Is it possible to find “evidences of grace in a mental hospital ward?” Dallas writer Tom McClellan asked the crowd last weekend at the Writer’s Garret.
His own answer was yes, in abundance. The Garret paired readings from his published essays with a sweet and saucy side of memoir from UNT professor Bonnie Friedman for the first public reading at its new home in the Lucky Dog (formerly Paperbacks Plus) bookstore at 10809 Garland Road in Dallas.
McClellan, a Dallas teacher and writer, chose two essays from his book, Reflections from Mirror City. His writings, described as “Thomas Merton interpreted by Hunter S. Thompson,” by Washington Spectator editor Lou Debose, have appeared in publications as diverse as D Magazine, The Texas Observer, and Christian Century.
After a friendly tussle with Friedman over who would read first, McClellan allowed his wife Carolyn to read for him because of his emphysema. His selections dealt with the ironies of finding grace in the midst of illness, death, and disaster; McClellan spoke with both frankness and humor about his personal struggles against mental illness.
At the end, he took the lectern for the final words himself, concluding an essay on the death of a friend met in a psychiatric ward: “Say these things so your hope will grow, your charity increase.” (For more about McClellan and his writing, see http://reflectionsfrommirrorcity.wordpress.com/.)
The second writer, Bonnie Friedman, comes to Texas by way of the Bronx. Her first book, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life, was a Village Voice bestseller. Now an assistant professor in the University of North Texas’ creative writing program, she chose excerpts from a work in progress for the audience.
Despite the differences in background between Friedman and McClellan, their writings harmonized on the theme of grace: hers included a minutely-observed description of her elderly mother, in her words, -- a “sheitel jew” with the mien of a Russian aristocrat. (And enough chutzpah to outface a revolution.)
“At the age of eighty-five,” Friedman began her reading, “my mother lost her job and started running.”
Not running away from anything, of course. Instead, running “for her health” -- a regimen of pre-dawn shuffling up and down the halls of her apartment house that first entangled her and her elderly husband in a lawsuit and ended by charming her persecutor.
A listener, laughingly aghast at Friedman’s vivid descriptions, asked what her mother thought about being the subject of her writing.
Her mother, she assured the audience, has given her permission to write anything she pleases (although without reading the words herself). “I hope she would like it,”
Friedman said. She travels back to New York frequently to keep in touch with her parents (and perhaps to gather more material). For more about Friedman’s works, see
The Garret will sponsor its next public readings in April. For information about the Garret and its programs, see www.writersgarret.org/. Some online information still references a previous address, but please note the current address is 10809 Garland Road, in Dallas.