Monday, April 30, 2012

Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses - Rick Bass

Not sure if I would consider this piece experimental – or of the minimalist bend that Helprin wrote against in his introduction - but as much as I do not necessarily like experimental literature, if this is that, then a level of dislike has been removed.

The sentences are short, compact, each worthy of their placement and each carries the story along at a comfortable pace without breaking the reader’s stride.

Bass writes in his contributor’s notes that the story was originally written straight through without pause or punctuation and got him through a difficult week. A rough edge does exist in the feeling…I like that. The finished product carries the same feeling of tension and angst but with a refined edge. The healing properties of writing for Bass benefited us, the reader, through a great story.

I’ve mentioned before that if I were a writer, there were several writers whose stories that I would model my writing after. I’d add Bass to that list now.

In one of my lives (#2 – University student) I was a couple of the characters that Bass created. I neglected my studies and passed time in activities not conducive to learning.

I carry the result of that slacking in my heart and mind daily and as I know, and preach, there is no use in crying over the past – if I only knew then what I know now…

I write and complain about bettering myself though self-education and I do work at it from time to time but I find myself living with the shame of not doing enough…and wondering if that shame is the existence that I essentially want and seek out. I know I have a problem with guilt –

And I need to work on it.

Daily I look at my little boy and stand in amazement at his growth. This past week, he started climbing. He’s mastered both walking and running and has now, he’s becoming pretty skilled in scaling the living room furniture.

We have a large leather recliner that I plant my ass in most evenings. For some reason, W decided that this chair would be the first obstacle that he would scale. I suppose he picked the chair because it’s the one we sit in while reading – at least that’s what I’d like to think.

He strains, whines, whimpers, slobbers, grunts and pants while attempting to pull his little body onto the seat. He looks over at me for help whining and pleading for help.

I find it so hard to resist helping him onto the chair – I encourage him coaching him to keep trying. His little arms and legs, shaking with muscle fatigue, slobber forming pools creating a slippery surface, his little hands smearing it into wider pools making the climb more difficult.

The whole exercise lasts at most 30 seconds – it feels like minutes. Of course he eventually makes it into the chair. He turns, looks at me and claps – and I show him how pleased I am by clapping along with him.

I know that he is too young to remember this-his struggle of climbing the chair and my refusal to assist him and the lesson I am imparting.

I know I’ll have plenty of more opportunities to provide him with tough life lessons – lessons where whining and pleading will take the form of words that will hurt my heart.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Banana Boats - Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

There are beautiful things in this world. Why is it just now, the year that I turn 40, that I am able to write this? I’ve always recognized beauty, and I think it’s something that my father taught me to appreciate, but why is it now that I feel I am truly appreciating beauty in this world? Why do I feel that I am suddenly more aware?

I see beauty in the color of grass, a collection of books, the written word, and the cast of light, the sound of M singing to W, W laughing uncontrollably, and the sight of a woman walking down the street…

Have I reached that awakened point in my life where the years of stimuli that has passed into my head has created some sort of realigned state?

Mind you…I am still quite aware of all the ugliness in this world…you can’t take that away from me just yet.

The hyper sensitivity I now feel towards beauty recently is such that it has caused me to take note.

Banana Boats

Before I set out on reading this volume, I scanned a few reviews. Expectedly, the reviewers commented on the introduction, but I do remember that it was said that one of the best stories was Banana Boats.

It took me two sessions of reading to make it through the story. It started a bit slow for me (troubling because I have been thinking a lot lately about my diminishing attention span) but in my defense, the story is longer than the usual. Once into it, the story took hold of me and yes, it is a story that deserved to be in this collection and placed right in the lead spot.

You see, I have served on a Banana Boat (not a real one but as it is used in this story) and I am still serving on this boat. It’s only a matter of time before those around me discover my place on that boat and my inability to get off this boat for all the years that I have been imprisoned.

I’ve written about this struggle in past posts and I am sure that I’ll write about it further until one day, I step off this boat.

I want off so bad…I just don’t know what it’ll do to the life I have now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Best American Stories 1988 – Edited by Mark Helprin

One of the first things I do upon beginning one of these volumes is to flip to the table of contents, glance over the titles and authors, then jump into the introduction written by the editor. It’s usually a task which takes up all of 15 minutes.

Nothing was different with BASS ’88, I glanced over the TOC, saw a few familiar faces, Rick Bass, Richard Bausch, Mavis Gallant, Louise Erdrich, Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. I then started in on the introduction and after the third page, I could tell that Helprin was about to take me on a long ride.

I slowly flipped the pages in the introduction and flipped the pages and flipped the pages. –Wow- this was some “introduction”. I immediately was put off by the length of the intro and became upset with Helprin for using the space to spout off. I let the book rest for a bit, went back to it, read some more, thought about the intro and then let it rest some more.

If I was given the space in front of a collection like the BASS I believe that I too would write whatever I damned well pleased. I commend Helprin for his introduction. Unlike some of the other introductions in previous editions which simply gave the editor’s impressions on the state of the short story, or the art of writing a short story, followed by a brief summary of the stories contained and a mild opinion of each. Helprin spins off on a massive essay opinion on everything from minimalist writers to women authors, classic literature, writing programs and left-wing politics.

He certainly provided me with plenty to consider and I had to place my mind in the late 1980’s to fully appreciate when he was coming from.

As much as I may have agreed or disagreed with what he wrote, weighing out his thoughts was worth the time spent.

At this point in my introduction, I like to reflect back to where I was when these stories were collected and published.

In 1988, I turned 16.

I was driving a car on my own, I was a sophomore in high school and I had a solid set of friends and even a girlfriend that I thought I would marry (don’t most of us at that age?). I was doing just enough academically in school to remain “average” and mostly, I would hover just above “below average” and this would set itself into my pattern of achievement throughout my time in organized education. I hadn’t discovered the riches that literature could fully provide at this point. I was much more interested in music, girls and goofing off. My family life was solid. Mom was working hard as a teacher and my step-father who was fully retired at this point was holding down the fort. We always had a hot dinner. I delivered newspapers after school and woke early on the weekends to deliver the weekend editions. This kept money in my pocket for gas and helping out with car insurance. I could also buy a cassette tape every few weeks. I didn’t have my own car but shared my mother’s 1981 Chevette. My sister and I were still visiting my dad up in PA on holidays and during the summer.

Overall, life was really good.

Much as it is now.

I've come across Mr. Helprin before...and we had a wonderful first encounter.

It was over The Schreuderspitze which I absolutly loved.

And with that, let’s get to reading.