Rome and Amalfi

Been writing a lot over here in Italy. Will post somethings once I get home and am able to re-write and edit. These days it seems all I do is re-write and edit. Still working on Collected Short Stories from May. About 85% completed with second drafts. The goal in May was 120 short works of fiction, essay or poetry all 120 with second draft status. Not quite done yet but I have until November when I start my next novel (which is already written in my head).

Hemingway’s Six

There is an interesting discussion about Hemingway’s famous six word story here.

I started thinking about this and I wondered if Hemingway’s particular ordering of those six words were the best possible ordering. I wrote a simple (six line) C++ program to permute the six words and print out all 720 different combinations of the words “For,” “Sale,” “Baby,” “Shoes,” “Never” and “Worn.” I couldn’t even begin to be able to figure out what to do with the puncuation so I left that as it was. I then scanned through all 720 variations of the six words. Except for “Baby shoes: for sale, never worn” which was pretty good here is my conclusion: Hemingway is a great writer.

Story
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Not a story
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NaShoWriMay 2011 – II

This is insane but I wrote a second 50,000 word book in May, 2011 called Blooming Glen, 1959-1986, R.I.P. In this book I figuratively walk up and down the two streets in my town and recount everything I can think of related to every place in my town. I thought of a lot. Each property in town is given its own three or four page flashy treament. I tried to write the entries as a mixture between memories and flash fiction pieces. There is so much potential here. I’m really glad I got this all down on paper. I will serve me as a source of material for a long time I think. Here is the table of contents.

As you can see I didn’t even start this work until the end of the month and then I rushed to finish it before May 31. I also completed a large collection of short stories, flash and non-fiction, the table of contents of which is here.

Contents of Blooming Glen, R.I.P.

This is the table of contents for my book Blooming Glen, 1959-1986. R.I.P. which I wrote during the last ten days of May, 2011.

Table of Contents
North and East
The Swartleys 11
The Derstines 13
The Parisies 15
Doc Schaefer 17
Dunlap’s Butcher Shop 19
The Gulicks 21
The Carrolls 23
Derstine House 25
Dean and Laverne Detwiler 27
The Detwiler Farm 31
The Mennonite Church 35
Vacation Bible School 37
Tim Hockman and Boy’s Club 39
The Medwick Farm 41
The Effrig Farm 45
Further Afield 47
Conclusion 49
 
North and West
Fehls 53
Bobby Green’s Farm 55
Holy Roller Church 57
Next Property 59
Witton’s Store 61
North side of Route 113, west of crossroads 63
Gladys Loux 65
The Next Property 69
The Gas Station 71
Next Two Houses 73
Barney Rush 75
Old School House 77
Blooming Glen Meats 79
The Apartments 81
The Dam 83
Next Property 85
Justice Moyer’s Farm 87
Further Afield 89
Conclusion 91
 
South and West
Aunt Dolly’s 95
Uncle Jim’s Sister’s 99
Moyer’s Farm 101
Pants Factory 103
House Behind Pants Factory 105
Swope House 107
Other Houses 109
Kraft Factory 111
The Hotel 115
Barber Shop House 117
Roy Dale Hange 119
Double Houses 121
Jimmy Myers 123
Post Office 125
Miriam Drive 131
Big Pretty Houses 133
The Farm at the End of Town 135
John Dayton’s Farm 137
Sam Miller Tires 139
Poppy Yoder 141
Chuck Straus 143
Uncle Feryle 145
Pretty Girl in the New House 147
Further Afield 149
Conclusion 153
 
South and East
Trash Dump 157
OV the AV and Other Houses 159
Brooke and Lee’s First Apartment 161
Michael Myers 163
Other Big Houses 165
Old High School 167
Old Gym 169
Baseball Field 171
House with Swimming Pool 173
Factory Building 175
Triple House 177
Little Apartment Building 181
Rapp Family 183
Houses on Route 113 185
Ed Curry 187
Huntsburger 189
Crouthhammels 193
Baseball Field and Snack Shed 199
Scout Cabin 203
Horse Farm 205
Creek Play / Boat Racing 207
Further Afield 209
Conclusion 211
 
The Rush House
Introduction 215
Basement 217
Back Room 219
Main Room 221
Closet at Top of Stairs 225
First Floor 227
Dining Room 229
Living Room 235
Den 239
Back Porch 243
Kitchen 245
Second Floor 251
Mom and Dad’s Room 253
Becky’s Bedroom 261
Upstairs Bathroom 267
Front Bedroom 269
Back Bedroom 271
Third Floor 275
Attic Right 277
Attic Left 279
Attic Back 281
Outside 283
Barn 285
Garage 287
Burn Heap 289
Dog Pens 291
Conclusion 297

NaShoWriMay 2011

I wrote 110 short stories, flash and essay peices in April and the first twenty days of May 2011 (here). I do this as part of something that I call NaShoWriMay, which means National Short Writing May.

