Monday, August 30, 2010

Bruns – Norman Rush

Norman Rush - October 24, 1933

Interesting author. Rush and his wife served as Co-Peace Corps Country Directors in Botswana from 1978-1983. His experiences there colored his stories – this one not excluded.

Tough story to get through. Honestly, I have trouble reading stories in dialects. They turn me off from the beginning, and I can’t seem to manage them enough to dive deeper into the story.

With this story, I can only guess that it draws on an incident that Rush may have witnessed during his time in Botswana.

His closing two sentences actually wrap the story up for me perfectly.

“There is ruin. It’s perfect.”

Very seldom does a week go by that I don’t think about my time in the Peace Corps. This constant reflection is of course only stimulated more by having M as a wife…but I reflect often on my time there and my memory is still good enough to pick out small details of days and moments that had a great impact on my life.

On our past trips back to Negresti, one of the first things I try to do is to walk the streets. This is a pretty funny desire because when I lived there, I made efforts not to be seen on the streets.

When I walk the streets, I want people to recognize me. I want to see if they have changed – I want to see if they see any change in me.

Negresti is a strange town. It hasn’t changed much in the 10 years since we left. There are far more stores and the selection of merchandise is much greater for the consumer (as opposed to the times when I couldn’t even buy bread or salami).

I walk the streets and I go into the stores and I see the selection and I see that people are buying and I am happy that these products are available to them – but then, there is a slight twinge of sadness deep in me.

I want to hold onto the suffering that I had when I lived there. I want the walks and the stores to be the same. I want the small bars and cafes to only have 3 selections of beer and 2 choices of coffee and 3 brands of cigarettes – rather than the 10 choices of beer, 10 coffees and 10 brands of cigarettes.

I want the cafes to be cold and dark…I want the bars to be cold, dark and filled with the smoke of a days worth of smokers. I want the streets to be broken and cracked – I want to hear people calling out to me and whispering as I pass…

I take comfort in the memories – am I afraid of the progress because it is unknown?

Things to Be Thrown Away – Jonathan Penner

Jonathan Penner - born 1941

My father has a huge basement. This basement has the square footage of the apartment that M and I live in now.

This basement is filled to about 99.35% of its capacity. It is FULL.

Tools, old board games, CDs, old framed pictures, books, kitchen appliances. Rolls of tape, scotch, collectable watches and general crap that he has found and collected over the past 40 years.

I say 40 because he has stuff down there from his college days – stuff that he has carted from his home town in Iowa to PA to VA back to PA to NJ and then back to PA.

Honestly, there really is a lot of stuff in this basement.

Now, what makes me write about his basement in relation to this story, is that I too must make a decision – sometime pretty soon I would imagine – concerning things to be thrown away from his basement.

I’ve written in the past about how he has already started to “give” me things. This process of “giving” is interesting.

He’ll state that if I see something, and I want it, ask him, and he’ll give it to me.

Well, on one of our last visits, I did just that, and the “giving” didn’t actually take place.

I asked him for something and he would look at it and ponder its signifiganice in his life and the say “…well…I don’t know…I’d like to hold on to this.”

He would then ask if I wanted 5 rolls of duct tape or an old rusty rake ( I took one roll of tape and politely refused the rake).

There is this unspoken knowledge that exists within the entire family where we realize that someone is going to have to take or to dispose of most of my fathers “stuff”.

Over the past several months, in preparation for the baby, I have done a fine job of clearing out the apartment of my life of “stuff”.

I can’t imagine nor would I want to bring into my life all of his stuff.

So, I too must consider what to keep and what to discard.

And, in this process, I must decide what to keep about my father and what I shall let slide down my memory hole.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Cold Room – Lowry Pei

Lowry Pei – Birthday?? – Grew up in the 50s.

I venture into my own cold room quite a bit.

Sometimes I think that I spend too much time there.

My cold room isn’t necessarily filled with the corpses of memories. I think that they are just in hibernation and each time I visit them, they return to life and I am able to spend some time with them again.

