Saturday, February 29, 2020

"The inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings": Polly Buckingham on Hezada! I Miss You

"The circus comes again and again and again. Children fantasize it staying permanently. Masterfully told in tiny bites of consciousness from major and minor characters alike, Hezada! I Miss You explores sadness and grief and the inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings. Over and over we’re told the tale of the elephant who died from standing on her trunk. Hezada! is a stunning first novel—quiet and devastating, an elliptical tale of loss and the limitations and failures of a small town. The circus is always on the verge of arrival, and there is something deeply sinister in that." 
— Polly Buckingham, author of Expense of a View
Polly Buckingham, Missoula, MT 2019
(photo by Erin Pringle)

How I Met Polly Buckingham

The Expense of a View 
by Polly Buckingham
I never knew I'd tell this story so many times. Or write it out. But it must be a sign of something good to tell people how you know this person who keeps appearing nicely into your life. I'd seen Polly around for a while before I spoke to her. We read at the same Lilac City Fairy Tales event where I hugged Sharma for the first time. Polly read. I read. I left. I have no idea what Polly did afterward or for the next several years. Then, I went to the Montana Book Festival in 2017, and they'd scheduled Polly and me to read together.

So, it took a seven-hour roundtrip drive to a festival I'd never attended to meet Polly, who lives about twenty minutes away.

But, of course. That's how life works and it's only shocking if I don't think about all the people living on the same street who I'll never meet, regardless of how many times I run by/drive past/have coffee at a table away.

I read Buckingham's book of stories Expense of a View in Bernice's Bakery in Missoula during the festival, finishing it in time, or nearly in time, to meet her. And I was so so so pleased that I would get to meet her. Because her stories. Oh, I like her stories so well. Tinged with sadness like stars necessary to night, her stories ache and arrive in the strange angles that I recognize as true, real, part of my life experience.

Then we read together in Dana Gallery. But she was sick. She had a new dog, adopted, mistreated previously, confused and wondering why he was in Missoula. She stayed mostly at the hotel, sneezing.

But our friendship had begun.

Eventually, we met in Spokane and hiked together. In summer. Again in winter. Another winter. This winter.

View from a winter run with Polly, near Cheney, WA (Dec. 2019)
Last summer, we began training for the swimming portion of the triathlons we would do together. She has done many, many triathlons. This would be my summer to be a strong swimmer, much less participate in my first and second triathlons. During one swim in the lake by her house, we pulled a man--stranded in a boat with a broken motor and no paddles--to shore, one end of the rope around the front of his boat, the other around our hands, swimming exactly like two women do when they're training for triathlons but will save a man before starting their mile swim.

Now, we're running together. I'm training for my first marathon; she's training for her first half-marathon; we'll do them both at Priest Lake this May (yes, the same one Melissa Stephenson will do).

Even though I grew up rural and now live in the city, and Polly grew up in the suburbs and now lives rural, we've found each other in the crossing between our lives and the losses. Last night, at Boots Bakery, I was doing a reading, and before it began, I watched someone compliment Polly's ring. She said her stepfather had been wearing it when her mother met him, and when he was dying, he gave it to her mother. Then when her mother was dying, she gave it to Polly. It was a story I usually tell, answering that this tattoo I got after my best friend died. This tattoo is a mourning band for my sister. Here is why I just used past tense for a father, a sister. Here's a story about photography and my father, now dead. But I hadn't seen the story told before--the story of loss to an unassuming stranger. The shock on the listener's face to hear of so much death, the concern at having asked, what to do with this knowledge of a woman she just met. But Polly was smiling and her tender eyes. Because she'd just told a love story and how she became a part of it, beloved, loved, still here, though left. I've always loved this ring, she said.

These portals we wear to our past, or hang on the walls, or set on high shelves thinking one day we'll know what to do with them.

That's why I will continue swimming and running and walking alongside Polly Buckingham. Because she and I carry lives recognizable to each other and similarly reach for words and paper to soothe, salve, burn up the sky when the stars need to sleep on the darkest nights.

