Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Piano Tuner - Peter Meinke

Peter Meinke – 1932 - ????

With harsh turns of tuning pegs and string pops and banging of

keys…drunken shouts and forcible confinement, we find piano tuners entering our lives and forcing us to look at who we really are.

Driving us to the edge of insanity…and possibly leading us directly into that very state…they do us what we think is harm but should and could possibly be a great service.

Stepping outside of our boundaries is healthy. Being pushed by “tuners” is a healthy thing.

We must learn to recognize the tuners in our lives and allow them to do their job.

We must also tune ourselves. Push ourselves into situations both physically and mentally that pop a few strings or break a few old ivory keys.

The strings and keys will be replaced with newgut and whiter ivory.

“How hypocritical” it is of me to write the above sentences you say…those of you who know me.

Yes, I battle with my tuners. It may appear that I resist their applications.

But in reality, I allow my tuners to work on me daily.

You see, my tuners do not pound the keys, pop strings and confine me.

My tuning pegs are slowly turned…so slow that their movement cannot be consciously detected.

My keys are pounded upon - but their destruction and replacement happens at such a speed that many processes as inactivity and stagnation.

And my confinement…I see it not as solitary- but as a gift of freedom.

Clothing - John L'Heureux

John L'Heureux - October 26, 1934 –

Quite a few of us find ourselves wearing the tight white collar.

Quite a few of us find ourselves shedding that collar for so

meone…something…or just perhaps, ourselves.

I found myself in that position back in the mid 90s, and I discovered that changing my clothing back then was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Now, re-reading the above sentence, I would like to change the word “changing” to “supplementing”.

I made the additions to my wardrobe for me.

I don’t think I have reached the final outcome of that clothing supplementation - and perhaps I’ll never see the final outcome of the decisions I made so many years ago.

I am satisfied with what has happened and I’ll continue to live in my weird, strange mixed up set of clothes.

You see, I added to my toolbox rather than replacing certain tools.

You’ve Come a Long Way Mickey Mouse –Bev Jafek

Bev Jafek- ???

Mickey has lived his life.

He’s lived his life, seen us, and our place within his life, and reached a certain set of conclusions about existence…the deep meaning of it.

I’m about to step through a major door in my existence on this planet (easy…it’s the only one I’ve ever been on, and the only one I ever will be on). Once I pass through this door, I feel that how I have lived up to that point ( the point where I pass through the door) in my life will be re-focused and my set of conclusions that I feel I have reached so far in my life will be jarred.

This is a great thing.

We all need to be jarred…shaken and disturbed.

It mixes the oil with the vinegar.

But then there are those that are never shaken.

I have a certain fascination with people who work in parking garage ticket taking booths.

I stress over their lives. I worry about them in their little boxes. It’s easy for me to think that they could find another job…but could they really? I mean, has their life been lead to a point where they fit within a predetermined mold that only allows them to sit in this small box and collect parking garage tickets? How does this happen?

And then I think…”do they enjoy what they are doing?”

They have a job…they are making some money…

I think that I also overly my intellectual curiosities onto them.

Maybe they don’t want to “live a life” or they don’t know how to “live a life” and all they really know is their life in the box, and that box is comfortable to them.

I just find their existence really interesting.

Mickey says –

“And then I understood the enormity I had become I was like you. My life was lived on a line parallel to yours, but my capacity to reflect my own essence was so horribly perfect. I had discovered, as only an image can, that all your ability to think and feel is based on truncated images. What an uncomfortable creature you are – how prone to obsession, myopia, how divided from all you survey, what a watcher, defender, conquer. And so it is with love – the more distant I was from her, the more incited I became.

Them I truly saw the world you had created. For you are the species who creates a world to invite images. I found that vehicles, parks, whole streets, even cities had been created to incite images. It was astounding – I now understood what your kind had been feeling, what so much of your world was intended for. I became fascinated with the dialectics of people alone – driving in cars, hidden away with their books, sitting in their homes, drinking in whatever corner the world allowed. For I now knew a human secret: When alone, people have a truly horrifying hunger for another person, a hunger beyond satisfaction, a life of images held like a hand of cards against fate”

What a wonderful set of lines Jafek has written.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sudden Trees – H.E. Francis

H.E. Francis - H(erbert) E(dward) Francis - born 1924

And with this story, we find another that I think will stay with me a lifetime.

I’m feeling particularly sensitive to stories about children now – for obvious reasons.

My mind is in that state where anything that has to do with a child, childhood, parenting or family that passes across my radar…is instantly tagged and my hyper-aware, laser-like focus zeros in on it and I need to know everything about what is being presented.

This particular story is the second in this collection dealing with the death of a child and it comes directly after the wonderful story by Starkey Flythe.

