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March 13, 1997 - Image 21

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1997-03-13

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20B - The Michigan Daily Literary Magazine - Thursday, March 13, 1997


Continued from Page 3B
learning more and more about family members.
They get more and more interesting as time goes by."
Baxter's writing does have its ardent fans. "Some
people just want to see him as a nice Midwestern
writer, but he's got a dark view," said Elwood Reid,
University composition lecturer. "Inside (Baxter's)
normal appearance lurks an edgy guy." Reid com-
pares Baxter to John Cheever. "His writing is very
well-observed. It's dead-on ... there's not a wasted

Reid also has kudos for Baxter's teaching style:
"It's one of the reasons I came here. He offers lit-
tle bits of wisdom, hard-won for him, and he just
gives them to you. He's very considerate - he
tells you exactly where your writing's not work-
ing." Baxter only took one creative writing course
in his undergraduate career. For him, the craft of
writing is not something easily taught.
"I think what (I) primarily do ... is to help peo-
ple, teach people to look at their own work analyt-
ically. Not from the point of view of scholar, who's
analyzing it for themes and symbols, but to look at
it as a maker, a crafts-person and to see what it
may need in emphasis, clarity, (and) coherence."

Baxter does attempt to give students direction.
"I try to help people find what their voice is, what
their themes are. I try to help people find their way
onto a path in which they can say: 'This is what I
do; this is the kind of story I write; this is the voice
that I have."' His work as a teacher has had some
influence on his own writing.
"It's caused me to write more slowly, and to revise
more, because I'm more conscious of the craft now,
with what I'm doing, than I used to be. I used to be
able to write very quickly ... now I lug along, look-
ing at everything I've done to see if it's okay."
Early on in his career, Baxter struggled to find
his own voice. He wrote three novels, all of which

were so bad they had to be discarded. "Writing
spontaneously ... was great but the trouble was
that a lot of that writing I did was awful, and I did-
n't know that it was. And when I did figure out that
it was awful, I didn't know why."
Chastened, Baxter said he turned to short stories.
"If you write a bad short story you haven't lost a year
out of your life, the way you can if you set off and
start writing a novel and make a wrong turn."
Baxter offers this advice to young writers: "I
think you can learn more about writing fiction by
writing short stories initially than by writing nov-
els. Start with short stories and then if you want to
write novels then that's what you do."

Continued from Page 8B
away from me and when I got in to start
the car the battery was dead. I had to fol-
low the dirt two-track a mile back
through the woods and I forced myself
never to look back, never to run, because
showing the world you are afraid means
admitting that you believe whatever is
out there might catch up with you. As I
walked as fast as I could without break-
ing into a run I thought over and over that
if ['had a gun, if only I had a gun I could
sight in on whatever was out there and I
wouldn't have to feel so afraid.
Some friends held a reception after the
funeral only a few blocks away from my
great-grandparents' house on Goodman
Street. There were delicate curls of
honey-baked ham on toothpicks, thin
slices of cheese, and plates of dry Ritz
crackers. While my relatives talked in
small circles I stepped outside. My

grandfather stood at the base of the three
cement steps that led up to the front door
and silently smoked. As I came down to
join him, he placed his heavy hand on my
shoulder and I waited for him to speak.
Instead, his hand tightened and his voice
choked. My father was walking up the
sidewalk toward us
with the long barrel of a
gun sticking out from a
faded flowered sheet. I
could not see the ivy
engraved stock, but I
knew by the way he
held the gun like a child
in his arms that it was
my great-grandfather's.
My grandfather pushed
away from me like a race horse at the
"You didn't. You didn't go down
there, Matthew," my grandfather said.
My father stopped and pulled the gun
closer to his chest.
"I'm taking it," he said. "He

promised me. It's the first gun I ever
shot. I'm taking it." They squared them-
selves like boxers on the sidewalk and
though I could not see their eyes I knew
that the horrible exchange was of a son
staring down his father. I felt ashamed,
as though I were witnessing something
that I had no business
seeing. I turned back
inside and drifted
between the circles of
relatives, keeping my
eyes on the food on
my white paper plate.
My family
,. '' approached the next
fall with trepidation.
Even away from home
for the first time I could sense the tension
in my parents' voices across the taut
phone line when I asked about the fami-
ly. As the month began to wind itself in
like a fishing line I thought that perhaps
we might make it through, but then my
mother called to tell me that her stubborn

father had had to be admitted to the hos-
pital for meningitis because he hadn't
sought early treatment, and I felt the
inevitable cycle that we had been drawn
into solidifying and tightening. My
mother had instructed us as children that
the world worked in trinities, and with
this third death, I felt as though our future
had been nailed down.
After the funeral, while my relatives
eyed one another uneasily, not wanting to
see who was next, I headed to the coat
room. I wanted to escape to the cold
October air, finish another year on the
gray stone steps by myself with a ciga-
rette. My mother was there, huddled in
the row of coats, sobbing. I touched her
shoulder and she looked up at me with
bright red eyes. She grabbed my arms
with such strength that I wanted to cry out
but was too terrified. She began shaking
me, shaking me with her lips pulled back
and her teeth clenched together. And
when she opened her mouth all she could
say was, "Say my daddy believed in

Jesus. Say my daddy believed in Jesus."
Now, as the October days drop off the
calendar, we unconsciously hold our
breath, sometimes waiting until the open-
ing of deer season in the second week of
November to be sure. Turning into
hunters we feel safe with the rifles in our
hands, as though we could sight in on the
vision of death coming across the corn
stubble to the edge of the forest where we
wait, the four of us together. As he comes
gliding over the empty field toward my
family, my father says, "Let him wander
in, a hundred yards, seventy-five, until
you can see him breathe. Then push the
crosshairs into his chest like a branding
iron, open his body with a fist full of
shells, and you'll see him dropping, drop-
ping like the first snow"
Jeremiah Chamberlin is a creative
writing subconcentration program
senior His has received the Arthur
Miller Fiction Award and teaches cre-
ative writing at Community High

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