I always keep my own MS Excel spreadsheet were I track my progress during the month and I present that data here. You can see that the activity flattens out near the end of May. That’s because I wrote another book (here) in the last ten days of May. It’s been a productive spring.

Contents of Short Fiction, Essays and Poetry, May 2011

I had a hugely productive spring. I wrote two full 300 page books. The first is a collection of short fiction, flash fiction, micro fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry consisting of 110 peices. Most is flash (about 60). Most of the rest are creative non-fiction (essays). Here’s the table of contents and the chart of progress. I will detail the second book in another post.

Table of Contents
Short Stories
War Games 3
The Great Symphony 19
Liver and Onions 29
The Thief 31
Getting Into Pants 33
 
Flash Fiction
Robert Frost Helps Me Talk to My Father 37
The Anthropic Principle 39
Flushing Pheasants 41
Sigmund Freud on My Relationship 43
Inside Out 45
Queue 47
Johnny K 51
First Holy Communion 53
Lake Marie 55
e + 1 = 0 (An Identity) 57
Double Word Score 59
Diving 61
Chiaroscuro 63
Hardwood 65
Jason Makes a Call 67
For Her 69
Omnistrain 73
Picking up Girls at the Bar 75
Mr. Jones’ Accounts 77
The Parallel Postulate 79
Bumper Cars 81
Ham and Swiss on Rye 83
How I Learned to Like Guacamole 85
The Point Beyond Which There is No Return 87
The Mathematics of Titties 89
Charlie’s in Trouble 91
Drive Thru 93
Fireworks 95
Stuffed Chicken 97
Lying 99
The Normal Curve for Normal 101
My Prayer 103
Story Table 105
My Stuff in a Box 107
Bobby Daddy 109
Being in Love 111
Jumpy Juice 113
New Tom 115
Telling Her 117
The Peacock Room 119
So Much Promise 121
The Decision 123
The Robbery 125
The Insight 127
God Makes a Mistake 129
You’re Welcome Day 131
Dinner with James 133
Baba 135
Medieval Torture Room 137
Welcoming a Guest 139
Edgar, Richard and Miss M. 141
The Good King Goes Up 143
Speaking French to a Taxi Driver 145
Nothing Ever Happened 147
Doors 149
Mirror Image 151
My Net Diary 153
 
Micro Fiction
The Doppler Effect 157
Gimme a Yacto-second 159
Q & A 161
Writing 163
Prince Charming 165
The Sunday Smell of Frying Chicken 167
Cow Crap 169
 
Essays
30 Steps to Surviving the Death of Your Brother 173
Penis Butter and Jit Jelly 179
Rules for Pennies 181
Shaman 183
The Anniversary 185
The Backwoodsman 187
You 189
If [I | You] Had Never Met [You | Me] 191
Pi 193
Snow Hole 195
My Boss Washes His Hands 197
Torturing Katie 203
Second Chances 205
The Laws of Inheritance 207
The Trouble with Freedom 209
Under Protective Cover 211
Going Green 213
War 101 215
Yesterday and Tomorrow 217
Twenty Things 221
An Interview with the Poet 223
Numark Turntable 225
 
Poetry
The Present 229
You 231
Fibonacci Poem 233
My Reading Spot 235
Song To Myself 237
Poem for Daddy 239
Screw You, Reader 241
I Am God and Shit 243
 
Other Writing / Blog Posts
What Was Raymond Carver Talking About? 247
Nancy Clearwater Herman, Artist and Blogger 247
Bend the Light 249
Make Mercury Wobble 251
Tricks of the Trade 253

What Was Raymond Carver Talking About?

What Was Raymond Carver Talking About?
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Collection
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by Thomas Jay Rush

The first story of Raymond Carver’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love ends with the narrator saying “There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out,” referring to a young woman who had stopped at the home of a man whose furniture was on his lawn. The obvious reading of those words is that she was trying to understand what caused the man to put his furniture outside. However, I think there may be another, equally valid, reading. I think one could read those words as direct statement, not about the situation, but about the story itself.

