James M. Chesbro’s work has appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine,Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies,Under the Gum Tree, The Collagist, Connecticut Review, The Huffington Post, AOL.com, The Good Men Project, Superstition Review,Pilgrim,Weston Magazine, The Connecticut Post, and Spiritus.
His essays have been listed as notable selections in The Best American Sports Writing 2014 and The Best American Essays 2012, 2014, 2015. He is the co-editor of You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person (Welcome Table Press, 2013).
James teaches full-time at Fairfield Prep. He holds an MFA from Fairfield University, where he is an adjunct professor of English. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and children.
Usually I mow vertical stripes, which make the yard appear larger from the house. Recently, though, I mowed rectangles because it was faster, and Dad was on my mind. The small yard was twelve paces long—boxed in by the side of a detached garage, a row of arborvitaes in the back, a fence, and a deck. After the first several rectangles, I had to stop, tilt the front wheels up, turn, pace, and repeat. I turned and turned and turned, mowing the middle patches of grass, pivoting around in my mind searching for my father.
Every morning I try to rise before our three young children so I can drink coffee by myself in the dark. I fell out of this practice over the holidays opting instead for the warmth under the comforter while the wind rattled the frosted windowpanes. But when we returned to our morning routine in the new year and our 8-year-old protested dressing for school, our 5-year-old could not believe it was no longer the weekend, and our 4-year-old turned her nose up at the breakfast foods we had in the house, I didn’t have any patience for them. I was a grouch.
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Over my four year-old son’s shoulders the wounded adults gazed across the room in our direction. Between their absent stares, maybe they replayed their accident and the ways they could have avoided it. What replayed in my mind was coming home from work and seeing a gash in my boy’s head. He was mimicking the downhill skier on TV, lost his balance and banged his head on a table. As I zipped his jacket over his pajamas he choked back sobs, accepting the news that instead of going to bed, we were going to the hospital. The receptionist said “Anna” into the microphone, another name that was not ours. My son’s eyes followed the movement of white fish in the large tank by the receptionist’s desk.
The first major assignment in my first-year Composition class is a literacy narrative. One of the biggest leaps I’m asking the students to make in the sentences they construct is to shift their guarded writing objective from trying to “prove” a thesis, to the more courageous attempt of trying to reveal a sense of humanity in themselves as narrators and the people they write about. They want to glorify or chastise, but I want them to consider how the writers in our curriculum create characters with some complexity, characters that are human.
From Granby to Greenwich, area police departments and wildlife experts in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have been especially busy this spring and summer responding to calls about black bears. Some residents are more likely to encounter a bear than others, but more than ever, all of us dwell, somewhere between fascination and fear, between the novelty of seeing such a gorgeous awe-inspiring creature with our own eyes and the terror inspired by a several hundred pound omnivorous predator’s appearance in the yards where our children and pets play. We are situated somewhere between our ignorance of black bear behavior and our potential exposure to them. The continued bear sightings are our communal wake-up calls out of the hibernation of unknowing.
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I have an essay out in the February issue of The Writer’s Chronicleabout the various ways in which writers are employing second person point of view in creative nonfiction, including: Bill Bryson, Joan Connor, Dave Eggers, Joan Didion, Marsha McGregor, Joe Wenderoth, Mary Karr, John McPhee, and Paul Lisicky, with craft thoughts from Phillip Lopate, Kim Dana Kupperman, Baron Wormser, and Robert Atwan.