Learning Links:

Friday, February 28, 2020

From the One Page Salon to AWP: Erin Pringle takes Hezada! to Texas Hill Country

I'm about to celebrate my ten-year anniversary living in Spokane. It's long enough for people not to know where I came before. It's short enough that I don't think to say it. That I grew up in Illinois but spent my twenties in Texas is somehow a confusion for most people. It's not a straight timeline or topography. 

But I came to Spokane from Texas, having moved from Illinois to San Marcos for graduate school, and then staying for seven years to live, to teach, to start a marriage, lead three dogs into middle-age, celebrate my first book's publication, and know what time Dirk would come by the coffee shop with his newspaper, when Michelle would be working in her garden, and what newest questions Jonathan had about human nature after a long night of thinking.

Now, in a few days, I'll be back in Texas, with friends who knew those years of me, and I them, and the chance to puzzle ourselves back together the best we can.

Below you'll find my Texas schedule. Let's find each other.

Tuesday, March 3: Austin, TX

Friday, March 6: San Antonio, TX

Sunday, March 8: Austin, TX
My friend Owen.
And me.

See you soon, Texas.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

CUPCAKES AND NOVELS, FROSTING AND FICTION, or Erin Pringle and Wendy J. Fox at Boots Bakery in Spokane

🧁 You're invited! 📚

Wendy J. Fox has a new book, I have a new book, and we'll both be in Spokane, so it seemed pretty right that we should meet up, eat cupcakes, and invite people to do the same while she and I read a bit and talk a bit about books, words, fiction, and everything in between. 
  • 8 PM
  • 2/26/20
  • Boots Bakery, Spokane

    Boots Bakery is one of my favorite spaces in Spokane, not only because I love cupcakes (and vegan cupcakes, at that), but also because of the long and narrow space, the artwork, the high ceilings, and the ease of being there. If you haven't tried out this place, this event could serve as an excellent excuse.

    Learning Links: 

    Tuesday, February 25, 2020

    Tales from a Book Tour: Melissa Stephenson and Erin Pringle in Missoula, Montana

    On February 20, 2020, I read with my friend Melissa Stephenson at Fact and Fiction Books in Missoula, Montana. This would be my first out-of-town event for Hezada! I Miss You. What follows are an assortment of pictures from my few days there. 
    • Driving there pictures
    • Fact and Fiction pictures
    • Running in Missoula picture
    • Breakfast at Bernice's Bakery
    • Crossing the bridge on Higgins
    • Sightings

    But, Erin, how did the event at Missoula go? 
    It was very good. I was with Melissa and I've missed her. I met up again with her friend Emily whom I adore. My partner came. We read books the next day at Bernice's Bakery. The time in Missoula was good. I wrote a little. 

    But the event, Erin?
    I was with Melissa. I cried a little when I started talking about Hezada! I tried not to cry. Then I'd see Melissa's eyes, see her trying to carry me through with her eyes, and then I'd cry a little again--not big tears, but that moment where if crying will happen, it's about to. 
    I didn't know what I was saying, though I think it came out clearly. Then I read from the book, and that went fine, of course, because that I can do. That, I'm good at.
    Afterward, I helped fold chairs. I stood by Melissa. I signed a few books. And then we drove to Melissa's and I started feeling more myself. 


    Learning Links:

    Sunday, February 23, 2020

    The Heartland, Suicide, and the Circus, or Shannon Perri Interviews Erin Pringle in The Rumpus

    🐘 News: The Rumpus has published an interview with me about Hezada! I Miss You. 🐘

    Thank you to Shannon Perri for seeking out Hezada! and me, querying The Rumpus, for her kindness and preparation for the interview, and for asking these particular questions. I think this interview provides the lens into my relationship with Hezada! I Miss You in a way that is succinct, representative, and meandering in all the right ways. Thanks to The Rumpus for taking on the interview and for connecting readers with small presses--no doubt, this won't be the last time Perri writes for the publication.

    Shannon Perri, photo from her website


    Thursday, February 13, 2020

    Meet me and Melissa in Missoula at Fact and Fiction Books, February 20

    "Pringle captures the dynamics of family and small-town community in a way that recalls Tennessee Williams and Flannery O'Connor, yet her voice is lean and smart and entirely her own. Hezada! I Miss You is a powerful narrative about how we reckon with the cages we're born into, or craft for ourselves. What a beautiful gut-punch of a book.” 

