Critiquing Criticism – Week 2 -Part 1 (?)

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On Monday, our 19th century American Lit course met to discuss two critical articles that focused on the book American Renaissance by F. O. Matthiessen and tied those articles to the core text for the week, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (original 1855 edition). Because most of you are likely uninterested in the specific details and critical strategies of the academic articles, the book they discuss, or the classic text involved with all three, I’ll save you from as much extemporaneous material as I can. Thanks for reading though. I’ll place all the texts at the bottom if you’re genuinely looking to brush up on your literary criticism. In short, Matthiessen spent well over a decade putting together this critical text that centered on the five authors (Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman) whom he deemed had single-handedly created a unique, unprecedented American voice in the mid-nineteenth century.

Students in my past have often asked (in their own way) how the excerpts that they’ve been assigned to read in textbooks or anthologies were selected and have continued to appear, generations after their publications. In their words, it’s something like “Why can’t we read authors who are alive and stuff?” Many times, I’ve chatted with parents who want to 1) tell me what they read in high school, 2) ask if their son or daughter will be assigned the same books as they themselves were assigned a generation earlier, 3) regenerate a love (or lack of) for a canonical text (e.g. “Are you gonna make them read The Scarlet Letter? I HATED that book!”), or 4) all of these.

Here’s where it gets a little interesting: Matthiessen was clearly an intellectual man whose passion for not only identifying and categorizing these works, but also for demystifying them and creating the groundwork for the first truly American canon of literature. He was also a vocal advocate for academic freedom at a prestigious university. Because he challenged so many traditions and norms, he earned a widespread following of cheerers and jeerers. [Jeerers, evidently, is not a known word to my computer; however, this is just a blog, so I’m moving forward.] When his book was finally released (he’d had to “check himself in” at one point because the project had become so overwhelming and he was also afraid his lover was on the brink of death [more on that in a sec]), he was met with a less than resounding response from his colleagues in literary circles.

So, Matthiessen was a homosexual man. It feels so strange to write that [because, so what?…right?], but it ends up being pertinent to this brief essay. For decades now, American Renaissance–by far his most notable publication–has become the subject of a vast amount of interpretations. I have not read it, but that’s secondary. Anyway, his own reservations about how much of these authors’ personal lives and lifestyles should play into his criticisms was apparently always at the forefront of his mind. What’s even crazier–crazier is a word but it’s not very academic…meh–is that some of Matthiessen’s critics thought he offers a less authentic book because he essentially omitted the authors’ sexuality, even though he himself was writing a genesis of what’s become “gay criticism.”

This leads to the question that found its way in the center of our class discussion this week: When writing a critical article over a piece of literature (or really any art), does the critic have an obligation to insert anything beyond the art, or should the artist (and his/her life, history, sexuality, politics, etc.) be discussed as well? Matthiessen’s book also prompted some to suggest that the critic’s own life, history, sexuality, politics, etc. should be in play as well.

I suppose a less intense way to discuss this debate is to think about why you like the art you like. Why, for instance, does a Picasso piece appeal or disgust you? Why are you drawn to Game of Thrones? Why do you still have your favorite songs from when you were fourteen in a saved playlist? If you told me the answer to any of these, would you be comfortable with me bringing in your past relationships, your issues with your parent(s), your sexuality, or your voting history as my interpretation of why you still love Asking Alexandra?

I don’t have answers. But I find this discussion intriguing. The era of criticism most of us have been conditioned to follow/use has been what’s known as New Criticism–interpreting/judging the art for itself and dismissing all other aspects. However, is it possible to truly analyze art without consciously or subconsciously harboring in our own lives and perspectives?

