Marion Winik

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University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "The Baltimore Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.

Things one does not expect

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blue crawfishNote: This piece is in the style of the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, lady-in-waiting to the Empress of Japan during the 990s — one of the world’s first great personal essayists, who thought she was only keeping a diary. Her lists have titles like “Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster,” “Occasions When Time Drags By,” “Hateful Things,” “Adorable Things.” They give an amazing window into the culture of her time and place, but just as strikingly illustrate the unchanging aspects of human nature. “One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.” “It is quite late at night and a woman has been expecting a visitor. Hearing finally a stealthy tapping, she sends her maid to open the gate and lies waiting excitedly. But the name announced by the maid is that of someone with whom she has absolutely no connection. Of all the depressing things this is by far the worst.” I sometimes give students the assignment to make a Shonagon-style list, but I never made one myself before. Excerpts from the original are here and here.

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When one returns to one’s small gray car just in time to see the huge SUV parked in front of it back into one’s front end before pulling away, one is relieved to find that no serious damage has been done. One does not expect to see, after driving home, that one’s Toyota hood ornament was jarred loose by the impact and has now fallen off. A depressing black oval remains.

The Astonishment of Watching People Grow Up

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Photo by Mike Souza, via Flickr

In the first years of life, babies change so fast. The milestones are so clear, so important, so closely and nervously monitored, so joyfully celebrated. What better show does nature put on than the transformation of a squirming, squalling creature in a blanket and a nursery cap into a person, an ever bigger and more definite one? (As my mother used to love to crow in all kinds of situations, quoting a Shake N Bake Chicken commercial from the 1970s—”And I helped!”)

Q&A: D. Watkins discusses his new book ‘We Speak For Ourselves,’ his new fiancée and annoying woke people

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D Watkins with his fiancée, Caron Brace.

My interview with D. Watkins got off to an awkward start. When he arrived for our appointment, I was standing in the street with tears pouring down my face and a copy of The Baltimore Sun in my hand–the cover of the Arts and Entertainment section featured an unflattering story about me under the headline “BURN BOOK” and a large photo captioned with a quote from D himself: “Marion’s not trying to win any popularity awards.” It was an odd choice to pluck that line out of this story about our time working together in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore, but that was just the beginning of the things that made me sad about this article.

Fortunately, my former student was the perfect person to help me get through my rocky morning. On the eve of publication of his third book of essays, “We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America” (Atria, 188 pp, $25), he’s learned a lot about dealing with the ups and downs of publicity. So that’s where our talk about his new book began. It was held over brunch at Johnny’s–chosen because we thought it would be quiet on a Sunday morning. We forgot about the Easter Bunny, who was brunching there as well, along with half of Roland Park and their kids.

More Pets of Evergreen

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As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve been collecting stories about pets from my neighbors here in this little corner of North Baltimore. You may have read the sad and unusual story of Jupiter, a dog who was killed by a cop. Here are two more from the growing pile, one dark, one light.

Lent Report

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Photo by Flickr user radiate2357

Last week, I received an email from Carrot Ink, the company from whom I purchase supplies for my printer. GET READY FOR MARDI GRAS, it urged in puffy purple letters festooned with GIF confetti and wagging carnival masks. 18% off all ink and toner with coupon code PARTY18.

Today can’t be Mardi Gras, was my first thought. It’s Thursday.

Followed immediately by my God, has it come to this?

No Time Off for Good Behavior

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Marion and Tony Winik with their children, 1992.

Readers: I wrote the following essay a long, long time ago. Whether you are raising small children now or whether you are, like me, looking in the rear view of an empty nest, it could make you feel better about things. Yours truly, M. Winik, setting the low bar on parenting since 1988.

I see a couple with a tiny baby at a party; they are so happy. I go over to ooh and aah at the baby, and ask to hold him. I have two boys, I say.

Oh, really, how old?
Two and four.
Is that hard?
It’s hell.

They exchange looks. Is this a depraved person to whom they are speaking, or is it the voice of doom resonating from their future?

Q&A with environmental journalist Tom Pelton, on the health of the Chesapeake and his book ‘The Chesapeake in Focus’

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Even if the story about the person who fell off a party boat into the Inner Harbor and died the next day is an urban legend, we all know the Chesapeake Bay is in trouble. I just googled: the last three headlines in the Baltimore Sun on the topic have been “Chesapeake Bay’s weakened federal partner takes another hit,” “Chesapeake Bay’s grade drops to a D+ in 2018 report card,” and ” ‘Code red’ for the Chesapeake Bay.”

Whether you’re a nature lover, an oyster and crab maven, a sailor, or just a citizen of this region, it’s a good time to take look at Tom Pelton’s 2018 book, “The Chesapeake in Focus” (Johns Hopkins University Press), a sweeping narrative that leverages the author’s decades of environmental reporting to create a multi-faceted portrait. Pelton’s combination of nature and travel writing, personality profiles, political analysis, and scientific storytelling will be familiar to listeners of his public radio program, “The Environment in Focus.”

Oprah: This is your sign from God

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Toward the end of last year, I was down in Virginia visiting my 92-year-old ex-mother-in-law Joyce, and Jane, her sister-in-law, a former ambassador. Joyce reads the Washington Post from cover to cover every day, while Jane reads the New York Times with equal thoroughness, though she eschews the Thursday Style section. I asked these avid and perspicacious followers of politics to give me their takes on the Democratic presidential candidate options. 

The 11 biggest happenings of 2018 in Baltimore’s literary scene

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Photo by Corey Jennings.

It’s been a busy year for Baltimore’s writers and literary institutions. Here are some of the most interesting developments and gossipy tidbits.

The Luxury of Solitude

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The author’s dog, Beau. Photo by Marion Winik.

At Thanksgiving dinner, as we went around the table saying what we were grateful for, my daughter Jane gave thanks for leaving home, for the excitement of starting a new part of her life on her own. For a second, I thought about being hurt by this, but she assured us that she meant it in the nicest way, going on to thank everyone at the table who had helped her get to this point. 

Once I thought about it, I realized I too should give thanks for her departure.

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