature in black marker and “Peace” scrawled across the bottom. During college, on an afternoon when I was leaving an off-campus program I’d loved to return to a campus whose memory I dreaded, I was riveted by a game televised in the hotel bar, breathing more freely as I watched a receiver being laid out by a cornerback, the ball skittering out of bounds. During college, too, my Dad and I took a break from contentious political discussions by settling before Vikings’ games, and more recently, at Thanksgiving, a friend and I avoided talking further about his impending divorce by heading to the basement to take in whatever game happened to be televised. My mom’s husband lived in a nursing home in the last months of his life, and though he wasn’t a football fan himself, I was interested to see, on a Sunday afternoon, the enthusiasm of residents being wheeled into the rec room to watch the Vikings play. A couple of years ago I was hospitalized for six days for a stomach ailment, and after the second day, upon recovering enough to commence worrying, I struggled to stay patient, to avoid falling prey to loops of anxiety over my neglected work and the strain on my wife and next steps in my treatment. But when Monday Night Football came around, featuring my own New England Patriots against the New York Jets, I was able to forget my concerns. Better yet, I felt energy coursing through me for several hours, felt the same crystalline focus I felt as a kid in a pick-up game, when the first head-clearing tackle of the day brought all my senses to life.

Football involves skill, and in the passing game, for instance, there’s elegance, as well. One of my favorite receivers, a Pittsburgh Steeler who was graceful in dragging his feet inbounds on sideline catches or in leaping high to gather in passes, has the fitting surname of Swann. And Rob Gronkowski, a hulking tight end for the Patriots, recently made a touchdown catch that reminded me of the way massive machinery can be directed with delicacy, a huge crane gripping and carefully lifting a narrow steel band; in a full-out swan dive, Gronkowski stretched to reach the ball with his fingertips, lost his grip, then regained control just before hitting the ground.

But in spite of the beauty I appreciate, there’s no escaping the knowledge that nearly­unbridled aggression and brutal violence are at the heart of the game. The ability to hit with the ferocity of Lane or Bednarik is celebrated and richly rewarded, and the willingness and capacity to absorb such punishment is glorified. Writers and fans expressed outrage when an investigation revealed that the New Orleans Saints offered financial incentives, or “bounties,” to defensive players who injured their opponents or, better yet, knocked them out. I share that revulsion, but wonder if the Saints were only formalizing an accepted code of behavior that’s simply not usually stated so explicitly.

I competed angrily, always trying to the hilt and most often not succeeding, on the baseball diamond and the tennis court and the hockey rink, and on the football field I loved hitting and did not mind being hit in my turn. I could not understand, and still envy, those who compete intensely but with equanimity, who control their emotions even in the heat of the action and end the contest neither obnoxious winners nor sore losers. For me, the exhilaration of playing the games was always tightly tied up with rage.

When I act rashly—shoving a younger cousin on the basketball court just a few years ago after I felt I’d been fouled too often and too hard and seeing his surprised expression as he flew backwards into a fence, or (already in my twenties at this time) telling a receiver to run his man near an obstacle to get free, then watching the defender writhe on the ground after striking the stone monument, then apologizing at the hospital while he awaited x-ray results and being forgiven but not absolving myself, or, twenty years ago but as fresh as yesterday, playing tennis with my uncle, who worked me into a lather by spinning and lobbing and dinking his way to victories until I smashed the ball toward where he stood at the net, a direct hit between the eyes breaking his glasses and bloodying his face, his gallant message as he staggered back to his feet (“I’m all right. I’m all right and I’m not upset!”) hardly reaching me as a shroud of self-loathing descended—the tightness of regret lingers in my head and chest, and I vow to change. And for the most part I have changed; with my kids, on fields and on courts, I’m able to relax to a great extent. My blood can start to quicken, anger still simmering even last Christmas during a pick­up football game in Minneapolis, but I counsel myself to breathe and stay calm.

One day in Madison, during my senior year, a couple of inches of snow had already fallen by the time we met for our weekly game, and it was still snowing thickly as we marked corners of the field with scarves and hats and dragged our heels in straightish lines to form the sidelines. Figuring that landings would be cushioned by the snow, we decided that, for once, we would play tackle football rather than touch. This decision immediately set me on edge, though we promised each other to not go full-speed, to not go anywhere near the head, to take it easy on those who were smaller, etc. and etc.