    — Melissa Stephenson, 
    author of Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride to Heartbreak and Back

    Melissa Stephenson and Erin Pringle 


    Why I asked Melissa Stephenson to read Hezada! without saying why I asked her. 

    When I was growing up, my father had dreams of leaving town without us and living in Montana. He had a silver van he'd packed with everything he would need: guns, tackle box, toilet paper, sleeping bag, binoculars, life vest, cooler, girly magazines. He drove around in that van day after day, year by year. Once, when I was five or six, he did start driving to Montana, though I'm unsure how far he got. I remember my mother crying. Or the feeling of her as we drove on our own through town, trying to figure out what life would be like now that my dad was gone.

    He came back that day.

    He might have even been in the driveway when we gave up imagining and drove home.

    If I've told you this story before, I apologize.

    In the mind of a child growing up in rural Illinois, I only imagined Montana as dirt and blue. Montana was the word for where my father would rather be. And I don't think I felt loss about it, or that there was any cruelty in his desires. It's just how it was. There were better places than Casey, Illinois, and my dad knew it.

    The first time I saw Montana would be on the drive from Texas to Washington in the move to Spokane. When I saw it, I understood for the first time what my father knew. He'd been there once, maybe twice on vacations with my mother in the decades before I was born. Montana was beautiful. Green, blue, streams and clouds. No wonder.

    It would be seven years later that I would meet Melissa Stephenson in Missoula, Montana. We were to be on the same panel, talking about fairy tales. We'd connected online before the event. But it wasn't until we met in the bookstore that I faced the person who would become one of my fondest friends. We learned that we'd been moving in a similar choreography over the course of over lives. She grew up in Ohio. I grew up in Illinois. We both went to Texas State University for graduate school and had thoughts about it. We missed each other by one year.

    When the fairy tale panel began, we were sitting by each other. Her memoir, Driven, was a year out from publication. I didn't know much about it. Then she said her brother died by suicide. I was in the midst of trying to transform the experience of my sister's suicide into writing.

    She came over to Spokane to read from Driven when it came out.
    I returned to Missoula last September to read from Hezada! now that it was a year out from publication.

    I don't know how to describe the importance of finding Melissa.

    We check on each other.

    That's what we do.

    We check on each other.

    In May, we'll run a marathon together at Priest Lake, Idaho.

    This February 20th, we'll meet in Missoula again, again at Fact and Fiction Books, again at the back of the store where people will gather (or chairs will gather, waiting). And it's Melissa who will keep me from breaking when the event begins.

    I hope that you can come.
    Missoula, MT
    7 PM
    Thursday, February 20th, 2020


    Wednesday, February 12, 2020

    Book Signing: Hezada! I Miss You at Auntie's Bookstore

    For the first time since The Floating Order, I'll be doing a book-signing event. That is, an event at which I will not read aloud but will sit alone at a table with my books in order to greet book-reading strangers who accidentally stumble upon me in their bookstore. Usually, the people are unsure what to do with me, a book-writing stranger in their space: a quiet but inviting bookstore. Or, rather, I'm unsure what to do with them because I fear they didn't expect me to appear on their way to another aisle.

    I think that a book-signing event, when you're Erin Pringle, and not Stephen King, is closer in genre to encountering the person offering samples of cheese, crackers, little smokies in the grocery store. 

    Photo by glindsay65
    (used under CC license)
    There you were, pushing your cart alone, trying to remember to return to produce to get bananas when all of a sudden there's a polite person at a folding table. 

    If you're like me, were raised like me, the best thing to do is avoid eye contact and hurry by. Because what if you take a sample?

    Well, then you have to buy the whole box, don't you? 

    And then where does it end? 

    Will you be adding this to your grocery list for the rest of your life? How will this change your kitchen, your family's expectations, your understanding of food?

    Better to push on by, and if you happen to make eye contact, a quick smile and no thank you is better than the slippery-slope of taking free samples and then ending the relationship by not then taking the offered coupon, the recipe, the product. 

