Around seven years ago, when I was a recent-MFA grad who was still unsure about my claim to the descriptor “writer,” unsure if I had what it took to allow writing to take up a substantial part of my life, I published an essay in Ruminate
. It was one of the first pieces I’d published, something I’d fiddled with off and on for a few years.The essay, “The Resurrection of Ray Jones,” tells of my dreaming my grandfather back to life. It explores how the memory of my grandfather had come to stand in for Jesus in my brain.
I liked the essay and was glad for it to have a home. The process of writing it—sorting out the ideas, reclaiming the memories—had been clarifying for me.
Then the issue appeared. If you’ve ever held a copy of Ruminate in your hands, you know the attention that is poured into its design, layout, and curated visual art. It dares you to run your fingers along the paper, to move slowly from page to page.
Every semester, I require my introduction to creative writing students to choose a literary magazine to read and present to the class. Someone chooses Ruminate
every year because of its striking aesthetic quality. Simply put: they can’t resist it.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t believe the friend who wrote to me to say he’d seen my piece named as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays
. I doubted that Jeremy Jones could be me. And I wondered how a newish and small magazine like Ruminate
had found its way onto the radar of the Best American
Of course, I know now that a magazine like Ruminate
(no longer new or small) had immediately landed on the radar—like my students, readers of all ages and stages can’t help but snatch it up and dig in. I’m proud of my essay, but I’m not sure it would have managed its way to the desk of Robert Atwan in a less careful, colorful, and serious magazine.
I’ve been thinking of that essay lately. My grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago. She had been in good health (for an 87-year-old), living mostly independently, but in the months before she died, she told my sister she’d been seeing my grandfather—he’d been showing up in her dreams for the first time in over a decade. For the past seven years, she kept that issue of Ruminate always within reach of her easy chair.
Other published pieces I’d written—including a book—were nearby, too, but I most often saw that dog-eared magazine pulled from the stack and resting by the lamp.
A week before she died, I stopped by to see her at a facility where she was recovering from an infection. I didn’t know it would be my last visit with her—we expected her to go home in a few days. As she and I sat and talked about my son and the weather and food, I told her I was writing a piece about a restaurant in town. I was trying to sort out the history of the century-old building. But I’d hit a roadblock.
“You’ll figure it out,” she said. “It’s great how you like to get in there and feel your way around until you find it.”
At first, I thought the infection or medicine might be making her loopy, but then I realized how right the image was—feeling around for the truth. If that isn’t a metaphor for essay writing, I don’t know what is. Maybe a metaphor for life.
Also in that moment I realized how clearly she understood what I do. I have no doubt that her returning over and over to that essay on my strange dreams about her late husband in Ruminate
laid bare my intentions as a writer. I circle ideas to try to make sense of them, and though we’d talked very little about my writing together, she knew.
Weeks after her death, she is now the one showing up in my dreams. Sometimes on the edges—a passing face or a woman standing in line—other times front and center. Pretty soon, I’ll do all I know to do: start writing. Start feeling around to see what’s there. Ruminate, in its believing in that young essay seven years ago and helping my blurry ideas take shape, has urged me along in ways immeasurable.
Its making beautiful space for the essay’s words gave my grandmother a piece of me, and now gives me a map with which to explore her legacy on new pages. To interpret these new dreams. Ruminate
does such important work, it’s hard to squeeze any of it in to words. Suffice it to say, I don’t want to imagine a world without the magazine. We need its attention to detail, its aesthetic beauty, its slow-moving exploration of the world and of the Divine. In this moment, it’s poised to grow ever fuller and richer and wide-reaching. We only need to give it a nudge.
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