Scribblefolio

I’ve been using a website called Scribophile for about ten months. The site allows one to post one’s writing to a shared web space where many other writers will, in return for critiques of their work, give their impressions of your work. It’s a wonderful website. Recently I upgraded to their premium membership which is well worth it.

This week they released a sister-site called Scribblefolio which allows authors (or potential authors) to post a professional looking web based writer’s portfolio. It’s a very nice site. The new site offers free and premium accounts both of which are very easy to understand and manage. My new portfolio site is here.

The setup process could not be more simple. Enter your email address and your password and you’re nearly complete. When you first access the site it will ask you four or five questions about your expertise, your area of interest, etc. You may also upload an image of yourself (a couple of months ago I dug through a lot of old pictures in a vain attempt to find one that didn’t have me looking like a dork – tough task – found the best one I could find – don’t judge.)

After uploading your image and entering these few preliminaries you may upload up to two pieces of sample writing (for the free account – an unlimited number of samples for the premium account). This is a very simple process of cut and paste from your Word documents. In the premium version you may upload files directly and all the formatting is preserved. The distinction between the free and premium versions of the site are made very obvious. All the premium features are disabled but still present in the free version making it very easy to see what you would get if you upgraded your account.

To complete your portfolio one chooses a theme and selects a title and copyright notice and you’re done. The entire process literally took me five minutes. This is one of the easiest to use and clearest websites I’ve seen. It’s very well done.

Of course, with the ease of use comes some limitations. For example I’m not sure why they think it appropriate to ask for an area of expertise. I am a general creative writer. My area of expertise is being alive and noticing things around me so I can write about them. Some people might call me a generalist, others – like my wife – a dilettante. Additionally, they do not handle poetry very well. In particular it is impossible to specify a stanza break which makes posting poetry to the site difficult. Besides these shortcomings, the site in whole is very well done.

As I’ve said – I’ve been using Scribophile (the sister site) for a long time. I find that site to be extremely well done. There are some bugs there but they seem to be taken care of as quickly as possible. I have every expectation that this new site (scribblefolio) will be just as good.

Inception – The ‘Miles incepted Cobb’ Theory

Three days ago I saw a movie called Inception. Meriam and I left theater about 36 hours ago (9:30 pm on Saturday until 9:30 am on Monday). I have been obsessed ever since I left the movie. Of the 36 hours since I left I bet I have spent 20 of them on the IMDB message boards arguing my theory of the movie, which I present in this post. Parts of this post were originally written on Saturday night as soon as I got home.

One of the wonderful ideas in the movie is that it is possible to ‘incept’ an idea into someone else’s mind, and that once an idea is planted, if it is worthy, it will infect other people’s minds. It will expand and broaden. I wondered on Saturday night if I could infuse my idea of the movie into the internet consciousness – into the discussion about the movie and if it was a good enough idea it could infect it’s way into other people’s minds.

Over the past two days I’ve made hundreds of posts to the IMDB discussion boards about my ideas. Primarily in two posts: Miles Incepted Cobb and Miles is forging Saito. When I first started posting there was no mention of any of the ideas that I proposed in any of the discussions that I saw prior to my post. Since I’ve posted my ideas I am starting to see some references to ideas similar to mine. I’m not claiming that I was the first person to have mentioned any of these ideas. I am saying that these ideas were mine, that I posted them on Saturday August 7th around 9:30 pm and that I checked the message board for Inception prior to making my posting and found no reference to any of these ideas there. I also searched around the internet pretty extensively prior to my post and found nothing (although I did not do this as thoroughly as I checked the message board).

Now for the theory:

I think this was a stupendous movie. I think that the three level dream hierarchy architected by Ariadne and implemented by Cobb to incept the idea that Fischer should break up his father’s empire is excellent and very interesting – but I don’t think it has much to do with what the movie is about.

I think that three level dream hierarchy is part of a larger dream hierarchy architected by Miles and implemented by Ariadne to incept the idea into Cobb’s mind that he should forgive himself his guilt for the death of his wife.

I also think that Miles is forging Saito all the way down through the three level dream hierarchy and that when Saito (Miles’ forgery) dies it is by design so that Cobb agrees to go one more level deep. Ariadne suggests this to Cobb when he says that the mission (incepting Fischer) is a failure. Ariadne says that Cobb should go down one more level which he does.

