Monday, October 22, 2012

Who or What to blame this time?  I have to have something to turn to for my slack-ass reading.

Shit look at how long it took me to read this volume. 

6 months 13 days


28 weeks


196 days


0.54 years

I have to figure that it's a record.

20 stories

That works out to one story read and written about every 9.8 days.

11 stories by men – 9 by women authors.

ONLY 3 from The New Yorker! – The Atlantic is represented the same number of times.

In terms of motivation, I will say that I was not at all motivated to read the stories in this collection. 

I can easily lean on Helprin and say that his distaste for the minimalist turned me off...I can blame my work schedule...

There is no one to blame though - just me. 

There really is only one thing to do.  Keep reading.  1989 is up.

Helping - Robert Stone

It's tough out there. Life is tough.

I wonder if there is anyone who lives there life without a struggle of some sort.

Sure, our struggles are relative to our existence and I think that my struggles/problems/issues/challenges are nothing compared to those faced by someone someplace else.

It's almost embarrassing to even think of my life and associate the word tough with it.

But - it's all relative.

I am so very lucky in my life.

I have a job (two actually) that I enjoy.

I have a wife that loves me.

I have a beautiful wonderful son. We have plenty of food to eat. We are all healthy -physically and emotionally.

I do not sit in a cubicle, in a job that I detest.

I do not have coworkers that I loathe.

I do not suffer from PTSD or substance abuse.

I do not self-medicate through food or drink.

I do not fight with my wife.

I am not envious of my neighbors.

I am so fortunate.

I read the news, and it seems that people are so troubled - that they are so unhappy.

There seems to be millions in our society that are challenged with problems that make their lives so difficult. They hate their job, they fight with their spouse, their children are in trouble, they wrestle with mental illness (their own or another's), their finances are shot, they struggle with substances - they want to be better than the Jones'.

There are petty little things that we (M and I) would like to change in our life (house vs. apartment), no student loans...and some stability in my parent's lives. But honestly…this is nothing.

This story – Helping, it’s about love and need and companionship – I have all those and more –

Victoria - Hilding Johnson

I'll turn once again to my thoughts on me and writing - and yes, they are still thoughts and they are just that – nothing more.

Perhaps I'm a volcano and I'll erupt - or one day, I'll get hit on the head, and my world will tilt just enough to get me to actually write something - meaningful.

Hilding Johnson, in her contributor's notes, reminds the reader that an author has the luxury of creating a world through their writing...sometimes a world that they have never physically visited.

I've been doing a lot of world creating and it's remained in my head - there have been efforts in the past to get them on paper but that perfect stone has not fallen from the sky causing those worlds to be transferred to paper.

I am afraid at times that the stone will be too big and crush me under its weight. It needs to be just the right size - and come at just the right time.

Could I possibly set up any more barriers for myself?

Still Life- Marjorie Sandor

I still find pleasure in flipping through old photo albums.

The yellow tinted photos of the 70s, the overly color saturated photos of the 80s and the glossy deep rich photos of the 90s. The near perfect processed hard copy photos of the digitally manipulated shots that I tuned before sending off to the drugstore – existent - but a noticeable smaller collection as most live in hard drives.

The photo albums that W will be able to glance through will be so different that what his mother and I once thumbed through in our younger years.

In my albums, no doubt, he will find old hard copy photos of M and I dutifully ordered by our parents many years ago swiped from their albums to fill our own. He will be able to look back through old photos of M and I – and recreate our lives in his mind before he was born.

He'll be able to see us before our marriage, before we met each other, before I left home and traveled to that town in southeastern Europe He'll be able to fill in the gaps with his imagination and over time piece together stories from the stories we tell him...someday relying on his own memory of our fractured memories.

He will see himself in my baby pictures, as a boy of 2. He'll see me as a scared and awkward boy of 10, and then a teenager struggling with teenage problems. He'll see me in photos with girls that aren't his mother. He'll see me with friends that he'll never meet. He’ll see me with my parents - grandparents that he may recognize in their physical form but who are something different in who they present themselves as today. He'll see me in a uniform. He'll see me with a beard and long hair. He'll see me in distant countries, with strange looking people. He'll see me living in his mother's village...but in photos without her.

