Monday, April 22, 2013

Flowers of Boredom – Rick DeMarinis

Sometimes it isn't the complete story but just a paragraph, maybe a sentence or two, that sticks in your head.
I found that with this particular story.  I didn't see one overall idea or message that I could readily pull from it (of course one could always surface later) but a nice passage below as well as part of the Contributor’s Notes will do for this entry.

“Nobody knows jack-shit,” Voss is saying to Lamar.  “If you are going to stay in this business, you’ve got to remember that.  Something else, something besides men and machines gets all this fancy work done.”
“I see what you mean,” Lamar says.

“No you don’t. You really don’t,” Voss says.  “What I am telling you is that there is a great dark…consensus…that sweeps things along to their inevitable conclusion.  There is an intelligence behind it, but, believe me, it’s not human.  It is the intelligence of soil, the thing that lifts trees and flowers out of the ground.  I am too astonished and thrilled to be frightened by it.”

And then in the Contributor’s notes section Demarinis writes:

“I believe thought processes are primitive.  Logic and reason mask a dark topography rutted by glaciers of superstition.  We prefer intuition over analysis.  Reason tells me smart men with blueprints and serious purpose create ICBMs.  My limited experience and my intuition tell me something else.  One of the results of this conviction is “The Flowers of Boredom.” All this happened decades ago.  It still astonishes me.”

And thinking further on this, I can take the above personally as I work in my life and in the life of my family to move away from the “dark consensus”. 

I think about it quite a bit actually and I believe that it is even more prevalent and powerful in our lives than it was when this story was written in the late 80s.

Friday, April 19, 2013

White Angel – Michael Cunningham

White Angel, presented in this collection, is another example of how this wonderful little exercise of mine presents me with authors of true quality.  Michael Cunningham went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Hours”.  He presents, and Margaret Atwood has presented readers with an emotionally charged story first published in The New Yorker.  In the Contributor’s Notes at the back of The BASS, Cunningham explains that the central – focal - genesis-  of this story came from an incident that happened in his home town when he was thirteen, and that it had been alive in his head for some 30 years and eventually developed into this story.

It's not that I am beginning to fear these types of stories but I do find myself becoming more anxious after reading them.  Stories when children are horribly injured, abused or killed - man, they are difficult. 

The reader knows from pretty early in the story that the main character's brother will die.
Reading of the relationship between the brothers serves as a way to strengthen the emotional punch when the brother does die.  It hurts – even though you know it’s coming.

Concerning his death and they manner of his death, perhaps this is where most of my fear comes from in these types of stories.

It is a death that comes during an ordinary moment in our lives.  Rushing towards a closed sliding glass patio door, bursting through the glass, having a shard of that glass sever the jugular and bleeding out on the living room floor.

It's horrific.

An accident. A mistake.

And you reflect on your life and remember all of the instances that you were in a position where you could have been that boy - bleeding out on the living room floor.

And then you think about your son.  How he might grow up like you.  And how he might be in situations where he would run towards that closed sliding glass patio door...and you can't sleep at night thinking about this.  And all of these awful scenes that haven't even happened in his life.  But could happen.  And are happening right now… in your imagination.
A lump forms in your throat your eyes glass over in the darkness as you set the scene so perfectly –
And you obsess over his safety. You try not to hover but he's so little, so innocent.  He needs to be protected.  But the years will pass and he will run further down the street from you...away from your protective arms. Towards that closed sliding glass patio door.  .

He’s getting older now and faster and faster and faster - always running from you - from your protective arms towards that closed sliding glass patio door.  You cry out for him to STOP!

And that’s it exactly – his life, our life – this life - a closed glass patio door.  Normally we approach it, slide it to the side and walk into the living room.  But there are moments when we – or someone we love runs through that closed sliding glass patio door. And things are never the same after that moment.
Years pass, you’re both be much older.  Your hair has grayed out completely - lying in bed - still thinking about him running towards... 

And there is no way of every catching him.  All you can do is watch.  And hope that he slides it to the side.


"If you've never wept and want to, have a child.

Incarnations of Burned Children – David Foster Wallace - of course.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ralph the Duck – Frederick Busch

The last time I came across Frederick Busch was in October/November of 2009.

Perhaps it’s the distance between the readings that prevented me from recognizing the genius.  Busch really is a wonderful writer. 

Ralph the Duck gets you right in the heart.  This is yet another story that due to my role as a relatively new father, is perceived completely different than I could have absorbed it 3 years ago.

I keep telling myself that the time it has taken me to arrive at the stories I am now reading is purposeful.  I am meant to read these stories in this stage of my life.

I do find myself looking back at entries in this journal and reading what I wrote, and not recognizing the man who wrote them. 

Some of the entries are very good.  Some I can tell that I dashed off just to fill in the box next to “completed”. 

It’s hard to admit that.  I need to think about what I am writing and my audience.
I was reminded of that in this story:

“You are writing it for posterity.  For some mythical reader someplace, not just me.  You’re making a statement.”

I’ve thought about eveything here and honestly, I feel the beneficiary of this exercise is me.  I’d like to think that someday W will find this and gain a bit of insight to his father.  (Yes, I’ve made backups of the whole thing).

What was it that appealed to me about this particular story?

A few things –

The main character is a security guard at a local university.  I work in a library at a local university (part-time). He has some similar opinions that I have concerning students.

The character and I are only a couple years apart in age.

He has an affinity for whiskey.  He is enrolled in a writing class.  I’m not enrolled – I’d like to be…but am not. 

He is at a university with a quarry – I have good memories from the quarry at Norwich.
He views professors with a bit of suspicion.

