Michaella A. Thornton

Michaella A. Thornton’s writing has appeared in Brevity, Creative NonfictionNew South, The Southeast Review, The New Territory Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and a University of Missouri Press anthology, Words Matter: Writing to Make a Difference (2016). After graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism, Thornton interned with National Public Radio’sWeekend Edition Saturday and the Tucson Weekly. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. In 2018 she shared her “true, personal story about science” for the St. Louis Public Radio and the national storytelling podcast, The Story Collider. 

Posts by Michaella A. Thornton

We Were Together

“Day by day and night by night we were together,—All else has long been forgotten by me.” -Walt Whitman, “Once I Pass’d Through a Populous City”  Today marks my last post for The Common Reader; I will continue to write, of course, but I will be moving on to another venture. For those of you […]

In Deference to the Heat

When I lived in Tucson, Arizona over a decade ago, I realized summer in the Sonoran Desert is much like winter in the Midwest. A desert summer is a perfect time to stay indoors and wait for the harshness of the weather to pass. Instead of hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, I learned to embrace […]

The Mother Church

A few years back, I went on a road trip to Nashville with a good friend (see “On the Huzzah”) to catch Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins at the Ryman Auditorium. February 2016 marked the 10-year anniversary of Lewis’ debut solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, which Lewis has described as a “sort of soul […]

On the Huzzah

Perhaps many of us would benefit from taking a day off of work, driving two hours south on Interstate 44 with a dear friend, and putting a kayak into Huzzah Creek, a 35.8-mile sister tributary of the Meramec River, one of Missouri’s longest free-flowing waterways.  The Huzzah is often described as “flowing clean, clear, and […]

A Triptych of Fourth of Julys Past

Washington, D.C.  Fourteen years before M1A1 Abrams tanks arrived by train from Fort Stewart, Georgia, I sat on the lawn of the National Mall with friends, excited to celebrate Independence Day at the nation’s capital. A summer spent interning for $7 an hour at National Public Radio on break from graduate school in Tucson. I […]

Exactly Enough Time

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” -Brian Andreas Almost everyone who spies a mother with young children will remind her “to enjoy them while they are little; it goes by so fast.” Maybe fathers get this unsolicited advice, too, though my daughter’s […]

Averting Disaster, Real or Imagined

The emergency ladder is not noticeable unless one squints at the side of the whitewashed farmhouse. The ladder is a series of two-by-fours, painted white and spaced and nailed just so onto the siding, to form an almost indiscernible ladder leading up to a second-story attic bedroom. The girl who lives in this bedroom is […]

“Outside, A Sun Strikes You Down”

Title after Paul Claudel’s “Heat of the Sun” We observe how climate change continues to prompt extreme weather events around the world. We take note of sea-level changes reported by Boaty McBoatface, an autonomous British yellow submarine which just returned from its maiden voyage to the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. So, now might be as […]

St. Louis the Day After Winning the Stanley Cup

Is there anything as sweet as a city and its Cinderella hockey team the day after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time? As I drive down a major thoroughfare, driver after driver honks at fans decked out in yellow and blue; these particular fans are lined up outside an Irish pub at 10 […]

Despite Our Many Imperfections

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 posthumous novel came from the Australian-British journalist and writer Ella Winter, who asked Wolfe once, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” And while Winter and Wolfe are right, you cannot go home again, at least not the home you remembered as a child or a teenager, you […]

Gentleman Jack Is All That

Some have argued that channel surfing is dead, much like doorbells since many of us simply text “here” once we arrive. While the latter development is yet another casualty of technology marching on and our collective avoidance of unexpected visitors, television has become a serious art form–one that captivates and absorbs our imaginations, conversations, and […]

The Way Some Young People Perish

This story, like many stories, centers on a brief and chance encounter. Meeting Sam and then reading about his demise made me wonder how communities like mine could better support and care for young people who may be struggling, who may sometimes make the devastating choice to end their life.