As soon as I read those words, I started wondering what exactly the girl needed to “talk out.” I wondered what happened that was so dramatic that she was still talking about it weeks afterwards, and what exactly was the “more” the narrator has not told us about.

If one thinks about the words “there was more to it” for a moment, one realizes that the writer is saying that something has been left out of the story. One also realizes that the writer is aware that something has been left out (otherwise why would he say there was “more to it”). It seems to me that, because the writer is aware that something is missing, he has made a conscious choice to leave that part of the story out of it.

Using three example stories from the collection, Why Don’t You Dance, Tell The Women We’re Leaving, and Sacks, I will argue that this purposeful “leaving out” characterizes Raymond Carver’s entire collection. I will further argue that he drops hints, such as the words “there was more to it,” that point to directly to what’s been omitted. Further, I will argue what is left out is the most important part of each story, and that it is exactly these left out parts that help the reader understand what Raymond Carver is really talking about in each story.

I recognize that a paper like this, a personal interpretation of a writer’s work, is filled with difficulty. That the interpretations I make are mine alone, and that other readers may have wildly different interpretations, all of which are equally valid. Therefore, my final argument in this paper will be that the craft that the writer exhibits most forcefully is his ability to write stories that are open to broad interpretation. It is this aspect of the writing craft that I most wish to incorporate into my own work. It is a writer’s ability to communicate things that are not said that I take the most pleasure from when I read a great short story.

So, what did I find when I went back and re-read Raymond Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance? looking explicitly for the “more”? I found a lot. Did I find anything “more” in any of the other stories in the collection? Yes, I did. Will I spend the rest of this paper trying to explain what I found? Yes, I will.

About half way through the story Why Don’t You Dance?, when the boy and the girl first get out of the car, the girl lays down on the bed. She tells the boy to lay down with her and says “Kiss me.” He says “Let’s get up,” feeling uncomfortable. A few sentences later she says “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and trails off without finishing the thought. The obvious implication unsaid thing is “Wouldn’t it be funny if we made love on this bed out here in the driveway.”

Further in the story, after the man returns from the store and puts his sacks of groceries on the table, he puts a record on the record player and tells the young couple to dance. The narrator describes this thus: “Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway.” I found the words “up and down” an interesting word choice.

A few sentences later the girl says “Dance with me,” and the narrator goes on to say “…when the man stood up, she came to him with her arms wide open.”

Then there is a section break; two blank lines in the narrative.

Then the girls says “Those people over there, they’re watching,” as if a crowd has formed and is standing in the street looking at them. The man says “Let them watch,” and then “I hope you like your bed.” The story ends with the last paragraph where the girl is still, weeks later, trying to “talk it out.”

Because the writer told me that there was something “more”, that wasn’t told, I wondered exactly what happened during that section break. What happened in the time interval between those two blank lines. What did the writer not say? Why did a crowd form? Why, weeks later, was the girl still trying to “talk it out”?

I think what happened is that the man and the girl explored fully, and to its conclusion, the question “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” In my mind, what Carver was really talking about in this story was sex.

Of course, there is no way for me to know if my interpretation is correct. There is no way for me to know if the man and the girl made love on the bed in the driveway. It is very likely that I am completely wrong, but that’s not the point. The point is that the writer, clearly and on purpose, put the words “there is more to it,” into his story – and that those words opened up (at least for me) this interpretation.

I think this same sort of openness to interpretation is exhibited in Carver’s Tell the Women We’re Going.

In this story Jerry and Bill, two young men who’ve been life-long friends, ostensibly kill two girls that they meet by chance one Sunday afternoon. While returning from an afternoon of drinking and playing pool, the two men come upon a pair of girls riding bikes along the road . Jerry and Bill play a cat and mouse game with the girls, driving ahead of and behind them in the car as they peddle along the road. After a while Jerry pulls ahead and parks, waiting for the girls near a trail leading to Picture Rock, where he presumes the girls are going. When they arrive they get off their bikes and start to climb the trail. The boys follow them and the blunt, and surprising, end of the story is presented.

The obvious reading of this story is that Jerry killed the two girls with a rock while Bill stood watching. But, as in Why Don’t You Dance? I think there is another interpretation. Unlike the previous story, I did not find a direct instruction from the author telling me that there was “more to it,” but I think it’s there, nonetheless.

