The passage of time

 



This past weekend marks the passage of another year of this exercise. I named the blog (exercise) and made my first post on this platform on May 29th, 2008. 

I remember holding the 1978 volume in my hands as I spoke to my father on the phone from a vehicle service shop in Norfolk, making plans for our trip to the island. Fourteen years have passed, and I have recorded some of the changes in our lives (M and I), having our lives transformed from us to them and us when children arrived. I have faced many challenges in this exercise. Writer's block, having my attention sucked away by distractions online, my inability to focus, my lack of sleep, and I can go on and on. 

I suppose that the passage of time also contributes to this exercise as it allows me to encounter the stories at points in my life where perhaps they would hit me differently if I had discovered them earlier. I suppose I wouldn't know unless I reread one or two that had the most impact. I do know that the anthology made me love the authors of the late 70s and early 80s. I would have never discovered them without this exercise – and perhaps I wouldn't have appreciated them now as I did then – wouldn't have come to love them. The foundation was laid, and now new loves are arriving on scene as I move into the early 90s and reflect on a significant developmental period. 

These stories will act as a match to ignite old memories, and fortunately, I still have many of those memories kicking around in my head. 

Let's put this little entry aside now and get back to our regularly scheduled lack of reading and writing as we move into the 15th year of this exercise.   

Community Life – Lorrie Moore

 


In the early 2000's we took a trip to Vermont. Coincidently, it was almost ten years after the publication of this anthology, and as I pause and look back on that coincidence, I realize that time was so much shorter and closer back then. I'm so far from the 90s and early 2000s now related to progress on this reading adventure, but I'm so fortunate to be able to continue on it with my reading and thinking.

It was just the two of us, and there wasn't a purpose for our getaway – it was just that. We made our base camp at the offseason Killington resort hotel and explored the various attractions within 50 miles. Of course, Norwich was a highlight, and we had a wonderful time walking around the campus and spending some time with some old friends there. And as these stories and this project does, it allows me to drift back to visiting Ellin and reflect on her sudden death several years ago.

One afternoon, as we strolled through a typical Vermont small town, we happened into a small bookstore, and I picked up a collection of short stories. I was still a few years away from truly loving and appreciating the short story form, but the book's subject matter was more aligned with my interests at the time. It was a collection of stories all taking place in or about libraries.

At the time, I was considering making library work a more serious occupation than my work as a library clerk at the newspaper. Of course, library school was on the horizon, but my lack of interest in engaging in any additional schooling at that time was preventing me from moving forward.

Contained in this collection of short stories was the story that BASS 1992 brought forward, "Community Life." Here we are, reunited with this story in BASS 1992, read some 20 years after first coming across it.

Now, I struggle to recall if I read Community Life in the other collection. I would have remembered it since there is a Romanian aspect to it, and to put the icing on the cake, portions of the story occur in Vermont. So, we have libraries, a Romanian and Vermont. The closest I ever came to matches like that was Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" novel.

Given that I felt so close to the main character, Vermont and libraries, I think these story ingredients are what pulled me through it. There is a more profound message that Moore points out in the Author's notes contained at the back of the anthology, and I recognized those messages…but if it were not for my connection to "the three," I would have struggled through this story.

Let's be honest… I'm struggling through all of these stories anyway. I wrote the introduction to BASS 1992 back on February 20, 2020. It's now March 2022, and I still have nine stories to read and write about in this collection.

At this pace, I'll finish the book sometime in 2023?

I've read and listened to a lot of writing advice, and most of it encourages reading and writing to get better at writing.

I'm trying.

I run to get healthier and to be a better runner. I lift weights to get stronger and to be healthier.

I need to work on my reading and writing to be a better writer.

I'd also like to bring my writing about these stories back to what they once were. I invested much more research into the authors and a deeper analysis of the story. I'll work on doing that moving forward.

Unfortunately, as I make this effort, I see that the next Author is Alice Munro…one of my most challenging authors. 

