Two-stroke smoke and the green scent of sawdust.

If you were to read the stories I was writing 12 years ago, they would invariably have been essays about the place where I grew up, the austere landscape that shaped me and the virtual strangers with whom I lived. It was through these early essays that I learned some of the most important lessons in storytelling, not the least of which being (as posited by Jen Andrews, my writing instructor at the Salt Institute) that even the most unlikeable characters must be treated with compassion and grace. There was also, of course, an obvious element of therapy to writing about home. And since people—readers and editors both—seemed to like the stories, I was able to earn my first real dose of confidence as a writer.

Circumstance, however, always demands change. For a host of reasons, some of them logistical and some of them desperately necessary, I made the intentional choice in 2007 to set my pursuits as an essayist aside and focus instead on writing fiction. Right or wrong, it’s a decision I’ve stuck by since. Almost a decade later, I find I can barely write non-fiction at all (and if you don’t believe me, read this little bit of “advice” I put together for Glimmer Train last year). What once came as second-nature is now nearly impossible.

Which makes this week’s exercise in multimedia storytelling such an anomaly. Originally published in Portland Monthly, “Skidder & Draw” is not only a recent essay about home, it is a story about my stepfather, a man I’ve never been inclined to speak much about, kindly or otherwise. This story, in fact, is in essence the highlight of our relationship. You can infer from that what you please.

As always, thank you for watching/reading/listening, and of course, feel free to share this with anyone you suspect might enjoy.

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