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What makes children so brave? Why are they so buoyant in their souls? Here’s a clue:

It isn’t what they believe in.

If you went to any young niece or nephew of yours and said, “Hey, kid.”

“My name’s Peter.”

“I got a question for you, Peter. Did you know that, one day, you’re going to die?”

Peter’s eyes would fill with tears as he thought back to his dearly departed Glubby the goldfish or Kippy the cat. Terrified, he would say,

“That’s going to happen to me?

“I’m going to go blind and deaf and get run over by…

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How my pet dragon validates my existence

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My sister-in-law and her family went on a trip recently and asked us to care for her daughter’s bearded dragon.

This dragon, a green guy with brown eyes, is still a youth, about seven inches long from the nose to the tip of his tail, though in 18 months he’ll swell to the size of a Tyrannosaurus-rex arm, one you can take out walking with a leash.

While he stayed with us, he lived in a big glass box on our buffet cabinet in the dining room. This changed our mealtimes slightly. Eating in the presence of a reptile makes…

As a creative writing teacher, I wage a daily battle against boring poems

Illustrations by the author

I love teaching Introduction to Creative Writing. It’s a wonderful triathlon: We start with fiction, then move on to poetry, and lastly we write stories from our lives. And I do my best to persuade students to abandon their hastily selected majors and join the writing program so they can help us uphold our time-honored tradition of disobeying our parents.

But this semester, something’s gone wrong.

I, a man who is more like Peter Pan than a man, have become the parent, and the students are my disobedient children.

How did this happen?

How is it possible that the lost…

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My house is haunted by ghosts who live outside on the lawn. What is the form they’ve chosen?


Snow drops, crocuses, glory of the snow, and purple flowers called blue bugles.

These are the echoes of flowers planted years and years ago by previous owners. They’re unruly echoes. They’ve long ago left their original garden beds and have wandered like sleepwalkers and bedded down everywhere.

Why are we so lucky? I wondered. Then I told my wife a theory: “It must be a septic leak. It’s us. We’re fertilizing the crap out of our lawn.”

This confirmed something I’ve…

This Is Us

Confrontations with God, a tollbooth, and the Devil

Illustrations by the author

I used to pray a strange prayer:

“Dear God, prune the roots.”

I saw my mind as a magical tree, but I feared it wasn’t mighty enough. What if it’s only a bonsai? I wanted God to go underground, down to the roots and trim them, snip off their tapered decisions to stop reaching, encourage them to dig deeper into the earth.

“But bonsais are so beautiful,” you say.

You’re not wrong. And I love you.

God’s pruning would make the root system vast. Imagine oceans of water sent up and up into the bonsai. It would have a choice…

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I was a sad teen. I hated my disloyal, unpredictable skin, and I feared God was about to tally up all my sinful thoughts and drop an old testament rock on my head. My miseries and fears got so bad, my mother bought me a book called Brain Lock. It’s about obsessive compulsive disorder. I loved that book. It was fascinating to read the stories of people enslaved by their loud brains.

  • One man’s mind suggested that he bring his coffeemaker to work with him in a bag. He did this so he could open the bag fifty times a…

Lived Through This

We knew a lot about hell. Not as much about heaven.

Whimsical illustration of two children getting eaten by colorful monsters.
Whimsical illustration of two children getting eaten by colorful monsters.
Illustrations by author

I was in a small Christian gang at my elementary school. At first glance, you might not have believed we were gang members, but if you looked closely at the twinkle in our eyes, you would have read the message, “We can die at any time. Jesus will catch us. How about you? Do you know who’s catching you?”

That’s a lot to read in a set of eyes. But you could, because we were looking at you for a very long time, staring, willing your salvation. We stared because Christian culture never taught us the rules of eye contact…

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The pandemic forces us to wear masks, to hide our God-given mouths and blemishes. And it forces me to text my sister, describing the smell of my mask breath when it smells uniquely horrible:

  • Friday 8:33 PM — “Current mask breath: the General Mills corn snack ‘Bugles.’ I haven’t eaten Bugles in years.”
  • Tuesday 10:50 AM — “Current mask breath: rotten hay.”
  • Saturday 4:21 PM — “Current mask breath: MANURE. I mean it. What the hell?”

Why do I send my sister breath updates? Like soldiers on the battlefield writing poetry for the first time, I do it because I…

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I worked on a hay farm in high school. My boss, I’ll call him Adam, was a towering man from out west, a man whose silence about the west gave you the impression that he didn’t just leave it, he fled.

You could find his old life lying quietly in one of his farm buildings. There, you discovered woodworking tools, ornately-carved bedposts and cabinet doors, and the arms and legs of antique tables and chairs. That had been his business: old and beautiful furniture. …

A personal history of missed opportunities

Illustrations by the author

In my high school gym class, they taught us how to dance. This was bad of them, having gym. Why is there gym?

If you immediately have an answer for this, you’re part of the problem.

I hated changing in the locker room. Before high school, I’d heard reports that they forced students to shower after gym. My fear lingered. I kept expecting the gym teacher to step into the room or unfold himself out of a locker and say, “Strip.” Those who remained clothed would be undressed violently by the nude and then dragged into the communal shower.


Daniel Williams

A poverty-stricken, soft Batman. Here are some drawings: And here’s a blog:

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