A Lack of Sociological Imagination

Regardless of whether you cared, perhaps still care, about the end of HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s book series, A Song of Fire and Ice, there is a wonderful send-off about why the last season was disappointing to many of us who did regularly tune into Game of Thrones. Sociological storytelling can help […]

“Take This Job and Shove It”

Workers everywhere might be singing the refrain from Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 country-western ballad since the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) decided to include workplace “burnout” in the World Health Organization’s standard clinical diagnostic tool, effective January 2022. The new definition of work-related “burnout” is classified as a “syndrome” and stems from “workplace stress that has […]

The Peace of the Land

“The peace of the land, the last islands of this peace, made me feel small. I welcomed the feeling. It was a pleasure to feel insignificant, to let my desires quiet, to feel, in the moment, the human body as an instrument attuned to peace.” ― Alison Hawthorne Deming I am sitting on my back […]

Consecutive and Slow

There is a lot happening these days. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s likely signing into state law one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation both confounds and saddens. Game of Thrones comes to a predictably cold-comfort, power-corrupts end this Sunday after eight seasons. Somehow these disparate events–one all-too-real, the other fictional–seem weirdly, if […]

Mothers, Of Course, Are Human

Cue the scene: The neighborhood post office with my toddler daughter and we are annoyingly in love. We giggle, we think buying stamps is an adventure, and we hold each other even though Luci is perfectly capable of walking and standing upright. “Up, up!” she tells me when I put her down, so I pick […]

“Lose Something Every Day.”

This past Sunday I lost my keys. I did not panic; I did not skip too many beats. Instead, I grabbed the spare keys and my 2-year-old daughter Lucinda, and I picked up a prescription and a few items at the grocery store, where I held on for dear life to a miniature grocery cart […]

“Like a Carcinogenic Siren”

You gotta love a Netflix series that explores existential dread and the nature of time; an edgier, feminist take on Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin’s classic 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day; and makes allusions to the Divine Comedy, The Odyssey, and the power and confusion of liminal spaces. Plus, Harry Nilsson’s 1971 song, “Gotta Get Up,” serves […]

Delight is an RV

“We can do without pleasure, but not delight.” -Jack Gilbert, from his poem, “A Brief for the Defense” Delight is an RV parked near the barn of my grandparents’ small-town Missouri farm, where the crab apple orchard, blackberry bushes, and hobby herd of cattle converge. We have gained access into this magical place, packing a […]

The Complex Fate of the American Hamburger

We live in a moment where the burger still serves as a stalwart symbol of American cuisine, a divisive dog whistle for politicians, and, maybe just maybe, a common ground on which to discuss a problem as big and complex as global warming.

“5 Jobs I’ve Had”

Trending on Twitter this week for those of us who “can’t even” on the social media site was the textual meme, “5 Jobs I’ve Had.” Like most things born on the Internet, the cultural roots and class-based ramifications of this deceptively simple list say so much more about us than the five jobs we once […]

Lost-Cell-Phone Lessons

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” –Matsuo Bashō On the day the Lord hath risen, I lost my cell phone between the hours of 8:31 a.m. and 10:38 a.m. The phone, unfortunately, has been missing in action for two days now with no sign of resurrection. I am now […]

Where Are The Lustron Homes of Today?

Almost every day, by foot or car, I pass by a stretch of egg-colored Lustron houses with square steel exterior tiles in pale yellow, Robin’s egg blue, and dove grey. The porcelain enameled-steel readymade homes were a modernistic solution to the housing shortage many folks, especially GIs, faced after returning home after World War II. […]

Leave Alone the Grass

“The midnight streetlight illuminating the white of clover assures me   I am right not to manicure my patch of grass into a dull   carpet of uniform green, but to allow whatever will to take over.”   “Against Lawn” by Grace Bauer   In mid-April, the distant ritual buzz of lawn mowers droning in […]

When the Old Becomes New

Lucinda Williams’ gravelly voice, now slurred with age and use, is like an arrowhead found along a creek bed, dulled past its prime but still revered and recognizable in its ability to pierce the heart. When I had an opportunity to catch Williams perform this week, I was excited to have an evening with a […]

To Make the Invisible Visible

This Wednesday Dr. Katie Bouman and an international team of scientists and astronomers revealed to the world the first ever picture of a black hole at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy, a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the constellation Virgo 55 million light years away from Earth. Between 1907 and 1915, Albert Einstein […]

Igniting the Spark of Language for All

At the end of March, my daughter Luci turned two, and with this milestone of another year of life, her language abilities have taken flight. This week her preschool teacher Mr. Nick taught Luci and her classmates about cardinals, robins, and blue jays, so now Luci discusses the birds and the worms they eat, she […]

The Science of Love, Marriage, & Divorce

In the United States, most people know that over half of marriages end in divorce, making it seem like the success of a marriage is just as cavalier as a flip of a coin. Yet, new research continues to deepen that oft-repeated statistic (for instance, that the 50-50 success rate is wrong) and show how […]

Crime and Punishment

“Police should first ask, ‘Is there someone who can come get your kids?’” Stefanie Moore tells the packed audience of about 100 people assembled in the old Shaare Emeth Temple in St. Louis, Missouri. They are gathered on this last Friday in March to learn more about “women and reentry,” and by ‘reentry’ one means […]