    Similarly, there you were, driving/bicycling/walking to the bookstore, your weekend sanctuary. A place where writers usually stay inside their author photos, have no feelings, do not mind if you set them back down on the shelf. You might stay the whole morning, the whole afternoon, moving through the sections. Maybe you'll find yourself in Poetry. In War History. You don't know, but it won't upset you to find yourself opening a book on Northwest Birds or Impressionists. Maybe you'll even sit in a corner, disappear into a book until no one sees you. You know, that Heaven. And this is what you're expecting, this is what you woke to looking forward to, this is why you won't be meeting your friends or having a pedicure. Because you. are. going. to. the. bookstore. 

    You push open the lovely, old wooden doors of Auntie's Bookstore, closer to meditation than you've been all day, in months, maybe years.

    Auntie's Bookstore Entrance
    (photo from here)
    And there I am.
    Sitting at a folding table.
    With nary a sample of cheese.

    Worse, I am sitting with a stack of a book I wrote.
    You don't know me.
    You don't know this book.
    You don't even read books like mine, whatever my book is. 

    Or maybe the book signing is a cross between grocery sampling and art fairs. If you go into the artist's tent--if you talk to the artist--Jesus, if you dare compliment the work aloud . . . well, you're going home with a garden sculpture or handmade leather wallet. 

    Perhaps this doesn't bother you. Perhaps you're fine with the terms. Perhaps you can walk out without a sculpture and without any feeling of impropriety for doing so. Maybe you even take samples at grocery stores with an adventurous spirit--perhaps excited that you might have stumbled into an opportunity to expand your palette.

    Surely there are people who think like this. A sample's a sample. An artist talks about her paintings in a tent in the middle of the park--of course. A bookstore may hold a writer signing her name in books that she herself wrote.

    I mean, sure. Maybe.

    But when you grow up with little money like I did. You were warned all of your childhood: 
    If you touch the comic book, you have to buy it, and we're not buying one today. 
    If you break it, you buy it, and we can't afford to buy it.

    Or maybe had conversations like these:
    Mom, why is your underwear so thin?
    Because, daughter, there are more important things to buy than underwear.

    Or maybe you watched your mother at the counter after your pediatrician's visit:
    Secretary: Do you have insurance?
    Mother: Yes, but it's not good, so I'll be paying in full. 

    Or maybe you heard the story of your father, how when he was a boy he fell through a floor and into glass--how the glass stuck into his back--how he shuffled to the roadside--how someone finally picked him up and drove him back to the village--and when he finally got home, got to the doctor, his mother (your grandmother) would not pay for anesthetic. You've always imagined her standing with the doctor, holding her purse with both hands as she stares down at her child on the table--his bare, bloody back. How much would it cost? she says. The doctor gives her the number. Not today, she says. Jimmy, you're a tough bird. Maybe she pats his foot before leaving the room so the doctor can tweeze each shard of glass from the boy's back--your father's back who holds all the scars and you will examine as a child as he sits on the edge of his bed playing clarinet. Maybe it was the lack of money, but then again, maybe it was something darker, worse that even as an adult, you haven't had the stomach to dwell on.

    And so you brake hard when money is on the line.
    And when you see people trying to encourage you to spend money, you've basically encountered the wolf of fairy tales. That sweet-talking wolf. And you know that not every version ends with someone cutting you out of its belly. Not every version ends with the wolf filled with stones and running nowhere but to its death.

    Oh, Erin. A book signing should not be so complicated.
    I know, I know.


    Oh, Erin. Is this your way of encouraging people to go to your book signing? Really, Erin?

    I know, I know.

    But here's my plan, and you can tell me if it's a good idea: over the course of writing Hezada! I acquired two circus posters, very large. Also, a book of circus photos. Glossy pamphlets sold by the circus at performances. And the last time I was in my hometown, I took many pictures. So, I thought, I'd have all these at the table. In this way, I could talk to people about those things. Should they ask what my book is about, I can point to what I learned. I can point to the picture of the road I walked most every day of my childhood to age 18 and then on visits, even though they've been few and far between. In this way, I can just be a regular person who somehow landed in the bookstore at a folding table. And everyone else can be regular people, too.

    If you know any regular people in Spokane, send them my way this Saturday, February 15. I'd love to talk to them about the rural Midwest, the spectacle of poverty and the circus, of loss by suicide, and this strange society we're caught inside--all the while pretending we aren't caught because that's part of it, too.

