Friday, May 28, 2010

Victrola - Wright Morris



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

I don’t care much for dogs. I grew up with a series of dogs but was never really attached to any of them. They were just – there.

A dog on a leash. A burden or a pleasure?

I’ve recently come to the realization that the relationship I have with my father is similar to that of this story’s main character’s relationship with his dog.

Perhaps this was not Morris’ intent – to use a man’s relation to his dog to allow the reader to reflect on a relationship with a human – but, this is how it came across to me.

You see, I am the human, and my father is the dog.

My father is not a burden like a dog but my relationship to him and my personal view of him is just like Morris creates between “The man” and “The dog”(dog’s name is Victrola).

I feel that I won’t fully appreciate the relationship, if it can even be called a relationship that we have until he is gone.

I’m still working through things with him and his Alzheimer’s won’t make it any easier.

It’s tough, and going to get tougher.

Graveyard Day – Bobbie Ann Mason



Bobbie Ann Mason - May 1, 1940

Bobbie Ann Mason returns and we find her once again offering a story on relationships.

You know, I’m struggling to get anything out of this story. I have this feeling, and it’s bad, that it is a story written for women. I think I approach all stories fairly and look at them through an honest eye...but this one, I just can’t get anything out of it. Perhaps in a few days.

Sur - Ursula K. Le Guin



Ursula K. Le Guin - October 21, 1929

Exploration.

The feeling that I get when I head out the door every other day for my morning run is that I about to embark on an adventure that will be like none I have every set out on before.

Sure, I run basically the same routes, but there are so many variables that come into play during these mornings, that every run is different.

The good chemicals usually hit me around mile five, and that’s when my thoughts sharpen and I discover answers or uncover new questions.

The past 2 or three years, mental exploration has really captivated me. Exploration of my mind – my consciousness.

These stories have assisted me in unlocking memories, thoughts and feelings that I had previously thought lost to time.

The stories have allowed me to discover and reflect upon opinions of others as well as strengthening or changing my own opinions on any number of subjects.

I don’t need to travel to distant locations (although it is nice) to discover what is inside of all the little craters of my mind.

When I am older, I too will unlock a trunk and be able to pull out letters describing my adventures – adventures that no one knows I am on...adventures taking place at this very moment.

“Sur” was one of those stories that initially did not care for. It took some additional thought and consideration before it grew on me. It reminded me also that I need to slow down when considering what these stories have to offer and to be sure to look around each corner for their lessons.

The Professor’s Houses – Ursula K. Le Guin



Ursula K. Le Guin - October 21, 1929

Do we live in the houses we physically occupy or do we construct living spaces that are far from the reality that we exist in?

I do my best to be as grounded in reality as I can. M and I share this and I think we do a good job of balancing each other out and keeping each other in a “reality” that resembles “reality”.

My personal opinion is that there are too many people – whether through their own doing or through damage that has been done to them by another, who live in houses that are constructed in fantasy.

Furthermore, it’s sad to see the result of these people when their fantasy houses are destroyed.

Their house could be a marriage, a relationship, a job, a financial situation, a child, an ethic even a personality that they have crafted.

But, once again, this is what makes us human...this strange behavior.

Scales - Louise Erdrich



Louise Erdrich - June 7, 1954

I have spent the last nine years of my life sitting in a somewhat comfortable chair in a climate controlled office surrounded by hundreds of books and piles of newspapers, facing a computer screen, tapping in letters and numbers into software and applications, drinking coffee and tea, eating hot food as the world outside of my office continues to spin and others live lives much more uncomfortable than mine.

When I was younger, I thought about what my life was going to be like when I was...well...this age.

I figured that I wanted to be in an office doing office work rather than outside digging ditches. I wanted to be my own boss and have the time to do what I wanted to do.

Well, I have that. I’m not my own boss, but I have an extraordinary amount of freedom in my work.

I have settled down and am quite comfortable in my work.

These short stories allow me to experience life outside of my comfortable office window. “Scales” took me to a part of America that most of us rarely think about. It caused me to reflect on my own life and work and realize how fortunate I am to have been given so much in my life. The color of my skin, the country I call home, the opportunities I have been afforded, the knowledge I have gained...all of these and more add up to where I am today and where I will be tomorrow.