And then he'll begin to see her appear in my photos. He'll see us as friends, co-workers and then the shots of our marriage. Celebrations with a family so far away.

He'll see two young people boarding an airplane looking brave, hiding their fears and insecurities about their future together. He'll see their lives develop together over the years, trips with family and friends...and then with the turn of a page, he'll appear.

If he finds his mother’s small book of photos, flipping through the pages, he’ll see his eyes in his mother's eyes as she stands in her little "young pioneer's" kindergarten uniform. Photos of her playing with her two brothers. Black and white images not taken not in the 40s...but the 80s...poor Romania.

He'll see her as a student with friends and boys that aren't his father. He'll see her happy at family gatherings and at dances. And then he'll see the two books become one as he begins to recognize images from my photo albums.

I have seen a few...5 or 6 at the most, photos of my mother and father when they were young. I don't ever remember seeing photos of them starting school, attending dances, graduating from high school or college. There are a couple of the two of them before I was born...but the real photos start flooding into the pages of albums once I arrived. As a child, I viewed the photos, I placed myself at the center of my focus. I've since shifted that focus to what surrounds me in those photos in an effort to understand the two of them a bit more.

Their relationship intrigues me and I have a long term assignment to learn from it. I no longer trust either of their memories - obviously not my father’s due to his disease, but my mother's memory has started to shift towards invention. She also has tainted her memories with those leaning towards only the good aspects of their time together - forgiving him for what he did, and not holding him accountable for the life he gave us after he left.

I will teach W to look at these photos without placing himself our M or me in the center of the focus. I'll ask him to look at our surroundings - the pictures on the walls, the leaves on the trees, the food on the tables. I'll ask him if he thinks that the people in the photos were happy when the photos were taken. Were they wearing false masks? What does he think is really going on in the photo - does the photo represent that instant accurately?

I'll do this to stimulate his imagination and to fill in the holes of our history. I'll tell him stories of those photos and give him details of my life, our life before and after they were taken.

It will be a wonderful experience for him to see our lives as far apart...joined...and told in a story that he'll soon tire of hearing...but one that he'll repeat one day.

And he'll also look at his life someday, collected in photos...almost a photo a day - and not see the changes that one can only recognize in photos taken at monthly intervals- will he notice the changes?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smorgasbord – Tobias Wolff

Before I even reached this story, I had a reader that provided me with a bit of education in my comments section on the introductory post of this volume of BASS.  The comment linked here provided me with a little “head’s up” and I absolutely love the engagement of a reader.  I love that these little words that I am shooting out into space make their way onto someone’s screen and are then digested and are such that they prompt a response…and even a bit of information that I may not have been aware of make’s its way back into the post!  Truly a wonderful feature of the internet (how I love to love and hate you!).

I think I have shown my appreciation for Wolff in the past –

I really dig the guy and I needn't restate my appreciation again.
In the contributor’s notes of this volume, Wolff writes “This story wanted to be written for years before I gave in and wrote it.  Part memory, part invention, I can no longer tell where one ends and the other begins.  The very act of writing has transformed the original experience into another experience, more “real” to me than what I started with.”

I appreciate this little tidbit.  When by buddies from Norwich and I get together –  the stories start to flow and the old line “The older I get the further from reality our stories become” is stated as we remember our days on “The Hill”.

So where did this story take me?

Back to college naturally!  Having attended military college I have a special relationship to some of the short stories Wolff writes – specifically stories birthed from incidents at “The Hill School” (no relation to Norwich).
It was my freshman year at Norwich and my father decided to drop by for a visit.  I think he was in the New England region so a quick trip to Vermont was easy.  He wanted to take me out to dinner and asked if there was anyone that I’d like to bring along (when I read Smorgasbord this is where my mind drifted back to the story I am now relating).

I decided that I’d like my friend Todd to dinner.   It was a bit of an odd choice because Todd was a year my senior and was also my assistant squad leader and my Cadre during my freshman year.  We were into similar music and had the same outlook on the world so we became friends once my class was accepted into the corps.  Todd wasn't the muscle-head mil-dog type and he (and I suppose I) never really fit into the military mold.