    Also, I can sign Hezada! I Miss You, since it will be there, too, with me. And while it's no sample of grape jelly on a cracker unlike any cracker you've ever tasted, I think it's pretty good.

    Erin Pringle signing Hezada! I Miss You
    (photo by Kayle Larkin)

    Tuesday, February 11, 2020

    Hezada! I Miss You: The Playlist, over at Largehearted Boy

    Largehearted boy: a site for readers, writers, and music-lovers

    Like every child of the '80s, I made countless mixtapes--happily spending hours and hours dubbing off 8-tracks, records, and the radio to create the perfect soundtrack (and another and another) for . . . living in the 1980s in a rural town?

    I was taken back to such an enterprise when I created a mixtape/playlist to accompany Hezada! I Miss You. As usual, my playlist is very long--my stack of records far too tall for what-should-have-been a small task.


    Since creating the playlist, I have listened to it while training for the marathon I plan to run in May. So, I can attest that it's a good playlist for the easy runs. It's not fast, so not good for intervals. It's not bright and full of pep, so it won't keep you going for a long run because a sad mood is not useful for twelve miles or more. But, if you're going for three miles, five miles, maybe six miles, and you like to run in the dark and you use your runs to dwell as much as you can, then this is a pretty good playlist.


    Monday, February 10, 2020

    Tales from a Book Tour: Hezada! Book Release Party

    February 9, 2020
    Overbluff Cellars/Cracker Building
    Spokane, WA


    Neil Elwell running sound-check.


    Erin Pringle, Hezada! Book Release,
    photo by Meredith Lombardi
    (photo by Kayle Larkin)
    (photo Kayle Larkin)
    AnnElise and me
    (when we don't know we're in a camera)
    AnnElise and me
    (my tennis boss and dear friend)

    Teresa and me

    When one of us is prepared for the picture
    (Jan and me)
    My co-workers. I love them.
    (Teresa, Jan, Heather, me, Hannah, Meredith)

    Erin Pringle signing books at release party,
    photo by Kayle Larkin

    Sweet home.


    It was a very nice time.
    Thanks to everyone who spent their afternoon with me.  
    Let's do it again sometime.

    Sunday, February 9, 2020

    "People as stories performing like poems": Poet Julia Drescher Reviews Hezada! I Miss You

    Julia Drescher

    Words by Julia Drescher on Hezada! I Miss You
    Here are just a few of the various nostalgias that we live with & work through that Hezada! I Miss You asks us to attend to: the frequently brutal nostalgias for a past we believe to be better than the present ; the nostalgias for what we are supposed to desire ; & the hopeful nostalgias (that break the heart too often) for a future where we are loved (& so accepted) for who we are.

    Here is a book that gives in novel form—people as stories performing like poems (“Where did your death come from?”) Where language is velocity & mass whereby the turn of phrase is the continually changing way people fall into or out of collective speech, demonstrating how our vulnerabilities to each other can transform into our feeling with others.
    Here, as readers, we are asked to attend to the cruelties (banal or otherwise) that we perform when we insist on reading people or towns or countries or times as contained, as only one thing. Which is to say the meanings we make to make ourselves feel like we have “a place in this world.” Too, the profound grief when making these meanings will no longer do—when what we think it means to have a place in this world might be the very thing that undoes us, that guts us.
    Here is the circus as the representation of this crisis & the attempt to perform that crisis’ relief (if only for human beings).
    Here is a story reminding us of what we forgot we knew: that the wonderful, the devastating, often walk this world wearing the same shoes.
    Here in this book in your hands right now.

    This is the story of how Julia Drescher came to read Hezada!
    Or, how I came to befriend her
    (by Erin)

    Though I've not been a smoker for six years, some of my best friendships came from that aspect of my life. 

    Julia Drescher and I used to smoke cigarettes between teaching classes at Flowers Hall on the Texas State University campus. We were adjuncts, knew it, and met in our rain boots and confusion as to how we came to be at this point of our lives. 

    During one smoke break, she brought me examples of the journal she and her husband Chris had put together and she had stitched on her sewing machine. 

