Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glimpse into Another Country – Wright Morris

Wright Morris - January 6, 1910 – April 25, 1998

It’s not that often that we sit back in our little world(s) and attempt to grasp how big the world really is.

We go through our day and focus on our frustrations and convince ourselves that the problems and pains we are suffering are to be our own to bear and that there can’t possibly be anyone out there suffering as much as we are.

I think DFW in his famous commencement speech brought our self-centeredness right to us and helped us realize what silly creatures we are.

Only recently, well, within the past 8 years or so, have I really attempted to grasp the enormity of the world. Even after my trips, life and time abroad, I still failed to realize the scale of this place – planet - until recently.

I think it has only been through the education I have gained over these past years both through my day to day work and in my reading that has allowed my mind to open and to see what is really going on in this world...taking a Glimpse into Another Country.

I think that it’s the mental filters kicking in once again that only allow so much information to pass through into our minds preventing an overload of sorts.

The filters prevent the weight of the world from crushing us. Sometimes those filters malfunction...and well, you can guess what happens when the weight of the world lands on you.

How many times do you glimpse into another country?

Step off that cliff?

Run that extra mile?

Cheat death?

Walk around naked?

I thought that doing so would be difficult given my line of work. I have found this not to be the case.

It all has to do with a shift in your mental state. Knock it off a couple of degrees – (you can choose how to do that) and your everyday can become glimpses into other countries.

I have to remind myself to skew my angle of thought. Not daily...but hourly.

I have to think about how others think.

Think about what others see.

Think about what others feel.

Think about what others do.

Then – I think about what I think and see and feel and do.

And I think about other ways of thinking and seeing and feeling and doing until I know that my next step may or may not be the right one...but it will definitely be interesting.

It’s a big world.

Let your mind take you out there. It’s easier than you think.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thorofare - Susan Minot

Susan Minot – December 7, 1956 -
It’s impossible it seems to read so many short stories in a compacted period of time, and during such an emotionally charged section of my life, that I wouldn’t seem to think that I was encountering a solid theme emerging from the American Short Story.
I have encountered the “difficult pregnancy” story – (hasn’t helped with my thoughts on our own pregnancy).
The disabled child story (again, toying with my emotions during this time)
The single parent (my father and his struggle with Alzheimer’s...added to the feelings that most kids of the 70s and 80s have towards their father’s who left their family).
The unfaithful spouse (thankfully I can’t draw a “real life” parallel here!).
And finally, death and its impact on the family – no surprise here –
I seem to have come across quite a few of these stories in The Best American Short Stories collections.
Where is my parallel?
Well, I have both a step-father, a father and mother that all seem to be fixated on death – more pointedly, their death.
Discussions surrounding the health of my step-father and his continued time with us have also included the discussion of what we as a family will do when it’s his time to go. That discussion then turns to a discussion with my mother about what she wants to happen to her after she dies.
Then I have my father who obsesses during our visits with him about his long walk down death’s road with Alzheimer’s.
So, I encounter Thorofare and think “oh shit, another death story”.
I wholeheartedly agree that the story should have been included in the anthology. It’s a wonderful story.
It just came at a very sensitive time in my life.
A time where I have two fathers rounding out their lives while at the same time, M and I are preparing to bring another life into this world.
What I take away from this story is not the message of the story...but the timing that it appeared in my life. I could have read this story two years ago and it would not have had the impact that it did when I read it a couple of weeks ago.
Which makes me think – did Updike choose his stories based on the mood he was in that particular year, or was his selections made out of his ability to really recognize quality writing?
Possibly a little of both.
Everyday when we climb out of bed and stumble into the bathroom, piss, and then make our way downstairs to make our coffee – we are opening the book of our day.
We have no clue of the author or the work that we are about to encounter.
Just chalk this up as another reason why I love this anthology.

Morrison’s Reaction – Stephen Kirk

Stephen Kirk -???

We’ve all come up against individuals who refuse to take advice.

Yup – advice.

I really don’t like that word – well, not the word exactly – but the action associated with the word.

