Joyce Hinnefeld


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lovers, Mentors, Mothers

My copy of the latest issue of the literary magazine PEN America (#13) arrived yesterday, and it’s full of great stuff. I’ve been savoring remarks included in a forum called “Lovers,” in which a wide array of writers are invited to share thoughts about “a writer who is especially dear to you--a literary mentor, forebear, friend, or lover . . . .” The responses are varied and delightful--Yusef Komunyakaa writing about Frederick Douglass, Michael Cunningham about Grace Paley, Russell Banks about James Baldwin, and many more. Why is it so moving to hear writers gratefully acknowledging their mentors or the writers who have moved them deeply?

In just a couple hours I’m supposed to speak informally at a lunch for new faculty at Moravian College, where I teach, about finding a balance among the various expectations of faculty (teaching, research and writing, campus and community service), as well as a healthy work/life balance. I laughed when I was asked to speak on this topic, because I am chronically asking other people how to do this--especially other people who are writers, teachers, and parents. I feel like I have lots of questions but fewer answers.

So I was especially touched by Elissa Schappell’s comments in this PEN America forum, titled “Are You My Mother?” and addressing the life and work of writer Dawn Powell. I especially loved these lines:

I confess that I am often frustrated by the notion that it’s impossible for a woman to be a wife and mother and first-rate writer. That any female artist who hopes to ever be as highly regarded as her male counterparts should start packing for Bellevue. That any woman who chooses her children’s company--nay, relishes it--is a sap who has consigned her Nobel dreams to the scrap heap. It is in these moments I need Dawn Powell the most.

I read a reissued novel by Dawn Powell years ago, and I remember really liking it. This fond homage by Schappell has made me want to read more.

And if someone can tell me, once and for all, how to add teaching and campus and community service to that mix (of “wife and mother and first-rate writer”) without “packing for Bellevue,” I’d be grateful. Even more grateful if you can get word to me before 11:45 today, when the new faculty lunch is scheduled to begin.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why I Can't Understand the Position of Handgun Owners

“I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”

--Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana

“Having lots of ammunition is critical, especially if the police are not around and you need to be able to defend yourself against mobs.”

--Erich Pratt, Director of Communications, Gun Owners of America

I’ve been trying to listen, civilly, to the positions of those who feel “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and etc., and who go quickly on the defensive, in support of all “law-abiding citizens’” rights to own and carry guns (even handguns with alarmingly large-volume ammunition magazines) in response to events like those in Arizona recently. I have been trying to understand those who feel that in, say, another such situation like that in Tucson, if and when a lone shooter opens fire in the midst of a peacefully gathered group of people, having a Glock handgun in their pocket will somehow keep them and their loved ones safe.

And I find that I can see no logic here. Only what my husband Jim calls “magical thinking”--the idea of the gun in the pocket as talisman, as good luck charm. What “mobs” is Erich Pratt imagining, after all? How is it that he’s assuming all this time to react and open fire in return? Too many movies and video games firing his own imagination here maybe?

I grew up in a house with some hunting rifles down in the basement. That’s mostly where they stayed, except for the couple times a year when my dad and my brothers took them along for walks out in the woods, occasionally shooting a few squirrels. Early on, in southern Indiana, I realized that a rifle in hand gives a man permission to walk in the woods (the walk in the woods was really the only part that my dad, who still talks about dreading the shooting of hogs during butchering season on the farm, could stomach very well).

Even that use of those hunting rifles stopped though, at some point when I was a kid, when the eighteen-year-old son of neighbors of ours, who’d experienced brain damage in a motorcycle accident a couple years before, got into his own dad’s hunting rifle cabinet, took one out, and shot himself. My dad definitely had no stomach for carrying a gun from the gun rack around, anywhere, after that.

What solace would a high-volume magazine-holding handgun offer the parents of the little girl who, along with my daughter, was to be one of the college Christmas Vespers concert soloists here in Bethlehem this year? The day before this girl was to perform, she was shot and killed by her brother in an apparent accident.

After hearing President’s Obama’s speech, our daughter Anna was inconsolable. I’m still second-guessing myself, about the decision to have her watch the speech, and then to tell her more details about the shootings in Tucson. At what point do you decide that it’s time to stop shielding your child from these realities? (My daughter is nine; I’d truly like to know.) “It all started with Vespers,” Anna said to me on the night of the Tucson memorial service, crying. I’d told her the truth about the death of her fellow soloist too.

Thinking about our national inability to have a conversation about limits on gun ownership (see Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer's "A Clamor for Gun Limits, but Few Expect Real Changes" in last Friday's New York Times--the source of the quotations above--about this), I’ve been reminded of an incident from five years ago or so. I was walking in downtown Bethlehem with Anna, and we were crossing a street with a lot of construction going on, crossing inappropriately actually, in the middle of the block rather than at a corner (bad parenting, I know). There appeared to be no cars coming in either direction, and I’d relaxed and let go of my daughter’s hand, and suddenly, out of nowhere, a car came careening down the street, loud and fast; I could see that the driver was a kind of deranged-looking teenage boy. I grabbed Anna just in time, pulling her back. She just missed being hit, and the kid raced on by.

It was one of those moments I can’t stop replaying, even all these years later, asking myself, each time, how I could have been so careless. But here’s the other thing. The construction crew who’d been working on the street were packing their things up for the end of the day when this happened, and one of the workers was standing close to me, also waiting to cross the street. After I’d grabbed Anna and we’d watched the kid race by, this guy turned to me and said, “You know, if he’d hit her, I’d have killed him.”

I know he meant it to comfort me somehow. I was so stunned by the whole sequence of events that I didn’t know what to say. Thank you seemed wrong. I think I only nodded. But now, I know what I should have told him: I know what you mean. But that wouldn’t have made a difference, to me. There would have been no consolation in that.

Once someone is dead, having a gun that you could have shot the killer with can’t possibly offer any comfort, I’m sure of that. I have a feeling, if you asked the parents of my childhood neighbors’ son or of the little girl who should have sung the Christmas solo the night after my daughter did, they’d say the same.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Preheat Your Oven to 400

I know it's the wrong season for pumpkin pie (or is it?). But I want to post a link here, to a terrific book blogger's site, where my mom's pumpkin pie recipe was posted back on Dec. 28. Thanks to Jennifer at for inviting this post.

I've been away from blogging, and pretty much away from my computer, for most of the holiday season. Too busy here at home, and then with travels to Indiana to see my family. My mom continues to decline, and that's sad and hard for everyone, especially my dad. There were three great-grandchildren to brighten everyone's spirits this year, though (two new babies since last Christmas).

Since being back home I'm finding it hard to get back to online goings-on. Just when I thought the news on my NYT home page couldn't get worse, I turned on the computer Saturday to find word of the Arizona shootings.

I hope this brings some sanity, and not just platitudes, especially from the right. Please, please, please: spare us all the usual litanies about guns and the constitution and the founding fathers right now.

My best days recently were at Pendle Hill, the wonderful Quaker retreat center in Wallingford, PA. Alas, they have wireless access now, so I checked email a couple times and cruised around the Internet a bit. But not too much. Mostly I read, wrote, and ate wonderful vegetarian meals.

Here's to turning off the angry rhetoric and doing some reading and baking instead. Pumpkins are a good local option in a lot of places in the winter. Try this pie. My mom knew what she was doing.