Monday, February 27, 2012

Private Debts/Public Holdings – Kent Haruf

Each week when I settle down to read another story or two (yup that’s all I’ve managed to get up to now) I tell myself that I’ll really buckle down and get this project rolling again.

And then, here we are. One week later…and one story later.

I was out on a run yesterday – 10k, and through the run I thought about how I need to get more miles under my belt each week. I’m starting to feel…unfit, and I don’t like it. It’s nice to know that I’m able to jump out of the house and hit the streets for a 10k run and be back home in less than an hour without the negative residual effects of a run. I haven’t degraded that far yet.


So, if a little run like this is something I can manage, then I am more than sure that I can train myself in this project.

I just have to keep telling myself this.

I’ve considered that it’s the writing that is presenting a problem. I’ve wondered if my inability to produce is due to a creative slowdown. The stories are good – just fine – is it just too taxing to produce something “meaningful” for each story?

Sure, it’s been over a year since the boy arrived and I think that I am still attempting to get used to the new normal. New normal including the insane work schedule I’ve picked up since October as well as the increased demands at my day job.

There have been a couple of moments over the past week that have nudged me towards really getting things under control. More on that in another post perhaps.

O.K. Let’s get down to business.

Of the many things that I have noticed about this project is that I have seemed to have strayed away from my format of discussing the stories. Perhaps I need to fall back on my initial model as it seemed to have worked. I would discuss the author, their work, perhaps a bit about their writing, what I thought about it and then I would dive into the story. A photo of the author would appear at the top as well as a shifty looking picture of me holding the book up turned to the selected story in the post.

It’s a funny coincidence that I would happen to apply this old method of posting with this story.

First, and admission. I have never read anything by Haruf, and I started this story as I did with the others…open and ready for anything.

Looking up Haruf’s bio, I found a Facebook page and it seems that he is a pretty active participant. A bit down his timeline, I discovered that he was featured on a webpage as a “famous” (famous fits I believe) former volunteer. (Turkey 66-68).

Take a peep up at this blog’s description and you’ll figure out that I did my 2.5 years in Romania.

Discovering that Haruf was a former volunteer was a nice surprise and added an extra bit of something special to this already wonderful…but mildly disturbing (in a very good way) little story.

Here’s a bit of what Haruf wrote about Private Debts/Public Holdings:

“…about this story I can only say that I don’t know how it came to be written or why I wanted to write it. There is nothing mysterious in this admission and I don’t mean to suggest that there is. I suppose it is merely the result of a fascination I have for people who are caught in the ways that Jessie Burdette is caught. I am interested in what people do in such circumstances. Perhaps it is a kind of test of character. Occasionally people act in astonishing (and even courageous and beautiful) ways when they are tested.”

I enjoyed that Haruf shared that with the reader. It’s nice to read that a story just popped out of thin air…

Again, as I have mentioned in other recent posts, this is a story that probably would not have had the same impact on me back in 2008 when I started reading this anthology. This one came along after I took on the role of a parent…which makes its impact heavier. I got that weird sickly feeling knowing what the main character was setting out to accomplish that I doubt I would have had some time ago.

This was a dense meaty emotionally heavy story where Haruf was able to really cram a ton of emotion into a tight package. It’s one of those stories that I’ll carry around for quite some time – if not forever.

I too am fascinated with how people act/ react in certain circumstances and I often make extended forays into poking around and attempting to discover the forces that drive people to behaviors that my fall outside of their “normal”.

I’ll take it one step further by placing myself under that scope and admit that I have a common almost out of body experience, when I step back to look at my behaviors.

This project is a nice way for me to look inward, to think about my past and have the stories motivate me to delve deeper into notable instances of my life.

Most of us have plenty of Private Debts. I have far too many and the reminder through stories like this keep me in check…because my debts are not as nearly as bad or as heavy as what others carry around their necks.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Blue Men – Joy Williams

I am surprised that I still have Blue Men wandering into my life.

I am a fairly private anti-social person but from time-to-time a person who should not cross my path does, and that they have an impact upon my life, really should come as no surprise.

