Steering Grace

Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts

First Advisor

Ann Williams

Second Advisor

Thomas Payne

Third Advisor

Clark Knowles


This collection of linked stories explores unlikely, surprising relationships, and the need for human understanding and the search for one’s tribe. The stories are linked by character, theme, and place, although each is a stand-alone piece.

The characters frequently search for their own truths, and falter and sometimes succeed, in an attempt to discover how they fit into the world, and with one another. All live outside the realm of conformity, in a sense. Some so much so, that they might be considered outcasts or, in some cases, outlaws of the heart. Daryl, in “A Very Little Key,” scribbles on the high school floor with a black Sharpie, “Conformity is for suckers,” and takes off almost all his clothes in the school hall to illuminate his vulnerability and truth regarding his bout with cancer and subsequent depression, and seeks to expose his most genuine self to a somewhat closed-minded, provincial community.

In “The Changeling on Liberty Point,” Joe is aware of the irrationality and probable illegality of his decision in taking his eleven-year-old passenger, Elizabeth, to the beach, but his feelings of loneliness and unresolved grief over the death of his daughter override any kind of rational thought: “…suddenly I wanted to take her to the beach. I wanted to take her to the beach more than anything in the world. If I could do this one thing, if I could just take Elizabeth to the beach, the hole in my chest would mend. If I could just take Elizabeth to the beach, somehow it would get a little smaller, the hole, it would fill maybe an inch with a thing undefined, an inch of significance.”

This sense of feeling incompatible with the conventions of society propels these characters to seek out others like them, those people who are hurt, those who are odd, who differ with others around them. In “The Monster, the Sasquatch, and the Little Gold Heart,” Jem considers herself a monster, and not human. It is in her connection with Alden that she discovers her humanity, and he, his. In their perception of themselves as misfits, they reach out to each other in self-recognition, and find acceptance and empathy. “You're not a monster,” Alden says to Jem. “’You're a human being. I'm the monster, an outsider. I find beauty in odd things. I'm an oddity.”

“I'm an odd thing,” she says. “Maybe you could find beauty in me.”

Alden rediscovers himself through Jem, and thus redefines his true nature and a courage in allowing himself to feel. In his sorrow over her death, he releases all his feelings of grief, past and present, and is given the opportunity to heal his wounded heart.

The characters in these stories are all reaching for a kind of grace– a brush with enlightenment in the pursuit of higher needs, a passage to the divine. In a larger sense, the stories speak to the plight of the artist, in trying to find a place in a world that is skeptical and somewhat suspicious of the artistic process - misunderstanding at best, intolerant at worst. The need for a higher reaching, intimate touch with the universe appeals to the writer, the artist, the poet, and it is this need to be the voice of a higher capacity of thought that is unfamiliar and strange to some, forcing a chasm of disharmony between the artist and the rest of the developed, modern world.

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