Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Men Love For - Dale Ray Phillips

And now we land here.  A story I really enjoyed.  Again, I can’t place my finger on it – and I’ve given it the requisite amount of thought – as to why this story appeals to me.  Perhaps it is the mother – suffering from mental illness.

Perhaps it is the son – the bridge between the mother and father – working to keep the family together.

Perhaps it is the relationship between the father and the son.
Yes, I think that’s it.

I often think about how W and I will grow older together and I wonder about our father/son relationship.  I am so excited to spend time with him – time that my father never spent with me.
The image that Phillips paints of the father and son riding a motorcycle at night and winding down a road, and leaning hard and fast into a curve…

I want that for W and I in the future.

I want him behind me holding on for dear life, trusting me, learning what it is to be a man.
It’s going to be wonderful and I simply can’t wait.

Concerning Dale Ray Phillips –

He writes in the contributors’ notes:

“My theory of writing is a simple one: write to make the hair on the back of a reader’s neck stand up.  This can be accomplished with either plot or revelation.  I am one of those writers who should probably write and not talk about his work.”

Because I am so fond of this story and appreciated the style of writing, I thought to discover a little more about Phillips.  It’s true, it appears that there isn’t much of him out there talking but I did find a wonderful interview with him conducted back in 2002 and published in 2003.

I decided to pull a few passages from it to highlight here because I believe they are important.
The interview was conducted by George Hovis and Timothy Williams as their shared several pitchers of beer at a restaurant.

“I think anyone who wants to be a writer should read at least one story a day. When I was young, in the summers I was working in a cotton mill, as a dyeweigher, right? Haw River, North Carolina, third shift. I'd come home. There was a library in Burlington. And it had Best American Short Stories and O. Henries. And for some reason, I thought, well, shit, what year to start with? 1955 was when I was born, so I thought, I can't be responsible for anything before my birth, okay?
So I climbed up on the roof and took a lounge chair up there. And some gin. And I'd lay up there. I was into suntanning. Look what it did to me. I'd lay up there and drink and read until I got sleepy.”

I decided to include this passage for the obvious reasons – but there is a secondary reason too.  After graduating from Norwich I lived with my father, step-mother and ½ sister in New Jersey.  I was welcomed into their house with open arms and for the first 6 months of living with them I was basically getting used to the real world again.  This was the summer of 1994.  A good portion of that time was spent reading classic Russian literature in the backyard under the hot sun drinking either beer or scotch.  Alcohol mixed with 90 degree temps leads to a pretty quick buzz and only a few pages being read. But those were some of the best books I ever read. Phillips sat on a roof – I sat in the back yard.

Learn to be your best critic. Don't be in love with every sentence you write. At one point, you have to sit down and read it as if your worst enemy wrote it. Go easy on metafiction. An experimental story is about the writer and the way it has been twisted. A traditional story moves me. When you read something really good, what happens to the back of your neck? It's a mammalian response. Your hair stands up. That's what you want to happen in the reader 

Look at those last few sentences – the man sticks to his technique. Props!

Meneseteung - Alice Munro

This is my fifth encounter with Munro included in the BASS anthology.  

You can find my previous encounters here:

I've been pretty brief with my writings on Munro and I will continue here.  I did find a bit more enjoyment in this story but I still cannot find true pleasure in reading her.  I still have 14 more encounters with her up to the BASS of 2012, and would suspect that she will be included in future editions of the book.  Perhaps over the next several years I will learn to appreciate her.
On a side note: I absolutely love the new picture I found of her.

The Management of Grief – Bharati Mukherjee

I gave a decent amount of thought as to what I could write about this short.

I initially thought that I could write about how I have made it to middle age without ever having to grieve and as I started typing, I realized that there was a trigger for grief and I could still be experiencing some sort of grief at the loss of my father due to the divorce.
I've written about my anger towards him and how I am still wrestling with forgiving him.  Now, as he is in his final stage of life, the grieving process over losing him will be one that is stretched out over years as he slowly fades away.  My management of this grief is strange and I wonder if I am actually managing it in a healthy way.  I talk to M about it, I talk with my brother –in-law and sister about it, I write about it in my little book I am now putting it out there (here).  
Is what I am feeling even grief though?  
Maybe it’s not.  
I just don’t know.  I do know that almost a day doesn't go by where thoughts of him in one form or another don’t cross my mind. Sometimes they are good thoughts but mostly they are thoughts of anger.  Just plain being upset with him and what he did all those years ago.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Displacement – David Wong Louie

In the contributors notes Louie writes that this story is about his own displacement.  I really enjoy what he has to say about the development of this story, his memory of its creation and evolution.