We all have these encounters with Blue Men and it’s up to us as to what we do when we meet them.

Sometimes I think that these stories are my Blue Men. I read them; ponder them for days, weeks and months sometimes attempting to figure out what they could be telling me. What message they are trying to impart. Perhaps some of the instability in my psyche lately has to do with the lack of exposure to these stories. I need to find the time at work to unplug and to enjoy my lunch with a story. But, that will take a lot of convincing…I seem to have trouble operating that way.

Sorry about the wording of the above couple of paragraphs – it’s late and my mind is a little slow.

The Tenant - Bharati Mukherjee

When I did my time in the Peace Corps, there was always the knowledge that I could push the eject button and find myself on an airplane headed home to the ‘ol USA.

Now was this knowledge a safety net for me or a hindrance in my development?

I went to Romania by choice. I came back to America by choice.

Did M come back to America by choice, or was it an opportunity too great for her to pass up?

A future in America? A life outside of the crushing existence she could have faced in her hometown. I don’t think I’ll every truly know. The answers to those questions have been buried by our time together here and the life we have made.

I often wonder what life was like for her in those first few months. As open as we were with each other during that period of transition, I’ll never fully know what she went through. What did she think about each morning as she readied herself for work? What thoughts passed as she walked to work, when she had a few moments alone to think?

I believe that most of her time thinking is now dominated by concerns for the boy.

And concerns for our future. How to get me into a job that will propel our lives forward. We are, as most people nowadays, just treading water in our lives. Waiting for the country to get better… and in turn waiting for the chance to move on.

She shares plenty with me and I don’t feel the need to extract any more of her thoughts from her…she is entitled to her private thoughts…but I can’t help but wonder if she still feels like a stranger in this country. She has told me on more than one occasion that she no longer feels any sort of bond with Romania. She has left that country for good. The only tie she has to it is of course through her family.

Through Facebook, I am able to see how some of my former students have fared in their lives. A good number of them have also left Romania and have made their lives abroad. I have placed M’s face over their lives several times and wondered where she would have landed. I’m sure she would have graduated college…but then what? Life as an English teacher? A mother, a wife? Chances are it would have happened at an earlier point in her life than we decided upon. I can find myself building alternative lives for her…for me even. Whole worlds of “what ifs”.

As we have discussed our future recently, one thing that I find myself repeating is the simple thought that the decisions I have made in the past are in fact “in the past” and there isn’t much I can do about it now. We have to live and a opportunities for a simple “but’ and “yet” to slip into our world.

And we need that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Boxes - Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver – Boxes

Very happy to see this story by Carver included in this volume. The story came along at the right time.

A time for me to recognize my mother a bit more.

As a parent now, I can appreciate the feelings she must have had when I left home. Sure, the feelings I have about the boy are much different than the feelings she had for an 18 year old going off to college.

When I left, It was natural for me to go. I haven’t transitioned, or needed to develop the capacity to have those feelings yet. And furthermore, I am a father and she is a mother. The feelings a mother has for a child are so different than the feelings that a father has for their son or daughter. I’m not saying that one parent loves the child more than the other…they just have different connections. I wrote about that before and I needn’t get into it again.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for her to see me leave for school. She did have the comfort of knowing that I’d be in a pretty controlled environment.

After college, and not quite knowing about the life I was leading probably caused her to worry a bit more. Sure I was with my father at that point, but I was an adult with the capacity to do adult things…which I naturally did.

And then when I left the country for 2.5 years…well…she just had to accept that I was going to survive off everything that I had learned up to that point. She really had to let go.

Not of her worries of course…she can always worry…but she had to let go of something. What it was, I’m not sure. She did, and she survived my time away. When the decision to return to the States was made, and the decision to return to our city, and to live with her for several months was made, well, she couldn’t have been happier.

We still live in the city I was raised in, and the city where she lives. We are just about one mile apart. I can drive to her house in less than 5 minutes (depending on the sequence of traffic lights) and run there in about 8.

We take the boy over there quite often and she makes every effort she can to be involved in his life. She has bought him countless outfits, toys and more importantly…diapers. Her help is beyond measurement. A few weeks ago when M and I were crippled by a stomach virus, she stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. She was over at our place in minutes ready to take care of the boy while we struggled to survive.

