Monday, November 10, 2014

Mr. Morning – Siri Hustvedt

I read this story a few months ago and am just now getting around to writing about it.

I have a new life now filled with responsibilities and distractions – enough to keep me from reading and doing any serious thinking about what I've read. Mindless fiction finds its way into the brief moments I have to read and I’m afraid that I've also developed a shorter attention span which kills any sort of extended periods of reading and writing. 

This was a beautifully written story and I was pulled through the pages.

I've been fortunate enough in my life, up to this point, to be spared being exposed to situations such as Iris, the main character.

Perhaps this is one of those stories that offers a lesson to the reader.

Of course, every day presents the possibility…of a situation.

Will I remember my lessons?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Talk to a Hunter – Pam Houston

Lately it seems that there has been quite a bit written about the role of literature as a teacher.  Perhaps I am just sensitive to it because I firmly agree with this and I intend to make it one of the many teachers of my children.

One of the appealing characteristics of this anthology is that reading these stories gives me the chance to jump into a different reality for about 15 minutes or so.  Then, as I sit and think about what I've just read, I slowly process what the stories could teach me – what lessons do they impart.

Perhaps it’s through the lessons of literature, stories of this type that have given me the tools deal with women throughout my life. 
 I enjoy reading stories by women authors with a woman as the lead character and I enjoyed this little story by Houston.

I thought about the relationships I've had over the years with women and certain feelings they may have felt as a result of my actions – or inaction.
The love, the questioning, the jealousy, the trust and distrust – the hate, the pressure the capture and the freedom.  I remember how I felt in those relationships, and to dial time back and think about how she, the girl in my life felt…and - well, it’s a little tough sometimes. 

This story had a nice minimalist feel to it (my opinion) –clean and sleek – impressively so and later discovering that Houston wrote the story in a burst – 10 hours at the computer – and she states that after those first ten hours – she never changed a word of the story.  She too recognizes the how special it is to drive all the words out into the world in one push and end up with something so perfect. 

The Secret of Cartwheels – Patricia Henley

I've put myself into W’s brain on several occasions and taken a look at my behavior through his eyes.  It’s a fascinating experience.  It’s an exercise where I have to primitivize my thoughts wrestling with the knowledge that I already have as an adult.

Children know much more than we gave them credit for years ago.  And reading this story by Henley, her ability to give a voice to a young girl, opens the door (at least it did in 89-90) to the hurt that a child feels as a result of the failings of adults.

Looking into Henley, I found a short story published by her (Rocky Gap) in Glimmer Train back in 2008.

You can see the full index of Glimmer Train publications here.

I also found a nice little interview with her on the Glimmer Train site where she references a piece by Ted Solotaroff – “Raymond Carver: Going Through the Pain”. 

Well…because she dropped this---then of course I must find it and read it.

Ah…the beauties of working in an academic library – gotta love JSTOR.

And so, with this story by Henley, I find that in this segment of my life I have a special sympathy for the viewpoint of a child.
I take add this to the life that my parents gave me and I wonder if I’m going to drive myself mad sometimes completely over thinking parenting.

And then there are what seems to be the constant reports of child abuse, neglect and murder.

Reading the accounts, I can’t help but see what damaged, imperfect creatures we are.  We have the potential for such beauty and love but at the same time, we destroy and hate.

The fracture in a person’s mind that takes them down this path often times are not self-inflicted – but due to the actions of another – and where did that originate?

Henley wraps the story up beautifully with this –

“I felt exhausted, not the clean exhaustion of after-dark softball but a kind of weariness; I was worn out with the knowledge that life would be different, but not in the way I had imagined or hoped.  I didn’t want to forgive her for being the way she was, but you have to forgive your mother.  She searched my eyes and tried to make some long ago connection, sweet scrutiny, perhaps the way she’d look at me when I was a new baby, her first baby.  I looked away.  Jan Mary gnawed delicately at her cuticles.  Christopher came around the corner of the house swinging his Mickey Mantle bat, his leather mitt looped on his belt.  The new spring leaves were so bring they hurt my eyes. “ 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wizard – C. S. Godshalk

I’m finding more truth behind the thought that the “time” in which a person reads/encounters a story

impacts the ingestion of that story and the relationship between that story and the reader can vary

greatly depending on the factors existing in that “time” encounter.