That day there was a new player lining up for the other team, a guy I’d never met, though I’d seen him riding his motorcycle in our neighborhood. He wasn’t particularly big or fast, but he played hard and scrappy from the start, and several times we warned him to tone it down. He simply waved off our admonitions.

Near the end of the game, our offense was driving toward a touchdown but faced fourth­and-goal; we either had to score on this play or give up the ball to the other team. Playing quarterback, I took the snap. While everything flowed to the right before me —linesmen, receivers, and defenders—I took a few steps that way to sell the fake, then tucked the ball away and sprinted to the left, toward the corner of the end zone. But the new guy wasn’t buying it.

I was hellbent to score and he was hellbent to stop me. At the end it happened very fast: he went airborne, straight for my head. I could have ceded ground, sliding in the snow and letting him fly over the top of me, or I could have just taken the hit. Instead, with a flash of indignant anger, I ducked low, and in the instant he reached me I came up hard, flipping him over me, trying to inflict pain on him before he inflicted it on me.

He laid face-down in the snow. I began to walk away. I called to my girlfriend tht it was time to go, and kept walking slowly away. Loudly, in a strained voice, I said we had agreed not to play that way. I accused him of trying to take my head off. In a growing rage, I left my friends slowly behind. I should have waited with them; I heard later that my opponent had separated his shoulder, and that he “wasn’t too fond” of me. I know now, and knew even later the same day, that I should have calmed down, remained there until I realized how wrong I’d been, that I’d acted in a way I never did in any other arena and needed to apologize, but I kept walking away.

In A Fan’s Notes, a book by Frederick Exley that’s termed a “fictional memoir,” the protagonist is a fan obsessed by the New York Giants, and particularly by their halfback, Frank Gifford. Early in the book, after ending a dismal teaching week at a high school in Glacial Falls, New York, and decamping to a Watertown tavern to watch the Giants on TV for three hours of drunken, oblivious bliss, the protagonist wonders, “Why did football bring me so to life? I can’t say precisely. Part of it was my feeling that football was an island of directness in a world of circumspection. In football a man was asked to do a difficult and brutal job, and he either did it or got out. There was nothing rhetorical or vague about it.”

When my family moved to Superior, Wisconsin, and I was striving to grow accustomed to a new home while still just getting used to my new stepfather, I was likely searching for something simple and straightforward, and the practice field where I served as waterboy at the local college, the University of Wisconsin-Superior, seemed analogous to Exley’s “island of directness.”

The coach, Mertz Motorelli, took on three of us as waterboys for the Yellowjackets, and I loved all aspects of the unpaid labor. We needed to arrive to practice when the players did, and while they hung around the locker room, blasting music as they pulled on shoulder pads or had their hands or ankles taped, we filled water jugs, stuffed pennes and footballs into mesh bags, and dragged tackling sleds onto the field. The practice time flew by, as we shagged balls for the kickers, knelt with tongue depressors on rainy days to dislodge mud from the players’ cleats, poured water for backs and receivers after they ran through agility drills, or rode on tackling sleds to create extra weight for the linesmen to slam against and push across the turf. After practice it was left to us to gather laundry into rolling bins and sweep the locker-room floor of tape, Dixie cups, and candy wrappers.

Many players treated us like mascots, or like the kid brothers they’d left behind. During breaks in practice they threw us passes or held the ball as we attempted field goals. In the locker room they gave us bubble gum, teased us relentlessly, and ordered the three of us to stand on a wooden bench learning verses to a song we didn’t understand at age 11, one that began, “Bang bang Rosie, Rosie bangs all day, who’s gonna bang on Rosie when Rosie goes away?” They rubbed our heads before games and, on Homecoming, they broke through a paper banner strung across a corner of the field, thundered toward the spot where Coach Motorelli had indicated we should wait, and lifted us high, carrying us to the sidelines while the crowd cheered.