I read both of these stories back-to-back one morning last week, and it may not have been such a good idea.

Then again, with this quality of writing, I suppose that anytime I read it, the impact would have been the same.

Found a page about Francis and it contained the following quote by him that gives his statement of writing. It is wonderful

"I want each story to hold in its clarity its own profound sense of the mystery we live. In my work, the story has to fix on what I find to be real (everlasting) in human experience within the flexing language of madness and the forms of chaos in our time.

"I want to live in my stories the lives, the spontaneous momentary revelations, of all who really want to live before they die, or who are not aware that they are alive, or who want to live what they cannot."

Wow…just wow.

“ flexing language of madness and the forms of chaos in our time.”

The madness and chaos of the early to mid eighties was certainly different than what we have today…but they surely had some shit going down back then.

I know that the thought of being vaporized at any moment weighed heavily on my 12 year old mind.

Now, the peace and security of dying instantly in a blinding flash of light has been replaced with the possibility of a long tortuous death brought on by a poison, virus, dirty bomb, a creative terrorist attack…or even worse, that you witness the death of your family due to any of the above.

In his writing, Francis uses his skill to place you directly into the body of the narrator, holding the sickly body of the young girl he is caring for.

You feel his emotions as she progresses through the stages of her sickness.

We should all be fortunate enough to give comfort to our loved ones as the pass away. We hold them at birth, and we should be able to hold them or be held at death.

What a wonderful story.

Walking, Walking - Starkey Flythe

Starkey Flythe - February 15, 1935

Nice meaty story – add a touch of psychiatric illness, and you have just the type of short I really like.

I’m not sure why the thoughts come to me when I’m in the shower. I’m sure someone out there has written why our minds are more at ease or creative in that particular space.

The thoughts come, and at times, especially in the mornings I have to choke back emotions…M is usually on the other side of the shower curtain, and she can tell by my face if there is something heavy going on in my mind.

The thoughts concern the death of a loved one, and how I would react. The minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years after their death.

Would I ever truly get over it?

What sort of effect would it have on my mental state?

What would my life become without that person?

It’s impossible to predict how we might react. All we can do is look at previous behaviors and attempt to derive some sort of knowledge as to what could happen.

I have been fortunate. The deaths in my family have all taken place far away from me.

Their impact was slight.

I’m afraid of the future…and what will not be slight.

Roses - Margaret Edwards

Margaret Edwards - ???

How long does of an encounter does it take for person’s characteristics to become grafted into part of your personality?

I suppose you must take into consideration both parties and the circumstances of the encounter.

I meet people, work with people, and if my time with them is long enough, involved enough for me to gauge parts of them…I’ll let a little grafting take place…I’ll invite the grafting and even promote it.

I’m conscious not to let the graft create a new named “rose” but there is a bit of noticable change.

Seek people to graft with and consider the positive aspects of accepting a little bit of their world in your life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Leather man - E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow - January 6, 1931

I’ve written a lot about perspectives here. Mostly about my attempts at looking at my life and situations I find myself in from a different perspective.

E.L. Doctorow drops an interesting story that not only forces me to revisit a former home….and see it from heights…but he also manages to create a story that wiggles into the mind of Godwin and Ravenel.

I’ve written a couple of times here about my time in Negresti.

A week ago, a few photos surfaced on a particular social network site that allowed me to see a place that was once a major part of my life from a whole new perspective.

I always knew Negresti was a small town and I always considered whether to call it a village.

A little diversion first…

I questioned why I was sent to Negresti from the time I was told by my country director and my sector leader that they felt I was a perfect match for Negresti.

I remember stating in my placement interview that I would welcome being sent to a smaller town. The director took me up on that offer and sent me to the smallest town they could offer.

I’d like to think that they saw something in me that they felt would allow me to survive in such inhospitable conditions.

The side of me that likes to dwell on self-doubt caused me to think that I was sent there because the town was small, and I was being “sent away”.

I’ve come to realize that this thought was silly, and due to the results of my time there…I realize that I was sent there for the very reason the director wanted me there.

Talk about the ultimate perspective change – I was about to enter in the largest most influential shift in perspective that I have ever encountered.

Now, back to the photos.

Here are a few shots from a larger group of photos that surfaced showing Negresti from the air.

In the past, and during my time there, I was always able to envision Negresti from the air but these photos turn that vision into a reality.

In the photo below, I can see M’s apartment. It’s old, the roof is a mash of materials but the memories are safe under them.

I can also see the alley.

I can see the alley I walked down daily to enter the town to buy bread.

The same alley that I stumbled down countless nights after spending too many hours in one of the town’s MANY bars.

The same alley where I saw young boys torturing a kitten.