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Fall 2019 – Week 1

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I began two courses this week at Ball State. One is a literature course concerning 19th century American literature, and the other is a methods course on literary research. Both classes include students in master’s programs and Ph. D. programs. So far, I feel very comfortable with the reading and writing assignments on each syllabus. Among the major titles I’ll be reading (and in some cases re-reading) are the following:

  • Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
  • Henry David Thoreau – Walden
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Nature”
  • Louisa May Alcott – Work
  • Frederick Douglass – My Bondage and My Freedom
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Blithedale Romance
  • Herman Melville – Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life
  • Harriet E. Wilson – Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black
  • Viet Than Nguyen – The Sympathizer
  • Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric

This past week was also “Non-instruction week” at Ivy Tech. Full-time faculty must be on campus all five days and serve a minimum of 40 hours. Those hours are logged in paper form and submitted to the program chairs and deans. Each day this week, I attended a meeting of some kind. Some of those meetings were beneficial while some bordered on meeting a requirement.

I begin my twenty-first year as an educator on Monday with my first set of students for the fall semester. I will be teaching one class each day for the first eight weeks of this term, but I will not be in the classroom on Mondays during the second eight weeks. I’m teaching a co-requisite class this semester that is in line with the trajectory that Ivy Tech is headed: Eight-week courses.

While this particular post is not directly about eight-week courses, I will likely blog about my general observations of them between now and December. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I feel I am a little more willing to embrace this structure. I opted to volunteer to teach one to at least see how it compares to the 16-week model I’ve been teaching for eight years (as an adjunct and FT professor) and be able to share informed takeaways from my experiences. It may work better than imagined, and it may be disastrous. For me, I prefer to at least try it with an open mind (hopefully in the spring 2020 semester as well) before shaping my official stance.

“Plenty Daddies”: Parenting in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones

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In a novel where the looming devastation of Hurricane Katrina serves as only a backdrop to the story, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones addresses a bevy of congealing themes while simultaneously targeting specific audiences.  Though the central teenage character’s pregnancy serves as the main arc of the entire plot, the most significant character in the novel has been dead for a number of years.  Salvage the Bones addresses the impact of the loss of a mother, which can be analyzed through two distinct situations: the fallout at the basketball tryout and Esch’s own resolution of what is best for her baby.  This void reemphasizes the cornerstone of Hortense Spillers’ conclusion in “Mama’s Baby; Papa’s Maybe”–that Black women are far more responsible for the trajectory of American civilization than that for which they are credited.  

Randall, the eldest Batiste child, has developed his skills in basketball over the years and is on the brink of becoming eligible to attend a lucrative basketball camp.  This is symbolic of his potential to contribute to the family in the way a traditional parent might. Without a mother around to complement the care their father has provided, Randall, Skeetah, and Esch have each played a maternal role for Junior, the youngest, since his birth.  During one of the most chaotic scenes of the entire novel, however, Randall’s dreams are immediately shredded due to an outburst between Skeetah and a rival dog owner named Rico. These chief dog owners have clearly different opinions of who should retain any of the litter and when any pups can be dispersed.  While Skeetah appears to have a deeper understanding of the developmental phases of newborn puppies, he also fabricates information about the pups and omits the pup he wants the most when he’s itemizing the living ones for Rico.  Though this may appear to be a selfish act, Ward is characterizing Skeetah as the best possible parent for these pups.

Skeetah’s pride and immaturity–traits that perhaps a mother would have monitored and corrected throughout adolescence–led to the impromptu fistfight which, in turn, resulted in Randall’s dismissal from the tryout.  Ward indirectly suggests here that, had his mother been one of the parents who was in attendance that afternoon, perhaps this spout between Skeetah and Rico would have either been stifled. Though their mother’s existence is only mentioned through Esch’s memories, any reader can conclude that she would not have tolerated such behavior in general–and certainly not on a crucial day as this was.