I’m not finding the love for these collected stories that I found in the past.

Could it be that I've entered into a new literary movement in the late 80s?

Perhaps I've just stumbled onto a rough couple of volume editors that haven’t selected stories that I find


It just seems that the earlier volumes of this reading project pulled me through much quicker. The

stories provided me with plenty to reflect upon and write about.

-It seemed that everything was so fresh.

Yes, my life is incredibly different than what it was while I was reading those early volumes and I can

only believe that this has about an 80% impact on my interaction with the volumes/stories.

And so I accept a large portion of the blame for the dwindling relationship I have here.

Take this story for example.

I got almost nothing out of it.

I struggled through it.

Which – as this being the case – interestingly enough - gave me the above to write about.

So – I’ll leave it there and move along.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Just a short walk up to the stacks. My memory is still solid as I can easily find the shelves where the BASS live.  They are aligned perfectly.  
Waiting - and waiting - and waiting. 
With the new circulation system there is no longer a need for a due date slip to be place and stamped in the back of the book.  
The 2013 edition of BASS is crisp and clean - the pages snap and crackle as I quickly flip them between my thumb.  And I have this quickening and shortness of breath as I think that perhaps I am the only one that will ever do this.  I pull some of the other volumes down to find one with a due date slip in the back - I need to see when it was last checked out.  
It’s funny that I actually feel a physical hurt thinking that these books will sit here for years and years until someday they are discarded - never to have been read - their authors never heard of again.

Finding Natasha – Madison Smartt Bell

Back in October we made our first trip back to Romania with W. It was a wonderful trip.  Plenty of time with the family and W traveled extremely well.

Going back to Negresti is not just a trip back to a former home, it’s a chance to time travel. 

I knew before the trip that I would have for time traveling with my son, feeling emotions from those old days but with a companion from the future so W and I took every opportunity to get out of the apartment and onto the little streets of Negresti.  
At least twice a day W and I would venture out onto the cold(somewhat cold), still dusty(not as dusty), still dirty(not as dirty) streets of Negresti.  We’d make our way out of the apartment, taking dark the uneven stairs with care and onto the sidewalk outside of the apartment bloc.  
Each time, be it the bright light of the morning, a midday glare - or the dusky evening purple light,  I’d take a quick couple of seconds to assess the surroundings, see who was walking down the sidewalk as a possible portal to the past.  We’d start our walk down the sidewalk and usually turning right towards the “commercial” street.  Heading out onto the street for W was all about reaching the playground.  
He had his priorities, I had mine.  
Heading out onto the street for me was all about returning to 1998 - reaching back.  Things changed in Negresti - but not much.  Infants that were born when I first arrived there were now old enough to be my students if I were to teach there again.  Time failed to stop for me as I wish it had. I walked with W down the streets doing my best to casually stroll and to make myself as visible as possible.
Sounds, smells the light - all were the same.  1998 returned to me often on those walks.  I ran into former students who apologized for their English as I apologized for my Romanian. 
Time travel. 
Nervous laughter and smiles - and then it was over.
We continued down the street. There was a brief tug from the past, a tug towards the bars with their smoke and cheap vodka.  Thinking back to those days, I determined that a good deal of self-examination and discovery took place in those “establishments” brought on by the clarifying effects of the booze.  
Walking the streets in 2013 I realized that there would be no going back.  Those smoky rooms were gone for me now.  
I would need to discover myself elsewhere - but honestly, is my discovery all that important in the role that I now serve as a father? Yes, to some degree I suppose - but perhaps existing in the present with my son is far more important that strolling down the dirty sidewalks and dark smoky rooms of my past.  It’s time to remember the past, not live in it - I must live in the present and the future with my son.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Kind of Simple, Happy Grace - Richard Bausch

A very strange day today - a day when many old memories surfaced and pushed my mood towards the slightly melancholic.  
It started as I was looking at some old vacation locations on Google Earth.  I then ventured into some of my online photo albums and pulled up old shots of my father.  Not really old - maybe 5-7 years ago.  A lifetime ago really.  A time where he knew my name. 
Where we could sit at a table and drink scotch and carry on conversations. In those conversations, some were pretty banal - others deep and meaningful - either way, I seem to remember making connections with him that had never before developed.  
So, now, I am stuck with the connections we made then.  
We can go no further.  
And, I think this is OK.
It’s my opinion that as humans we seek to make connections.