The same ally I saw a frozen cat lay for months in the winter.

The same alley that has a large trash receptacle which I set fire to after dumping my mouse urine covered wardrobe in.

The same alley I watched students walk down arm in arm on their way to meet me.

The ally was sort of an entrance to and an exit from my small reality in that town.

More on Entrances and Exits- In the photo below, I can see a very special street.

This street was my road to freedom. This was the road that was an entrance to, and an exit from, my large reality in that town and country.

I walked on this road sometimes as early as 2:30 to catch a connecting train to another city.

Negresti wasn’t on a main train line so the schedule wasn’t exactly tailored for easy exits.

I walked on this road in sub-zero temperatures…making my way towards the train station…already a little buzzed from the flask of cognac I had stuffed in my winter coat. The alcohol keeping me warm…warding off boredom and giving me a little fortitude to handle the situation I was inevitably going to encounter upon reaching the station and then later, aboard the train.

Sometimes as I walked this road early on early spring mornings, I smelled the sweetest air I’ve ever encountered. My heart expanded as I heard the world awaken around me. Chickens, cows and birds could be heard stirring in the yards lining the road. The dew…appearing in these early hours awakened the smells around me and in combination with the excitement of travel, bringing me close to tears.

My entrances and return to the town were memorable as well.

Sometimes when I returned, it would be so cold and dark, the town covered in thick fog, that you couldn’t make out the station from the train window.

Dread would descend upon me and I questioned my existence in this corner of the world.

Then there were times when I had been away for some time. I’d see the small station, hop off the train and see a familiar face along the road back to my room.

I’d be happy to be back.

After several months in the town, I had a longing to see the town from as many perspectives as I could.

Here is a photo I took of the town from the hills (hardly) that overlooked the town.

I had been having a particularly hard few days, and I need to get out of the town.

I think I drank a few beers, and threw a couple into my backpack along with my camera. I made it to the top of the hill in about an hour and a half.

I remember how peaceful it was up there. I heard cows and dogs barking in the distance.

I cried.

I worked over my life while I was up on that hill. The sun was setting and I followed it as it finally disappeared over the horizon.

I drank a beer or two. I pulled myself together and walked back down the hill.

I don’t remember the rest of that evening.

But the perspective on the town and my life in Negresti had changed from my little pep talk in combination with my time on that hill.

I slip into my memories of Negresti quite frequently during this time of the year. I think it has something to do with the temperature change and the light.

I settled into Negresti right around this time 12 years ago.

So…now…with the appearance of these photos, I can add a whole new perspective on the town and my time there.

Gail Godwin writes in her introduction:

“Who is this Slater, do you think?” I asked Shannon Ravenel on Sunday in February, when I had phoned her long distance to inquire about the eligibility of a story I wanted to include. Then we got around to discussing some of the other stories, which brought us to ‘The Leather man.”

“I’m not sure,” said Shannon, who speaks with those soft consonants that make me nostalgic for my Southern childhood. “But I think he and the other man are sort of a combination policemen and psychologists.”

We kept the wires humming between Woodstock and St. Louis a little longer, mulling over why this story had illuminated some problematic corner of existence for us and made us meditate on our condition as solitary souls living tenuously on a crowded earth, but inveterately curious about one another.

“Well, anyway,” Shannon concluded, “I really like that story.”

I still don’t know who Slater is, but I really like it too.

Searching and viewing a story from two perspectives…not finding an answer.

I’m still searching for answers in my life – I haven’t found all the answers and I doubt I ever will – but the exercise of perspective change sure makes it interesting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dog’s Lives – Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop - November 12, 1945

This is one of those stories that I run across and have a tough time reading and understanding. If you look through my past entries, you will see that there have been a few similar stories that have caused me to pause and reflect on this sort of problem and why they were so difficult for me.

From what I can tell, Bishop is a talented, prolific and loved writer.

I just don’t know.

I was in the right frame of mind…I wasn’t rushed, I was ready to read.

I just didn’t get it from the beginning, and couldn’t get into it throughout.

I just have to realize that every story can’t give me something – even if it is offering.

Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story - Russell Banks

Russell Banks - March 28, 1940

I have long conversations with myself pretty frequently. I’d say that a reoccurring conversation concerns how I treat other people.

What I say to them, how I respond to their requests from me, what I think of them…you know… things along those lines.

I feel pretty guilty most of the time about what I say to people. I feel that I don’t wait long enough for the thoughts I think to be fully processed and weighed, before they slip from my mouth and to the ears of the recipient. It’s a vicious cycle because after I say the words, the guilt creeps up on me almost immediately – or at least within an hour – time enough for me to review the conversation.

Words can hurt and sometimes I fail to recognize their power.