Mom is getting old. She is in a decent house taking care of her husband and attempting to keep the house in order. Bills…maintenance… squirrels in the garage…etc.

The question of what will happen to my mother and the house once my step father passes away has come up with a bit more frequency in the last few years. Will she sell the house? Remain in it alone?

The thought of our little family moving in with her at that point has been floated on more than one occasion by M and I. Even other members of the family have mentioned it as an idea once the time comes.

A decision such as that is a pretty heavy one. One that would involve quite a few gives and takes. Careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages. Thoughts without letting certain emotions enter into the decision making process, and careful negotiations and explanations once the final decision is made. Of course, that’s how I would prefer it to happen. In reality…


Whatever decision is made, someplace within the process, there will be many boxes involved. The physical boxes marked “kitchen”, “bedroom” and “bathroom”. And of course, the boxes of emotion, some with tell-tale markings and some with markings that take a bit of deciphering. The boxes that we have been carrying around our whole lives from one place to another, from one relationship to another.

The attic in my mother’s house has a shit-load of boxes. About 25% of those boxes are mine. 5% of those boxes are pre-marriage…and contain articles from another life. When I was another person. Some date as far back as college. The other boxes were moved there only a couple of years ago. They were placed there in a weekend filled with a flurry of movement as I tried to get the boy’s room ready. Most contain books, papers, the general shit that one accumulates as a married couple and soon loses all importance once a child enters the house. No doubt, I crack open those boxes in a few years. What I’ll do with the contents is unknown. No doubt, I’ll need to crack open the boxes of emotion I hold and what I’ll do with those contents are probably going to cause me to sit a bit…and really think.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Men Under Water – Ralph Lombreglia

Is it better to have dreams and not see them fulfilled... or to not have dreams at all?

I’d like to think that most of us have dreams, but it’s realistic, to accept that there are quite a few living without them.

I consider myself lucky to have dreams but it’s sad as I grow older to see that some of the dreams I had at a younger age are now out of reach. Time simply ran out on me. Or I ran out on my dreams. I have to accept that I simply didn’t work hard enough to achieve that dream and now, it’s too late to call it back. The problem that I face today is that I still have dreams and I am having trouble working towards fulfilling them and I am letting them slip away. I am aware of my mistakes but I’m not doing anything to correct my course. And that’s what is so frustrating about the person that I am. It’s a character flaw that I wish I could correct but…I take no action.

I also need a little realignment because are my dreams really what is important now? I mean…I had my time. I had years. Now I have the boy. It’s all about him. His future. I have dreams for him.

Yes, I know…it’s important not to let my dreams for /of him override his personal dreams. I have to let him be what he’s going to be…through his own doing and pursuit of his dreams. But it will be my duty to assist him in achieving those lofty dreams…and I hope they are just that, lofty.

M, the boy and I were walking the other day and we spotted a former classmate of hers. The classmate was working in a health food store, the same store that he has always worked…at least as long as we have known him…and that’s about 8 years. M said that she felt sad for him and the fact that there he was, years after graduation, still working behind that counter. She knew that he had these dreams of living and teaching in Europe…but nope, still there. And then she turned the light on her and asked herself out loud…”Here I am, who am I to talk”…and when she said this, I think she realized that she was pushing the boy in the stroller and corrected her reality with the acknowledgement that she “had the boy” and she was in a much better “reality” than her classmate.

I’ve often wondered about M’s dreams. I’ve seen he grow through some very developmental stages in her life whereas she missed all of that in me. It hurts me to think that she has wished and dreamed of something that has passed her by…and that she feels she could never again achieve.

We’ve been Under Water on a few occasions but the pool that we shared oxygen in (I am of course referring to a scene in the story) hasn’t been deep enough…or the altered reality hasn’t impressed the change that perhaps we should have recognized.

Personally, I’m at the bottom of a pool right now with that mouth piece firmly between my teeth and I’m sucking down that air as fast as possible. The shift in reality that I have been anticipating is approaching. It’s going to be tough.