Then again, I’m happy to have the ability to still pull those memories from the recesses of my mind. Who knows how long they will remain. I know as I age, I’ll loose the ability to find them in their normal resting places.

When I crack the door of the cold room and step inside, I think about my days in high school. Friendships…girlfriends.

I think about my college years. Again, all the good friends I had …the couple of girlfriends I had.

I think about my time after college.

My years adrift before my time in Romania.

I think about the “friends” I had in Romania. I think about M and how we met. I think about out time together in RO. I think about our first years in this country together. I think about the innocent first couple of years we spent together…as we really grew to know each other.

I’m happy when I revisit these corpses.

But, deep in the back corner of the cold room, on a shelf, in a box are the really “dead” memories.

I know they are there, and from time to time I will lift the lid to that box and look inside and see them there. Naturally, I don’t spend too much time with them….but I respect the space they occupy on their shelf.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rosa – Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick born April 17, 1928

If I had not read ‘The Shawl” in the BASS 1981, I don’t think that I would have had the connection to this story that the story enabled.

Having that story in my head through the time I read this really added some depth and body to the story.

Rosa is a rather long story…but worth it.

I always seem to enjoy stories that have a character who is…touched in the head.

I think if written with skill, the effect is wonderful.

Ozick certainly knows how to pull it off.

I think that part of my fascination with this particular trait in a character is my own fear or thought that I may suffer this fate someday.

I already question little mannerisms that I have and wonder how others perceive me. Little gestures, statements, behaviors and quirks. I think looking at myself from the outside, parts of who I am are a bit – well – weird…if not a little odd already. I ask myself – “why did I make that weird noise?” or “why did I screw my face up like that?”.

I have told M about these thoughts I have and she assures me that these are just traits that make us who we are. They are part of our personality.

I suppose she is correct, but I can’t seem to shake that I’m already a bit off center.

My father (in his “normal” days- Pre Alz), had an odd personality. You don’t have to stretch your thoughts too far to draw a connection between the two of us.

I just wish I wouldn’t look back on a scene in my life and be so critical of my behavior in these particular scenes.

I’m too into my own head sometimes. If the normal biological processes of my brain chemicals altering my everyday behavior as I grow older don’t push me into the looney bin – then me fretting over those brain chemicals is going to push me there quicker.

-Screwed huh?

Nairobi – Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates - born June 16, 1938

I haven’t yet narrowed down my inability to finish this volume of the BASS. Sure I’ve been distracted by the pregnancy but I’ve had plenty of time to read and write.

It’s not like I don’t have more years of the anthology to plow through…

Perhaps it’s my lack of disciple showing again.

I don’t understand what is so difficult about spending ½ an hour with a story and then writing something about it the next day.



A pleasant enough story. Nothing spectacular – standard fare from Oates (which means that the writing is superior to other authors).

What did it give me?

Well, this was a tough one.

One that caused me to stare hopelessly at the computer screen for awhile.

The first word that popped into my head was illusions.

I feel that the story had to do with the perception of those illusions. Is it even possible to perceive illusions or are illusions something that are stable and cannot be subjected to a certain perception? They either are something or they are not.


This story caused me to think about the world around me and my existence in it.

How much of the time that I spend in this world is an honest existence?

Reality vs. fantasy.

I’ve written in the past quite a bit about perception and how I am working at how I deal with my own.

It seems, and this may be just because I am hyper aware of it, that there is an awful lot of discussion out there in the world now about the “reality” that we are living in. Was the life we lead before this economic crisis a “real” world or was it a world based on a fantasy?

Was it this illusion that got us into the trouble that we are in now?

Was what happened after 9/11, America’s reaction, based on a realistic plan to fight our enemies? Afghanistan? Iraq?

The internet, TV, the movies, the entertainment and information industries…infotainment…are they reality?

Do we see Nairobi on the other side of the screen and believe that we are there because we have been conditioned to believe that we are there because we are told that we are there?

Illusions and reality – something to be explored and considered.