The main reason I think there must be more to this story is because the murder makes no sense. Other than two very violent words (“cunt” and “cockteasers”) Jerry uses to describe them, there is no hint of a murderous intent on his part anywhere in the story.

In fact, just the opposite. The writer says Jerry is “the happy father of two” and that he had “moved up to assistant manager.” He seems firmly ensconced in his life. He does seem a bit unhappy, when he and Bill are sitting on the deck, before they leave, but not murderously so.

When the boys meet the two girls on the road they turn the car around and start following them. The interaction between them is “playful” with the girls frequently laughing and giggling. There is a cat and mouse aspect to the interaction.

Just before Jerry pulls ahead and parks to wait for the girls the narrator says that one of the girls looked at Jerry “in the right kind of way.” However, in the first part of that sentence the narrator says “It seemed to Jerry”.

This is a perfect example of Carver’s penchant for leaving things out. If the narrator had said it seemed the girls looked at Jerry “in the right kind of way” and then said “but he was wrong,” that would be one thing. But Carver doesn’t say that. He chooses the word “seemed” which is a weak word. It seems to me that the sun comes up every morning. And that’s turn, it does. But it also seems to me that the sun moves through the sky, but it doesn’t, the earth spins under it. There is no indication of whether Jerry was right or wrong in his interpretation of the girls’ look. It seems to me that Carver did this on purpose.

A similar thing happens when Bill first finds the two girls “crouched behind an outcrop”. The writer says “Maybe they were smiling.” Without the word “maybe” this sentence is as clear as it could be. The sentence “They were not smiling,” would be equally clear. “Maybe they were smiling,” says nothing at all about whether they were smiling or not.

One wonders who didn’t understand if the girls were smiling or not. Technically it is the narrator who says the may have been smiling. The implication is that, like Jerry who may have misinterpreted the look the girls gave him, Bill thought the girls may have been smiling. But, technically, it is the narrator who says this. The narrator – that is Raymond Carver – is leaving open the possibility that the girls were smiling. As if they were inviting what came next. Which makes the murder even less understandable in the context of the story.

The last paragraph of this story says:

[Bill] never knew what Jerry wanted. But it started and ended with a rock. Jerry used the same rock on both girls, first on the girl called Sharon and then on the one that was supposed to be Bill’s.

When I first read that paragraph I thought to myself “Jerry killed them,” but then I realized that this interpretation depends entirely on what the writer means by the word “rock.” If rock means “rock,” as in an object found on the ground, then the murder reading is the obvious interpretation. If, however, “rock” means something else (let’s just say something else that is frequently described as being hard) then the meaning of this last paragraph is totally different.

This second interpretation, that Jerry used something rock hard that he hadn’t found on the ground, (that is that he had sex with both girls while Bill stood by watching) makes much more sense (at least to me) given the rest of the story, and the purposeful ambiguity that Carver has used.

We know Bill stands by in the kitchen while Jerry and his wife are having sex in the bathroom. We know that Jerry has been “looking for something on the side” as Riley the Rec Center worker repeatedly says. We know the girls went up the hill and looked back down before disappearing, mirroring the cat and mouse play from earlier.

The author presents no “dread” in his telling of the interactions between the boys and the two girls on the bicycles. Jerry and Bill climbed the hill at a “walking pace” because they knew they “had it made.”

As in the previous story there is no way for me to know what the writer intended, but this wonderful ambiguity, this lovely openness to interpretation is the craft aspect of this story that I love.

As in the previous example, I think, what Carver is talking about in this story is sex.

As an aside, before moving on to the next example, I want to point out that as the two boys are driving down the road, after leaving the Rec Center, they encounter “an old pickup loaded with furniture.” When I read this I wondered if this was the same guy who had his furniture out in the driveway in Why Don’t You Dance?.

The final story I will look at is called Sacks. This amazing story takes place in a lounge in the Sacramento Airport where a son has flown in for a quick visit with his recently divorced father. The two have clearly not been in touch for a while (the son didn’t even know the father wore glasses).

Without much preamble the father launches in to the story of himself and the woman with whom he’s had an affair. An affair that resulted in his divorce. The father tells the entire story while he and his son share drinks. It is a pretty straightforward story. As in the previous example, I would note, this story in a story is fundamentally about sex. I looked hard but I did not find anything that I would say was clearly open to interpretation, except perhaps the title.