Additionally, the fact that the narrator’s mother passed after giving birth to Junior is an obvious parallel to Esch’s own insecurities about the fate of the baby she learns she will be having early in the book. As the only remaining female on ‘The Pit’, Esch has taken on more responsibilities, notably of feeding and caring for the only younger brother she has. Interestingly, Ward does not portray her promiscuity in an overtly critical manner, a choice that progressively diminishes the long-standing stigma of young women engaging in sexual activity prior to being betrothed.  Throughout the novel, Esch is weighing the potential outcomes of revealing her pregnancy to her family and the baby’s father. While Ward portrays Manny as someone who has sex appeal, she also uses him to exemplify the predatory sex-driven male whose selfish desires will always outweigh the needs of others. When juxtaposed beside much more honorary men in her life like Big Henry, Esch does not settle, predicting that including Manny in her child’s life will only limit that child’s development. Specifically, the culminating moment occurs when Big Henry asks Esch for the father’s identity but is told “[i]t don’t have a daddy” (254). Big Henry lives up to his moniker by expressing to the frightened young mother-to-be “This baby got plenty of daddies” (255).  Ward shows here that a love is what raises children, not necessarily humans. This progressive notion of a woman and her child being better off without a biological parent as a parental figure has roots in all feminism–especially Black feminism.

These two scenes–Randall’s failed attempt to earn a basketball camp scholarship and Esch’s final decision to keep the baby and not include Manny as the part of the baby’s life–parallel the constant theme of the role a parent that echo the tenets of recent Black literary movements and positions.

 

Remember Arn Anderson?

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“Remember Arn Anderson?”

I didn’t hear any response.  The guys are in a booth and I’m at the counter.  My head hurts and I pour Cholula on my omelet in order to give it flavor.

“He was a wrestler,” the same guy continues.  “Oh my god.  He had a brother, right?  Well, do you remember when we would watch TBS on like Sunday nights?  It was always the final match of the episode or whatever right when dinner was ready?  This was the days when Mom insisted the TV had to be off.”

He stops.  Perhaps to sip his coffee.  I get a crispy nugget of bacon stuck in my teeth.  The Western is shaping up.  My feet are cold.  It’s a steamy day inside and out.  The cook whose head pops up through the pass-through window from time to time must be sweltering back there.

“Dammit, man.  We must’ve watched that shit every week for what…a year?  More?”

He laughs.  I bite.  Chelsea, the lone counter girl, scrolls through her phone.

I can’t hear the friend’s responses because he’s facing away from me.  It’s weird to sit here and hear one side of a conversation.  I pretend to look at the classifieds that somebody who had been beside me left.  Did he give me a glance and assume I needed a job or is that something that people do at diners?  I’m not a regular or anything.  I just wanted to sit at a counter and have coffee and not think about work or home or my kids.  For an hour.

“Oh man.  Those were some crazy fun times, right?  Seems like a lifetime ago.”  He pauses again.  I want to order two buckets of coffee to shove my feet into.

The classifieds are shit.  And, though it takes me a moment to realize, they’re four days old.  I have no choice but to imagine how many uncleaned hands have scanned this creased paper and how washing my hands has to happen even though I’m using a fork.

“Guess it sorta was,” he says, I assume, in reference to the ‘lifetime ago’ comment.  I don’t know if he said anything in between.

“Order up!” the tiny man from behind the window calls.

Chelsea springs into action as quickly as anyone else her age with a phone such as hers.  That is, she sighs, scrolls a bit more, squeezes her phone into her apron’s pocket, and stretches in the same manner that people who actually work while they’re at work do.

“I’m so tired,” I hear her say to no one.  Somebody down the counter says she can use his hotel room while he’s at the office.  I think she says “Not that tired,” but someone around me clanged some dishes and I may have missed it.

Without staring, I casually watch her—eyes on newspaper, eyes on her, back and forth—whisk two plates toward the guy’s table behind me.  The wrestling guy whose booth-mate is inaudible.

“Your friend not coming?” I hear her say.

“As fate would have it…”

She puts down both plates, though I’m still pretending not to be engaged in this.

“Well, I’ll take it back–”

“Could you leave it?” he asks.

“Umm…” She probably bites her lip here.  I can tell this exchange will be a major part of her Snap story this afternoon.  “What’s that?”

“That’s…my friend Matt.”

“What’s his picture doin’ over there?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya…is it Chelsea?”

She agrees to his pronunciation.

“I’ll tell ya, Chelsea.  That there is my best friend Matt and he’s not here in body, but he’s here in spirit.  Do you believe in that?”

“What, the spirits?”

“Yes.”

It hits her.  “Oh my!  Did your friend…pass away?”

