About Last night’s class

It wasn’t as bad, maybe because it wasn’t as cold.

Got to campus early after dinner with the wife and daughter — mmmm burrito!  Since I had time I decided to check out the library. I hadn’t been in it years. When I first went to Macomb, I worked in the library. It was as pretty cool job. The library has since been remodeled — a new front desk and now there is a cafe inside. Bookshelves have been slight rearranged. I found myself wandering down the American Literature isle. It was funny how some of the book spine were still familiar. I used to spend a lot of time in the library, studying, sure, but also just discovering new stuff to read.

I searched the collection of Best American Short Stories volumes for the one with a story by my former teacher at Western, Jaimie Gordon. Found it. It was my favorite bit of writing by her. I started reading it but knew I’d never be able to finish. Perusing to the end of the fiction section I pulled down a small book of John Updike stories. The cover had been rebound but pages practically fell out when I opened it. I wondered when was the last time anyone had picked it up. Not that many people attend Macomb with literary ambitions, or so it always seemed to me. Community college is a practical place — people want to be trained for jobs, or educated to go on to a four-year university to be educated for a slightly better job.  I wondered if I’d ever picked up this collection before. It was all stories about the Maples, a married couple who end up getting a divorce. Of course, it is an Upike story. What else would the do? The most famous of these stories is Separating, which I still adore.

Anyhoo… standing there among those books I knew that even if I do manage to muster enough enthusiasm to get another degree English, books and writing will always be where my heart, always what I felt I was meant to do. Just haven’t been able to make money at it yet, not enough anyway.


Every day in every way….

… I’m feeling better and better.

I know that sounds a corny, a line usually uttered dripping with irony. But it is true for me right now.

I credit the meds, which I’ve been on for about 4 weeks now. My understanding is that they take approx. 3 to 6 weeks to kick in fully. And I got tell you, if there’s a chance I could actually feel even better than I do now, well, that makes me so happy I could just shit, you know.

It’s hard to explain, but the best we I can describe it is that the world seems less threatening to me. Pre-meds  just about everything seemed threatening, even deciding what to wear to work or what to make for dinner, whether to work on my novel or get on the treadmill for some exercise. As a result, my usual mode was to NOT do anything, just sink into my chair and not move except to raise the clicker to the TV to change the channel. No longer.

I think I thought that if I could just be still, I’d find some peace. It never happend.

Counseling ain’t hurting either, I’ll tell you that much. Not sure why I resisted it for so long.

Anyway, because the world seems less threatening I’m doing stuff, getting things done around the house, things I would have dreaded doing, like staining the deck or spreading mulch in the flower beds around the house, even mowing the lawn.  I’d fret for hours about mowing the lawn, expending so much mental energy over it that it was ridiculous. It was certainly out of proportion. I mean, really, it takes probably less than an hour to do both front and back (and we have a pretty descent sized lot) plus weed whip and blow the grass off the sidewalk and driveway. What is the big deal, right? Well, it seemed like a very big deal to me, though I couldn’t begin to tell you why.

Every decsion was a chore. And this makes me wonder if my depression hindered my writing, because writing is essentially about making endless decisions, one right after the other. And I was (am?) the kind of writer that would anguish over the smallest of details, unable to settled on whether a bit of dialogue should be followed by “he said” or not. I have rewritten the same sentence close to a hundred times. Alternately, I would get bogged down in detail at the expense of the story. The intense focus on detail helped take me out of myself, which was comforting, but I don’t think it always served my writing best.  Anyhoo… I guess I’m hoping that the meds will improve my writing process. I’m not expecting some kind of silver-bullet effect that would turn me into a writer as productive as, say, Johhn Updike, cranking out at least a book a year, although that would be damn cool. But I  already get the feeling that I’m being more productive, not getting bogged down by little things, and moving along as I write, making progress.

Of course, there is always the concern that this effect (or is it affect?) won’t last. That it is only temporary. GenXr that I am, I suppose it is typical of me, on meds or not, to be at least a tad pessimistic. But really, it doesn’t feel like pessimism. Not the grim, moody variety at any rate. It’s more the don’t let your hopes get over-inflated because that just lead to having your bubble burst kind.

For now, I’m cool. And I’m hoping to stay that way.

Peace out!

Separating: GenX Style

Recently I reread John Updike’s I think pretty well-known short story, Separating, in which his fictional couple the Maples, characters Updike wrote many stories about, separate. I guess I wanted to see how much of it rang true for me in my current situation. I suppose some of it did. After all a separating must have some very universal qualities, regardless of the people involved. Still, it didn’t really give me what I wanted. What did I want anyway? I’m not exactly sure. I’m not saying it isn’t a great story, because it is, one of my favorites. But my mind these days, obviously because of my situation, is about what happens after the separation, how one forms their life, and their family. Separating ends just before the actual separation takes place, practically speaking anyway — all the children have been told, not its just a matter of the physical move etc.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it strikes me that so many, probably the majority of stories/novels/movies/TV shows that have been concocted about separating and divorce are about the events leading up to. The afterwards is often relegated to the denouement. And I’m interested in is what comes next? Is what comes next so standard and expected and considered uninteresting that it isn’t worth writing about, dramatizing? Maybe not. I don’t know. But it is what I’m interested in, right now anyway. Perhaps only because Im in it.

Anyway. This kind of goes back to a comment that Colleen left on an early (the first?) post about this particular subject. She talked about how she thought this was worth writing about, ie a couple with child separating and attempting to forge a good and positive dynamic in the afterworld of marriage or whatever, unlike so many divorces, which can get so ugly and mean. We did not want ours to devolve into that. I’ve no first hand experience in such matter, although I know people and have heard stories, and I’m always just taken aback by how vicious and petty people can be. I’m not saying I don’t get, because I think I do, how a person’s pain can turn to vitriol. I’m just saying I don’t want to be that way.