In Praise of Outtakes

Outtakes from a film are one of my secret pleasures. In the rare moment, I actually go to see a movie in a theater these days, I am often one of the last people to leave. There are always a few of us, raging against the dying of the projector’s light, hoping that the end […]

Just Keep Swimming

“In water, like in books–you can leave your life.” -Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water From the time my daughter Lucinda was two and a half months old, I have taken her to swim lessons. Two of the life lessons I hope to impart to Luci, now almost 2 years old, are self-reliance and a […]

Seeing Climate Change in Black and White

Of course, many of us thought the revolution would be televised contrary to how the song goes, but how many of us thought the environmental chutzpah necessary to inspire the world to “panic” about climate change would be led by a 16-year-old Swedish girl in braided pigtails? A young woman who told those gathered at […]

Spring Is Coming: A Playlist

Spring starts this year on March 20, a week from today. Depending on where you live, you may have seen or experienced polar vortexes, devastating fires, Arctic winds, and other weather extremes. Here in the lower Midwest, we have been eagerly waiting for spring. We often exchange words of encouragement with passerby, as in “I […]

It Used to Be Mine

Ever since Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, Tidying Up, hit the screen on January 1, 2019, a lot of us, it seems, have come to realize that our lives are full of things that no longer “spark joy.” Every time I hear Kondo’s famous phrase, I think of Lucinda Williams’ song, “Joy”: “I don’t want you […]

The Bird Trapped in the Airport

“Women who die alone at midnight contributing to the end, to lost time, to the rain and flies, seeing the bird they saw trapped in the airport surviving by the water fountain”   —Mary Ruefle, “Women in Labor”   A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet esteemed poet Mary Ruefle at a […]

Putting the Goth into March Madness

College basketball fans everywhere know what March portends—the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments. This post is not about any of that televised hoopla. No mentions of basketball or an impressive three-pointer will you find here. Nope. This assortment of words is about a different type of 64-team bracket, one probably no […]

Ars Moriendi

If Us Weekly’s popular segment “Stars – They’re Just Like Us” were to compile celebrities’ personal moments from social media instead of paparazzi-stalking celebrities at seafood counters or walking dogs named after pieces of fruit, the American public might have to think more deeply about what binds us all. Case in point, Megan Mullally, the […]

To Save a Life

This week, Dr. Caitlyn Collins, an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis who studies gender inequality, asked what it would take for the United States to consider providing safe, affordable, quality childcare for its citizens. To underscore the urgency of the question, Collins mentioned a story about an unlicensed daycare provider […]

Happiness in Twenty Minutes

The weather in St. Louis is often as uncertain as our times. Many days it seems as if we live inside a giant Newton’s cradle, just waiting for a gust of wind to blow one metallic ball into the next. We observe the swinging temperatures, trying our damnedest to conserve energy and momentum as the […]

Goats, God, and the Grind of the Soil

Before the Baetjes built a renowned goat milk and cheese creamery selling their cheeses to gourmet specialty stores such as Zabar’s in New York City, Veronica Baetje remembered the bliss of having “a Heidi moment” in simpler times.


When we watch Hoarders is it not a stark and somewhat darkly gratifying affirmation that our lives are not that bad? That we are somehow different, better, albeit a little cluttered, or momentarily disorganized than these poor souls, many of whom are battling compulsions much more pernicious than goat trails or leaning towers of boxes […]

Devil’s Icebox

Before access into Devil’s Icebox was restricted in 2006 due to the bats contracting white-nose syndrome, it was not uncommon for college students from around Columbia, Missouri to hang out in or around the perennially 56-degree cave, especially during the hot, humid Midwestern summers. Much like Austinites in Texas frequent the continual 68-70-degree Barton Springs […]

A Real National Emergency

This week the nation mourned the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida shootings, which claimed 17 lives. Seventeen used to be my lucky number—the day I was born in September, the age I was when I started college, and the year I gave birth to my only child. A year ago, as I listened to […]

And It Shows

Throughout our days, the either-or fallacy is often presented to us as, “There are two kinds of people…” Ella Fitzgerald crooned about the two kinds of people she could not understand in Duke Ellington’s 1941 song, “Rocks in My Bed”—“that’s a deceitful woman and hard-faced man.” Writer Amy Tan wrote about the two kinds of […]

Sesame Street Turns 50

For anyone who has been a child in the last half-century (or loves one or five of their own), you are likely familiar with Sesame Street, the beloved children’s television show conceived by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett in 1966. The show, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, began airing on public television […]