Fortunately, this is the third time we've run into Lorrie Moore in this anthology, and it appears that I'll encounter her several more times as we move through the project – Moore has a total of seven stories included in the BASS.

 

JunHee - Marshall N. Klimasewiski

 



 

So much can be said in silence. I forget this, but when I'm reminded of it, its truth is familiar, and it stings because I work on living a listening life but too often fail in this effort. When considering the silence between two people, what isn't said can be dangerous – depending on the situation. I know and always push hard for openness in communication – again, in some instances – but yes, the power of silence, applied in the right environment, says so much more.

Citing the power of the short story again, and this anthology and this project, I doubt that I would've ever intentionally picked up a story about a Korean émigré woman. If I did, I doubt that I would have finished a longer story/novel about her and her life. Even if I ran across this story in the New Yorker, where it originally ran, I doubt that I would have turned all the pages to finish it. Which, to their glorious fault, stems from the fact that they publish too much good content.

But, because of this project, I am committed to reading these works of art and commenting on them (sometimes just rambling), but the learning comes from consumption and digestion of them. Sometimes, I read them, mull them over in my mind for a day, a week, a month, or more – and then, all the pieces fall into place, and their message appears to me, and I can write about what it has given me.

With JunHee, Klimasewiski allowed me into the mind of this young woman, to see the world through her eyes, her mind's eyes. To hear and not to hear her husband. To hear the harsh words spoken to her by her father across the miles. To hear her dead mother's words come to her at night in dreams. And finally, to experience her loss and her grieving. A good author can create a character, set them in a story, and formulate their setting so powerfully that it allows the reader to honestly experience the character's life.

 

As a distraction and to take a trip, I often browse the archives of The New Yorker and check out what they published alongside the story that I just read. JunHee ran in the January 14, 1991 edition of The New Yorker… I was starting my second semester as a freshman at Norwich. Glancing at the table of contents, two entries catch my attention. "Report from Moscow" by Robert Cullen and "Books" by my man…John Updike.

You'll have to bear with me as I fall down the hole of nostalgia and interest in the Soviet Union as I completely veer off writing about JunHee and switch over to writing about what was happening in Russia in December of 1990. 

In Jan. 1991, there was still a USSR, and Cullen wrote of western cigarettes still being used as currency. Soviet citizens still waited in long lines for basic food staples. Eduard Shevardnadze also resigned his position as Foreign Minister taking Gorbachev by surprise. Cullen's conversations with his acquaintances detailed that many had lost faith in Gorbachev and his campaign for "openness" and reforms, and they felt that the "revolution" Gorbachev launched five years before would soon reach its "Thermidor." 

I became restless with my studies and struggled to decide exactly what I wanted to focus upon. Events in Eastern Europe and the then Soviet Union captured my attention, and I began to explore shifting my major away from Economics and focusing on International Studies. Norwich also offered Russian as a modern language, and I decided that when classes started in August of 1991, I'd embark on a new course of study. 

Summer break in 1991 allowed me to unplug from the traumas of freshman year at Norwich, and when I returned in August, a new world was unfolding in the Soviet Union. Predictions from December of 1990 were correct. Events accelerated in August with the Coup, and by December of 1991, we see Gorbachev resigning and turning the launch codes over to Yeltsin. At the Kremlin, on the evening of December 25, the Soviet flag was lowered as the State Anthem of the Soviet Union was played for the last time and the Russian flag raised in its place. 

In the Fall of 1991, I can't recall my Russian professor's attitude or thoughts about events taking place over there during these events. We had a pretty decent-sized class, and I'm sure he was working hard to drive the basics of the language through our thick skulls.

 After returning from Christmas break, the USSR no longer existed, and I'm sure we had some discussions…but again, they seemed to be erased from my memory.  I recall that my fascination with the Russian culture and language continued to grow during this time. 

I was fortunate to experience this atmosphere of learning during these pivotal events.  

 


The Pugilist at Rest – Thom Jones

 



I encountered this story not knowing anything about the author or the story itself – the way I experience most of the stories in these anthologies. 