I am very conscious of not giving advice. This is difficult for me because of my background but I have found that in life, people don’t usually like to receive it and they don’t appreciate it when it’s given (there are plenty of people out there willing to give advice).

There were cases in my past where I have offered my opinion for the well being of the individuals involved...and to not have the opinion respected or even considered...well, that was quite frustrating.

I have also been on the receiving end of advice and I out of my desire to keep the flow of life smooth, I have mostly heeded all advice given. (I also attempt to place myself into situations where I don’t need someone to give me advice...that helps the entire situation).

So – my advice...don’t give it, just receive it.

The Artificial Moonlight – Donald Justice

Donald Justice - August 12, 1925 - August 6, 2004

During the period of my life when I would have developed the friendships and connections that the characters in this story shared, I was busy wasting time in my life.

I had a pretty solid base, actually, a very solid base, of friends that I made in college, but as college friends usually do, we scattered ourseleves across the country.

These friends were made during a shared struggle. The friendships served their purpose, and actually, I think that there would only be a couple of guys that I would classify as “true friends” that came out of those 4 years.

After leaving school, I bumbled around and didn’t create any lasting friendships.

I had not yet discovered the direction that my life need to move in and I was attempting to live out all of the experiences that I missed in college (sow my wild oats).

Would I trade that time?

Simply – no.

Soon, I realized that I need to get my act together, I found myself in another country where I was isolated not only by geography but my language and culture.

I made friends and even met my wife - but again, – nothing like the characters in the story.

Later - For the past ten years – back in the States, work has kept me busy during the days, and socializing with people during non work hours outside of my family is something that I really haven’t done.

Looking at myself from about 1,000 feet, I can see that I have chosen a small circle of people to really care about.

I have seen them grow and develop over the years, and I continue to be amazed by the transformations of their lives.

This atmosphere that I have created for myself is one that allows me a bit of weightlessness.

I am living a happy life. Those closest to me are happy with me, and I with them- ...after all, this is all that matters – right?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Inexorable Progress – Mary Hood

Mary Hood - September 16, 1946

You pass people everyday who are fighting it. People at your place of work, school in your neighborhood store or at your place of worship. A black clawing menace that if not brought under control will push them to death.

It’s scary man...really scary.

You think you know someone... and then well, it’s too late.

And what’s even more frightening, is that some people are really good at hiding their internal struggle until it’s too late.

Their actions take everyone by surprise and lay waste to the conscience of those who thought they knew.

You see, no one really knows another.

There is so much hidden within us all.

We do a wonderful job of giving the world an image that we feel it wants from us.

We let it down for a select few – our parents, siblings, spouses or really good friends...but, I honestly believe that there is a little bit within each of us that never makes it to the surface – a little bit that we keep hidden within our selves.

Out of shame.

Mary Hood does a wonderful job in a difficult format – the short story, to present the everywoman – and the disturbing turn her life takes as she wrestles with her black clawing menace – and sadly the inability to find relief through suicide when she is brought back by the hands of our society to face the evils within her once again.

Her character saw a door, an escape.

We all have so many difficulties in our lives. This world that we live in is tough.

But of all those difficulties that we face, how many are created by us?

Magnified by us to a point where sane management is out of our reach?

Modern medicine has allowed us to disguise so many things about ourselves. Mental illness and sexual dysfunction are right up there at the top for Americans.

The number of Americans popping Soma pills daily to make it through their lives is incredible.

Do they need the pills?

Sure they do.

Do they abuse the pills?

Sure they do.

They are human aren’t they?

Why wouldn’t they?

This is our world – their reality.

Lena – Mavis Gallant

Mavis Gallant - August 11, 1922 –

I come to a Gallant story, and I can’t say that I’m excited by it contained in the collection. It’s usually the cause of a reading speed bump for me. She doesn’t pull me through to read the story and I often set the anthology aside, dreading reading her. And you know there really isn’t a good reason for this behavior.

I think with Gallant, one has to be in the right frame of mind to accept what she has written.

