Emlyn Cameron

Photo by Imogen Straub

Emlyn Cameron

is a journalist living in New York. He works for Law360 and his work has appeared in Zenpundit and The Saturday Evening Post. He also worked as a researcher on David Duchovny’s latest novel, Truly Like Lightning, and he is a co-founder and contributing editor of The New Junto, an upcoming blog of essays and commentary by young writers. His personal blog, the Republic of Letters, publishes essays on topics related to politics, policy, and philosophy. His interest is in politics, history, and culture.

He is a proud graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school (Roar, Lions, Roar), where he studied magazine writing, investigative techniques, audio journalism, and historical writing, and practiced beat reporting in Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking community.

Before attending Columbia, he studied criminology and criminal justice at Southern Oregon University (He is not sure whether they have a fight song). While there, he took courses on policing, criminological theory, constitutional and criminal law, police ethics, forensics, philosophy, and video production. He also worked as a research assistant developing a proposal for alternative courts in Josephine County, Oregon, and editing a textbook for a member of SOU’s law faculty.

He grew up in suburban California. The buildings were low and the temperatures were high.

Memoir

Ashes in California

written by Emlyn Cameron

After his father dies, Emlyn Cameron returns to his hometown in California, which is menaced by COVID-19 and massive wildfires, to unpack their relationship while sorting the contents of his father’s storage unit.

This is a beautifully written and touching essay about the life and death of the brilliant, kind, and infinitely creative Charles Cameron — a man we here at PenDust Radio knew and loved very much. We are honored to publish his son Emlyn’s eloquent words.

This essay first appeared on Zenpundit.com.

© 2021 Emlyn Cameron  | Recording © 2021 Rivercliff Books & Media. All rights reserved.

Read by Emlyn Cameron

Rest in peace, Charles. We miss you.
— The PenDust Radio crew

In his mid-seventies, my father, always reluctant to do anything that might benefit his health, had a heart attack. A year later he had another one. This time he would undergo open-heart surgery.

 Father was swaddled in hospital clothes and thin blankets, his hair a mad mess. I took a video to keep with my collection of his voicemails. “This is what I was like before,” he said, looking into the lens. He smiled, and then stuck his tongue out.

We had a good dinner and spoke happily. When I took him home I said goodbye. This took quite some time, because I would give him a long hug and then I would delay leaving and talk awhile longer and then hold him again. 

People say that the dead are “gone,” but I believe “over” is more appropriate. The aspect of people we love, their character and personality, is like a tremendous event occurring briefly. And, though his heart was still working, the tender spectacle of my father was over.

Photo by Imogen Straub

Emlyn Cameron is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn, New York, whose work has appeared in Zenpundit and the Saturday Evening Post. He also worked as a researcher on David Duchovny’s latest novel, Truly Like Lightning, and is a co-founder and contributing editor of The New Junto, a blog of essays and commentary by young writers. His personal blog, the Republic of Letters, publishes essays on topics related to politics, policy, and philosophy. His focus is on politics, history, and culture.

He is a proud graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school (Roar, Lions, Roar), where he studied magazine writing, investigative techniques, audio journalism, and historical writing, and practiced beat reporting in Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking community.

Before attending Columbia, he studied criminology and criminal justice at Southern Oregon University (He is not sure whether they have a fight song). While there, he took courses on policing, criminological theory, constitutional and criminal law, police ethics, forensics, philosophy, and video production. He also worked as a research assistant developing a proposal for alternative courts in Josephine County, Oregon, and editing a textbook for a member of SOU’s law faculty.

He grew up in suburban California. The buildings were low and the temperatures were high.

Q&A with Emlyn

Tell us about your story...

I’m articulate but kind of a clumsily earnest person. The way that comes out is I set aside little moments to try to tell people what they mean to me explicitly or write it out so I don’t worry about leaving things unsaid. That extends naturally into an interest in profiles, biographies, and – perhaps morbidly – eulogies, obituaries, and memorials: writing that tries to preserve a bit of the essence of a person.

This essay allowed me to try to correlate a lot of what I was thinking and feeling after my father’s death, and express some of the ideas I’d had about him over 25 years. And I just really had a great deal of affection for his habits and personality. I like telling stories about him. I liked introducing him to people. Writing this allowed me to introduce the man I knew to people who never had the chance.

What was the inspiration for this story?

Well, it started out, strangely enough, as a fragmentary paragraph in a book review I wrote for a magazine writing class at Columbia before my father died. It was just an aside about what it was like talking to father in his hospital room to convey a certain kind of heartbreak that I look for in fiction. My professors encouraged me to expand it into its own essay, so I wrote it up to the point of the drive-through coffee shack.

And then I was motivated to finish the essay in the aftermath of my father’s death as a way to bring it a little clarity and finality. I think I started a week after getting back from California. Writing out my experiences longform usually proves the best way for me to express them in a complete way and it takes them off my mind. It’s a bit like saving them on an external drive.

And, lastly, I often wish I could give people the final draft of themselves beforehand. I gave my father what I could (he got to read what I’d written at Columbia), but this is my attempt at a final draft of what it was like to know my father.

What have you read recently that you loved?

Probably my recent favorite was Before The Storm by Rick Perlstein, about the 1964 presidential election. What really impressed me was Perlstein managed to be critical of the early conservative movement as a writer observing them from the left, while also writing about conservatives with incredible empathy and pathos (and being scathingly funny to boot).

A close second was Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko, a history of police militarization. Balko has a tremendous restraint in his prose and a wonderful, dry sense of humor, and the book is also just a staggering document.

Who has most influenced your writing?

That’s an exceedingly tough one. No answer I could give would be fair or complete. Let me just single out two who did a lot with a little:

My professor Samir Patel explained how to choose details for a story in a manner that profoundly impacted the notes I take and way I write. It also retroactively made sense of other advice I’d received over the years. And I don’t think he’d even recall doing it, because he did so offhandedly in a sentence or two, in between other pieces of wonderful advice.

Bob Baker. He was an L.A. Times editor who wrote a book called Newsthinking. The entire book is worth reading, but in one paragraph he said some writers try to cram their whole thesis into every sentence, afraid that a reader won’t bear with them to the end. That radically changed how I write and how I feel while I write. He also made journalism sound exciting, so I have him to thank for a change in aspiration.

 

What's the best thing to happen to you recently?

An article I wrote about the community of collectors and enthusiasts revolving around the RMS Titanic was published by the Saturday Evening Post. Being able to hold a copy of the magazine in my hand and see the by-line for my first big publication brought me a tremendous feeling of vindication after a hard year.

Tomorrow, I absolutely refuse to...

Put off working on my upcoming projects. Last year felt like such a bust — a professor of mine called it ‘suspended animation’ when we last spoke -— that I started off the year really raring to make 2021 as fruitful as 2020 was fallow. And, I’m finding that I had it all backwards last year by putting things off in the hopes that I’d be in a better mood to do them later — waiting until I felt more up to a challenge before I went seeking one just left me feeling unfulfilled.

Giving myself a lot of goals to meet and projects to get off the ground before I feel ready instead is actually helping me feel significantly better.

Anything else you'd like to share?

If your listeners enjoy this essay, I hope they will take a look at two other projects in which I’m involved:

The New Junto on Medium, which is a collaboration between some friends of mine and I who are hoping to write essays on a broad range of topics.

And my personal blog, The Republic of Letters on Medium and Substack, where I’m planning to post essays relating to politics, policy, and philosophy.

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