    On another smoke break, she brought a glossy proof of the volume she'd put together with Chris, this time of deletion poems. I'd never seen a deletion poem before. I'd never met anyone like Julia before.

    Another smoke break, she carried a handful of thesis statements.

    Her ideas about whales.

    News about moving to a different apartment.

    Advice for her sister, but that I took to heart, about walking at night with 9-1-1 dialed into your phone so that all you have to do is push a button.

    News that people were stealing political signs out of her parents' front yard.

    Texas, she'd sigh. Then roll her eyes, which she can do without doing it. That's how wry yet calm her face can be.

    She imparted wisdom about poetry readings. Have you ever gone to a house poetry reading? she wanted to know. I hadn't. She nodded. They look at your books, she said. It's a thing poets do. They wander around looking at your bookshelves. They expect to see their books there, too. She nodded as wise people do, as though to punctuate and assure at the same time. Ever since then, I wander my own house, wondering what poets would think of my books--if my selections would offend, irritate, bore.

    In retrospect, I couldn't have stopped smoking in those years because it was the only way I knew how to keep seeing Julia Drescher. I'd drop by her office. She'd appear in mine. 
    You ready? she'd say. 
    Want one? I'd say.
    Our offices flanked the entrance, hidden away by beautiful blue tile. The tiles were beautiful, so much so. But it's hard to tell the truth about anything around such tile.

    So there we'd be, meeting on the low brick wall that runs outside by the stairs. 

    We watched Lyndon B. Johnson appear, after many curious stages of his creation, from a pedestal to orange cones, and then, him, reaching out.

    We were there when a group of students kicking hacky-sack appeared every day at the same time for a full semester.

    We were there and there and there, trying to figure out where else we could be. We'd gone through the MFA program at the same time, but she was in poetry, and I was in fiction, and so we might as well have been on opposite sides of the country as far as shared events or shared classes went. The only class I had with her was the one to prepare us to teach 101. She taught me (the class) not to erase the chalkboard side to side. She demonstrated by erasing with one hand, pointing at her bottom with the other, then pointing at the invisible students who watched, amused or horrified. 
    Erase vertically, she said. 
    We laughed.
    She smiled.
    But I erased as she said, and would for the next thirteen years of my teaching career, from Texas State to Spokane Falls Community College.

    Now she's in Colorado. I'm in Washington. Sometimes, a package will suddenly appear in my mailbox from her. A bookmark she's made. A collage-painting. A chapbook.

    Now and then we'll exchange an email.

    She wrote for the Summer Library Series (here); she wrote for the Book Your Stocking (here and here); I interviewed her about her newest book, Open Epic (here).

    I asked if she'd review Hezada! I Miss You
    She said she'd give it a go.

    When she sent me the email with her words in it, I cried. 

    Poets know your mind better than you think anyone will.
    That is the danger and importance of poets.
    That is Julia Drescher. 

    And this is why I wanted to share her thoughts on Hezada! on this day, the day Awst Press officially releases into the world.


    (P.S. If you are reading this on February 9, 2020, I hope to see you at the celebration of Hezada! today at 2 PM at Washington Cracker Building, 304 W. Pacific, Spokane.)

    Friday, February 7, 2020

    "Ms. Erin is a fine wordsmith and a helluva gal": Neil Elwell on your Sunday Plans

    "Ms. Erin is a fine wordsmith and a helluva gal... You probably ought to go."

    —Neil Elwell on why you should attend the party for Hezada! I Miss You

    Neil Elwell
    (photo by Erika Jones)


    Story about how I met the blues, and twenty years later, Neil Elwell

    I don't remember the first time I heard the blues. If anyone would have shared the sound, it would have been my father, but he listened mainly to jazz on the cassette tapes he'd plug into his van's stereo while driving country roads in search of something to photograph, or just something. He never found it.

    But I do remember when I started a relationship with the blues. I was both in love with a musician and taking a class at Indiana State University on the history of blues/jazz/rock. He and I decided to drive to the birthplace of the blues. He'd been there before, years ago. He knew the map. He'd gone when he was in college, also during learning about the blues; he and some friends decided to skip class and drive to Mississippi, a mere seven-hour drive. His story went that upon their return, the professor asked why they'd skipped--where have you been?