The title of the story seemed interesting. Why Sacks I wondered. There only two sacks mentioned in the story – first, a sack filled with small gifts for the son’s wife and children. The second sack is the sack the saleswomen holds when she first knocks on the man’s door. Neither of these two sacks seemed to play any real part on this story. Like the murder in Tell The Women We’re Going it made no sense to me why the writer would choose this as his title.

At one point the father says “You’re an educated man, Les. You’ll be the one to figure it out.” Like the words “There was more to it.” I read this as a direct instruction from the writer that there is something to figure out about this story. This is totally conjecture, of course, but I think this story is a puzzle. I think the goal of the puzzle is to figure out why the story is called Sacks.

Looking at the structure of the story one sees that this is a story within a story. Les, the younger man, flies into Sacramento where he meets his father. Quickly, the father tells the story of what happened in his marriage leading up to his divorce.

The framing story, the story about the son and the father meeting at the airport, contains the inner story, the story the father tells about his affair.

The father’s story in first person present tense. The framing story is in first person past tense. There is a large amount of dialog in both stories. The dialog attributions in the framing story use the word “said” while the dialog attributions in the father’s story use the word “says.” This has the effect of making father’s voice sound much less well educated than the son’s voice.

I think, instead of just two sacks in this story, there are three. I think the third sack is the framing story itself. The writer has placed the father’s story inside the “sack” of the framing story. Otherwise I can’t explain to myself why the story is titled as it is. It makes no sense. The sacks in the story have no importance.

I think, in this story, the writer is flexing his writing muscles. Pointing out his own prowess in the art of punctuation and story craft. Saying to a careful reader “Look what I can do,” and then pulling off this amazing act of punctuation (quotes inside of quotes inside of an inner story, and so on). In addition to the amazing punctuation (which as far as I could tell is perfect) the transitions into and out of the inner story are seamless.

In some paragraphs the father is deep inside the telling of his own story and the writer places a comma, a closing quote, and tells the reader that the old man “shook his head.” This shaking of the head happens in the framing story. Immediately following this the writer jumps right back into the inner story without missing a beat. The transition is totally seamless. The reader is not jarred or confused in the least. Carver is telling two stories simultaneously, both perfectly, without the slightest hitch.

There are many interesting hints and connections to other stories in this collection built into this story. The son in this story is constantly looking at his watch, reminiscent of Bill in Tell the Women We’re Leaving. The old man say “I’ll tell you what’s the most important thing…there are things,” which is reminiscent of the story I Could See the Smallest Things (the title of which, by the way, is also a direct instruction to the reader to pay careful and close attention to the smallest things).

When describing the scene where the saleswoman’s husband, Larry, returns home to find the father and her in bed the old man says he was afraid Larry would push him up “against this big fence in the yard” and that the woman stood in the kitchen in “her robe,” both of these things being reminiscent of I Could See the Smallest Things.

Finally, the narrator says “My father started to say something more. But instead he shook his head.” Again, there is something more in the story that has not been said. There always seems to be something “more” in Carver’s stories.

Conclusion

When I read a short story I don’t usually care much what happens in the story. If a story simply relates a series of events, no matter how interesting, I feel let down. I usually look for something special, something hidden, or hinted at. In most stories I read I don’t find anything. Sometimes, when I do find something, it is so blatantly obvious and so completely lacks subtly, that I find it unrewarding. But Raymond Carver’s stories are different.

Raymond Carver’s prose is so sparse and so clean that somehow it allows itself to be opened wider to interpretations. It’s as if all the underbrush has been cleared away allowing the reader to see more clearly.

I have no idea if anything I’ve said in this paper is accurate. It’s all my own interpretation, of course. I do know, however, that Raymond Carver revised these stories many times (in some cases 40 to 50 revisions for a single story). It is difficult for me to believe that, after 40 revisions, a single word remains in any of these stories by accident. I think he purposefully crafted these stories to be open to multiple interpretations. Why would the writer put the words “there was more to it,” at the very end of the very first story in this collection? I think those words were put there for a very specific reason – to admonish readers to pay close attention, and to instruct the reader that careful attention would be rewarded. This is why I think this is such a wonderful collection.

When I write I sometimes try to put these sorts of double and triple interpretation possibilities into my writing, however it always turns out very heavy handed. It is this aspect of the craft of writing that I love. This ability of some writers, such as Raymond Carver, to say things without saying them. And to say them in such a way as to not be heavy handed, but to be subtle and secretive.