Her reaction to his apparent nod confirms her suspicions and deductions.

“Sir, I am so sorry,” she says, finally.  “I didn’t mean to–”

“It’s fine.”

“No, I mean…I was…not so nice earlier.”  I don’t know what she’s referencing, so I’m left to assume she was less than courteous when she first talked to him and offered coffee.

“It’s fine, dear.  You couldn’t have known.  He was my friend.  And my brother.  My actual brother—not like one of those guys who you call brother but–you get it.  Different dads though.”

“Oh,” was all she could muster.

“Thank you.  It’s fine.  We used to come in here a lot more often back in the day.  My therapist said if I talked to him more—god, I sounds crazy when I say it out loud like that.”

“I am so sorry, sir.  Here.  Look.”

I hear paper torn.  “My manager says he’ll allow me one screw-up per shift for the first month.  After that, I gotta pay for my mistakes.”

It seemed like a fair policy, and the wrestling guy agreed verbally.  My feet got icier somehow and my omelet was just as cold as my feet.

“Enjoy your pancakes, sir.  I’ll be back with some coffee later.”  He told her it wasn’t necessary.

I don’t need the classifieds.  That is, unless there’s an opportunity for me to go back a week and not tell Turner what I said that led to getting fired.  I’d love a job, but forty-one is not usually the desired audience of the listings that announce “Trainees Needed.”

I get up.  It’s time for me to go.  I have to change something in my life.  The wrestling fan is well into his bottom pancake.  I didn’t know some people ate them one at a time and worked their way down.  There is no one in the booth across from him.  There is, however, a wooden-framed picture across from him.  Kind of behind a syrup bottle.  The guy has on a John Belushi “College” sweatshirt and holds a football.  I see all this in the split second that I glance at the table.

I remember losing my brother a decade ago.  This guy and I could be friends in another life.  But who talks to strangers in a diner other than the waitresses?

I gotta piss.  This has been happening more and more lately.  It just hits me with little warning.  I’ve been pissing more and more in public these days.

The diner restroom is exactly as you’re picturing.  Its odor is the combination of cheap air freshener and truck driver stools.

The door swings open and I’m mid-flow.  It’s the wrestler guy.

“Yeah.  It was mostly improvised.”

“Huh?” I say.

“Told ’em you just died.  Brought that picture from school.”  He listened for a second more.  I zipped up.

“Aight, buddy.  I’ll be over soon,” he said.  He zipped and turned toward me and tapped a button on the bluetooth in his right ear.  “What’s good, man?” he asks me.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 16 – 1600+ words (Someone Gets Fired)

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“Mason”

 

Mason’s mother told him to go to his room.  That always meant something bad was about to happen.  The toys in his room didn’t seem like toys when he was sent there.  He didn’t bother saying anything back because his mother used the Tone.  There were two Tones: one he heard from either of them after he did shit like knock over a soda can or pound the floor in frustration.  A second distinct Tone when they were made at each other.

The front door opened and Mason’s father dropped his keys into the tray by the door.

“Why are you home?” he heard his mother ask.  The afternoon was breezy and Mason tried to listen to the wind sneak into the gaps of his windows.  He picked up an faded green plastic car.  The miniature people that were supposed to fit inside were lost months earlier, but the car remained.  He ran it along the floor and made whirring sounds.

“Not now, Christine,” his father said.

“What did you just say?”

“Jesus Fucking Christ, Christine!  I said gimme a minute!”

A door slammed.  The bathroom door.  Maybe their bedroom door.  But a close-by door for sure.  Mason looked toward his bed and then his door.  He was safe in here tonight.  They were mad about something, which was weird because he just got home.

“If we need to talk, you better not be in there another half hour!”

He replied something back, but Mason couldn’t quite hear it.

Then the toilet seat slammed home.  He definitely heard that. When that door burst open, the handle smacked into the wall.  Mason thought of the little crack it made like a smiley face.

“Christine, goddammit!  I’m sorry.  I had to take a shit.  I didn’t know I had to fucking give you a play-by-play!”

“What happened?  Why are you home?”