Deep in Our Refrigerator*

In weird news, UPI reports that Samsung has created a dating app based on the contents of one’s refrigerator. In a weird mash-up of “swipe left, swipe right” app-based romance, foodie culture, and viral marketing, the South Korean multinational conglomerate promises, “It’s the inside (of your fridge) that counts. Simply upload an image and let […]

The Lifecycle Adorns Us

Both women bought “DNA jewelry” in the shape of teardrops–one to honor a life departed, the other to commemorate the lives she nourished. My mother Carla chose a silver necklace for herself and her younger sister to house the ashes of their beloved mother, my late grandmother. Jenna, my best friend from college, sent off […]

Seeing the Invisible

Leave it to mechanical engineering and physics professors to produce “Graphene: The Musical” to the tune of J.J. Cale’s 1976 bluesy rock ballad, “Cocaine.” The song, of course, Cale wrote for guitarist Eric Clapton on his legendary album (and nickname), Slowhand, in 1977:   If you want to beat Moore, you need carbon to the […]

The Lender of Last Resort

To know my granddad John Dee Hammond, you would first need to know about the little wooden lockbox, painted two shades of grey, dove and ash, affixed to the exterior of his modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Clinton, Missouri. The modest lockbox was secured, and I use that verb loosely, with a lock I might […]

Pink Slips

While fewer people may be collecting unemployment benefits, the economic blow is no less painful. The statistics on women’s unemployment rates are often reported as lower than men’s, yet this statistical difference often downplays women’s layoff experiences.

To Try Our Luck in California

Setting forth for the central coast of California, we, a Midwestern couple en route on our first spring break as adults’ post-college, ventured from San Francisco, where we sipped dark roast coffee in the Castro and ate at a cult-following sandwich shop predicated on love and an obscene offering of sandwich toppings. The sandwiches were […]

In Praise of Not Going Viral

In the foodie world, as in most worlds now mediated online, there is intense pride at having a recipe “go viral.” Samin Nosrat, the delightful author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and the ensuing Netflix series based on the cookbook, admits as much in her recent confessional-recipe (it is a form, trust me) entitled, “Delicious […]

Mapping the Desire Lines of Family

I first met Nishta J. Mehra in 2005 when we studied creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona’s MFA program. Her prose was, and is, agile, buoyant while being direct, and strong. She also routinely brought baked goods to our class workshops, and, honestly, you have not lived until you have tasted one of Nishta’s […]

Highway to Hell

Most mornings do not begin by walking across a snow-covered campus as a young man in flame-colored pants and an intergalactic backpack—think the cosmos meet tie-dye—blasts AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Is the music emanating from his phone, I wonder? A portable bluetooth speaker placed just so? Am I in the future, where people have branded […]

A Shade of Blue

Blue is one of those mystical colors which has long inspired artists and cultures around the world. Pablo Piccasso’s Periodo Azul lasted for three years, from 1901 to 1904, whereby he painted the world in monochromatic melancholy. Many artists before Picasso, and after, had their own blue periods, too. Toni Morrison wrote of the racist […]

A Playlist for the Snow

When I email a friend in Chicago to tell him the snowpocalypse is coming to St. Louis this Friday at noon, I beseech him not to laugh too heartily at us lesser, lower-Midwestern mortals. We who buy all the bread and milk and thin-crust frozen pizzas topped with provel when only five to eight inches […]

A Genius of the South

“I love myself when I am laughing … and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” —Zora Neale Hurston   Writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston was born 128 years ago, give or take a week (January 7 or January 15, 1891 may be her birthday). She will have been dead 59 […]

An Oath of Silence

Two decades ago, give or take, I took a 24-hour oath of silence. The moratorium on talking was not my idea, but rather an honors professor who assigned every undergraduate student in her “creative processes” class a full day of no talking. Our goal was to receive and observe the world around us. We picked […]

Why Begin Anew?

