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A essay of the working men in a scott russell sanders time

I have an old, used copy of The Best American Essays 1987. I must have bought it around 1994, when I took a Prose Style Workshop in Portland and switched from writing short stories to writing essays.

Or attempting to write essays. I never forgot those essays. I wanted to reread them this month, and to read more Sanders. I chose A Private History of Awewhich is a reminiscence of his life—specifically a recollection of the times he was touched with awe.

Even in these works, he writes with the watchful awareness of a nature writer. He writes of everyday objects, of people, of everyday life with reverence usually reserved for the sacred.

His writing is serious and earnest and gracious. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath, as a starving dog gobbles food-compulsively, secretly, in pain and trembling.

I use the past tense not because he quit drinking but because he quit living.

October: notes on scott russell sanders

No matter how weathered and grey the board, no matter how warped and cracked, inside there was this smell waiting, as of something freshly baked. My wife and children followed me and wrapped me in arms and backed away again, circling and staring as if I were on fire. And then the image of his family looking at him as if he were on fire: A longer passage on his father. This follows a paragraph of synonyms for drunkenness, and a description of how drunks are often portrayed as humorous characters in our culture: There seemed to be a leak in him somewhere, and he poured in booze to keep from draining dry.

Like a torture victim who refuses to squeal, he would never admit that he had touched a drop, not even in his last year, when he seemed to be dissolving in alcohol before our very eyes.

I never knew him to lie about anything, ever, except for this one ruinous fact.

Drowsy, clumsy, unable to fix a bicycle tire, throw a baseball, balance a grocery sack, or walk across the room, he was stripped of his true self by drink.

No dictionary synonyms for drunk would soften the anguish of watching our prince turn into a frog. And then this short line: And a few from A Private History of Awe: My mind churns with memories, notions, plans, like froth in a riffle on a creek.

But occasionally the waves simmer down, the water clears, and I see pebbles gleaming on the bottom of the stream. Or rather, in these clear moments, the fretful I vanishes, and there is only the pure gleaming. The metaphor, and also the rhythm of the lines.

Plus, I love that word, riffle. On his father, as a young man—note that this is a single line: This is a good one.

For five years, Sanders wrote love letters to his wife, whom he met at summer science camp while in high school. That I am writing these lines at all owes as much to my apprenticeship in love letters as to any formal training. And lastly, a paragraph—and yet another long, single line— that shows how Sanders weaves together the stories of spending time with his aging mother, and his newborn granddaughter: I feel a little guilty, since I was planning to read Virginia Woolf this month.