Richard Bausch in his contributor’s notes concerning this story writes that - “...I knew I wanted to bring them to some pass that would mean a sort of helpless embrace.” 

I think it’s natural that because of the divorce I sought out deep and meaningful connections with my father - and as I matured and wondered where his mind was during the divorce, I sought to understand him more through our discussions.  
When dad and I sat together and drank, it was our embrace. 

I remembered those embraces today and I’ll remember them tonight as I practice my Thursday night scotch drinking ritual.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Fireman's Wife - Richard Bausch

My struggles with staying on top of posting here are primarily due to a block. I haven’t isolated it completely – just that it originates with my change in life.  We all work through our blocks.  We fall off our horses and climb back on.  In this case, I do not resent the origins of the change in my life one bit.  It’s just a stage, and as I progress forward, I will be able to pull good parts of my old life into the life I now live.
The Fireman’s Wife is the second story in BASS 1990.  The author is Richard Bausch who I’ve read before in BASS 1988 (Police Dreams)  back in the summer of 2012. We’ll have the treat of reading more Bausch in my next entry as he is featured twice in this anthology.

Of his decision to include Bausch twice in this volume editor Richard Ford states: “I’d have felt more balanced by seeming more balanced, but I simply couldn’t believe I was publishing the best stories I found if I ignored these”.

Bausch is also in BASS 1997 – I look forward to reading him several months from now (er…could be years at my rate of reading and writing).

Bausch was born in 1945 and presently he is a professor at Wilkinson College of the Arts & Humanities at Chapman University in Orange, California.  He spent some time in Virginia attending college and later teaching just up north at George Mason. 
Bausch has a great section on his website – where he lays out his Ten Commandments for writers.

They are great and worth re-posting here:

Ten Commandments of Richard Bausch
1. Read: “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering, and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.”
2. Imitate: “While you are doing this reading, you spend time trying to sound like the various authors — just as a painter, learning to paint, sets up his easel in the museum and copies the work of the masters.”
3. “Be regular and ordinary in your habits, like a Petit Bourgeois, so you may be violent and original in your work.” — borrowed from Flaubert
4. Train yourself to be able to work anywhere.
5. Be Patient. “You will write many more failures than successes. Say to yourself, I accept failure as the condition of this life, this work. I freely accept it as my destiny. Then go on and do the work. You never ask yourself anything beyond Did I work today?”
6. Be Willing. “Accepting failure as a part of your destiny, learn to be willing to fail, to take the chances that often lead to failure in the hope that one of them might lead to something good.”
7. Eschew politics. “You are in the business of portraying the personal life, the personal cost of events, so even if history is part of your story, it should only serve as a backdrop.”
8. Do not think, dream.
9. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations.
10. Be wary of all general advice.

In an interview with  Jack Smith published in “Writer” - Apr2007 Smith in his introduction writes:

The Virginia Quarterly Review said – “With any luck, Richard Bausch's genius will be recognized now as heir and equal to Carver's."

I feel bad that I didn’t look further into Bausch back in July of 2012.  I’m a huge fan of Carver and have been reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love which is such a bad-ass collection of tightly written stories.

So if Bausch lines up with Carver – I’m stoked.
Later in the interview Smith goes on to write “Familiar Bausch themes include marital stresses and breakups, the problems of aging, and the complex relations between parents and children. Like his literary kinsmen Carver and Richard Ford, he tends to produce work that is often very dark, ironic and bizarre.” And then “Bausch masterfully zeroes in on the oddities and quirks in people, and the bizarre ways in which human beings clash as they try to conduct their lives the only way they know how.”

And the above pretty much sells it for me on Bausch.

I enjoyed this story.  I enjoyed the depth of characters and as a fan of Carver; I enjoyed the misery in which the characters lived.