If you hate New Year’s resolutions, blame the Babylonians. Allegedly, they are the ones who got us started on this whole season of self-reflection and renewal 4,000 years ago, although their resolutions took place in mid-March and focused on making promises to pagan gods, returning borrowed items to regular humans, and paying off debts. The […]

The Catch-22 of Motherhood

At the close of 2018, I am almost finished reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, a book of “autotheory” that defies conventions and genre and meditates on what it means to create family, love, and a life beyond heteronormative blueprints. On this Friday evening, as I read, I hear distant waves crashing into the surf, my sleeping […]

Revisiting 1923 in 2019

While some look forward to the New Year to make resolutions, say good riddance to 2018, or to clink glasses full of bubbly while wearing something sleek or sequined, I am looking forward to 2019 because a slew of landmark films, literature, songbooks, and art will enter the public domain. Such classic media will be […]

Grab ‘Em by the Stock Market

It is not a newsflash that Twitter, and the world more generally, can be a toxic place for women, especially women of color. Yet, when Amnesty International released its Troll Patrol Report on Tuesday, December 18, what many women already knew was confirmed by the extensive year-long study the human rights organization conducted in partnership […]

Kehinde Wiley’s “Vocabulary of Dignity”

On this sunny, 55-degree Midwestern winter day, I made my way to luxuriate in Kehinde Wiley’s 11-painting exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum. I have followed Wiley’s work since 2010, when I first encountered one of his paintings in Louisville, Kentucky at 21c Museum Hotel. Morpheus, an oil and enamel painting in grand classical […]

Nailed It!

While some sick people comfort themselves with plenty of rest and fluids, when I caught my daughter’s eviscerating stomach bug this week, I consoled myself with episodes of Season 1 and 2 of the Netflix series, Nailed It! Sure, I could barely stand upright, keep my eyes open, or consume anything, but somehow watching (or […]

On Maria Sibylla Merian, Bedtime Stories, and #MeToo

One of my toddler daughter’s favorite books is This Little Scientist: A Discovery Primer, written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Daniel Roode. When I pre-ordered this cheery little board book earlier this year, I was ecstatic to see just as many women as men, actually more so, within its pages. What I was not […]

The Bigger the Hair, The Closer to Dolly Parton

As the daughter of a former beauty queen and a relatively happy, fat, and confident woman, I was intrigued by the storyline of the Netflix original movie, Dumplin’, which debuted on December 7. Adapted from Julie Murphy’s best-selling 2015 young adult novel of the same name and directed by Anne Fletcher, Dumplin’ highlights the coming-of-age […]

We Are What We Write

As our historical record evolves from letters written in quill and ink to status updates, what we will mourn remains to be seen.

Letters As Legacy: Why Writing Our Children Matters

As a mother, each month I write a letter to my almost 2-year-old daughter Lucinda, a practice I began nine months before her arrival. I am terrible at keeping her baby book up to date, but I am very good at writing Luci her monthly letter. I learned this letter-writing practice from my own mother, […]

The Family That Cooks Together

Lately, cooking has done little to bring my husband and I closer. During our hectic weekdays, there is an on-going battle of who will make dinner, which is often me, despite the agreed-upon negotiation that twice a week he will cook. I love making mini-farfalle pasta in a homemade alfredo sauce with crisp broccolini; farro-and-sausage […]

Bread as Myth, Meme, and Sustenance

Bread has always been miraculous—bread serves as a sacrament in Catholicism, as a universal symbol of fertility and abundance, and matzoh’s edible grace during a time of exile. These days the popular meme “Let’s get this bread” mocks the monotony of earning a living (and that most parents have no idea what their children are […]

The Found Poetry of Internet Browser Tabs

Experts say you should have no more than nine Internet browser tabs open at one time, but I feel much like St. Augustine: “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” In an attempt to be more virtuous and productive, I just culled 23 browser tabs on my phone to eight (most of them recipes, creative […]

Women at Mid-Life Have Higher Stress? Duh.

Earlier in November, The Scientific American reported the findings of a study published in Neurology. In the study, which examined 2,000 40-somethings’ cortisol levels and performance on tests of memory, organization, visual perception, and attention, researchers noted women in the study seemed to fare the worst with low test scores and high cortisol levels. This […]

Bill the Patriarchy

It is one of those mornings where a difficult decision has to be made. Luci, almost 20 months old, has been sick since the Friday night after Thanksgiving, and my husband is out of PTO and I do not yet have eligible sick or vacation time. I do, however, have a job that has a […]

My First Friendsgiving

This morning on a group text, accidentally including me, the sister who lives on the other side of the state, my three siblings discussed who is making my late grandmother Anna Lee’s chicken and homemade egg noodles (think rustic chicken and dumplings). Over text they delegated who was to bring dessert, dinner rolls, and iced […]

In Defense of “Midwestern Nice”

Last week I read Sarah Smarsh’s opinion piece in The New York Times, entitled, “A Blue Wave in Kansas? Don’t Be So Surprised.” In the op-ed, Smarsh also dissected “Midwestern nice” as a misunderstood phenomenon of passive aggression. In reality, Midwestern nice, Smarsh argued, demonstrates the stoic restraint and composure of the often-underestimated people who […]

Flying Solo

There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and while many say the outcome makes all the difference, I am not so sure. Deciding to fly solo with a “lap toddler” from St. Louis, Missouri, to Portland, Maine, sounded romantic, fun even, when I purchased the frugal, non-refundable plane ticket earlier in the summer. […]

If Cherokee Street Could Talk

Every era tends to think theirs is the most difficult, amazing, or inexplicable time period, but historians would remind us that this assumption is the folly of myopic thinking. The same can be said for the past century on Cherokee Street.