One final word. I tried to convince myself as I went through this exercise that what Raymond Carver talked about when he talked about love was sex. In the first two examples, with the man in the driveway and Jerry and Bill, I think I’ve at least opened the possibility that there may have been sex involved. I tried, in the third example story, to find an unsaid hint that someone was having sex, perhaps it was the woman dancing in the bar with her arms wide (reminiscent of the girl in the driveway) as the bartender watched (reminiscent of Bill). But I couldn’t convince myself.

No matter. It was still very enjoyable looking.

T-Shirt Fiction

This is a cool idea. I think one of my online reviewers suggested that one of my pieces of micro fiction would fit well on a t-shirt. So the idea, which I coin here, is T-shirt Fiction: write a piece of fiction short enough to fit on a t-shirt

It’s at least as cool an idea as hint-fiction which fiction no longer than 25 words long that hints something much larger.

Dancing in the Dark

Dancing in the Dark
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Short Story
Why Don’t You Dance?
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

The first time I read this short story I thought “whatever,” and moved on to the next story in the book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.. I came back later and re-read the story. I found a much deeper meaning on my second reading than I did on my first. I should learn. This is not the first time this has happened to me with Raymond Carver’s work. It takes me a while but I catch on eventually.

This short story is about a man whose life has fallen apart. He’s alone, clearing out the remnants of his home. His wife is absent, although her presence is hinted at throughout the early part of the story. The reader see touches of her in the candy-striped sheets on the bed, designer pillows, the chiffonier. I’m a man. I actually studied furniture design for a couple of years. I didn’t know what a “chiffonier” was. I think this is an indication of what type of woman this man lived with.

For some reason, the man has taken the furniture out of the house into the front yard. He’s run an extension cord to the TV, record player and lamps. His neighbors think he’s crazy, but the reader gets the impression that this is not the first time they’ve thought that.

He goes out to the store (although we are not told this directly). While he’s gone a young couple stops, thinking there is a yard sale. They are just beginning their life together. The girl, and Carver consistently calls them the “boy” and the “girl”, is more forceful than the boy. She first says “Let’s see what they want for the bed,” before they turn in off the street. She seems more free-spirited, bossy. The boy fiddles with a blender and switches on the TV. She tells him to come and lie down on the bed next to her. He does so, but after a while he feels uncomfortable and gets up to see if anyone is at home. He wants to ask someone how much the various items cost.

The man returns from the store to find the girl on the bed and the boy on the porch. The girl, always controlling, had previously told the boy to always ask for ten dollars less than the seller initially asks for. The boy asks how much the man wants for the bed. He says fifty dollars, she offers forty. The man accepts. He wants twenty-five dollars for the TV, she offers fifteen, again he agrees.

The end of the story is ambiguous. The man opens a bottle of whiskey and offers the couple a drink. They accept and after a few drinks start to get a little drunk. The man says he wants to play a record, which he does. He suggests that the young couple starts to dance. In character, the boy is hesitant, but, also in character, the girl convinces him to dance. They dance in the driveway.

The first side of the record ends. The man flips it over. The girl wants to dance some more but the boy is drunk and doesn’t seem to want to. She asks the man to dance and approaches him with her arms wide open. Then there is a scene break. An extra blank line and no leading tab to the beginning of the next paragraph. It’s a subtle clue that something has change.

When the narrative reconvenes in the very next paragraph, she is saying “Those people over there, they’re watching.” The man says “It’s OK. It’s my place.” The reader is not exactly sure what’s going on. In fact, I was wondering what exactly is going on. The girls says “Let them watch.” She’s drunk. Carver writes “He felt her breath on his neck.” The very next sentence Carver has the man saying “I hope you like your bed.” She pushes her face into the man’s shoulder and pulls him closer.

One interpretation of this passage, obviously, is that they are dancing, however I think it is equally possible that they are doing something that may be called dancing but that is a decidedly different thing altogether. The last few paragraphs of the story hint at this second interpretation when Carver writes “A few weeks later….She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out.” What more is he referring to?

I also detected a symbolic layer to the story on my second read that I did not see on my first read. I think it is possible that the young couple in this story represents that man and his wife when they were first starting out. There are numerous clues to this. The way the young woman lies on the bed initially, the way she’s the one always suggesting what the boy should do, the fact that it is her idea to do something more than just lie on the bed when she says “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” All of these things could represent what the man’s wife was like when they first met. He mentions the candy-striped sheets, the designer pillows, and so on, which to me indicate a woman that likes to arrange things in her life, just like the girl.