Discovering these types of stories is terrific – knowing they are great and then researching them and the author and developing a greater appreciation of the work. I'm intimidated now, writing about this story because I feel that this post will get a few more eyes on it because of its popularity. Not that I don't appreciate people reading what I write, but I think that what I'm writing about here really isn't what most people will be looking for when it comes to doing research on this story.


This bit of reflection brings me back around to the "why" of this blog. Since I started this writing back in 2008, this place has offered me a reliable location to get thoughts about life on record. I suppose it's also a bit of a recording for my children – a hope that someday they will take the time to learn a bit more about me after I'm gone. I'm confident that they'll be able to find these words and make another connection with me.


There's another thought – a connection. I've made a few connections in this space over time—some fascinating ones – relationships that have educated me and enlightened me. You know who you are, old friend – and I think of you often.


This is also a space where I can practice my writing without being "graded" on the writing. I can use the story as a jumping-off point and just write.


Again though, the eyes that'll be drawn to this post just because of the story…


Onward – this story…


This is another New Yorker story – honestly, though, I don't think it fits into the typical New Yorker mold for that period. In this piece by JCO – for the New Yorker, about Jones after his death, she details how this story landed on her desk at the Ontario Review – and how her husband at the time ultimately rejected it – (because of its length) and how Jones had submitted it to several publications – one was the New Yorker, that eventually published it. She acknowledges his good fortune for having it picked up there and the fact that a few more of his stories finally landed in that publication's pages again. We'll encounter him in the BASS anthology in later '90s collections.


Jones seemed like a writer's writer. When this story was picked up, he was in his 40's working as a janitor – granting him the chance to read several thousand books during that time. Earlier in his life, there was time spent at the Iowa Writer's Workshop – so between his reading and his workshop experience, he found the code for producing the perfect publishable short story. He also struggled with substance abuse – eventually overcoming it.


Yes, I do think that there is a code/formula for producing this type of story – of course, it has to land on the right desk at the right time, and the first reader of that story has to be in the right mood to ingest that story (hopefully they are focused enough – not distracted by their own lives) to drive it through to eventual publication.

Of course, you can fire and forget your submissions…hoping to hit that right combo. Was Jones one of the lucky ones? No – I don't think so – he did enough groundwork before setting off on his quest.

Of course, as it happens with these stories in this collection, he died recently – in 2016.


I enjoyed learning about this story because Jones wrote and created a reality that he never actually experienced – the mark of a true master. He took his own life experiences, friends, and family members' experiences – refined them through the knowledge gained by all his reading and developed this incredibly convincing fiction. Sometimes you can see through the fiction – not with Jones.


It was true fiction.

 

 

 

Emergency – Denis Johnson



All the leaves are now off the large tree in our backyard. When I first set up this home office back in August, the tree was filled with large dark green leaves. I would occasionally look up from the computer, resting my eyes and watch the leaves twist and turn in the late summer sun. 

Fall settled in, and the leaves remained a dark green, and I wondered daily when they’d begin their change. As the days passed, they eventually turned, and the change seemed to accelerate through November. 

The beginning of December brought out the best colors, and strong winds and rainstorms forced the leaves off the branches. Now, here we are in mid-December, and after yesterday’s rain, all the leaves seem to have been torn off the tree.

As fast as they disappeared, I’m sure I’ll think their return in spring is premature.

I value the opportunity to have this view of this tree at this point in my life.


View and perspective.


I loved this short story by Denis Johnson. Without physically ingesting any sort of conscious altering substance, I felt that my consciousness was on a bit of a trip while reading this story. This is, of course, what happens so many times when we read good fiction – we get lost in a character or scene, time melts away, we are transported to another realm – we become someone else.


Johnson does a beautiful job of altering my consciousness through this short story. I was taken out of my room, away from my window, looking out on the leafless tree, and joined the characters in their own chemically altered world. I suppose it should come as a surprise that Johnson was so skilled at relating an experience through a chemically altered state of mind. After reading bout him, it appears that he spent some time addicted to substances. Write what you know.