There have been several times in my life where I have uttered a word - a sentence and wished that I could suck the words back into my mouth.

That’s impossible though. Once they are out – it’s too late.

You can do all the back pedaling and apologizing and attempt to cover your verbal tracks – but nope, it’s too late.

The person who had your words thrown at them could possibly now hold quite a different opinion of you…and it’s doubtful that anything you do will ever change this newly formed opinion.

Do words kill as the narrator in this story felt they could?

Yes -

Just as actions can lead to a series of events – unintended events – the words you speak can carry through time and space causing ripples in the world that you never thought imaginable.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Introduction and Contents of The Best American Short Stories 1985

Gail Godwin - June 18, 1937

As I struggled to finish the 1984 edition of The BASS, early one morning before opening the book, I shuffled over to my bookshelf and pulled out the 1985 edition in the hopes that the book would inspire me to finish the current one with a little more enthusiasm.
“Who the hell is Gail Godwin” I thought.
Not knowing this author/editor , I turned the book over to take a look and see who this “Godwin” selected for BASS 1985.
I was pretty pleased to see a few familiar names and I had faith that Ravenel wouldn’t let me down (I’ll excuse the Elkin selection).
I finish 1984 and the day arrives to pick up and begin 1985. All set to plunge headlong into the reading…yet the question remains –
“Who the hell is Gail Godwin”
I won’t bore you with repeating everything I discovered about her through various sites on the net. There are quite a few and they go into great detail on her personal and literary life ( very impressive).
I’ll say that she is very deserving of being the editor of this volume.
I spent a decent amount of time reading about Godwin, and folded in what I learned through reading other sources along with her introduction at the beginning of the anthology, and I am comfortable in saying that I think Godwin is going to deliver a collection of stories that will be some of the most pleasing to date.
How do I form this opinion?
Well, first, I think Gail is pretty frick’in cool.
I like her style of life…her outlook on humanity, her questioning and probing of the world.
She and I see a similar function of literature… and that draws me to her.
An example from her introduction:
…the motto of this collection might well be : “Tell me something I need to know – about art, about the world, about human behavior, about myself.”
See those last two words above? About myself”
That’s what I am attempting to do with this whole “blog” exercise…it’s what I have been doing since 2008 (really only since 2009)…but I see a connection with Godwin just though her introduction.
She also writes : The paradox I have discovered, in writing and in reading the writing of others, is that the more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and the infinite.
That’s what I’m talking about!
I feel that Godwin is very self aware – someone who in 1985 was not absorbed in the person of “Gail Godwin”.
There are many pictures of Godwin to be found online. I decided to steal and place the below one on this site for this reason.

The photo was from 1959. She had just finished college and was about to strike out into the world. She is a beautiful young woman and it appears that she is very aware of the power that her beauty holds.
Now, I see that she is also portraying a stance that reflects the power of her intellect. She is ready to attack, to challenge, to disrupt, to disturb and finally to know… the world. (see her brow? It's in there!)
So Mrs. Godwin – let’s see what you’ve chosen for me. I trust you haven’t let me down.

The Best American Short Stories 1985 Gail Godwin & Shannon Ravenel (Houghton Mifflin, 1985
Introduction Gail Godwin
1 Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story • Russell Banks •The Missouri Review, 1984
24 Dogs’ Lives • Michael Bishop • The Missouri Review v7 #2 ’84
44 -Emperor of the Air • Ethan Canin • Atlantic Monthly Dec ’84
58 -The Leather Man • E. L. Doctorow • The Paris Review, 1984
67- Roses • Margaret Edwards • The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1984
84 -Walking, Walking • Starkey Flythe • Northwest Review, 1984
96- The Sudden Trees • H. E. Francis • Prairie Schooner, 1984
116- You’ve Come a Long Way, Mickey Mouse • Bev Jafek • Columbia Magazine of Poetry and Prose, 1984
126- Clothing • John L’Heureux • Tendril, 1984
139 -The Piano Tuner • Peter Meinke • Atlantic Monthly Feb ’84
150- Fellow-Creatures • Wright Morris • New Yorker Dec 31 ’84
157 -Angela • Bharati Mukherjee • Mother Jones, 1984
168 -City of Boys • Beth Nugent • North American Review, 1984
183 -Raven’s Wing • Joyce Carol Oates • Esquire, 1984
192 -Instruments of Seduction • Norman Rush • The Paris Review, 1984
206 -Secrets • Deborah Seabrooke • The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1984
220- The Gittel • Marjorie Sandor • Georgia Review, 1984
235 -Lily • Jane Smiley • Atlantic Monthly Jul ’84
256- The Johnstown Polka • Sharon Sheehe Stark • West Branch, 1984
273- The Skater • Joy Williams • Esquire, 1984