So the three of us headed out for dinner at an inn in Vermont on a cool spring evening in 1991 and dad allowed us to order what we wanted from the menu.  My dad ratcheted me a few notches in the small social world of our company by pulling out several very old bottles of single malt scotch to share with Todd and me.  I wasn't of age, and I’m pretty sure Todd was by this time old enough to drink, and conveniently the wait staff looked the other way as my dad poured us drinks. 

Part of my father’s ceremony with scotch is introducing and educating people as to the finer points of single malt.  This was lost on me but it made quite an impression on Todd.  We all enjoyed our drinks and after dinner my dad safely deposited us back at school.

There were a couple mentions of that dinner with my father over the months that followed, and Todd asked several times about my father as his time at Norwich came closer to ending in the years following. 
Todd and I were good friends.

The late spring of 1993 found Todd and I celebrating the last week of school for him. We sat in his room and shared a small bottle of tequila and rolled our own cigarettes.  It was of course against university regulations , but our reputation as being untouchable had been set (more on that some other day).

I remember the hazy conversation we had.  Girls, hazing, drinking…stories of mutual friends, plans for our futures.  

I remember his suitcases and boxes of books ready to be loaded into his car.  U2, his favorite group was on the stereo.

I called Todd once or twice after college.  I don’t remember the conversations.  I called him once after I returned to the states.  I vaguely remember that conversation.   And then on May 14, 2002, this arrived in my email inbox (being a quasi-librarian, I seem to keep everything).

hey jakon -

hope all is going well for you.  just wanted to touch
base and find out where you are and what you're up to
these days.

i'm living in new mexico right now.  but only for
about another month and a half.  on my way to england.
we'll be living about an hour north of london.

i won't bore you with too much info right now.  hell,
i'm not even sure if this will reach you.  let me know
if it does.


I remember reading this and was so happy to hear from him . 

I wrote back immediately.

A little information about Todd and where he found himself in life after school. 

As you can see by the date, we were well into the post 9/11 world.  Todd mentioned that he was moving to England.  He said that he didn’t want to bore me with the details because he couldn't bore me with the details.  Todd is a Special Forces Pilot. 

didn't hear from Todd after that quick little email exchange.  He was pretty busy with…you know… flying missions.

I drifted back to our conversation over the tequila – I never imagined these years later that Todd would be landing in some of the hottest zones where our troops needed to be. I was pretty tripped out.

And then, on April 1, 2005, his name appeared in the subject line of an email from a person that shared his last name.
It was from his wife.
Here is that email:

I am sending out this email to let you all know that we don't have any "official" word on Todd as of yet.  However, as I am sure all of you have seen the news, they are saying otherwise.  Todd took off for a scheduled training flight in Albania and then never returned.  The Air Force is doing all they can to help me and make sure that the closest of family members are flown out here to England to be with me and the two girls.  Todd's body will more than likely be sent via Air Force plane to Dover, from there I'm not sure what we will do with him.  Please continue to pray for each of us.  You all were important to Todd and I in so many ways.  Please feel free to email me or even call if you need to talk.  I can be reached at 011-XXXXXXXXX.  I do have people here with me at all times so don't worry about that.  Right now we are waiting for the "official" word and awaiting family to fly in to help me and the girls.  I am sorry to notify you all via such a cold medium, but as you can imagine, I do not have the strength to call each of you like I would like.  If you look at my list and feel that I may have missed someone (this list is mine, I don't have acess to Todd's) PLEASE forward it on to them.  Todd would want EVERYONE to know. Please pray for us.

Todd crashed into a mountainside in Albania. 

Three days later this email arrived.

I wanted to give you a little more information about Todd and what is going on here.  It seems that the plane crashed into a pretty precarious spot, so there is some delay with getting the bodies out of the plane.  There were live ammunition on board as well, so these must be removed before they can safely remove the bodies.  The plan is to take all the remains of all the bodies to Dover (in the States) and do the DNA testing there to confirm their identities.  After this is accomplished, then we will be having a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.  Since there is no way of knowing when his remains will be identified there is as yet no date for the funeral.  I will update you as soon as we have more news.  You are ALL invited to attend this service.  I feel we would be honoring Todd's life if you could attend.  Thank you all for your prayers and support of us during this incredibly difficult time.