Perhaps it has to do with the simple way life and time moves. Still, it seems that with a greater frequency, more of the authors that I encounter in these anthologies pass away within a few years of reading them – or just a short time before I meet them. I first encountered Johnson back in 2015 when I read and wrote about his story Car-Crash while Hitchhiking. It was featured in the 1990 anthology of BASS. I remember the story well. I read it during one of my overnight shifts at the ODU library. I wrote about it soon after reading as I felt that what it stirred in me need to be recorded. Part of the reason why I enjoyed Johnson so much was the similarities in style that I saw between him, Carver and Updike. I went deeper into those in the earlier post. I feel the need now, more than then, for authors like Carver and Updike, and my reading of this anthology has suffered as I seek out stories by those two authors. Sorry for the little aside there. Anyway, between the time I first read him, and now, Denis Johnson passed away. Looks like it was in 2017. 


He was an incredible author. 


Perhaps if I read and wrote faster, these sorts of things will happen less often.

Same Place, Same Things – Tim Gautreaux

 




The leaves on the large tree outside of my window turn from green to yellow, red, and then brown, and today, without a wind, they seem to be falling faster than I’ve ever noticed. It’s beautiful and comforting knowing that summer has retreated, and we are moving well into a new season.

Pre-pandemic, I found myself at times, falling into a routine that could provide comfort one day and uneasiness the next. Wake up, run/exercise, shower, drive to work, work 9-5, come home, spend time with the family, watch a little TV, sleep – repeat. It was nice, but there was some staleness to it – especially the 9-5 portion of the day.

In February, I left my place of employment after a 20-year run. I settled into an interesting few weeks, where I searched for other jobs and had some down-time to relax and reflect on my next moves.

March arrived, and so did the national shut-down as everyone tried to figure out how to live in the new normal.

Summer sets in, and we develop a routine as a family to provide the boys with a sense of normalcy in the middle of this crisis. It was a pleasant routine – wake up without an alarm, run/exercise, eat breakfast together, head out for a walk together, sit outside for most of the day, eating, lounging by the pool in the backyard. The evening would come, we’d head out on another walk, have dinner together and perhaps go on a third walk. We ate a lot of watermelon and ice cream. Listened to music and goofed off. It was a great summer.

August arrives, and I started a new job. Wake up at 6:00, run/exercise, make breakfast, shower, but the time clock and the timeclock is punched when I sign into MS Teams at 8:00 in the morning. Spend a good part of the day in front of a computer working from home. I am fortunate. We are all able to be together during this time, and I think that one day when we’re old and reflecting on this time, we’ll have very fond memories of the time spent together.

I don’t know if I find routines comforting or not. I value the knowledge that there is the predictability of a routine, and I know it’s suitable for the boys. I do wonder, though, if there is a loss that I am experiencing without the unpredictability.

The main character in this short story finds himself going through a routine of fixing

farmer’s water pumps and his routine life take s a turn for the worse after an encounter with a lonely woman on a dusty farm.

Disruptions in my modern life seem to consist of car trouble, internet connectivity issues…that sort of thing. Pretty minor.

But what lies just below the surface of this thin reality of everyday life is the chaos of uncertainty that will poke through and cause quite the most unpleasant disruptions on rare occasions.

The chaos visited us in March…we’re still living through it.

What will happen the next time chaos pokes through our thin reality?

How will we react? How will it alter our lives?

 


Across the Bridge – Mavis Gallant




Across the Bridge is the ninth and final story by Mavis Gallant to be featured in the Best American series.

Gallant is a master storyteller.

There’s just one problem for me.

I don’t like her stories.

I believe I gave her a fair shot in my early treatment after my first exposure to her writing. But as I read more of her…I just found that she wasn’t to my tastes.

That’s about all I have to say about that.  

The passage of time

  This past weekend marks the passage of another year of this exercise. I named the blog (exercise) and made my first post on this platform...