“Scales” caused me to look at those people, workers, who sit at scales day after day...or stand and sit in mind numbing jobs and wonder where in their lives they took a path that placed them where they are.

There is a neighbor of ours who works at a little restaurant down the street form our home.

He is my age and spends from 10:00 until 9:00 in the evening at the restaurant working. After that, he buys a 12 pack of beer and from what I can tell...consumes the entire half case. Empties fill the trashcans between our places.

He wakes up the next day and does it all over again. Is he happy? Is this what he thought he would be doing while I was thinking the same thing 25 years ago?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Count and the Princess – Joseph Epstein



Joseph Epstein - January 9, 1937

“Let chaos come”

I love the above little sentence that appeared as if by magic, as I quickly reviewed this short before writing this piece. It is a phrase that I need to embrace.

Those who deal with me on a daily basis, and my family, would all agree, that I have the extreme need to control chaos.

I suppose I should say “need to control the events and happenings in my life”.

I’ve been working real hard lately to allow things to naturally fall into place and slowly let them ferment and develop a little before I respond to them.

You see, in a few short months, a little being is going to enter into this world (the Princess), and he or she will be throwing all sorts of chaos curveballs in my direction (The Count) for THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!!

My life, M’s life, as we know it today, is going to be over in a few short months. We made this decision and are more than happy with it.

We had a wonderful 10 years together – just the two of us, but now...there will of course be the two of us plus another.

Just as The Count snaps his cane across his knee and dashes out the door laughing – I too am in the process of snapping my canes and will soon be laughing – manically!!! (joke).

I am comfortable with this new phase in life – this soon to be state of chaos.

My past is my past, and will soon be consumed by my present.

I will become someone new – shaped by the chaos.

“Let the chaos come”

I’ll be placing this short on my short list of favorites. I love it.

My Mistress – Laurie Colwin




Laurie Colwin - June 14, 1944 – October 24, 1992

Call me old fashioned – call me uptight – call me stuffy - call me ignorant – call me innocent.

I just don’t know how people can do it. I guess the first problem is that we are – people, and people do this sort of thing. They have mistresses and secret lovers. They have relationships and affairs behind the backs of their husbands and wives.

I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand this part of human behavior. Yes, I understand that most of us...nearly all of use want love, need to be loved and also love others – but if you are going to commit yourself to loving one person, to be in a relationship with that one person, then why would you risk so much by violating their trust?

What do you have to gain?

Can any good really come of it?

There are crimes that people commit in the world that alter the paths of others in a way that they could never be the same. Murder, rape, abuse...you get the picture.

How could someone use the emotion of love though to cause such damage to another?

It was written that Colwin wrote about love.

She wrote this story from the vantage point of a man. A man loving his mistress.

It’s an interesting read – a woman’s perspective of having a mistress.

She did a fine job.

"Ollie,oh..." - Carolyn Chute




Carolyn Chute - June 14, 1947


Chute is a nutcase.

I would call her that to her face, and I think she would take it as a compliment, and if she didn’t I think that she would allow me to explain my label.

I really enjoy nutcase authors. I really enjoyed “Ollie,oh...” because you can tell that it was written by a nutcase author.

You know the uncomfortable feeling you get when you encounter someone who is just a little off?

It’s exciting and scary at the same time. You can’t read their personality as easily as you could with the normal people you run across in your life.

That’s how I felt as I pushed into this story.

Chute has a wonderful way and abilty to turn words.

Take these few couple of sentences which finish off the story and a disturbing scene.

“Her lids slid over icy eyes. Her breath was like carrots into his breath. He reached. And her frame folded into his hip.”

OK – let’s look at these last few sentences.

My first thought when reading “Her breath was like carrots into his breath” was simply...”what the hell???”

It took a second for me to develop my own interpretation of what that meant.

It works though.

Carrots.