The City and the Sea

Portland, Maine, sometimes dismissively known as “the other Portland,” the New England city that may not get as much attention as its funky, bigger sister in Oregon. That is a damned shame, however, because Portland, Maine is one of the most beautiful small towns you will find in the Union. Walk alongside the Old Port […]

Lifting the Veil

Last Friday Michelle Obama shared her struggles to conceive her daughters Malia and Sasha. As someone who has also experienced miscarriage, infertility, and IVF before conceiving, I am so grateful to the former First Lady for telling her personal story to the nation in her memoir Becoming. It is a story I needed to hear […]

Why Spanking Does Not Work

Corporal punishment is an outmoded tool of parenting (and education, which is a whole other topic), so it is a sweet relief that the American Academy of Pediatrics officially rebuked spanking as an effective disciplinary tool on November 5. In all the news of the midterm elections, I do not want this full-stop, empirical recommendation […]

On “Feeling” Machines

Stevie Wonder has not updated his 1984 classic song, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” to reflect the reality that more people these days are texting messages of love and longing versus, well, calling. For many, talking on the phone with another human being is a quaint practice at best, an intrusive one […]

Revisiting E.T. as an Adult

When E.T. was released on June 11, 1982, I would have been three, almost four, years old. My mom took me to see Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison’s ode to gentle extraterrestrials and childhood wonder amid parental chaos. E.T. has stuck with me since largely because the story is led and performed by children, and […]

Death by Selfie: A Cautionary Tale

This is not an indictment of selfies or selfie culture, which have some redeeming and empowering benefits regarding increasing social sensitivity, self-esteem, and making marginalized communities more visible. Instead, this meander is a what-the-hell-is-happening? lament regarding yet another sad story of an Instagram couple falling to their deaths off a cliff (Taft Point) in Yosemite […]

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

When I was fresh out of college, my first full-time job was as a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher in Henderson, North Carolina, a small town 40 miles north of Raleigh. My charges were 120 students, mostly rural poor or working class like me, and brown and black, not like me. While I […]

Halloween and How We Dress Our Girls

Last year, for my daughter’s first Halloween, I dressed 9-month-old Lucinda as Rosie the Riveter–cute little denim jumpsuit from H&M that my mother ironed a “Rosie” patch onto while I fashioned Luci’s red-and-white bandana around her head in the trademark WWII factory we-can-do-it worker’s garb. I dressed the part as well, not because I am […]

Facebook of the Dead

For true-crime aficionados or Investigation Discovery TV network fans, many believe that when Michelle McNamara’s posthumous book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was released in late February 2018 McNamara’s reporting had something to do with the arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer, 72-year-old Joseph James D’Angelo. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department contends that […]

As the Crow Reasons

When Shakespeare, Poe, or Hitchcock wanted to create an atmosphere of mystery and foreboding, almost always a dark bird from the crow family would appear. Yet, perhaps we should rethink the way many of us think about the First Bird of Creepy. Researchers continue to discover that one of the smartest bird species around is […]

Reading After Dark

There are tons of listicles during this delightfully creepy time of year recommending gothic or horror-related short stories of yore. However, I would like to share some of the creepier short fiction that has been out more recently.   Carmen Machado’s masterpiece (I promise I do not use this word lightly), “The Husband Stitch” in […]

Navigating Love’s Long Line with Sophfronia Scott

In 2016, I was captivated when Sophfronia Scott read an excerpt from her essay, “Why I Didn’t Go to the Firehouse,” at the River Pretty Writers Retreat in Tecumseh, Missouri. The essay is a meditation about why Scott, when confronted with the news that a deadly shooting had just occurred at her third-grade son’s school, […]

How Writers Write While Raising Human Beings, Part 3

Lifting the veil on how writers write (or take hiatuses from writing) while raising families is important. The false dichotomy that is often presented, especially to women—either write or parent—is a toxic, non-inclusive way of thinking. As the late writer Ursula K. Le Guin put it, “Another thing that I’ve found … [is that] women […]

