always, always, no matter what, label the date on the back of your photographs if the developer doesn’t do so for you, because someday your parents will be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary and you, as the daughter who has always been a little photo crazy, will decide it’s a good idea to make them a scrapbook as a gift, one photo a year for 35 years, and you will discover not only did YOU not date your own photos, nobody else in your family did either, and you will be stuck with these huge piles of photographs, spending endless amounts of time trying to decide if your brother was 4 or 5 in this photo, if your mom had long or short hair in 1980, being grateful every time a birthday cake shows up in a picture so you can count the candles on it and figure out the year, and then you’ll wish you’d just purchased the damned Waterford vase in the first place.
What are you doing this morning?
It’s an everything in between kind of day for everythinginbetween.wordpress.com as I attempt to get back on track with blogging after one of THOSE weeks at work. You know what I mean, just, one of THOSE weeks. Maybe someday I’ll post about ghostwriting for other people, I don’t know. I think if I do I’ll probably just sound whiny. So enough about that. It might work on my post about memoir, which I’m still writing in my head.
This time of year, I miss school. It’s like muscle memory or something. Oppressive, humid Augusts I will forever associate with returning to school, with fresh, unstained syllabi, new pens and pencils, the stacks and stacks of novels that make up an English major’s existence, the promise of long walks around campus with tall cups of coffee. I always thought I’d pursue a Ph.D. and now its strange to me that I haven’t yet. Of course, I still have time to make that decision, I guess – I padded my MFA coursework with a tremendous amount of literature courses that would probably count for something. Some of my instructors at Pittsburgh encouraged me to continue with a Ph.D. but by the time I finished my MFA I’d had enough school for the time, just wanted the freedom to read what I wanted to read and write what I wanted to write. When I did think about a doctorate, I thought I’d compare British Literature from before the Hardwicke Marriage Act to the literature written 5-10 years after. I wonder if that’s been done to death? I’ve told S. that if I can’t have children, something I’ll know in the next couple of years, I’d go back for a Ph.D. For some odd reason I’ve completely separated the two desires. Like, a Ph.D. could substitute for progeny. Like babies could substitute for books. One of the reasons I didn’t apply for Ph.D. work is I’ve heard over and over again that you have to want a Ph.D. more than you want anything else in the whole world, the long hours, poor pay and unlikely chance at getting a position when complete mean you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. And I do, after all, have a terminal degree, I could adjunct right now if I wanted to. If I just start publishing, the academy will be open to me on my own terms. So, there. I’ve just thought through it. A little less talk, a little more writing…
I’ve recently had a series of short stories in mind to write. I used to swear I’d never be able to write short stories but these stories have simply come to me, presented themselves as facts, as things that I simply MUST write, and really, I don’t have any choice in the matter. I’ve started them, just enough to sketch them out so I remember them, and have now taken to reading some short stories since really, I have no idea what short stories are supposed to DO. I know there’s a short story reading project happening in the litblogging community but since I’m proverbially a day late and a dollar short, I missed the beginning. I dug out one of my short story collections and so far I’ve read Raymond Carver’s “Where I’m Calling From” and Susan Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now,” in addition to KJ Steven’s “Grasshoppers.” And it seems to me in all of these short stories the narrators act as witness bearers – they are there in order to witness the ordeal, or relationship, or whatever, of the other characters. In Carver’s “Where I’m Calling From” (and can I just say I can’t believe this is truly one of the best short stories of the century!) the narrator is in rehab, a history of reckless behavior, infidelity, etc. behind him (Yes, we all know, it’s very very hard to be a man in this world. I get it.) Anyway, Carver’s narrator functions to tell his story while relaying the a story of his friend, J.P. We learn about J.P. falling in love with his wife, becoming a chimney sweep, fathering children, drinking more and more, alienating his family, abusing his wife, etc. While J.P. shares his history with the narrator on the front porch of the rehab center, the narrator also recalls his own history of heavy drinking and infidelity, and his particular hatred for his girlfriend’s son. On visiting day, J.P.’s wife comes to visit him and while the narrator obviously doesn’t have a visitor of his own, he plays around with the idea of calling his wife, or his girlfriend, or somebody. And I only read this story once, but I think its a little about the potential for redemption. But the point I’m trying to make is, it seems to me, and feel free to argue, that it is through WITNESSING JP and his wife that the narrator’s character changes.
In Susan Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now,” which has always been one of my favorite short stories, the central character is stricken with AIDS, and the story is equally about the way his friends react to his illness, as it is about him. I could go on and on about the brilliane of this short story but time is getting short and I need to proof an essay, so again my point is the central character seems to fuel the action, but the narration is bearing witness to the events, instead of telling the story from the main character’s point of view.
In KJ’s short story, a young child out catching grasshoppers for a fishing trip with her father witnesses the suicide of her neighbor. Oh, there’s so much more to this story – the fact that she’s near the neighbor’s house when she she’s been warned not to, her difficulty in catching the grasshoppers, all this SYMBOLISM which KJ will say isn’t there so I’ll stop writing about it for now. But again, the character is bearing witness.
I’m confused, I guess, as to how short stories should function. Admittedly, I’ve never paid that much attention to them because I never thought I’d be capable (or frankly, have the desire) to write them, and now I find myself with a whole darn collection of them in my head and really, no idea how they are supposed to function as literature. My dad, my go-to man for literature questions, said it’s fine if the character’s change in short stories, but the actual point is to reveal something about character. So I need to do a lot more short story reading, so if you have any recommended favorites, I would appreciate it.
Thank God, the audience breathes, that this blogger isn’t pursuing a Ph.D. – she doesn’t even understand the ART of the short story!
In conclusion, bloglily (http://www.bloglily.wordpress.com) is participating in compiling a list of the 100 best poems every written, and I’ve decided to do so as well – one poem a post for, well, probably 200 days since I tend to blog every other day. So, first, my favorite poem ever, by William Butler Yeats:
|hen You are Old|
I mean, can you even breath right now? You’ll be seeing a lot of Yeats over the next 200 days from me. He moves me to believe in greatness, and hope, and the grace of language. He comforts me when I feel most alone – he’s one of the poets I’ve always thought of as a friend. Which trust me, I know, makes absolutely no sense, but there you have it!