I have no idea how his wife wrote this.  Her strength is incredible.

M and I went to Arlington for Todd’s funeral.  It was tough.

That’s all I’m going to say about that.

This short story, about two boys, joining a classmate and his step-mother for dinner took me back 20 years to an inn in Vermont. 

And it took me back 19 years to a shared bottle of tequila.
And finally, it took me back 7 years to the death of a good friend.

The story let me honor him by remembering him and placing this little bit of him out there into the universe.

Todd and I are good friends.

That's Todd on the left leading our platoon.  I'm behind him carrying the guidon.
I'm right behind you brother.  -Never forget-

No Friends, All Strangers – Lucy Honig

If you’ve had the chance to ride in a train, subway, trolley or crowded bus, this little short could bring some memories back of your time spent traveling on that mode of mass transit.
I have been lucky enough to experience this –in other countries and in conditions that I could have never imagined myself. 
The last time I had the chance to sit on a subway, to look at my fellow commuters, was several months ago.  I was on a day trip up to DC.  I was there to interview and I decided that it would be smarter to park in northern Virginia and make the trip into the District via train/subway. 
It was a good choice, landing me right in the heart of DC with plenty of time before my interview.  I was able to ride the train for a good 45 minutes observing my fellow travelers and of course making stories up for selected people that caught my interest. 
I have no doubt that there could have been a couple that looked back at me doing exactly the same. 
I felt good on that train – like I belonged there.  I conveyed that to M as I sat in the subway station eating a banana before the interview. 
The interview went very well, I felt good about how I presented myself, and all sorts of thoughts concerning our future move to this area flooded into my head as I rode the train back to northern Virginia to jump into our car and make my way home. 
But it was not to be.  I received a short 3 sentence email from the HR department of the company I interviewed with and then a couple days after that a somewhat longer (still only one paragraph) email from the supervisor in the department I interviewed for.
But my little 12 hour trip and my ride on the train/subway left its mark – a beautiful one that I won’t forget.  I remember faces.  I remember the beautiful business woman reading a book on her ipad and so lovingly cleaning the screen as her stop approached. 
I remember the men in military uniforms with their various unit patches getting on and off at the Pentagon.  The group of students hustling on with their bags stuffed with books at the Georgetown stop.  Tourists with their bright tie-dyed t-shirts and fanny packs sun burnt cheeks and thick middles – comfortable walking shoes and freckled forearms – all getting off near the Capitol building.
 Another beautiful woman, pale skin with a shadow cast across her face from a large floppy hat, whispery thin white fabric dress, not doing anything at all to conceal the shape of her body – the dress no doubt selected not only for its comfort on a hot day, but also because it did show off her body.  
All of these people caught my eye and left enough of an impression that I can call them up in my memory today.
When I lived in Romania, travel between cities was done by train, car and bus.  We/I would wait on the outskirts of town for a car that was going in my direction and I would attempt to catch the driver’s attention as they sped down the road out of town.  If they had a seat or two, we would jump in and pay the driver enough to cover gas at the end of our trip.  We would meet some interesting characters- and by the end of the trip there really wasn’t much left to image about our companions or driver. 
When fate had us jumping onto a bus that traveled between the smaller cities, we were transported from rural Romania to a cramped 30 year old Soviet autobus that had somehow been transported to India…meaning that we were stuffed in there with chickens, sheep, luggage, instruments, kitchen and construction supplies, raw meat, cooked meat GARLIC and the lovely breath of countless individuals who didn’t feel the need to brush their teeth or use deodorant…and it was lovely.
One thing that this story reminded me to do, is something that I think I have forgotten – something that is important to a person that needs to be creative, something that will be fun to pass on to W. 
I need to start using my imagination more – to tap into the creative side that I once had.  I’m feeling a new surge of this energy could be coming on.  I welcome it and will try to exploit it.

Wonderland - C.S. Godshalk

I was going to start off this by writing that “it is hard to imagine that there are any children today that live like this,” but after a moment’s thought, it’s easy to image that there are children that live like, this and in even worse conditions.

I would even go as far to say that there were classmates of mine that lived under similar conditions and probably were inches away from death.

Stories like this solidify my appreciation for the environment that I grew up in, and it forces me to pause and appreciate my life today.

