Dustin Beall Smith

Essays by Dustin Beall Smith

Teacher, Time To Go

From Writing on the Edge (16.1, Fall 2005)

I was nineteen years old and a college dropout when I first picked up chalk and taught. I remember standing nervously in front of a packed clasroom, worried that my twenty-five skydiving students, many of them in their thirties and forties, might notice a slight tremble in my hand as I drew a stick-figure parachutist on the blackboard. When it finally dawned on me that their fear of dying was greater than my fear of teaching, I began to relax. There they sat, gazing helplessly in my direction, as if I held the keys to their future, which, in a way, I did. 

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One Draft at a Time: The Rewards of Process

From Writing on the Edge (17.2, Spring 2007)

Kathy Dougherty arrived at my fourth-floor college office exactly on time and panting like a sprinter. A painful grimace replaced her typically open and sweet expression. “Those damn stairs!” she gasped. “How do you do it?” “They get easier with practice,” I said, “especially when you lug a ton of books up here four times a day.” Kathy, nearly forty-five years my junior, and burdened only by a five-page essay, shot me a look of disdain. I laughed. “Take a load off,” I told her, indicating a stiff-backed armchair in the corner of the room. I sat down in a matching chair, from which I would be able to monitor the arrival of other students during the drop-in office hour. 

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The Blair Witch Project Revisited

From The Gettysburg Review (17.1, Spring 2004)

In the summer of 1999, a student film called The Blair Witch Project—produced for thirty-five thousand dollars—grossed fifty million dollars in its first week of wide release. Naturally critics focused on its phenomenal box office success. Janet Maslin, then writing for the New York Times, found the film remarkable for the way its makers had “revolutionized movie marketing” by linking it to the Internet. In the New Yorker David Denby suggested that the film might be “a watershed moment in which the young audience . . . begins to turn its back on routine Hollywood product.” 

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From The Sun (Issue 377, May 2007)

“So I will disappear,” said Thomas Merton, concluding his address to the International Monastic Conference in Bangkok on December 10, 1968. Merton, a Trappist monk and writer, planned to take an afternoon nap before a panel discussion that evening. He walked back to his guest cottage in the sweltering midday heat, took a shower, and, while standing in his bare feet on a tile floor, reached to turn on an improperly wired electric fan. The end came for him with a sustained jolt of direct current, at about 2 p.m. local time. He was fifty-three years old.

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The Invisible Dead

From River Teeth (Spring 2008)

And when the last Red Man shall have perished . . . these shores will swarm
with the invisible dead of my tribe. . . . The White Man will never be alone.

—Attributed to Chief Seattle in 1854

At the time of my birth, in April 1940, my grandfather sent my mother—his youngest daughter—a letter in which he expressed the hope that I would inherit the spirit of my famous ancestors. One of the ancestors he had in mind was my great great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Hannah Emerson Dustin, born Hannah Webster Emerson on December 23, 1657, in the frontier village of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Hannah spent the first thirty-nine years of her life in relative anonymity. At age twenty, she married Thomas Dustin, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and over the next nineteen years, gave birth to eleven children, three of whom died of natural causes.  

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Dustin Beall Smith
With a woodpecker, Second Chance, on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (2005).
Photo by Kim Dana Kupperman