    We wanted to learn where the blues started, they said.
    And the professor couldn't be too angry about that, could he?

    It was a late October when we drove South. It was my first time past the north boundary of Kentucky. I saw how the sides of the roads turned red. How the land flattened out. How villages appeared and disappeared, and had disappeared inside themselves, remnants. How the old wood had gone gray-blue like the roads I'd grown up on. 

    I remember the ache in my throat from seeing, finally, what I'd read in Faulkner, Lee, Williams, O'Connor, Morrison. 

    Seems like we arrived in Clarksdale, Mississippi on a Sunday. It's where the blues is said to be born. It was deserted enough to look for signs of living. I took a picture of the water tower that I still have and run across when sorting memories for the thrift store. I keep it every time, if only because who else would? 

    There were signs of a future museum for the blues; this was twenty years ago. It was either closed because Sunday, or nearly close to opening. We walked its porch, peered through the windows. It was a long, rectangular building in my memory. 

    Later, we would drive back toward Indiana and stop in Memphis. We'd walk Beale Street by day, by night. I remember the thrumming of such a street. What it does to a body, its circuitry. In a few hours, I'd fall in love with more than one street musician in that kind of immediate brightness that the world sometimes punches into your stomach, showing you what life you might live if you lived here in the dream you allow of yourself.

    It was that trip that would send me with my best friend down the train tracks to New Orleans for a non-traditional Spring Break where we stayed in a hostel, daily wrote in our notebooks while seated in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. It was because of that trip that I sent all of my graduate writing applications south. I nearly made it South, but ended up a little west, in Texas. But even in Texas I found the blues. At the time Austin had its own bar dedicated to the blues. No searching required.

    All of this is to say that twenty years after that autumn trip, I walked up the steep stairs of Spokane's community radio station, KYRS; this time for an annual fundraising drive. I expected to talk about our radio tower--the amount of electricity required to power us--how for only $3 a month you can be a supporting member to your community radio station--how if you call in the next hour, a stranger will double your donation.

    All true, but this is what I didn't expect when I sat down across from Jukebox Jennie during her show, Workin' Woman Blues: I would meet Neil Elwell. I didn't know who Neil Elwell was. He sat down beside me. He had a guitar. He'd come on as a favor to Jennie to help raise money for the station by playing live.

    Jesus, how he played.

    I think this is a story of how everything you've learned about parts of the world wind up returning in the people you meet. How often I seem to think that objects hold my memories, but forget that people can carry memories, too, even when they weren't part of them.

    Since Clarksdale, my blues had only deepened. Aside from my family history of having the blues (depression), the course of life had brought more. The musician had driven away in his red car. My best friend who went with me to New Orleans had died. My sister was dead. I was further west in a northerly manner. My marriage was over. I was in love again, but more love doesn't fade out old love, disappeared love, misjudged love. My dad was still dead, of course, because death does that, and sometimes it seems only the blues remembers that. Sometimes, it's only the blues that remembers there's people who walk country roads alone, or drive them, searching, or live in houses where the wood isn't stained and nature starts taking the wood back, because it can.

    So when Neil started playing the blues. Dark, right blues. Deep sounding blues. You understand what I'm saying blues, you can see why I had to make this person my friend.

    Neil and Henry
    And we have done that.

    He would play for an artist fundraiser for my friend Breanna amidst the big shows he plays with his well-known band, Laffin' Bones.

    I'd learned in that same blues/jazz/rock class about the diddley bo, and a few months later I asked Neil if he'd ever made one. I was thinking of art projects to share with the preschoolers. Not only did he know what I was talking about, he'd made one. He invited my son and me over to see the one he'd made with his son. When we arrived, Neil had started the base of one for Henry to make. A surprise. The best kind of surprises. They finished it together that afternoon.

    Later, Neil and I would share coffee while he helped me repair a sculpture my father had made. And on and on our friendship goes, which is as good as the blues and born from it.

    And on Sunday, I'll be happy to stop reading from Hezada! I Miss You, and listen to Neil Elwell sing the blues. I hope you'll join us.

    Sunday, February 9
    2 PM
    Cracker Building (304 W. Pacific)
    words. music. wine. maybe cake.
    You're invited.
    I mean it.