Monday, January 9, 2012

Dreams of Distant Lives – Lee K. Abbott

I don’t have the ability to articulate exactly what it is about an author’s writing style which causes me to be attracted to them.

I wonder if it is the subtle foundations they build their story upon. The length of their sentences, the breaths between thoughts - paragraph breaks. These three “things” come immediately to mind. Does that even make sense? Are they really “things”? I don’t even know the right word to describe what they are!

This story made my heart hurt.

It touched nerves in me…perhaps a few raw nerves that I didn’t even know were exposed. This frightens me.

I felt stillness and chaos. This frightened me.

I felt as if I was standing on the edge of my reality, just ready to slip into an altered state…which would become my new normal state…and this frightened me.

This story pulled me into my dreams – my awful dreams – not the dreams that appear at night as I sleep – those are actually very pleasant. The dreams I have during my waking hours are the dreams I am the most afraid of. They are rooted firmly in some aspects of my reality and because of this…they are they most scary. And this is why as I read Abbott’s words, I had a heart ache.

And to push me even further – the narrator of this little short is …39. Yup. How old am I again? Yup. 39.

“My inner life, the world constructed from what I’d been and done, was speaking to me, patiently and calmly. I would hear what it had to say, and I would understand. And so I came to myself, observed the man I am now walk forward to the man I was then and take him, as a father takes his children, into his arms. The one held the other – the future cradling the present- and the one who had been left, the one whose interior hooks and hasps and snaps had come undone, gave himself up utterly. They were both there, in dreamland, under heaven and over hell, two versions of the same man, clasped in an embrace that would end when the world came up again.”

That’s so beautiful…and perfect – for me.

Circle of Prayer – Alice Munro

This was an unfortunate story to have to read over several sittings. I tried…I really did. I looked for assistance online – and I even made efforts to really slow down the pace of my reading in an attempt to digest this story a bit better. I found it difficult to follow and there was nothing that I could really pull from it.

There it is.

The Lie Detector – Madison Smartt Bell

Standing in the shower on morning back in 2008, the idea came to me to start this blog/project. One of many the reasons why I decided to take on this project was that I felt through the stories contained within these anthologies a jumping point for reflection and problem solving. A sentence, a character a theme of a story could send me down paths of exploration that would help me understand my past…or help me with problems I may be going through. The stories could be tools to open my thoughts and feelings. As an added benefit, I’d get a bit of an education - along the way, I’d be exposed some really cool authors. It’s 2012 and in a few months I’ll be into my fourth year in this space. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about my progress at that anniversary date.

Now let’s push forward and see what this next batch of stories brings.

I wrote the above because this particular story triggered a memory of mine dealing with apartments, shady landlords, lack of money and a lack of direction in my life.

I think it was the spring of 1996…or was it early summer? Thankfully, my mind has done a pretty decent job of erasing some unpleasant memories from that time in my life. I quit my job as a chef in a pretty popular restaurant in New Jersey due to the drug habits of a fellow chef. I wasn’t comfortable being associated with his lifestyle. I was living on a futon mattress in the house that my father and step-mother had just moved out of. The place was empty…except for my toiletries and some food in the fridge. Things like kitchen appliances, sofas, all the usual domestic features had been taken out by the movers a few days earlier. It was like I was living in an upscale crack house. Really upscale. So there I was, having just quit my job, needing to find a place to live. For the life of me I can’t remember how I even conducted my apartment hunting.

“So you don’t have a job?”

“No sir.”

“How do you expect to pay rent?”

‘Well, I’m pretty sure I’ll find a job soon and I’ll be able to pay you.”

“Look kid – I don’t think I feel comfortable renting out my place to someone without a job.”

--yeah, no shit – I wouldn’t have rented a place to me either.

The last part of my memory of that period of my life is me on the phone with my sister crying. I was lost. I had no place to go. She begged me to move back to Virginia. I resisted…I couldn’t return home. She offered to come up the next day to get me and my crap. I declined her offer. I was too proud.

Memory cuts to me loading my belongings into a U-Haul.

Something happened. Something right, something good.

I kicked my pride aside and moved back to Virginia. My sister saved me from…I suppose I’ll never know.

I was on the edge, and she pulled me back.

Finally, a sentence at the end of the story really wraps things up for me. It draws the painful past into the present day and forces me to face once again my very uncomfortable situation. One that plagues my thoughts every day of my existence.

“So maybe the lie was out there too, I thought, even if I couldn’t see it. It was just there, floating around with the other particles of the atmosphere, and everybody got a little piece of it, and it didn’t belong to anyone.”

And so here I am today. With these memories – stirred by a short story in The Best American Short Stories 1987. Thanks Madison Smartt Bell. You’re keeping me on my toes.