How Writers Write While Raising Human Beings, Part 2

In the opening of the poem, “Advice to Myself,” award-winning, Native American writer Louise Erdrich reminds anyone who has somehow managed to raise a family, keep a home, and make art to,   “Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen […]

Last Meals

As a young girl, I loved to fish, especially with my granddad on the pontoon early in the Missouri summer. We would fish Pomme de Terre Lake around 6 or 6:30 a.m. and angle for crappie, sunfish, and perch until lunch. When we had a “mess of fish,” Granddad’s language, he and grandma would clean […]

How Writers Write While Raising Human Beings, Part 1

“I’m right now in the Dordogne very close to Montaigne’s château and library, and I confess I have found myself thinking of the father of the essay and how decadent it might have been for him to be the father of the essay instead of the caregiver of his daughter, because an essay waits patiently […]

Instagram Museums, the Missouri Edition

Amanda Hess’ September 26 piece for The New York Times was a brilliant and incisive look at how New York’s (and San Francisco’s, to some degree) pop-up-museum scene serves as a great social-media photo backdrop for the younger set. The story embodied American culture’s preeminent desire to capture the perfect evidence of colorful, whimsical, I-am-not-missing-out, […]

Do To-Do Lists Really Work?

This Friday I will venture to a small southern Missouri town (population 586) named Tecumseh, named after the great Shawnee chief and warrior. Almost every spring and fall, since April 2015, I have packed up my compact car and driven to Ozark County for a writing retreat in the woods near the North Fork of […]

The Cold (Ancient) Comfort of Beer

Beer has been in the news a lot lately, and not just because a particular U.S. Supreme Court nominee may have enjoyed a cold one, or a keg or two, in June 1982. Stanford University archaeologists near Haifa, Israel have discovered humans may have first started brewing and drinking beer 13,000 years ago, not 5,000 […]

Fourteen Ways to Let Go

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” —Dalai Lama   This past week has officially been too much. Hearts and minds are weary, and there is a collective need to press the restart button and let go. Remember: Letting go does not equal forgetting. After […]

I Say A Little Prayer

As a survivor of sexual abuse which took part during my high school years, I have dreaded and awaited this Thursday as soon as I knew September 27 would be the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would testify. I had just turned 13 years old in October 1991 when I watched the despicable and abusive […]

Vegan Comfort Food

Reine Bayoc is a force of baking-and-cooking-from-scratch badassery and an original force of plant-based comfort food that is authentically Southern (and the #ChurchPicnicPlate hashtag is all hers). The woman whose roots began in McKenzie, Tennessee before she came to St. Louis to study English and French at Saint Louis University and later to make SweetArt […]

Big Fat Lies

This week Michael Hobbes’ September 19 investigative feature for the Huffington Post resonated with a lot of readers. So what did Hobbes’ report on for a piece that has garnered collective sighs and tears of relief, nods of understanding and recognition, defensiveness and ire from some medical professionals, head-shaking affirmation from some dieticians, and almost […]

Tim Burton’s Apple Orchard

This past weekend I went apple-picking in Marine, Illinois, with my husband, 1-year-old daughter, and best friend Nicole. Marine is a lovely little village of 960 souls first settled by a sea captain and his sailor friends in the late 19th century. The good Captain and his buddies thought the waves of Illinois prairie grass […]

Culture Writes the Cookbook, Not the Victor

“For too long, cookbooks were considered merely utilitarian and deeply gendered, written mostly by women to teach mostly female readers how to keep house, feed their family, and perhaps even nourish their marriage. But as we look back, especially at books that have stood the test of time and continued to evolve alongside whatever culture […]

Serena Williams’ Anger is Not the Problem

“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being.” –Audre Lord, keynote speech to the National Women’s Studies Association in 1981   Earlier this month, tennis star Serena Williams’ loss at the U.S. Open exposed a perennial question about women, especially black […]

Early Adopter: On Quitting Facebook Eight Years Ago

In mid-September, I turn 40. There are plenty of memes about turning 40 that are pretty terrific, not to mention I have contracted pneumonia in my final days of 39. A dear friend offered to bring “birthday soup.” Nothing quite signals old age as much as birthday soup. And to be frank, I turned the […]

Competence Porn for the Rest of Us

“Competence porn” was first coined by television and film screenwriter John Rogers in 2009. The evocative phrase addresses the innate pleasure some of us derive from watching truly exceptional people do things impressively, especially in television and film. I stumbled upon the idea of competence porn after reading one of Sam Sifton’s excellent “What to Cook […]

The Recycling of Recycling

As more and more cities work toward zero-waste initiatives, it is important to review what is happening to municipal recycling programs right now. The future of recycling seems less “brave, new world,” and potentially more challenging and ripe for innovation.