I have a niece and nephew who I am fortunate enough to see at least once a week. They are aged 5 and 2. I love to hear them talk about, explain and discuss their world. Their perspective or view of our world hasn’t been placed into the Lucite box that most adults have been placed into. It isn’t uncommon for them to say something that immediately sounds nonsensical...but after a few seconds of the listener’s mental digestion, it makes all the sense in the world, and paints a beautiful picture.

Chute writes like this.

Chute doesn’t write like her fellow early 80s authors. She doesn’t write like the authors churned out of workshops...authors that are going to fill piles and piles of literary magazines through the years and into the present.

I think that I can safely push Chute into my column of the “most interesting” authors that I have researched for this little project. She has no problem firing off a few rounds from her AK-47, is the spokesperson for the 2nd Maine militia, favors flowing skirts and hiking boots, uses an outhouse and works on her stories/novels on a huge typewriter.

Good for her.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Where I’m Calling From – Raymond Carver



Raymond Carver – May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988

I don’t think I need to go into any great depth on Carver and his background. Most readers of the short story are quite familiar with him and his personal as well as professional life. One interesting little piece that I discovered while I was searching for a unique photo of him was the fact that he attended the ODU literary festival back in October of 1982 – the same year that this short was written. (other notable attendees were Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey).

ODU 5th annual literary festival –

Raymond Carver has been described as "one of the true contemporary masters" of the short story by Robert Towers in the New York Review of Books. A professor of English at Syracuse University, Carver has published three collections of short stories: "Will You Please Be Quiet Please," "Furious Seasons," and most recently, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." A new collection of stories will be published by Knopf this year. In addition, Carver has published three collections of poetry. His stories, which have won several 0. Henry Awards, the Best American Short Story award, and the Pushcart Press award, have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Esquire, Harpers, Antaeus, and The Paris Review. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry and fiction, and a Wallace Stegner Literary Fellow. "Will You Please Be Quiet Please" was nominated for the National Book Award for fiction in 1977. [extracted from 1982 brochure]

“Where I’m Calling From” is, as expected, another wonderful story from Carver. Carver does a fine job of writing what he knows about. Alcoholism, violence, depression and the general haze that booze puts you in when you are addicted.

I can say that his stories really stand out from the pack when they are grouped together in an anthology like “The Best American Short Stories”.

I’m still pushing through several papers/thoughts/opinions about the influence of writing conferences and workshops and what sort of authors and movements they turn out. I haven’t formed a solid opinion yet... but the evidence that they have a huge collective impact on the writing hitting the shelves over the years can clearly be noted in well defined starts and finishes..., and I’ve even seen clear shade of writing styles by the authors collected in the books I have read for this project.

I recognize that the series editor as well as the volume editor do not necessarily have the best “scale” or “balance” when they select their stories – as I have opined on concerning the selections by John Gardner. They exist in a world of literature, and the inbreeding of ideas/styles that the authors of the day move in is unavoidable.

And then there is Carver.

He really exists outside of this intermingling and the fact that he doesn’t need to rely on his imagination to produce really good stories is evident. The fact that he lived through the shit he writes about is crystal clear...furthermore, he has the ability really communicate to the reader the rawness – almost placing you inside of his body – experiencing what the character is going through.

Just as when you look into someone’s eyes, and they said they have killed...you can tell whether or not they really have.

I just re-read the above...

before I hit the “post” button, I had the funny thought, what would the interest be in a volume of “The Best American Short Stories” edited by a series editor...but the volume editor would just be...a person.

Just a reader. Not someone who writes well...or necessarily in the past read a bunch of short stories...a person who is not familiar with the literary movements or styles or could pick out a certain author by their writing.

A person who is not influenced by the “literary machine” out of one of the major publishing cities (there really is only one isn't there?).

Will it happen? Doubtful.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Change of Season – James Bond


James Bond-???

Try finding any information about this author!

There have been countless times in my life where I have found myself in a situation where I think I could have accomplished a task better than the individual I am paired with. I’m sure too, that the individual who is dealing with me at that moment could be feeling that he/she is doing just fine and actually is doing better than I could be doing. They could also be feeling some hints of uncertainty and self doubt which would cause them to lean into the wind and work harder a the task in order to save face and prove me wrong.

