Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dennis McFarland – Nothing to Ask For

I’m being honest when I say that a week doesn’t pass where this project isn’t in my head. I think about this project at its height – posting a thought about a story almost daily. I think about the comments I’ve received on certain posts. I think about the connections I’ve made the authors I’ve come to love and I believe most importantly, the explorations into my mind the stories have generated.

There was a bit of fear opening this page and writing again. But, I think I am ready.
You see, it’s been 1 year 8 months and 3 days or 610 days since I started the BASS 1990. This has to be- by far the longest it has taken me to get though a volume and I’ve only read half the stories.
I sat here before I started writing this thinking about these last 610 days wondering what within these days has kept me away from the book(s).

So much has happened. My life out of the house – at work, specifically at the paper (or should I call it the “media company” now?) has been tough psychologically. Work at the university has been fine – actually it’s only been difficult physically – testing my ability to function without sleep. Work at the paper has just been tough because of all the transformations we are moving through and wondering if I will survive them. I have – and my position there seems secure – but we’ve taken so many hits and so many people have left and so many people have encouraged me to leave…I can only feel that it could be a matter of time before my number comes up.

Opposing these feelings/situations, life on the home front has been wonderful- if not filled with its own set of distractions. 610 days ago the boy and I were on a pretty regular running schedule with me hitting 10K runs at least 3 times a week and moving into 2014, almost a year ago- on May 31-June 8 I ran a 10K each day with my best time at 49:42 – averaging 8:00/mile.

In late 2013 we went on a trip back to Romania. It was great. And then later in 2013 we decided to have another child…and well, that worked!

The months of the pregnancy before the second son arrived were filled with all the psychic baggage you could expect – and then in the summer of 2014 #2 arrived.

I had no problem downshifting my life to be a father/dad. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Work remained the stress that it had been all along – (now with added work and responsibilities!) and running was completely out of the picture. So from the middle of the summer 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014, I ran once…on the 31st. In 2015, I’ve made it out the door 27 times. A coooold winter kept me indoors at 0600 when it was below freezing and I just couldn’t drag my carcass out the door.  
I’ve made it out 7 days in May with 3 of those back-to-back.

I have also accepted the fact that I’m not recovering as fast as I did back in my 30s. Joints and muscles are sore for a bit longer.

There is a huge distraction coming down the line in June and it’s anyone’s guess to how long that will pull me away.

As I reflected back to those days of reading and writing I realized that I had something in my life that held me firm. I had my runs and these books.

I need that again. I need to join my life now – everything that I have in it…with these steadying elements.

So – as I’ve written so many times before – Let’s try this again.

Dennis McFarland – Nothing to Ask For 

 A difficult story for me to write about as I try to get back into this project. I cannot relate to the subject matter – but I can relate to the love, devotion and friendship the main character expresses towards his friend. 
I’ve been spared the burden of taking care of someone with a terminal disease.
I had a very brief, mild view as to what that might feel like during one of the last visits my father made to our house. 

I had to monitor everything he did. Monitor his meal times; monitor his bathroom breaks, his showering. I had to sleep in the same room as him to prevent him from getting up during the night and injuring himself. 

And the whole time – he too had Nothing to Ask For. 

The years ahead of me are going to require an incredible amount of patience love and understanding. Not just as my boys grow and learn about the world…but as I grow old, M grows old and my mother and father grow old. 

It’s going to be difficult. 

And I just need to remember to love.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Denis Johnson – Car Crash While Hitchhiking

I've written before – several posts back – not quite sure at all how many, of a nice tight, what I feel to be an almost perfect – no – perfect story.  Perhaps it was Carver or Updike…yes, I suppose it was one of those two – and so, I think I've found another one to line up with the others.

This little story still has the taste of the late 80s (whatever that means to you) but I can feel it moving towards the 90s where my personal appreciation of literature begins to develop and mature.
I’ll note that it is through multiple readings of certain novels or stories that I understand and gain a deeper appreciation for the work.  This is the case here.
The multiple readings began not intentionally, as a way to understand the story – but because I've sat so long on this exercise and I was forced to refresh my memory as to what I had last read.

And as things seem to line up in my life, and the life of this project, I seem to be reinvigorated – ready to push forward again.  With this exercise beginning in the last days of May 2008, 6.6 years ago – or 2410 days and 321 posts I was a little burned out – I couldn't seem to find the words to string together anymore.
I had/have a lot on my plate now considering the free and easy days of 2008.  Two children later and I've passed through several incarnations of who I am today. I have issues with time management – as I written about so many times and the exercise suffered for it.
Perhaps, I can continue for another 2410 days and finish this little thing off.  I can only hope that the BASS continues to publish.
So – Car Crash While Hitchhiking.  There are so many passages that stand out and pulled me through the story.  Johnson in describing this story in the Contributor’s Notes section labels this as a sad story and I can agree with it and perhaps this is why I am drawn to it.
A beautiful nurse was touching my skin. “These are vitamins,” she said and drove the needle in.

It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks.

And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.

As touched on above, it reminds me of Carver and this is ultimately why I think I’m drawn to it.  Denis Johnson appears again in the BASS 1992 for a story that was published in the New Yorker.  I look forward to encountering him again.
Author Anthony Marra touches on Johnson’s story and the line I extracted above and offers a wonderful piece for The Atlantic. If you have the time I really encourage you to read it and then…read Johnson’s story.
You can read it here - The Atlantic 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mr. Morning – Siri Hustvedt

I read this story a few months ago and am just now getting around to writing about it.