Yes, we all may grow up under some pressures that may be less than ideal but I would venture to say that a good percentage of us have it pretty good.

At least in this country.

M has told me of her upbringing but I think that there are things that she won’t tell me – I’ve never pressed her on certain issues and I’ll just leave them. I also do not see anything in her behavior towards W that would make me nervous or cause me to press her on anything in her past.

There are so many children that are forced to grow up too quick as a result of their parent’s inability to parent or their inability to parent correctly.

Sure, I’m new to it…but we are doing a pretty good job at it. There were and are challenging times and there are going to be MANY more times that will dwarf anything that we have yet experienced as parents.

I know that we’ll work our hardest to deal with those problems as they arise and I have faith that we’ll be OK.

Parents can’t just run away. Yes, there are divorces…and I suppose that could be a form of running away and honestly, when the parent tells the children that the problem is with the other parent…is it really?

Again, I’m still working through the issues of my father leaving and his selfish actions –

I would like to think that our society here in the States are holding parents more accountable for raising their children than when this story was written.

As I would like to think that this is true…I am not surprised when I see a story in the media about a child left at home for days…or alone in a car…or a child held captive in a room, a closet or basement. And as I write this, I know that this is happening now – and it’s probably happening in my city, and I have the deepest pain in my heart to envision an innocent child – a child that I can only assign the same characteristics as my son, being subjected to conditions that no human, let alone a child who knows nothing in this world should have to bear.

And I can only assume that the parent or guardian of that child was subjected to a similar sort of punishment and this could be all they know – or perhaps the chemicals in their brain are just off a bit and they have no way of correctly caring for that child.

I think I’ve written before at my inability to read stories about the death of children or neglect/abuse of a child ever since the birth of W. Again, I can only assign the child victim a likeness of my son – and it’s too much to take in.

So, it goes without saying that this is one of those stories that will stick with me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Waiting for Trains – Richard Currey

There’s a whole lot packed into this little story. I read it several weeks ago, and as it has been happening over the last years or so, I’m finally getting around to writing about it. I’m writing about the story in the same location that I read it so perhaps I get some points for that?!

It’s 4:24 in the morning – a Monday morning, and I’m manning the help desk at ODU. Sitting at this desk during the early morning hours, I have noticed that I have a group of regulars that spend this time with me.

I sit here and wonder about them. What’s their story? Why are they here in the library?

I wonder if they wonder about me. Between pages, do they glance up and look over at this guy sitting behind the Help desk and wonder what paths in life he has taken to land him here. Perhaps it has crossed their minds – but I’m sure it’s far less than me thinking about them. I have the luxury to think – unlike them who may be stuck between walls of study.

It’s so quiet in here during these hours. I can hear the air-conditioning blowing through the many vents here in this space; I can hear the sniffles of the students, the pages turning, the printers kicking out copies, chair creaking.

Last Friday, I sat outside of work and waited for M and W to arrive. They were late because of a strange series of events that just caused them to be off their schedule.

As I sat and waited, I pulled a book out of my bag, read a few sentences, returned it to my bag and just looked at the clouds.

This is something I need to do more often. I need to just be.

I don’t need to be reading, clearing messages off my phone, checking accounts or any other number of things that busy my hands and mind.

The clouds were beautiful. High, thin, feathery, whispery clouds. The wind at their altitude must not have been strong because they held their shape for some time – really not changing at all. I saw planes at different altitudes and I thought about where they could be going. I thought about the people in those planes.

I looked at the sun as it was reflected in the windows of the buildings of the city. I watched ants crawl on the sidewalk below me.

I felt a mosquito bit me on my finger.

I watched coworkers leave for the weekend.

I smelled something, I couldn’t identify it – and I noted that.

I need to look around me more. I think we all do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Taming Power of the Small – Will Blythe

A beautiful scary disturbing story. I go from one story that I can hardly get through – to one with sentences that that pulls me through to the end…keeping my heart in my throat and once again questioning how our society is held together – knowing that characters such as those created by Blythe exist in our world.

Again, I am reminded that if I had read this story four years ago – even two years ago, it would have hit me differently. Now that I am a father, I see the abduction of a young boy as something so real and so startling – something that frightens the life out of me.