What Cobb (and the audience) finds at that lower level is his own inner most sanctum – his house – with Mal in it. Ariadne and Fischer are there as well but when they jump off the building Cobb goes down one more level still until he arrives on the beach. When he is taken to the house where the old man Saito sits at his table is the moment in the movie where the idea that Cobb should forgive himself is incepted into his mind – by Miles forging Saito.

In an earlier dream level Saito says to Cobb “we should return to being young men,” and in this lowest level dream level Cobb regurgitates that exact sentence back to him. Remember – the thought that is incepted must be a positive thought. When Cobb regurgitates that line we are being shown that the inception has worked. Cobb has internalized that thought. Saito’s (Miles as a forger’s) hand reaches for the gun on the table and everyone wakes up in the airplane. Mission accomplished. The mission being to incept into Cobb’s mind that he should forgive himself for his wife’s death and ‘go back to being a young man.”

What this theory explains that other theories ignore:

1. Why would Cobb agree to hire a complete novice to help him architect the most important mission of his life?

2. Why does Saito keep appearing magically – in the helicopter, in the streets of Mombassa? Why is Saito, the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, there at all?

3. Why is Ariadne so amazing skilled as an architect?

4. Why is the topmost level of the movie identical to the second to the bottom most level?

5. Why is the city that Cobb and Mal built crumbling?

6. Why does the train barrel through the city in the first level of the Fischer dream hierarchy?

7. Why is the entire Kobol, Fischer, Saito corporation thing so shadowy and ridiculously powerful? How can Saito – a non-US business man make a single phone call and make it possible for Cobb to get through customs? How can Saito buy an entire airline in such a very short time?

8. Why would Fischer’s nurses leave the door open so Cobb and his cohorts could learn about the relationship between Fischer and his father in such intimate detail?

9. Why is the second to last scene – just before everyone ‘wakes’ up – only show Cobb and Saito. If the movie was only about the Fischer inception why wouldn’t the second to the last scene show Fischer being successfully incepted?

10. If Miles is such an important person in the movie (he architected the dream) then why does he only have a few lines and very few appearances?

Refutation of ideas that go against my theory:

1. The children, in the final scene, are older, wearing different clothes. Cobb’s wedding ring is present in a lot of the movie but not the final scene. These things indicate that the final scene is ‘reality.’

2. If the whole movie is just a dream the entire thing is stupid (the Trivial argument).

3. Can’t think of any more.

Over the next few days I will handle each of the above questions in their own blog posts. Stay tuned.

The original post from Saturday night:
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I’ve read a lot of reviews of the movie on the internet but I really feel that they are all missing the point. Yes – it was a genius movie about a ‘thought robber for hire’ who would go into people minds and steal ideas. Yes – it is a genius movie about a daring plan to go into a dream-inside-a-dream-inside-a-dream to plant an idea someone’s head that he should disband his own father’s mega-corporate-empire. Yes – it keeps you jumping trying to keep track of which level they are in – the ideas about time how time expands within each level, or about how gravity is effected from the levels above are all genius. Even if these were the only things about this movie it would have been a great movie.

But what makes this a fantastic movie is what happens on the level above the movie itself.

This movie is about Cobb. This movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the Fischer dynasty. This movie is about Cobb’s subconscious.

The real Inceptor is Miles. Cobb’s father. He is the builder of the world. It is a five level deep dream. Remember – at the end of the movie the top still spins. The house in which Cobb finally sees his children’s faces is the same wooden house at the very bottom most level (paradox). This is just like the paradoxical steps. The builder (Miles) used the same paradoxical stairs.

Why would Miles do this? He was the first person to discover the technology. He was actually ultimately responsible for his own daughter’s madness. He was responsible for Cobb’s madness. He found Ariadne and built a world so that he could implant the idea in Cobb’s mind that he could forget his wife.

This explains why the lowest level dream is in Cobb’s mind. In Cobb’s house. The defenses that attacked in the very first level came from Cobb’s mind. The train and the shooters. They wounded Saito. When Cobb is sitting at the table with Saito that is the inner most sanctum of his own mind. Saito says “let us both go back to being young men” which is the idea that was implanted in Cobb’s mind. This is so clear to me now that I’m writing about it. This is what makes this movie so wonderful. The implantation of the idea is into Cobb’s mind.