I have a new life now filled with responsibilities and distractions – enough to keep me from reading and doing any serious thinking about what I've read. Mindless fiction finds its way into the brief moments I have to read and I’m afraid that I've also developed a shorter attention span which kills any sort of extended periods of reading and writing. 

This was a beautifully written story and I was pulled through the pages.

I've been fortunate enough in my life, up to this point, to be spared being exposed to situations such as Iris, the main character.

Perhaps this is one of those stories that offers a lesson to the reader.

Of course, every day presents the possibility…of a situation.

Will I remember my lessons?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Talk to a Hunter – Pam Houston

Lately it seems that there has been quite a bit written about the role of literature as a teacher.  Perhaps I am just sensitive to it because I firmly agree with this and I intend to make it one of the many teachers of my children.

One of the appealing characteristics of this anthology is that reading these stories gives me the chance to jump into a different reality for about 15 minutes or so.  Then, as I sit and think about what I've just read, I slowly process what the stories could teach me – what lessons do they impart.

Perhaps it’s through the lessons of literature, stories of this type that have given me the tools deal with women throughout my life. 
 I enjoy reading stories by women authors with a woman as the lead character and I enjoyed this little story by Houston.

I thought about the relationships I've had over the years with women and certain feelings they may have felt as a result of my actions – or inaction.
The love, the questioning, the jealousy, the trust and distrust – the hate, the pressure the capture and the freedom.  I remember how I felt in those relationships, and to dial time back and think about how she, the girl in my life felt…and - well, it’s a little tough sometimes. 

This story had a nice minimalist feel to it (my opinion) –clean and sleek – impressively so and later discovering that Houston wrote the story in a burst – 10 hours at the computer – and she states that after those first ten hours – she never changed a word of the story.  She too recognizes the how special it is to drive all the words out into the world in one push and end up with something so perfect. 

The Secret of Cartwheels – Patricia Henley

I've put myself into W’s brain on several occasions and taken a look at my behavior through his eyes.  It’s a fascinating experience.  It’s an exercise where I have to primitivize my thoughts wrestling with the knowledge that I already have as an adult.

Children know much more than we gave them credit for years ago.  And reading this story by Henley, her ability to give a voice to a young girl, opens the door (at least it did in 89-90) to the hurt that a child feels as a result of the failings of adults.

Looking into Henley, I found a short story published by her (Rocky Gap) in Glimmer Train back in 2008.

You can see the full index of Glimmer Train publications here.

I also found a nice little interview with her on the Glimmer Train site where she references a piece by Ted Solotaroff – “Raymond Carver: Going Through the Pain”. 

Well…because she dropped this---then of course I must find it and read it.

Ah…the beauties of working in an academic library – gotta love JSTOR.

And so, with this story by Henley, I find that in this segment of my life I have a special sympathy for the viewpoint of a child.
I take add this to the life that my parents gave me and I wonder if I’m going to drive myself mad sometimes completely over thinking parenting.

And then there are what seems to be the constant reports of child abuse, neglect and murder.

Reading the accounts, I can’t help but see what damaged, imperfect creatures we are.  We have the potential for such beauty and love but at the same time, we destroy and hate.

The fracture in a person’s mind that takes them down this path often times are not self-inflicted – but due to the actions of another – and where did that originate?

Henley wraps the story up beautifully with this –

“I felt exhausted, not the clean exhaustion of after-dark softball but a kind of weariness; I was worn out with the knowledge that life would be different, but not in the way I had imagined or hoped.  I didn’t want to forgive her for being the way she was, but you have to forgive your mother.  She searched my eyes and tried to make some long ago connection, sweet scrutiny, perhaps the way she’d look at me when I was a new baby, her first baby.  I looked away.  Jan Mary gnawed delicately at her cuticles.  Christopher came around the corner of the house swinging his Mickey Mantle bat, his leather mitt looped on his belt.  The new spring leaves were so bring they hurt my eyes. “ 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wizard – C. S. Godshalk

I’m finding more truth behind the thought that the “time” in which a person reads/encounters a story

impacts the ingestion of that story and the relationship between that story and the reader can vary

greatly depending on the factors existing in that “time” encounter.

I’m not finding the love for these collected stories that I found in the past.

Could it be that I've entered into a new literary movement in the late 80s?

Perhaps I've just stumbled onto a rough couple of volume editors that haven’t selected stories that I find


It just seems that the earlier volumes of this reading project pulled me through much quicker. The

stories provided me with plenty to reflect upon and write about.

-It seemed that everything was so fresh.

Yes, my life is incredibly different than what it was while I was reading those early volumes and I can

only believe that this has about an 80% impact on my interaction with the volumes/stories.

And so I accept a large portion of the blame for the dwindling relationship I have here.

Take this story for example.

I got almost nothing out of it.

I struggled through it.

Which – as this being the case – interestingly enough - gave me the above to write about.

So – I’ll leave it there and move along.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Just a short walk up to the stacks. My memory is still solid as I can easily find the shelves where the BASS live.  They are aligned perfectly.  
Waiting - and waiting - and waiting. 
With the new circulation system there is no longer a need for a due date slip to be place and stamped in the back of the book.  
The 2013 edition of BASS is crisp and clean - the pages snap and crackle as I quickly flip them between my thumb.  And I have this quickening and shortness of breath as I think that perhaps I am the only one that will ever do this.  I pull some of the other volumes down to find one with a due date slip in the back - I need to see when it was last checked out.  
It’s funny that I actually feel a physical hurt thinking that these books will sit here for years and years until someday they are discarded - never to have been read - their authors never heard of again.