The Origins of Grandparents Day

Many scoff at non-major holidays as random, for-profit celebrations made-up by greeting card companies, but Grandparents’ Day, always observed on the Sunday after Labor Day, is no such holiday. President Jimmy Carter enacted the first Grandparents Day in 1978, but Jacob Reingold and Marian McQuade were the selfless advocates who worked behind-the-scenes to make Grandparents […]

Remembering Our Humanity, One Letter at a Time

This week I was struck by the importance of letter-writing after reading a profile of Kolbie Blume, President Obama’s former director of writing for sampled correspondence, in The Atlantic. Blume, at age 22, was one of the team of writers in charge of answering the 10,000 daily letters and messages received from citizens hoping to […]

On Stars and Mules

Before I knew the Wordsworth poem, “The Stars are Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand,” I knew stars. When one grows up in an isolated place, one of the gifts you are given are a riot of stars. In some parts of the world, the sky is still visible with stars you take for granted until […]

Destination: Grafton, Illinois

There are places that reenergize us, help us put down our burdens (and our smartphones), if only for a weekend. Grafton, Illinois is that place for me. A short hour’s drive from my home in St. Louis, Grafton is a small river town (population 640) situated where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers converge. It also […]

Everyday Wilderness

There is a special kind of hell when one has just returned from the ER at 1:30 a.m. with a projectile-vomiting toddler, who somehow has been showered, wrangled into clean, cotton pajamas, and shushed and rocked to sleep, when the sounds of some nocturnal creature racing back and forth across the nursery ceiling become all […]

To the Untrained Eye

“Diversity, it turns out, goes to the heart of how to do research and innovation effectively.” –Fred Guteri, “Diversity in Science: Why It Is Essential for Excellence”     Jane Goodall was selected by Louis Leakey exactly for her lack of scientific training. “He wanted someone with a mind uncluttered and unbiased by theory, who […]

Hi, Mama

The early childhood center director crowed that I would soon be privy to my 16-month-old daughter’s “first” social media account, HiMama, which would include photos of her day in the toddler room, diaper changes, snack and meal updates, fieldtrips, and more. Little did the director know Luci already had a private Instagram account where I […]

Hazards and Hopes

Last spring, in my swan-song semester as a laid-off community college professor, I taught a first-year composition class every Wednesday night till 10 p.m. My students were from all over the world—Albania, Bhutan, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Sudan, and the United States. Some of my students were refugees, one lucky woman won a green card from […]

To Queen Aretha Louise Franklin, With Love

When Aretha Franklin remade Otis Redding’s 1965 song, “Respect,” in 1967, she transformed a sexist song of domestic submission into an empowering anthem for the civil rights and women’s rights movements. It became a ballad for the people, especially anyone who was or is marginalized or oppressed and, quite frankly, sick and tired of feeling sick […]

Scars Like Lace

David Owen wrote a 2012 personal history “Scars” as “a life in injuries” for The New Yorker. This short piece was inspired by Owen’s essay.   The faintest imprint of honeycombed scar tissue crisscrosses the back of both of my knuckles. Family folklore has it that while my mother was giving birth to my sister […]

Hope in a Glass

Forty years ago, on July 25, 1978, the world’s first “in vitro fertilization (IVF) baby” was born to Lesley and John Brown in Oldham, United Kingdom. For millions of people who have created, or are in the beginning stages of creating, their families via IVF, Louise Joy Brown’s 40th birthday is cause for global celebration, […]

Enticing Our Better Angels

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”      —Mae West   Changing or improving human behavior is hard. Even with the most dedicated and resolute will, redirecting one’s energies from destructive or simply undesired action takes dedication, adequate resources, time, and support. Addicts know this. Psychologists know this. Turns out, behavioral economists […]

Deadheading Begonias

The other morning, I discovered a pot of once regal and Grateful-Dead-inspired scarlet begonias on my back porch. They were in desperate need of a good deadheading. The rich red blooms were obscured by long-expired flowers and dead brown leaves. Sad, just sad, I thought to myself. As a working mother of a 16-month-old toddler […]

Thirty-nine and Holding

As I approach my 40th birthday, I have become increasingly aware of what psychologists call the “nine-enders.” What-if, perhaps indulgent, end-of-decade questions hum in the background of my everyday life. When will I finish the book I am writing? Will I finally learn how to make yogurt and cheese? Is there still enough time in […]