The entire time I was wondering why Cobb would have accepted Adriane as his Architect but it makes sense if she’s actually a Forger – if she’s just pretending to be an Architect and in reality she is the guide. The one that helps Saito and Cobb reach the very bottom level. Adriane is the Mr. Cooper (is that the right name)? She breaks through his defenses which are manifested in

I Finished the First Draft of my Second Novel

In May, I wrote another novel, called Doylestown.

Two young boys spend a lot of time running around the back alleyways of the small but growing town. The story is set in 1905 Doylestown as it grows from a small community with a couple of hotels and a courthouse into a larger, more modern city. The two boy’s fathers are the most prominent doctor and the most prominent lawyer in town. The fathers also spent a large part of their childhood running around the same back alleys.

One of the father’s business associates is murdered. The night before the murder, the two boys, playing spy, as they are wont to do, overhear their fathers arguing with the person who is murdered. She is a third, very prominent member of the community. The boys suspect that their fathers are involved in the murder which causes great tension between them because each is convinced that it is the other boy’s father and not his own who must be involved.

Over time and under pressure from a local woman newspaper reporter the chief of police comes to believe (although not with a high degree of confidence) that the two men are guilty as well. He starts tracking the men. He finds numerous bits of incriminating evidence.

Meanwhile, the young women newspaper reporter has made a friend with a young Mennonite girl who comes frequently with her father to the weekly farmer’s market in town. The young Mennonite girl idolizes the modern women newspaper reporter, which of course is a source of great concern to her father. The newspaper women encourages the young girl to write – says “If you want to become a writer you must do just one thing: write.” The Mennonite girl takes this to heart and starts interviewing everyone she meets.

One of the people she interviews is a local man called Harvey. Harvey is an oddity in the small farming community where Rebecca (the Mennonite girl) lives. He gets everywhere on bicycle. He is a bit ’slow’ but he is very friendly and quite pleasant. Rebecca interviews him and he says that he knows something about “the two men involved with the murder in town.” Rebecca assumes he is talking about the two men, who were arrested in town, but he is not – he is talking about two other men that he knows about. Harvey knows everything about everyone. He spends his entire day riding his bike from farm-to-farm and talking gossip. He knows everyone’s business in the entire community. He hears one piece of information from one person, another from a second person and more from everyone else. Even though he is slow, he knows more about more things than anyone does – and he has a certain slyness that comes through in his interactions with people – maybe he’s not quite as slow as he seems.

Through a series of interactions with Harvey and the younger brother of the two men Harvey is talking about, Rebecca comes to believe that the police have the wrong men. She tells her newspaperwomen friend. She has become acquaintances with the two boys as well through her attendance at the market stall every Saturday. She intends to save the two prominent citizens from the hangman’s noose.

As the story plays out everyone finally comes to realize that the two men where not involved in the murder, however the chief of police wishes to use them as bait to capture the real murders. In a shootout scene in the barn, this is accomplished. Returned to their former prominent positions in town, the two men complete the construction of a beautiful building that becomes a symbol for the town – a beautiful example of the enthusiasm present in 1905 America as it flexed its industrial muscle.

Rebecca returns to the town many years later, having graduated from college as a journalist. The newspaper her friend had worked for many years earlier hires her as a reporter. She stands outside the building at the center of the town that serves as a testament to the two older men and their great friendship when one of the two younger boys (who is now a 25-year-old young man who cuts a very dapper figure) appears behind her. As she admires the building, he introduces himself again. The scene fades to black.

I wrote this book in ten days – from May 1, 2010 to May 10, 2010. Here is a chart of my progress. I find keeping a chart of the number of words I have written each day is an amazingly easy way to motivate myself. Here is the chart:

The yellow bars represent the number of words I wrote each day. The pink line is my progress towards my goal, which is represented by the blue diagonal line. As you can see, I exceeded my target, which was to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. I completed 50,000 words in just 10 days. The two days of negative word production are from very slight editing I did to correct some egregious grammar errors using MS Word grammar checker. I lost 200 and 500 words each of the two days I was editing so I stopped because the total went under 50,000.

Someone asked me how good it could possibly be if it took me only 10 days to write. I say, “It’s just a first draft” which is the truth. I went through each scene of the novel in the remaining 20 days of the month of May making a list of all the problem areas I could think of. I now have a list of over 550 different things that I think I can make better in the second draft.