I have to let my mind settle before I can deal with her.

This is the forth time I have encountered Gallant...and I am pleased with the volume editor for including her. She did her job and was a speed bump – the BASS 1984 has fallen to the side and I haven’t cracked it for some time.

I pushed through Gallant and in the end, was rewarded.

It’s hard to let go of a “love”.

I think that I have over the years developed an attitude where I am able to let go of my attachments.

I recognize the selfish nature of “keeping something”.

There are far more important things in life than ones possessions – or possessing another.

There is no reason why you can’t keep loving someone/something, but to allow them to remain under your control or for you to fail to release them – well, it’s just not worth it.

And, this attitude falls under my daily and hourly struggle for self-discipline – my struggle to fight against that which I cannot control within myself.

I feel pity for myself at times for my inability to let-go.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Father's Story - Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus - August 11, 1936 - February 24, 1999

Sitting down to write about Dubus is so intimidating because he is so freak’in good.

I mean, really good.

And this story, “A Father’s Story” has to be one of his best.

If you know a bit about Dubus, then you know that he was horribly injured in a car accident back in 1986...three years after he wrote this story...which also contains a horrible car accident.

Reading the story gives you a bit of a creepy feeling.

What lengths would I go to protect a loved one?

My wife?

My sister?

My mother?

My father?

My child?

What demons –of my own mind - would I be willing to face as a result of protecting them?

Would I hesitate and allow that question to enter my mind or would I act and deal with the results?

Because I am about to have a small life enter into my world, I know that I will be faced with the task of developing a whole new set of decision making parameters.

That’s all I really have to say about this story.

The message caused me to pause and take stock of my character and wonder how it will morph over the next several years.

And that is something that beautiful art can do to a person.

Now do it.

Question yourself.

Gent – Rick DeMarinis

Rick DeMarinis May 3, 1934

As DeMarinis told an interviewer on NPR Performance Today in 1988, "what we do to each other [is] often grotesque and often result[s] in life dilemmas that are almost insoluble."

Several stories, in fact, ironically question the legitimacy of "normalcy" itself, asking how abusive or controlling aspects of human behavior can become comfortably "ordinary."

I chose the two quotes above to bring into my lesson for this story because I felt that they most closely aligned with what DeMarinis was attempting to tell me.

I find myself examining the behavior of others quite a bit, and with more frequency, as I attempt to understand my own behavior.

I’ve been thinking a lot my father’s behavior especially now as I am going to have the chance to be a father myself.

I have mentioned before in these lessons that I really have a difficult time understanding why my father would undertake the challenge of being a father and then step back, look at the long view, and decide to abandon the traditional way.

I suppose that the two quotes at the top really highlight his behavior. My father leaving the family was considered “normal”. Divorce had become more accepted and, well, I suppose I shouldn’t lay the whole thing on him, both my mother and father felt that it was the right thing to do at the time.

Over the years though it has become apparent that my mother was never in favor of the divorce.

Which begs another question.

Her actions over the years – or inaction and silence. Was it, or could it have been, as damaging as my father’s actions?

Sure, I’d say so – there has to be a balance to everything.

My inability recently to really articulate my thoughts to others may be due to me being afraid of offending them in some way. I am really holding back in what I say to others in most situations.

Is this a good thing?

Well, it certainly spares their feelings but at the same time, I walk around feeling like an idiot most of the time.

I have learned to measure out my words before I speak them.

I loved this story because there was something disturbing lurking beneath the surface the entire time.

Just like life.

Looking across the tranquil lake of our life, we have forgot that below that ice still surface lies murky waters with creatures ready to alter our lives in ways that...well... DeMarinis warns us of.

We go about our day to day activities – almost numb – but safe, while our mind has developed the ability to filter out – for our own protection – all the incoming information that could potentially harm us...the really disturbing events that occur around us all the time.

We’ve become desensitized...we have lost the sense of the hunter and the prey – being both in one.

So, I have to filter my words going out, and pull down the filter of everything coming in.

Reality – face it, accept it, live it.