The “boy” may also be interpreted as a representation of the man. The boy is hesitant, fooling around with the TV and the blender, sort of doing whatever the “girl” says, not because he wants to just because that’s the way things roll in their relationship. I think this could easily be interpreted as a representation of the older couple’s dynamics.

When the girl says “”I want the desk…[h]ow much money is the desk?” I read this as symbolizing the narrator’s work; perhaps he was a writer. The desk is where his livelihood came from, perhaps. The man says “Name a figure,” as an exasperated man might say to his soon to be divorced wife when they are haggling over the divorce settlement. The title may even be interpreted as a question from the man to his missing wife. “Why Don’t You Dance?” And by this I think he means the latter of the two interpretations of the word “dance” mentioned above.

There is a lot to this story that will be rewarded with a careful reading. I recommend it highly.

Charlie’s in Trouble – A One Act Play

Nancy: Charlie, come here.

Charlie acts like he doesn’t hear her, continues to fiddle with some papers on his desk.

Nancy: Charlie. I said come here. Stand over here.

Charlie slowly walks to the front of the room, to the place of great punishment.

Nancy: Charlie. Look at me.

Charlie’s eyes divert to the floor, he looks at his fingernails. He pokes at the yellow and blue carpet with the pointy toe of his expensive shoes.

Nancy: Charlie. You’ve been a very bad boy. Do you know that? Look at me when I’m talking to you, Charlie!

Losing her temper now, Nancy waits until Charlie looks up at her for a brief moment and then returns to trying to dig his way through the floor.

Nancy: You’ve been a bad boy, Charlie. Shame on you. Do you have anything to say?

Charlie mumbles something to the floor.

Nancy: Charlie. Do you have anything to say for yourself before I tell you your punishment?

Charlie: No ma’am. I’m sorry ma’am.

Nancy: That’s all you have to say for yourself Charlie. After all you’ve done? That’s all you have to say?

Charlie: Yes ma’am. I’m sorry ma’am.

Nancy: Well Charlie. I’m sorry to have to do this to you. You know the rules. There’s nothing I can do. I’m going to have to scold you severely in front of your friends. Do you understand?

Charlie: Yes ma’am.

Nancy: OK. Shall I proceed. Do you have anything further to say?

Charlie: No ma’am.

Nancy: OK. Representative Charlie Rangel. You have been found guilty of being a very bad boy. You shouldn’t do that any more. You shouldn’t steal money from the U.S. Treasury. You shouldn’t lie about your income. You have been a naughty, naughty boy. No go, and stop being so naughty.

Charlie: Thank you ma’am.

Charlie leaves the Well and returns to his seat, where he finds a waiting piece of cake that his staff has prepared for him, knowing how cake can sooth anyone’s upsettedness. A number of his colleague slap him on the back, congratulating him for withstanding this blistering punishment. The U.S. House of Representatives resumes its regularly scheduled programming.

Contents of Collected Short Stories – November 2010

Table of Contents
Pennsyl-tucky: A Natural History 3
The Fall Day When Everything Changed 7
Storybored 11
My Short Career as a Murderer 13
Zombie Pizza 20
A Gloomy Dinner, Well Lit 27
The Snottery 33
When My Son Came to Visit 44
Examples of Feedback 51
Business Lessons 66
Talking Backwards 72
Dog Eye 75
Conversion 80
Clown Truck 82
My Trip to Infinite Time 86
The Underdog 93
Chocolate Covered Ants 97
The Standoff 100
Bleeding Art 104
Lunch for Eight 106
Mammals 113
Neighbots 119
A Crime Scene 124
Miscommunicants 126
Disgusting Dogs 129
Too Afraid To Leave? 131
Dragon Bones 134
Left Alone With a Slide Rule 138
Daydreaming of a Beautiful Evening 140
I Hate Dogs 143
Land Under the Sea That Time Forgot 147
Finding Poppy 155
The Moment I Fell in Love 161
Free Writes 167
Postword 196

Winner! 2010 NaNoWriMo Winner

I finished my 50,000 word collection of short stories this morning. It consists of 26 new first draft short stories and essays and two second drafts. I also have about seven or eight other partially finished first drafts that I intend to include in the collection which will bring the total to 33 new first or second draft pieces. This is a huge accomplishment for me. I had literally hundreds of ‘idea files’ where I started an idea and never finished it in the past. Now I have 33 new first drafts, which means over the next few months I will have 33 new second drafts and so on until I have a new collection of stuff that I can start to try to get published. That’s huge. I’m excited. Yay me.