I guess I associated these ugly dramatic kinds of divorces mainly Baby Boomer, unfair or not. But the time has come it seems for Generation X to take on separation and divorce. I know that suddenly it seems as if more and more people my age, of my generation, are divorced, getting divorced, and perhaps should get divorced. I freely admit that I have heeped many a harsh criticism against Baby Boomer who can’t seem to hold their marriages together. Considering my circumstances I suppose it would be hypocritical for me to continue in that vein, but you know what, I’m okay with that. Besides, I’m hardly going to feel stung by “whose high and mighty now” criticism from any Boomers, arguably the most hypocritical generation to walk the Earth.

Separating/divorce is a fact of life. I obviously can’t deny that, now can I. But I think that one can work to to forge a better dynamic in the aftermath of separating/divorce, that one can strive to retain more of one’s humanity, to not degrade one’s self along with others by allowing one’s self to slip into petty and demeaning and just plain mean behavior. That’s what I’m working toward. And I’d like to thing that other GenXers going through the same thing are more likely to strive for that as well, much more so than our ego-inflated elders in the Boomer cohort.

But who knows for sure, right? We could be even worse at it. Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah… I know. …that was pretty hilarious. How could any generation be worse at marriage and divorce then the Boomers?

Slate.com obit for David Foster Wallace

I thought this was a really good obit/essay on DFW. It praises without being fawning, which I think probably happens too often with Wallace.

David Foster Wallace began his review of John Updike’s Toward the End of Time by classing Updike, along with Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, as “the Great Male Narcissists who’ve dominated postwar American fiction.” The word narcissist isn’t strictly disapproving there. One reason that the piece, 10 years after its publication, remains more memorable than its ostensible object is that Wallace offhandedly engaged the “radical self-absorption” of this Greatest Generation of Quality Lit—”probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV”—in a complicated way. He saw that narcissism as the force both animating moving prose and repelling younger readers in its involute explorations. He imagined—in a gorgeous little gesture of telescoped perspective—how things might appear to the GMNs, “in their senescence”: “It must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and online predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him.”

Read full article.

Neverland begets Desperate Characters

This morning I was listening to slat.com’s book club discussion panel. The book under discussion was Netherland, a novel that I began reading several weeks ago but never finished. I’d meant to return to it but, as with so  many books, that never came to pass. I was drawn to it originally based on the NY Times Book Review review that I read.

The three people on the book club panel loved the book. They gushed over it, in fact, one suggesting that it might be better understood 50 years from now. Sometimes I wonder if people will be reading at all in 50 years, much less reading novels that had been written 50 years ago. I remember liking the book, what I read of it anyway, but something about the tone seemed to put me off. I don’t know. It almost seemed kind of whiney. And when the book club panel read portions of the book, I didn’t hear the grandness in the prose that they did, although I thought it was well written. In anycase, I can’t not now recall what book I wanted to read instead.

An interesting dichotomy that formed in the discussion involved the two women seeming to focus on the novel as one about a marriage and how it worked and didn’t work, and why marriage fail or succeed, in addition to the novel being set in context with the events of 9/11. While the one man pointed out that the novel was also a sports novel, because it was very much about the game of cricket, which the narrator seems to throw himself into after his wife leaves him.

It made me think about the kinds of stories that I like. If a book is good it doesn’t really matter to me what it is about, but I do tend to prefer stories about youth and youth culture, the lives of people as the struggle toward and into adulthood. Domestic novels, as they are often called, don’t attract me nearly as much. I do  not shun them but if that is what a book is mainly about I’m less inclined to start it at all. There needs to be something else going on in the story.

For example, White Noise by Don Dellilo, which I am currently reading is about a married couple and their children/step-children. In fact, I think for the male narrator this is his 4th marraige, which is a particular kind of dynamic that I like least of all in domestic novels. It just seems to me that there has been an obessive attention to the lives of divorced Boomers, for the most part. Although I am a big fan of Updike who seems to write almost exclusively about that sort of thing. But then he is an amazing writer. White noise is also something Jonathan Franzen calls a systems novel, which he did in an essay in his collection of essays, How to be Alone, which esentiall means that is, at least in part, about the working of the culture or society and what is at play, forces that effect our lives, perhaps in a controlling way, perhaps an ominious way. I like that.

But I’d prefer to read Mary Gaitskill or Douglas Coupland than say, Ann Tyler or Jane Smiley.

Something else I noted during the course of the book club discussion was how the guy on the panel referred at least twice to zombies — being in a zombie-like state, people acting like zombies, etc. This of course stood out for me becaues I have an active interest in zombie stories, movies, etc. Zombies, I think, are to this particualy time, since 2000, what Vampires were to the 80s and 90s. Ann Rice and all that. There seems to be a cultural relevance to the mythology of zombies, the imagery, the nature thereof, etc. I don’t think it is a coincedence that there has been of late an upsurge in zombie movies and books. For my money, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, which won The Pulitzer for fiction and was actually, surprisingly to me, an Oprah book, is at a certain level a zombie novel. In any case, I found the reference intersting.

There was also a reference to a novel that caught my attention. The two women both referred to Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, which was pub’d in 1970 and is set in Brooklyn, New York. Not surprisingly it is a story about a couple, a marriage, and the women both thought it was amazing where the guy had never heard of it. I was intrigued and turns out the library where I work has a copy. So I nabbed. Hopefully, I’ll get around to reading it. It seems to be Fox’s most popular work and was made into a movie in 1971.

At the outset it doesn’t seem like my kind of book, but I’m going to try and give it a try. It’s slim.