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.

Finding Natasha – Madison Smartt Bell

Back in October we made our first trip back to Romania with W. It was a wonderful trip.  Plenty of time with the family and W traveled extremely well.

Going back to Negresti is not just a trip back to a former home, it’s a chance to time travel. 

I knew before the trip that I would have for time traveling with my son, feeling emotions from those old days but with a companion from the future so W and I took every opportunity to get out of the apartment and onto the little streets of Negresti.  
At least twice a day W and I would venture out onto the cold(somewhat cold), still dusty(not as dusty), still dirty(not as dirty) streets of Negresti.  We’d make our way out of the apartment, taking dark the uneven stairs with care and onto the sidewalk outside of the apartment bloc.  
Each time, be it the bright light of the morning, a midday glare - or the dusky evening purple light,  I’d take a quick couple of seconds to assess the surroundings, see who was walking down the sidewalk as a possible portal to the past.  We’d start our walk down the sidewalk and usually turning right towards the “commercial” street.  Heading out onto the street for W was all about reaching the playground.  
He had his priorities, I had mine.  
Heading out onto the street for me was all about returning to 1998 - reaching back.  Things changed in Negresti - but not much.  Infants that were born when I first arrived there were now old enough to be my students if I were to teach there again.  Time failed to stop for me as I wish it had. I walked with W down the streets doing my best to casually stroll and to make myself as visible as possible.
Sounds, smells the light - all were the same.  1998 returned to me often on those walks.  I ran into former students who apologized for their English as I apologized for my Romanian. 
Time travel. 
Nervous laughter and smiles - and then it was over.
We continued down the street. There was a brief tug from the past, a tug towards the bars with their smoke and cheap vodka.  Thinking back to those days, I determined that a good deal of self-examination and discovery took place in those “establishments” brought on by the clarifying effects of the booze.  
Walking the streets in 2013 I realized that there would be no going back.  Those smoky rooms were gone for me now.  
I would need to discover myself elsewhere - but honestly, is my discovery all that important in the role that I now serve as a father? Yes, to some degree I suppose - but perhaps existing in the present with my son is far more important that strolling down the dirty sidewalks and dark smoky rooms of my past.  It’s time to remember the past, not live in it - I must live in the present and the future with my son.