Got this silly banner for winning:

Here’s the chart of my progress:

Nano 2010 Progress Chart

Very different from the May 2010 and the November 2009

NaNoWriCrap II

I’m going pretty well with my 30 short stories in 30 days thing for NaNoWriMo. I’ve completed about 16 short stories so far this month for about 31,000 words. They sum up, when I store them all in a single file, to 107 pages so far. Not bad. I’m pretty sure I will be able finish on time. I have a good idea for my next novel too – but I’m not going to start on that until later. After all my short stories are first drafted.

NaNoWriCrap

I started NaNoWriMo again this year. NaNoWriMo is a “contest” meant to promote novel writing. Particpants are supposed to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I did it last year with my Sea Isle City novel. I did it again in May during what I called NaNoWriMay with my novel called Doylestown.

This year, I’m doing it again, but this time I’m going to try to write 30 short stories or essays in 30 days totalling 50,000 words. The web badge for participants is to the right sidebar so you can see how I’m doing.

The website really sucks! Its the worst website I’ve been on since the days of the 14,400 baud rate modem style of navigating the web. It’s amazing. It’s supposedly powered by Amazon web services. I thought Amazon web services was supposed to scale up gracefully. Wow. If this is graceful I’d hate to see sucky. Cause this sucks.

Double Duty

Double Duty
A Critical Analysis of
Kate Chopin’s Short Story
Ripe Figs
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

This is a very short piece of fiction. Ostensibly, it tells the story of a young woman (Babette) and her godmother, whom she calls Maman-Nainaine. The godmother wishes to have the girl visit her aunt down in bayou country. She repeatedly tells the girl that she will be visiting her aunt “when the figs were ripe,” which in South Louisiana is around mid-summer. The girl thinks that is a very long time away because it is only early spring when Maman-Nainaine first says this, but as the wise old woman knows, the time approaches quickly. When the figs finally do ripen the godmother is surprised at how early that have ripened this year. The young woman cannot believe they’ve ripened so late.

The piece is very short. 288 words. There are only three characters, Maman-Nainane, Babette and Babette’s aunt, Tante Frosine, the last of which is only mentioned by reference. What could this story be about?

If the reader looks at the surface of the story he finds that this story is about how the old and the young experience time differently. What seems early to the old woman has taken forever for the young girl. She has been going out into the orchard all summer looking at the fig trees to see if the figs have ripened. She does this because she wishes to go on trip to see her aunt. The young girl was anticipating the trip and could not wait for it to happen. The old women knew better. She knew that the time would pass very quickly – especially for herself, who, being old, would naturally want to savor every moment and feel that any passage of time was going by too quickly.

But, if the reader looks a little deeper, and considers each word in the tiny story carefully, something a little more interesting emerges. I believe that in a short piece like this, with less than 300 words, every word must count. In fact, if the writer can make words count more than once all the better. I think Ms. Chopin has done that with this story.

When describing Babette Ms. Chapin uses words like “danced out to where the fig-trees were,” and “as restless as a hummingbird,” reinforcing the sense that this is a young, sprightly girl. Also, she mentions spring, and “tender shoots” on the fig trees, each of which are evocative of youth.

When describing Maman-Nainane Ms. Chopin uses words like “sat down in her stately way,” and “but that is the way Maman-Nainaine was,” implying that she is set in her way – in short, old.

But there are two short passages that imply to me that what the story is really talking about is Maman-Nainane’s impending death. These are when Ms. Chopin decides to say “her muslin cap standing like an aureole about her white, placid face,” and “I shall look for her at Toussaint – when the chrysanthemums are in bloom.”

In the first quoted passage above the word “aureole” means halo, or a circle of light, referring, I think to the fact that the old woman will soon be joining the angles. In the second passage the word “Toussaint” is a Cajun word referring to an annual holiday that we westerners call “All Saint’s Day,” – that is, Halloween. Additionally, according to Wikipedia, chrysanthemums symbolize death because they usually appear at funerals or on graves.

I love stories like this. This is a very short passage, as I’ve already said, but it provides a good hour’s worth of effort to unravel each and every hidden word and phrase. It is very easy to read this short piece and say something like “Oh, that was nice. About an old woman and a young one and their different way of looking at time’s passage,” but upon deeper reflection it’s actually saying much more than that.