Iowa Writes

from "Reality, Persona"

The writing class has met every Wednesday afternoon for the past few years: twenty women, a retired dentist, and my father, now ninety-six. Although he's been plagued by manic-depression for fifty years and has received electroshock therapy countless times, in almost every piece he presents himself as a balanced okaynik, Mr. Bonhomie. He's always thrown a stone at every dog that bites, but in one story he sagely advises his friend, "You can't throw a stone at every dog that bites." His children from his first marriage, from whom he's estranged, didn't attend his ninetieth birthday party, but now they do, bearing gifts. He's been bald since he was forty, but now his hair is only "nearly gone." My mother, who died at fifty-one, dies at sixty. His voice in these stories is that of a successful tough guy: "She was dressed to the nines in flame-red shorts and a low-cut halter that showed her heart was in the right place." My dad, Sam Spade. His Waterloo was failing ever to see or call his childhood sweetheart, Pearl, after he had lost his virginity with a woman he met at a Catskills resort (the woman who became his first wife). In real life, at age sixty-eight, when he was visiting his sister, Fay, in Queens, Fay bumped into Pearl at the Queens Center Mall, got Pearl's number, and suggested that my dad call her. Again, he couldn't bring himself to call—which is a great, sad story. But in the story he wrote, he calls her, they get together, and "Eleanor" tells "Herb": "Please don't be so hard on yourself. It happened. It's all water under the bridge now. You did what you thought was right for you then. I understand. Maybe I didn't then. But it's all over now. That year, Joe and I got married, so I guess it's all worked out for the best, right?"

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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David Shields is the author of eight books, including Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season, Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, and Dead Languages: A Novel. The entire essay "Reality, Persona" can be found in Truth in Nonfiction: Essays, edited by David Lazar and published this month by University of Iowa Press.

Truth in Nonfiction Site

University of Iowa Press

This page was first displayed
on May 06, 2008

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