“Un-fucking-real.”

“What?  I don’t get to know?”

“Where’s Mace?”

“He’s in his room.”

Footsteps thundered toward the boy’s door.

“Don’t you go in there!”

“Why the fuck not?”

“He’s taking a nap.”

“Jesus.”  His father’s feet hovered at the door.  Dark ovals hung there.  He couldn’t know why, but he assumed he was facing the door.

“Did you talk to Jerry?”

“I talked to Jerry.”

“What’d he say?”

“Christine!”

“He said no, didn’t he.”  It wasn’t a question.

“He didn’t…shit.  Yes.  But he didn’t want to.

“What does that mean?”

“I mean it killed him to tell me that.”

“That’s three now, you know.  Jimmy, Hank, and now–”

“I fucking know it’s three.”

His mother sighed and sat down on the creak in the couch.  The shadows drifted away.

“Don’t,” she said.

“What?”

“Kenny, what can we do?”

“It always works out, baby.”

Mason liked this part of their fights.  His dad was always the first one to lower his voice and say something nice.  He called her baby which used to make Mason laugh.

“I don’t know what we can do,” she said.  “I can’t ask my parents.”

“I know.”

She creaked the couch again.  It did that when people sat and when they stood up, but only on that one spot.

“He’s not going to let us stay here, Kenny!”

His father didn’t react at first.  She walked away, Mason could hear.

“Lemme just talk to him,” his father called out.

His mother didn’t respond.  Drawers flew open in the kitchen and silverware rattled.

The boots stomped through the room and into the kitchen.  Mason could tell they were talking but the words were jumbled and indecipherable.

He turned on a light.  The light his dad made in the workshop at the last house.  It was an old lamp they’d found in the attic.

“Wanna see if it works?” he father had asked him.

“Yeah!”

“Maybe we can paint it.”

“Yeah!”

“What color should we paint it?”

“Red!”

“That’s a good choice, son.”

Later that day, after his mother had made them hamburgers at the stove, his father led him out to the workshop.  He explained what all of the old tools that were still there were.  He told Mason not to touch them.  Some were quite sharp.  Dangerous.  “Your mom would have my ass if you got hurt out here, sonny boy,” he’d said.

Mason ran his fingers along the rounded base.  The red paint had chipped a little and the train sticker he got once from the grocery store was ripped off but not totally.

“I can get work, you know,” his father said.  They’d come out of the kitchen and had shook Mason from his memory.

“I can too.”

“I mean, I can go back to the store.  They always need help.  I’ll start at minimum, but it’s something.”

“But who’ll be with him all day?”

When they fought and weren’t yelling, his name became replaced by a pronoun.

“You’ll have to be.  For now.”

“Baby, I’m going to get work.”

“No one’s…”
“No one’s what?” his father said, a stern tone pepped up.

“Just lemme call Gayle.  She’ll probably let me come in Sunday.  Those other girls always wanted Sundays off, remember?”

“But we’re…”

“Are you fucking serious right now, Kenny?”

Every Sunday, Mason’s parents took him to Ringo’s house.  That was his friend.  Ringo’s parents and Mason’s parents sat in the living room and watched movies.  The sound was never on because, Mason’s dad had said, they were playing a game with words.  That was kinda weird.  Ringo and Mason usually played in his room and Ringo would sometimes show him te cigarette buts that he’d found from throughout the house.

Last week, the four adults played the game with shiny blue cans.  Looking through Ringo’s peephole, Mason watched them all drink from those cans at the same time.  They laughed more and more throughout the movie.  Mason looked forward then to watching movies with is dad and the blue cans.  But he wasn’t allowed to play that at home, he’d said.

“You want it so badly, that you’ll let that boy starve so you can get high?”

Mason’s dad had always told him his first word was “Hi!” and that that was pretty dang gone funny.  He almost had the words the way Daddy liked to hear them.  He said “Pwe dag on phffew!” and his dad always translated.

“Can you say, ‘Let’s get high’?” his mother asked him.  Her can was even shinier.  Silver, she called it.  What Mommy said made Daddy laugh a lot.