It doesn’t help either that I work in the media where I have a daily dose of the ilk of humanity washing up onto my consciousness.

I believe that there are cases during the week, where my mind will purposely stray away from reading the news in order to prevent it from overloading my circuits.


So I checked out two books on the I Ching from the University library and I thought that I’d look into what they held since the book played such a role in the story.

I spent time reading both – which were similar – as expected, and I returned them in the book drop this evening. I thought earlier this week, when I checked them out that I’d mess around with them, throw some coins and see what sort of hexagrams appeared.

Then, my brain did what it was supposed to do, and my B.S. detector lit up and I realized that not only do I not have time for this, but there is no way that asking a question, throwing some coins and drawing some lines would really give me some insight to my future.

Yes I realize that the book is meant for uncovering our unconscious and allows us to look at life situations from alternative points of view by giving us different perspectives…but I think I can do that well enough on my own.

So – yes, this was a great story. It made me hug my son a little tighter, reminded me (or should I say reinforced the knowledge) that there are some really disturbed people in this world, and provided me with another example of how to write a great short story.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Entrechat – Edith Milton

I’ll state right from the beginning, that this was a difficult story to read. Simply, it did not appeal to me nor was I motivated to read it, or perhaps it was the way that it was written so that the words did not pull me through the story.

I’m fine with this as with the other stories, I have said that didn’t appeal to me and again, I realize that not every story will have something for me.

But what did I get out of this story?

Once again, the contributor’s notes saved the day.

Milton writes in her notes that she is “uncomfortable inventing lives I have not lived myself, condemning the unborn to a Dantean eternity of reliving those sins I have imposed on them.”

It is interesting that I have come to this passage during the beginning of my study of MY writing.

She of course is not telling me not to invent lives and not telling me to invent lives, she is just personally uncomfortable doing so.

I appreciate what authors have to say, she is not giving advice, but the reason is one to keep in mind as I consider a journey in writing.

So, I have written a bunch of words about nothing.

And on a site note – I believe that my site is being scraped by several different scrapers – I suppose that means my content is out there on another site with a slight variation in the blog address.

Such is life.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Inn Essence – Ralph Lombreglia

 One of the most valuable educational experiences I was ever involved in was after college when I worked in a restaurant. 
I lived in Cinnaminson New Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia. 
Leaving the comfortable insulated arms of academia, I was thrust into the real world and forced to start living a real life.  My father and step-mother were quite gracious and gave me a room to call my own and food to eat.  I did chores around the house…at the time; I was probably in some sort of depression, attempting to figure out what to do with my life. 
Finally, one day my father sat me down and told me that if a “career” isn’t in my cards at the moment, perhaps it was time for me to get a job.  Back in 1994-1995, it wasn’t too difficult to find hourly work.  I ended up stocking shelves at a liquor store.  It was easy work and brought in a few bucks.  I decided that I liked earning money and applied to work in a restaurant across the street from the liquor store to bring in some more cash an keep me out of the house. 
DiMarco’s Italian restaurant.  And yes, there was mafia influence there.  I had no previous restaurant experience so I asked to wash dishes.  A recent college grad washing dishes.  It was work, and I was happy to do it.  It didn’t require much intellectual thought and I really got along well with the chefs, waiters and other staff.  I scraped food off dirty dishes, ran them through the machine, scrubbed pots and pans and cleaned the nasty grease covered mats. 
So the mafia had their way with the restaurant and it closed about 6 months after I started working.  I still had my job at the liquor store and I watched another restaurant move into DiMarco’s.  One afternoon, after my shift at the liquor store, I walked over and spoke with the chef.  Strangely enough, he agreed to hire me as a cold appetizer and bread maker.  I would later work my way up to a pastry chef and then onto hot appetizers.  It was an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.  We served fusion cuisine and I was baking some great breads and desserts.  Basically, the chef gave me a recipe and I followed it, he would tweak it a bit and then it would be added to the menu. 
I’ve written about all the drug problems the chef had – which is the reason why I left the restaurant effectively ending my time in kitchen forever…but my years there (I believe I was there 2 years) shaped me in ways that the classroom never could.  I dealt with a cocaine addicted chef – his brother –in-law, part owner of the restaurant – struggling to keep the place going – struggling to keeps the chef’s hands out of the cash drawer.
I dealt with the wait-staff who ran solely on cigarettes, coffee and alcohol.  I dealt with alcoholic/drug addicted dishwashers. High school bus-staff – overly sexed. 
Hostesses who found ways to slip tips into their purses, and bottles of wine into their cars.  The place was incredible.  I learned how to operate in an extremely high stress environment.  I screamed at waitresses, called them demeaning names…then shared drinks with them at 2:30 in the morning.  I learned to cook some of the best cakes and breads in my life.  How to make and caramelize the perfect Crème brûlée.  Homemade ice-cream in some of the most rich and exotic flavors.  The chef gave me full creative control…on most occasions J 