Picture Book from Beach Haven, NJ – 2002

We used to vacation as a family at Beach Haven, NJ. In the summer of 2002, when Emily was five, Nate was four and Katie was one I took along some drawing paper for them to record thier memories in. I transferred all these picture to the following PDF file. It takes a while to download. Just be patient.

Beach Haven Picture Book

I See What I Was Missing

I See What I Was Missing
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Short Story
Cathedral
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I was telling my wife about this story in the car the other night while we drove to pick up Chinese food and I almost started crying because this is such a stunningly beautiful piece of writing. I got about nine-tenths of the way through telling her about it and I couldn’t go on because I was choking up. I wrote this poem:

    The Neanderthal

    I was telling my wife about a lovely
    Raymond Carver short story the other night
    as the snow just started,
    and we drove in my dirty car
    together alone for the first time in weeks
    to get some Chinese food.

    And I had to stop telling so she wouldn’t make
    fun of me because I would have cried if I had
    gone on and told to the end.

    I cry sometimes when I encounter things
    beautiful. I don’t know why but I do.

    I wanted to say “Thanks” for making me feel
    that I shouldn’t share my joy with you.

This is a touching story of one man’s personal growth. A growth in understanding another human being and a growth in understanding what a cathedral is.

The main protagonist is told by his wife that her old friend, a blind man, is coming to see them and will be staying a few nights. The blind man’s wife has just died. He is in town visiting relatives.

In the beginning of the story the protagonist, the host, does not relish the idea of the blind man coming to stay with them. He finds the blind man odd and weird. He doesn’t want to be bothered. He looks on the blind man as a burden. There are hints that the host views the blind man as a potential rival for his wife’s affections. He says mean and politically incorrect things about the blind man. For example he says “My idea of blindness came from the movies…[that they]….moved slowly and never laughed.”

When the blind man arrives the host is surprised that he doesn’t wear dark glasses. The host is surprised that he doesn’t walk with a long cane with a white tip. This is the first, slight sign of a warming of the host towards the blind man.

The host (or narrator) describes a time, before he met his wife, where she used to work with the blind man. They worked together during the time when she was getting married to her first husband, her childhood sweetheart. After getting married the young couple moved away from Seattle (where the blind man lived – she had worked in his house as his assistant) to an army base. On the last day of her working for the blind man he had asked her if he could feel her face so he could remember her. She had allowed it. This was a memorable moment for her. We know this because the narrator, tells us that she tried to write a poem about the experience. He tells us this during the part of the story where he is being very hostile to the blind man and its clear that he thinks his wife may be in love with the blind man.

When the blind man arrives at their house they invite him in and get him a drink (the first of many that night). They have a large dinner and retire to the living room where the blind man and the narrator’s wife have a long conversation about their lives since they last met, mostly leaving the narrator out of the conversation who starts to get upset.

The narrator turns the TV. His wife says she’s going to go get ready for bed. She comes back in a nightly and bathrobe which upsets the host but by then he’s smoked a joint with the blind guy and he is starting to lighten up – maybe because of all the booze – maybe because of the joint – but he says at one point that his wife’s bare leg doesn’t bother him because the blind guy can’t see anyway. The more booze he drinks and pot he smokes the more mellow he gets.

His wife falls asleep on the couch and the blind guy and him start watching a show about Gothic Cathedrals. After a short while the host realizes that the blind guy can’t understand what’s going on because they are just showing pictures of the cathedrals and not really saying anything. Our host starts telling the blind man about the TV show but then he realizes that the guy probably doesn’t even know what a cathedral is.

The blind man tells the host to describe what a cathedral is but he sucks at describing so the blind man tells him to get a piece of paper and a pencil. The blind man comes down off the couch and sits on the floor next to the host. The blind man tells the host to take his hand and draw the cathedral while he’s holding it.

The host, this man who had so many pre-conceived ideas about what a blind person was, this man who could not understand his wife’s intense experience of having her face touched by a blind person, finally comes to realize, in a brilliantly wrought piece of writing, the experience that she must have had. He learns. He understands his wife’s love for this man who so gently deals with the world using whatever meager faculties are available to him, whether it be through touching a loved one’s face to learning about cathedrals by holding someone’s had as they draw it.