I don’t have a specific example that I can summon right now, but the larger lesson that I came away from in this short story was the need for me to constantly or at least make a more concerted effort to look at situations from my counterpart’s point of view.

In my life, I have been working hard to see things in my environment not only through my eyes. In our culture/society, we have become very “me” centric.

With Facebook (which I participate in) and other forms of “look at me” media/networking, we need to remember that it’s not all about us – we aren’t always ‘right”.

One sort of decision making practice that I do follow is something that my parents raised me with and some thing that I too hope to use in my own parenting. It’s also something that was stressed to me in my (military) training and something that I do today.

When it comes to someone making a decision about their immediate future – or even their long term future, I hesitate to offer them direction. I’ll only step in or object if I feel that a shitstorm could ensue. I would prefer that they would, if one is to be made, make a mistake and learn a lesson from it. Of course, if they are successful, then they are the one to receive all the credit – and learn again from what they did. I don’t think that I am avoiding any sort of obligation or responsibility, rather I think that I am allowing growth within the person. They may not see this as the event is unfolding...but I the span of life, perhaps the lessons learned will surface and help.

A little break –


I seem to have fallen into one of my spells where I have a difficult time reading and writing for this project. I feel good enough to say now though that I seem to be coming out of it and I should be able to read more and regularly post here.

Here is my first major distraction. It’s a distraction that is more than welcome.


And here is my second. this distraction too...is wonderful.


I’d like to bring out a sentence from the conversation between David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky.

I think that at times this is why I have trouble with the stories – I have to transition between styles of writing and looking for the lessons in each story (if there are any to be found).

Wallace:

... “Because a book has to teach a reader how to read it. so the structure stuff starts right at the beginning.”

- From Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – A Road Trip with David foster Wallace” – David Lipsky

- So, that is my latest set of excuses. Am I satisfied with them? Sure.

The Dignity of Life – Carol Bly



Carol Bly - April 16 1930 – December 21 2007

Researching Carol Bly, I discovered what a remarkable woman/writer she was. She was a powerful literary force and an overall wonderful person. It was said that she caused readers and writers to open their eyes to the realities of the situation.

Turning this story into the lesson that I am seeking from the BASS series wasn’t too hard. I am in the stage of my life now, where happily, a new life is beginning and will make a major impact on my life, but sadly, there are a couple of family members whose lives are winding down...at a speed that is very unsettling.

I’ve written in several posts about my fathers Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t think I need to tread over that ground again. I think I have also mentioned my step-fathers more recent health issues.

But, Bly has done a wonderful job at doing what she does best.

Pat (step-dad) is 88. He is old, and he’s not doing well. He has reached point in his life where things just aren’t working for him anymore. He is partially deaf, and blind in one eye. He has limited mobility, and his mental state is...well...deteriorating. Life is hard for my mother now who must wait on him 24 hours a day. Simply, she has a newborn on her hands once again.

My father is 64 - early onset Alzheimer’s. He called me yesterday on 3 separate occasions. Each call was for the same thing. Call one, I spoke to him and had a conversation about his books. Call two, I missed. Call three was a five minute voice mail from him again about his books. The voice mail was him simply asking me the same question he had asked about 4 hours earlier – just rambling on and on.

With my father and with Pat, we are working at making sure that there is still some dignity of life.

We all attempt to treat both of them the same that we always have but it can be quite stressful and sad at times.

We hold those that we love sometimes in our minds at an age that we love them the most in...or wish to remember them the best way in.

I don’t know if I phrased that correctly, but what I mean to say, is that I have trouble seeing my father as he is now. I choose to see him when he was 55. When he was able to remember what he was doing as he walked from one room to another. When he came to visit me in Romania and we took off to Italy for a week – no cares in the world.

And I remember Pat, making sauce in the kitchen, watching the fights on T.V., listening to Jazz in his Buick Regal – left arm out the window holding a cigar.

These life changes for the two of them have come on so quickly that it has caused all of us in the family to work hard at making the adjustments.

It is important for us to honor these two men and to respect them. To hold their memories and to always remember what they did for us.