“Kenny.”  Mason pictured her touching his dad.  They played a lot and wrestled and sometimes they were giggling while they did it and others they were screaming.  Mason wrestled with his Dad once in a while but when he screamed at his dad, his dad would throw him.

“Kenny,” his mother said.  “We’re not getting fucking blitzed anymore.  You know?  We gotta quit that shit.  You know, for now.”

Shit was that word that Mason remembered saying before his mother slapped his face.

“Gawd,” he said.  “You’re so right.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Thing is…the shit’s already paid for, you know.  ‘Member we used that one money to get it and paid Big Mike last week.”

“Oh, shit, you’re right,” his mother said.  “Well,” she kinda laughed.  That was the one that she made when she said we’d have lunch but the refrigerator was empty.  Or when Mason told her there was no butt paper on the spinny in his bathroom.  One time she made him sit there for a long time while she left.  Daddy couldn’t know she left though.  It was the first time she ever made him understand Secret.

“Yeah,” his father said.  You know Big Mike’s probably gonna tap that shit if we don’t come.  Won’t smoke it all or nothin’ but he’d take a piece.  Fucker.”

One time after the blue cans game was over, Mason said fucker and was told he had to get down and smell the poop.  Put his bitch ass nose right to it.  Ginger made poops on the floor a few times.  Ginger did it too much and was kicked by the door.  Dad told Mason she had to go see her mommy dog and daddy dog.  That was before the ice cream day.

There was the ice cream book.  Mason’s mom read to him from a book with a big ice cream cone on the front page.

“Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ice cream,” his mother sang.

Mason giggled when she made the monster face and screamed “scream.”

“Do you want to get some ice cream?” she asked.

Mason whispered in her ear Yes because he was tired but wanted to put his head on her shoulder.

“I’ll make daddy go with you,” she told him.

Mason pulled the book down and skipped to the last page.  Daddy told him he was supposed to start at the frong but Mommy yelled at him and said he can start wherever.  Kid’s fucking three, Kenny.  He just likes the pictures.”  He found the clown and the guy with the white beard and said beard.

“I gotta call Gayle.”

“Good fucking luck.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Phones’re fucking dead.”

We didn’t–”

Kenny shook his head.

“Fuck!” she yelled.  She threw the phone and it hit and broke something.

“Jesus!”

“Oh, shit.”

“You fuckin’ broke that frame, godddammit!”

She ran over and crouched down.  “Shit!  Honey, don’t!”

“You’re going to cut–”

“Ow! Fuck!”
“I told you…”

“Fuck you, you told me.  You fucking did this!  Least his picture’s not fucking broken.”

“Broken?”

“Torn.  What the fuck, you know what I mean!”

Christine laughed.  “Get some….nevermind.  Go turn on the water.  Cold.  Numbs it.”

“I know, I know,” his father said in a faded way.

His mother was alone, but she was talking.

“Goddammit, girl,” she said.  “The one fucking picture you have of him.”

900+ Words – 2 “SuperShort Stories”

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SuperShort #1

 

Jenny Williams was slated to be baptized.  It was to be an important transitional day for her, she was told.  It would bring Jesus into her soul, she was told.  It meant that all the eyes of the congregation would be on her, she was told.  It meant that she would have a delivered pizza later that afternoon with her preferred toppings and not Eliza’s.  With that, she was sold.

When she went to junior high parties and the host’s parents bought pizzas for all the girls and boys present, she felt obligated to share her one pizza story.  At first, either no one listened or they nodded in order to make her feel comfortable.  When she shared the same anecdote at a high school party in 10th grade, they laughed at her–and not for the good reason.

Jenny’s older sister Eliza had warned her that high school kids were cruel.  Her prediction rang true throughout that whole year as she unwillingly became known as the churchy girl in class.  Trying to explain to her peers that she and her family do not even go to church much anymore was, she learned, a waste of energy.  Kids that age don’t typically listen to rational thought.