And then, as quickly as I walked into that place…I walked out.  Actually, it was quicker.  No Human Resources Department to deal with no paperwork to fill out – just a quick slip into the kitchen – avoid the chef, find his brother-in-law…and give him the news.  I went back to get my pay a few days later…never picked up my recipe book or my CDs.  I was young enough then and not tied to any real responsibilities which allowed me to just walk out of the place.  It felt good…but at the same time, it’s dangerous.  The restaurant business was like that – and I loved it…which is probably why I enjoyed Inn Essence.  This is my second encounter with Lombreglia and I really like his blue-collar writing…at least that’s the best way I could describe it.
The dangerous freedom to behave as I did at the restaurant and to leave as I did is something that the particular job afforded me and that freedom is something that I would wish we all could experience. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Errand – Raymond Carver

When I flipped the page to this story, I was surprised to find it collected in this volume. I know a bit about Raymond Carver and have come to really enjoy his writing. I first encountered him back in BASS 1982 when Cathedral was chosen for inclusion. Discovering authors like Carver is one of the countless benefits of this project. I know that some of you are probably astounded that I’d never read Carver before Cathedral…but yup…there it is. Since reading and writing about him, I’ve had some wonderful online discussions with his legions of fans. Here are the links to my previous posts about his stories as well as the post where he served as guest editor for BASS 1986


Where I'm Calling From

Guest Editor Introduction 1986


Back to me being surprised – after reading the introduction by Mark Helprin and his thoughts about minimalist writers, the LAST person I’d expect him to include would be Carver.

Here are a few selected lines from Helprin’s introduction and how he feels about minimalist writers.

“No better illumination of the pitfalls of the collective impulse exists than the school of the minimalists. What they do is as bad as what they believe in. They appear to start from the premise that the world has unjustly offended their innate virtue and forced them to become trenchant impassive observers of its universal offensiveness.”…

“’in their approach, adherents of minimalism are almost uniformly oblique, which is not surprising, since the uncomprehending often crave inscrutability as a shield behind which nothing can be something.”…

Damn…this guy can write a throw-down!

And he goes on –

“Mice who tour lion country need masks and other tricks to have a safe trip. Besides, their unwillingness to deal with life other than obliquely is not subtly, as they would have you think, but cowardice. And they aren’t even oblique as much as they are simply sarcastic and snotty. I wonder if, in other civilizations, priestly castes and philosophers are elevated and revered because they are snotty.”…

SLAM!!! Man, he sounds a little like my main man J. Gardner when he was stirring shit up!

“Minimalists appear to be people who have not been forced to struggle, and who have not dared upon some struggle to which they have not been forced. Thus, they have contempt for their own lives of mild discomfort-and who can blame them? They live in a strange, motionless, protected world.”…

“Not only do they abstain, they have made a virtual industry out of ridicule. And what do they ridicule? Effort, perfection, devotion, fidelity, honor, belief, love, bravery, et al.”…

“Their characters always seem to have a health problem (in addition to the nicotine addiction and alcoholism that are de rigueur) that is far more disgusting than perilous.”…

And this next passage really got me!

“Of the stories read for the purpose of gathering the twenty herein, more than a third dealt with divorce, separation, or extramarital affairs. Alcohol appeared in more than half, cigarettes and coffee in more than a third, and that satanic square that I can hardly bear to mention, television, in more than half”…

Helprin then goes on to question why all of these” things” and “characters” appear in so many minimalist stories.