“With my other stories I can easily remember how each part evolved in the writing but the particulars of this story’s origins escape memory.  I cannot call back the clear-headed instant Mrs. Chow first walked across my imagination, nor the image or detail from which she bloomed.  I don’t remember a single crisis in the writing of the story, though I’m certain I suffered, as always, through many.  I suspect this haziness of memory isn't a matter of forgetting at all, but has everything to do with having known the story, in some deep way, even before I wrote a single word of it.  When the characters were new and strangers to me, when the story’s events were still surprising, they were at the same time familiar.  Nothing stands out about the story’s writing because this familiarity won’t allow it – in my memory the story wasn't revealed in steps, by a process, but was a piece that simply arrived, something had.  The Chows’ story is about refugees, people off balance, whose dislocation is not just spatial but cultural psychic, and emotional; it is, as I understand things, the undefined, unarticulated unease I have known my whole life – my own displacement.”

I don’t think many of us can make it through our lives without feeling a little out of place.  I’m one of the fortunate ones.  White male in America.  Yeah – not too tough sometimes.

I've written enough about my displacement – which was of my own choosing – and in the end was wonderful.  It altered my life. I need to find ways to displace myself more often.  Displace my mind.
I have found creativity and discovery in some of my displacements and I feel at some times that I am not displaced enough.  
I push myself into a physical displacement on the mornings that I run and in those mornings, I find something…something…something – not quite sure what it is yet – but it’s good.

Perhaps what I feel physically is a little bit of that unarticulated unease Louie writes about.  I know that it’s possible to displace my mind – I just gotta figure that out. 

Aunt Moon’s Young Man – Linda Hogan

Linda Hogan is quite the author and a strong voice for her people.  I am happy when I read a story in these anthologies written by a Native American.  The Native American voice is one of our nation’s that is often not heard enough…if at all. 
I went through a phase where I was fascinated with Native Americans.  It lasted several months – and I believe I lost interest because I simply couldn’t find, or wasn’t dedicated enough to the pursuit of this particular facet of knowledge to search for more information.  It was during (one of) my exploratory phases of life – and I’m sure something else replaced it
From the age of 5 through maybe 15 or 16, there was a family that lived a few houses down from our house with a mother/wife that interested me.
She was strange – a good strange. 
She seemed like a free thinker, like to have a good time and was genuinely a nice old woman (old to me but younger than I am now as I write, when I first met her).  She would sit on her front porch with her husband in the evenings and he would drink and smoke until he was blotto - I’m not sure if she drank – but if I were to guess, I would say yes. 
Their house was dirty and had a funny smell to it (you know how kids REALLY pick up on these things).  They had too many dogs and a few cats also several older children – in college or high school. 
With all of those barriers to acceptance by a young boy, the place was still inviting and the mother/wife is what made it so. 
Once the children moved out of the house, the husband and wife moved to the mountains of Virginia.  It’s where they belonged. The husband died shortly after their move and she occupied that cabin on the side of the mountain alone
We visited her once when I was in junior high school.  It was late int eh summer or early autumn.  The evenings were cool and the mornings crisp.  Plenty of leaves were on the ground but there were still ample brown leaves to provide cool shade in the warmer afternoons.   We picked wild grapes with her and made grape jelly.  I found a sturdy stick and fashioned it into a perfect walking stick.  I removed all the bark with a huge Rambo knife and dyed it a dark brown with boiled nuts.  We slept in her cabin in a loft that was heated with a wood burning stove – and dried out our sinuses.

She and her smelly house, her cabin in the mountains all were brought back to me by Aunt Moon’s Young Man.

Just another memory dislodged from the recesses of my mind by a good story. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Disneyland – Barbara Gowdy

Several thoughts came to me as I read this short story and of course most of them centered around fatherhood (the father plays a major role in this story).

There have been a few times over the past year – only a year because it’s just been that amount of time that I can really communicate with W.- that I have told W. that we will do something “later” or if he behaves a certain way we will “go get ice cream” and as the day plays out, I cannot act upon what I said we would do.  W. is still too young right now to remember what I told him a few hours ago, but that ability is starting to grow in him and soon he will hold me accountable and I will have to stop using this behavior modification technique and will also have to start following thought with my statements…and of course be more selective.
The thought and threat of nuclear war was something that I obsessed over while growing up.  I think I began thinking about it right around the divorce and I’m pretty sure that you could directly link my thoughts of impending inhalation with the loss of my father to his work.  There were times that I mulled over survival scenarios and as I grew older I educated myself, and discovered that I lived in a city that hosted a massive number of military bases which made us target #1…I soon knew that there would be no surviving.  Just that bright light.  There would be no fallout shelter that could save me or my family. I started to accept the fact that death would come fast and that I wouldn’t even know it.  Perhaps I should have lived my younger years a little more recklessly knowing that I could be flash-killed at any second…

Finally, and again back to fatherhood – M. and I are co-captains of our family ship, but as a male, there is that sense that a little more weight for the steering may rest on my shoulders. Of course this is just an illusion caused by the now dwindling testosterone that still manages to course though me – but I know in my head that I have the responsibility to take my family down the right path. 
I don’t think I would be responsible if I didn’t think and question if the decisions I made daily concerning M. And W. were the right ones.  Then, I must also think about not over thinking.

Think about that.