And finally, I think I enjoyed this story because – it’s sad.  I lean towards favoring sad stories.  Busch was known for his realistic depiction of people, families and their lives – and the sadness that they often encounter.

The main character and his wife have lost a child to death.

Again, if I had read this story three years ago, I doubt that it would have impacted me the way it did today.
I simply cannot imagine surviving the death of a child.

I do not believe that I could ever find the strength to live.

My heart is filled with such love, and to have the source of that love disappear – is unimaginable, and I can only think the unimaginable of myself when faced with that thought.

Kubuku Rides (This is It) – Larry Brown

Another fine selection by Atwood and Ravenel. 

I mentioned that I thought it would be important if I got back to exploring the author a little bit more before I turned the eye to me and writing about the story.

I’m happy that I looked into Brown’s life a little.

The fact that Brown was not a college grad and had no (limited) real education in creative writing – but was self-taught through his love of reading appealed to me.

As I’ve written about before, I enjoy reading books that detail the writing processes of authors and advice to wannabe writers.

A great many authors advise the wannabes to read as much as they can, and to mimic the authors they love.

Brown had a love of reading and I imagine that through his reading he learned to write – of course a healthy dose of natural talent could help.
Brown said that he had written hundreds of short stories before being published.


Brown died of an apparent heart attack in November 2004.

It took a few minutes and a re-read of the first few paragraphs of Kubuku Rides before I could get into the stride of the writing.

I don’t think it’s presumptuous of me to say that a good majority of people wrestle with some sort of addiction in their lives.

I’m not talking about a coffee addiction…or an addiction to M&Ms…

A serious addiction.  The all encompassing, life altering, conscious altering kind.
Kubuku Rides lays out a dialog within scenes that has found a reality millions of times.  I can imagine the scenes playing out in real time someplace in this world even as I write.

In the civilized world addiction is a facet of the human condition that is familiar.

Does it exist in the uncivilized world?

Do small nomadic tribes in Tibet, or gatherings of tribal families in the jungles of the Amazon deal with addiction? 

Does addiction manifest with the introduction of an external “something” to the unique chemical composition of an individual?

And why when the individual is aware of the hurt and damage that is being done by the addiction, can they not free themselves?

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Black Hand Girl – Blanche McCrary Boyd

Looking aback over the past couple of years of writing in this journal I see that I have fallen away from what was a standard practice before I set out to do any writing on a “just read” story.

I would usually pull up a bio of the author and read a bit about him/her because, honestly, I had never heard of them (yes…this was true of both Raymond Carver and John Gardner – my favorites – see what good it did me!) and with that new knowledge, I would toss in a little sentence that would round out my thoughts of the story.

I found that if I really enjoyed a particular story that I would delve deeper into the life of that author and attempt to discover what drove them.  I really enjoyed this exercise and what it added to this whole BASS project.

As lives change, my reading has severely dropped off and I am in a different place in my life now and I devote less time than I would like to my reading and writing. Perhaps it was my lack of reading and writing and feeling the need to post something that forced me into shortcuts and not fully devoting myself to a story or author.  

My position in life now also affords me a different perspective on what I read – much different than 3 years ago. 

I wonder then if this particular story (which I thoroughly enjoyed) would strike me differently if I had read it 3 years ago.  I suspect it would.  But, here we are.  I am reading it in April of 2013.

Yes, I enjoyed this story – but for the life of me I can’t lay down exactly why.  I am fine with that.
What I enjoyed even more was discovering a little more about the story’s author – Blanche Boyd.

Google her – check out a few interviews with her – you won’t be disappointed.

And it looks like she is still teaching and writing.  This is good.

Living to be a Hundred – Robert Boswell

Walking over to the coffee vending machine just a few moments ago with a worn dollar bill in my hand, questioning whether or not the bill will be accepted by the electronic eye, I find that the machine is out of order.  It’s going to be a long day.
As I write this I have about 13 hours to go in my eighth day of the week.   I work an over night shift at a university library providing reference support to students amped up on Adderall, caffeine and Ritalin.
An unusual number of Asian students also occupy my space and the only reason why I can figure that they are here is that the library provides them with a comfortable place to chat with their friends back in their native countries.  More students are starting to filter into the library now as the sun rises and classes will soon start.
I have found myself in a position in life where my daily work is quite comfortable.  I suppose the only danger I face is any damage that may be a result of sitting too much for too long, breathing conditioned air or the damage that the computers I face all day could be inflicting.  My work life is pretty cushy.

Rarely…do I mean…almost never do I come into conflict with people.  In fact, I wonder at times if I have lost my ability to fight because of my lack of exposure to arguments.  My opinions are requested and I do need to make decisions but when I do, they are rarely challenged and often valued.

What has afforded me such a life?  I am fortunate.

I worked construction for a few weeks one summer during summer school.  It was part time work and I didn’t put in the 40+ hours a week the other workers labored.  It was simple mindless work – demolition.  I am pretty sure I wrote of this experience once before in this journal.  

I enjoyed the work, but I would finish the day sore knowing that the next morning, if I had to work, I would be waking sore and that the day would be made a little more difficult.
A look back.
April 2012 I was reading – Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 1988 edited by Mark Helprin
April 2011 I was reading – Introduction to the Best American Short Stories 1986 edited by Raymond Carver
April 2010 I was reading – Coming Over by Edith Milton from BASS 1982
April 2009 I was reading – The Introduction to the Best American Short Stories 1979 by Ted Solotaroff
April 2008 I was – I had not yet begun reading…I was 2 months away from thinking about beginning.