But, as if all that affection came too easily, we focused on a player who seemed more distant. On a team that was decidedly second-rate (we won a total of two games in the two seasons I was waterboy), Gerry Uchityl stood out. A fleet wide receiver, he would be chucked and held at the line in an effort to slow him down, and double-covered as he ran a pattern, but he still managed to get open, and if a pass was thrown anywhere in his vicinity he could, more often than not, outsmart or outmaneuver or outrun his defenders to catch it. He made All-American in my first year as waterboy, but stayed hungry, always the first on the field for practice and the last to leave, perfecting his routes and catching passes from a second-string quarterback or an assistant coach if no one else was left to throw to him. We wanted to stick by his side, as if close proximity to that excellence might infuse us with more athleticism and grit, but he was inwardly­directed, merely polite. He was apart from all the rest; he even seemed to fit better in his uniform.

For years, well into my twenties, I loved fishing, and killed fish with little feeling. But then, after a gap of some years, I went out again and pulled a 15-pound bluefish from the shallows of Nantucket Sound. My young daughter met me on the brick walkway of our rented vacation cottage, marveling at the fish. But when I started to clean it, and a pool of blood spread beside its severed head, I watched her backing away. I finished the job with jaw clenched, sorry that I had not returned the fish, alive, back into the surf.

As I fell out of love with fishing, so the poet and essayist Donald Hall changed his mind about football. In “The Goalposts of Life,” he traces his path from devoted fan to disgusted observer, referring to the game as “anachronistic, deterministic, masochistic,” “an organized and socially endorsed mob ritual of licensed fury” which he locates “at the dead center of the male American psyche.”

I don’t disagree with a single word of Hall’s essay, and yet I remain a fan. I’m still drawn to the stories, of Johnny Unitas emerging from a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania and struggling to get a break before leading the Baltimore Colts to a championship, staying for hours after practice to perfect his timing with receiver Raymond Berry. Or of another quarterback, Slinging Sammy Baugh: meeting his coach for the first time, he was asked to hit a downfield receiver in the eye, and drawled, “Which eye?” Undoubtedly what I feel for the game carries over from childhood, when I was particularly enamored of narratives involving winners and losers and lay awake at night spinning the radio dial to catch games near or far, whether a North Stars hockey game in the winter or a more-staticky Detroit Tigers baseball game or the early national broadcasts of Monday Night Football.

My enthusiasm remains current, though. While the protagonist of Exley’s A Fan’s Notes may grow a tad overheated, I nonetheless relate to his appreciation for watching an excellent New York Giants team with his buddies from a high perch in the Polo Grounds: “ . . . we had all tried enough times to pass and kick a ball, we had on our separate rock-strewn sandlots taken enough bumps and bruises, to know that we were viewing something truly fine, something that only comes with years of toil, something very like art.”

My love for football has grown more complicated, especially now that the sport is facing a reckoning, with the rules and perhaps even the culture of the game needing to change in response to the growing evidence on head injuries and their aftermath. But if the game’s intensity is tempered, I’m not so sure I’ll care for it anymore.

Each year when the August nights start to cool, I search the basement for a football and head to Payson Park, a few blocks away, with whoever can be cajoled along, throwing post patterns, curls, and square outs. I remember an icy afternoon in Superior, how I managed to stay close to a quick and shifty receiver. The pass came in high and he jumped, barely grazing it with one gloved hand. I bent forward and made the interception with my fingertips just before the ball hit the snow, stumbling and then heading upfield.

And when the Patriots open their season in early September, any mixed feelings are set aside for the moment. I pace before the TV, waiting for the action to begin.

*Appeared in NDQ Vol. 79.2 and used with permission of the author.

Meet the Interns: Isabelle


My name is Isabelle DeGayner and I am a junior at the University of North Dakota. I am an English major with a focus on editing and publishing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved to read and write, so there was never a question in my mind as to what I wanted to do with my career. During the fall of my sophomore year, I studied abroad in London at the University of London, Birkbeck where I was able to explore deeper into the literary world, and in turn, fall even more in love with it. While I was abroad I had the opportunity to travel all over Europe and can’t wait for another opportunity to do so. A few of my favorite writers are Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf. Being an intern at NDQ has been amazing so far, and I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer!

Interview with Dee Redfearn

Dolores (Dee) Redfearn is the author of “Paper Cut,” the first essay featured in the current issue (Vol. 80.1) of the North Dakota Quarterly. Her essay is about her struggle with necrotizing fasciitis, which she defines in the essay as “an insidiously advancing soft-tissue infection of the flesh-eating kind,” that stemmed from a mere paper cut and almost caused the amputation of one of her fingers.