“It may of course have something to do with who writes the stories and who now reads them. Though I feel that I have intruded upon a closed system, I do not hesitate to report on it, because my anxiety over the possible consequence to my livelihood (no matter, judging from my mail, most of my readers are in Trondheim and Antwerp) is dwarfed by my wonder at what I have seen. In the tunnels on contemporary American literature, the moles are singing. They are singling in unison, they are singing to each other, and they are singing of the darkness. Far be it from me to criticize some who are my colleagues. That would be dangerous. And it would be impolitic. But, then again, literature is not politics. Or is it?”

And a couple of pages later, after reflecting on his time editing with Rachel MacKenzie of The New Yorker…and lamenting that not enough editors like her have survived and this is why current (1988) editors put out junk…with the excuse that this is what the people want…things get pretty interesting.

And this is also where I bring it back around to Raymond Carver.

Helprin writes:

“Partly to avoid the evils of reputation and partly for other reasons, the stories in this volume have been judged blindly.”…

“After choosing the stories, I learned the names of the authors. I was surprised, delighted and a little taken aback to discover that I had chosen stories by some people whom I do not like personally, by one who wrote one of the stupidest reviews I have ever read (of my book, no less), and by some whose work I find very hard to bear. And yet, I chose their stories.

And with that passage, I bring us back to Carver…because I think that he is including Carver as one of “some people whom I do not like personally…”

I think Carver got his story in under Mark’s nose. Not by plan of course.

In the contributor’s notes, Carver writes:

“The story was a hard one to write, given the factual basis of the material. I couldn’t stray from what had happened, nor did I want to. As much as anything, I needed to figure out how to breathe life into graphical telling. And, finally, I saw that I needed to set my imagination free and simply invent within the confines of the story. I knew that as I was writing this story that it was a good deal different from anything I’d ever done before. I’m pleased, and grateful, that it seems to have come together.”

And with that, a minimalist got into the collection.

And what I enjoyed reading the most from the above passage, which I need to apply to my life – “…I needed to set my imagination free and simply invent within the confines…”

I doubt that I’ll ever discover if Carver was one of the people Helprin didn’t like…but for all of the slamming he does of minimalist…and Carver being Royalty of the minimalist tribe…how could he not dislike him?

Concerning the story…yeah, I really enjoyed it. It’s by Carver…and having it collected here and discovering this newly discovered style of writing by Carver…to enjoy it with him, was special.

Raymond Carver died in August of 1988 so it’s unlikely that he saw this story physically included in this volume since these volumes tend to come out in the last quarter of the year.

I was worried that this would be the last time I would run into him…one of my “crew”…but no, we’ll see him again – and that makes me happy.

Big props to Helprin for having the “guts” to write what he did – even if I didn’t agree with everything he wrote. I gotta say though, the more I read it, the better it gets. It’s so dense and a perfectly structured attack.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Snares – Louise Erdrich

Minutes ago – just before writing this sentence, I explained to a co-worker how I was having difficulty getting through this edition of BASS. I blamed it on Helprin and said that I didn’t like his selection of stories.

And then I remembered what I was going to write about Snares -how I think it’s a beautiful story…and how I was going to praise Helprin for including it in this volume.

I’m in such a hole with this volume.

I’m in such a hole with most of my reading.

Snares – yes, such a beautiful tight story. The sentences are woven and bound together so well. Erdrich delivers once again and I’ve fallen for her writing.

In her contributor’s notes, Erdrich writes:

“About halfway through the story, I got stuck and took a long walk with my husband, Michael Dorris. He had just read a draft of the story and, in and inspired moment, suggested that instead of the piece of cloth I’d used, Margaret’s braids be used to tie Nanapush’s tongue back and ensure his silence. From then on, imagining the taste of hair in the old man’s mouth, the story became for me on of sexuality and vengeance.”

I’m glad she decided to speak on this portion of the story. It really is a powerful scene.

I have found that I am including more of these contributor’s notes in these little passages that I write about these stories. I think they are quite valuable…they shed some light into the creative process of the author…just as the above proves.

I always kicked around the idea of having M read my writing someday… and yes, I would need to summon some nerve to have her look it over…I’m strange like that.

What would she think of me! Such ideas springing from my head!