As a junior, Jenny began dating a little.  Dating in high school is harder and harder to explain.  Gone are the aw-shucks scenarios where boys nervously ask girls out to dinner or a movie.  Gone are traditions such as opening doors or buying flowers.  In Jenny’s case, she’d watched two different boys on different occassions play the same shoot-em-up video game.  As optimistic as she tried to be about boys her age, she was constantly reminded of their immaturity.

Then she met Mike.  A sophomore.  In college.

Mike didn’t go to church but he did smoke pot and go to college parties.  Jenny didn’t allow herself to become a statistic–at least not the superbad, criminal kind.  She drank a little–Mike knew her tolerance before she did–and met more interesting people.

This story doesn’t end badly, but you were thinking it would, right?  You wanted her to get mixed up with the wrong crowd or get raped or perhaps get so high or drunk that she loses her ability to operate a motor vehicle.  None of those things happen in this story.  If you were thinking they would, perhaps you’ve been conditioned by other artists and writers to believe those are the only outcomes for a character with this setup.

I chose not to let that happen to Jenny.

—-

SuperShort #2

 

So I saw my ex-girlfriend in the grocery store this afternoon.  She had a baby with her.  It (the baby) isn’t mine or anything, but I found myself spending more time looking at it (the baby) than I did her (the ex-girlfriend).  We’d been broken up for maybe two years or so, but we’d (clearly) changed a lot in those two dozen months.  I noticed no ring on her finger, and she kept referring to the baby’s father as “her father.”  Formal, for her; trust me.

That implied a few things.  We didn’t speak long, but I avoided eye contact with her and it (the baby) by staring in the direction of a bright red frozen meal inside the refrigerated section of aisle seventeen.  It implied that its father was not around, not around very much, or missing.  Or perhaps too poor/cheap to buy a ring.  Girls will tell you fellas that as much as they say the size of the ring matters, it really truly does not.  Sure, they may wish you were richer and could afford a larger ring.  Here’s what I’ve noticed, though.  They like the gesture more than the ring.  If you give a girl a ring and make a promise to her, and she feels the same way about you, you’re golden.  Sure, you can make a speech about how you’ll buy her a larger ring after you make some more money.  She’ll say No No No..This one’s perfect!  If her face is bursting with energy, you’re good to go.

There was no energy–and definitely no ring–on my ex’s finger.  When I looked at the baby, I saw the eyes I fell for when I met her mother years ago.  It took a full twenty seconds or so making mindless chatter and staring at that baby’s face for me to remember why she and I had broken up in the first place.

Then I remembered that I tried really hard to bang her best friend and neither of them was into that.

Surprising?  It shouldn’t be.  Men are baseless scum for the most part.  We have morals sure, but we’re also programmed to conquer.  Some of us seek out women; others, men.  Whatever.  But if we get an idea and convince ourselves it’s going to work, we’re hard-pressed to let society’s rules pin us down and tell us no.

Sorry, folks.  Truth is damaging at times.  Frankly, I wanted her to put that baby down right there in aisle 17 and take it as we faced the frozen microwaveable meatloafs.

Wouldn’t you know it, though?  Someone jingling keys abruptly interrupted my impromptu fantasy.

“S’goin’ on, babe?” the guy asked, looking me dead in the eye.

She introduced me and I shook the prick’s hand.

She cleared her throat.  “He’s a friend from school.  Says he and his wife could babysit anytime we need…for free!”

I knew the next day that I’d have to start looking at bigger rings.

Review of Dave Eggers’ 2014 novel YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND THE PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER?

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WOW! this book is absolutely incredible! While Eggers abandons many fiction writing norms, he in turn has cleared away all the muck and has presented readers with a bare bones announcement (manifesto?) of the New Lost Generation. While exploring the perspectives of various characters under differing levels of stress, he successfully jars readers to pay attention and wake up to this seedy world in which we live. We can no longer just pine for simpler times—we must live in our day and deal with our issues. Comparing the complexity of modern life to the easy-going eras of past generations is an abominable waste of time and energy. Brilliantly executed and a definite must-read for all, especially anyone who is exhausted with the horrendous current state of affairs in this world others have sacrificed so much to create and protect!