The following is an interview with Dee about her essay and a more in-depth look at her struggle with NF.

I think one of the elements of “Paper Cut” that drew me to it was the use of the date and time as a way of breaking down the events. Did you or anyone close to you keep a journal or anything during this time that helped you to retell it in story form, or did you write it from memory?

I did not keep a journal. I was too busy living the experience to think of anything else but how to get through the night. Being in the moment is all I could do which, as I reflect, is the best way for a writer to be. I had to rely on memory and medical records that were released to me from Star Hand Clinic after the fact.

The way that you write takes the grotesque subject and makes it incredibly more interesting and also a lot easier for someone with a weak stomach to enjoy. Was this a conscious effort, or were you just trying to retell your horror story?

I was just telling a story. What you read was my voice, no conscious effort to introduce a comic element. I am however, (so I’ve been told) a natural story teller. Serious demonic subjects cannot be construed to be comical. The out-of-the-blue comments may well have been induced by drugs. I have no idea. But I do know that I wouldn’t dare try to inject comedy, for sure it would sound fake.

One of my favorite passages from the story is when you introduce the conversation with the infectious disease specialist and you give the reader a peek into what you were thinking; “Should I eat more garlic? Wear an amulet? How can I keep life-threatening bacteria at bay?” Was this done in an effort to make the subject more comical and/or relatable (because in my opinion, it definitely does) or was it simply a recounting of your thoughts at the time?

I don’t believe I made a conscious effort to set the tone of how the piece turned out. I did think about how to keep tension. But if you were to ask me specifically how I did it, if indeed I did for the reader, I couldn’t say.

At the end of the story, you question whether or not you made the right decision to not amputate. Are you happy with what you chose? Do you still see yourself as “one of the lucky ones”?

Yes, at the end of my story I question as to whether I made the right decision to not amputate. I wondered this after my fourth and little fingers rendered themselves immobile after all the bandages were removed. Not to be able to consciously move them was frightening. There is a club of NF survivors who chose prosthetics. They are photographed online with their prosthetic digits smiling and holding up glasses of wine. So yes, I sat for a while in physical therapy wondering. Now, after the fact, I feel I definitely made the right decision for me, for all the reasons I mentioned in the essay. And most definitely I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The synchronicity of events lead me to often wonder if it was fate or chance that had my girlfriend insist I stop at Saint Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital that happens to have the best hand clinic with the one of the top hand surgeons; I happen to believe I am a lucky lady.

The subject of “Paper Cut” would be something incredibly hard to make up. Have you had any other huge events in your life that have influenced your writing?

I write whatever is at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes subjects or experiences linger a long time. I mean really stew in my mind while I walk, stare, or whatever, before I write one word. Also clips or headlines or human interest stories from newspapers jog an idea.

Can you describe your writing process with something like “Paper Cut”?

I can’t describe the process for writing “Paper Cut” except write and rewrite. It didn’t flow until I decided on a timeline as a form. It was difficult for me to write. To decide on a form that would lend itself to retaining the tension that could best relate the actual experience took several rewrites, but I suppose that’s just a writer’s process.

Are you working on anything currently?

Yes, I am working on something different for me. I have put my collection of stories on the back burner to work on a non-fiction book about a small town female journalist who dares to uncover the truth about one of the most ruthless political bosses of the ’50s and lives to win a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a challenge but exciting to wake up for.

I believe we as writers are what we write whether fiction or non-fiction.

Meet the Interns: Ashley


My name is Ashley Rogahn, and I am a senior at the University of North Dakota. I am an English major with an emphasis on writing, editing, and publishing, and I am also minoring in Geography. Once I graduate, I want to work in publishing and editing while writing in my spare time. Some fun facts about me are: I have a passion for traveling – I have been to England, France, and Italy, I find editing/proof-reading extremely fun, and finally I love being involved in the UND community through both Student Ambassadors and Greek life, as well as the North Dakota Quarterly. My favorite part about working as an intern for the North Dakota Quarterly is that I am able to get real-world experience by seeing the process of editing and publishing a well-known journal first hand. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work for such a great and popular journal.