This is a profoundly human story. Mr. Carver pulls off a stunning work of staggering beauty, as they say. The protagonist, through his interaction with this blind man finally comes to see something that he could never have seen on his own.

The Birth of Flash Fiction

The Birth of Flash Fiction
A Critical Analysis of
of James Thurber’s Short Piece
The Little Girl and the Wolf
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

James Thurber’s short piece The Little Girl and the Wolf is not very well written. The piece is extremely short – which to me means that it must be pitch perfect. I think one of the most important things about a very short piece (something that in these days has come to be known as flash fiction) is that it must be near perfect. The particular piece of writing I consider here is not very good in my opinion. I think the word choice is poor, I think there are logical errors and I think the ending lacks any semblance of subtlety.

Concerning word choice I think Thurber could have easily chosen his words more carefully. For example, in the first sentence he uses the words “a big wolf”. How dull. Like what, James? Like a big-bad wolf? Why not use big-bad? At least big-bad has some lyricism to it. Just “big” is truly dull. Another example (and trust me, finding two examples of poor word choice in a piece this short makes the point) is when Thurber says that the girl “approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed”. What does “approaching no nearer than….from” something even mean?

A second area of weakness in this piece is that it contains a few logical errors or omissions. These are not glaring mistakes, the omissions are more subtle than that, but mistakes like this are troublesome in such a short piece. When I read I want my mind to stay in the world of the piece. I do not want my thoughts thrown out of the piece while I have to contemplate what the writer meant. The first example of this sort of shortcoming is when Thurber says that the wolf was waiting for “a little girl to come along, carrying a basket of food to her grandmother.” When I read that my mind came out of the piece while I considered why a wolf would be waiting for such a specific event. Why wouldn’t the wolf just position himself in the path and take what comes? Why would the wolf wait for a little girl….carrying a basket…..and going to her grandmother’s? It just makes no sense. Another logical error appears when Thurber says “the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him.” Why would the little girl do this? Normally, I wouldn’t bother pointing these simple things out, but in a case like this, where the piece is so excessively short, I think these types of logical errors must be entirely removed.

The third, and final, shortcoming of this piece is the abrupt ending. An ending that completely lacks any sort of subtlety. The ending comes across as if a rather simple minded 15 year old boy wrote it (the piece first appeared in The New Yorker on January 21, 1939 – when Thurber was 45 years old). Thurber lets on that he doesn’t suspend his disbelief in the sentence where he says “for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother…” The very next sentence, and the sentence that ends the piece, is about the girl shooting the wolf by pulling a machine gun out of her basket. Then the silly, trite moral to the story. It all comes across as Mr. Thurber polishing his fingernails on his shirt and saying “Aren’t I cute?” No James, you’re not cute. You’re 45 years old. You can do better than that.

I haven’t read a lot of Mr. Thurber’s work – but I’ve always loved him – because of the story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I remember, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, reading some of Mr. Thurber’s stories. I remember in particular his drawings. He was very charming and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him, but – if I find more pieces like this of his, my heart my grow harder. Sorry, James. I loved ye once upon a time.

Semi-comma

I present here and give into the public domain my idea for a new puncuation mark. I call my creation the semi-comma. Due to the fact that I just invented it – it’s use has not been codified but I propose that it be used at the end of any sentence wherein the speaker has forgotten, half-way through, what he/she was going to say.

The top half of the mark is made up of the top half of a question mark, the bottom half of the mark is made up of a comma, thus:

An example in dialog:

Mary:        Hi John. How are you?
John:        I’m fine – I was just going
Mary:        What?
John:        I don’t remember where I’m going so I quit speaking in mid-sentence.
That’s why, implicitly, with my voice, I inserted a semi-comma in that last sentence.

Please accept this mark as my gift to the world of literature.

Short Stories Websites and Blogs

I love short stories. I am going to use this post to list any interesting sites I find devoted exclusively to the short story. Clicking on these links will open a new window.

General Sites:

Author Specific Sites:

Weirdest Spam Ever

I’ve gotten some really weird spam in my life. I’ve been using email for about twenty years so I’ve gone from no spam whatsoever – to getting spam from someone and feeling it was my responsibility to respond back to that person saying “It is really not appropriate to send unsolicited commercial emails” in a polite way assuming that they just did not understand the etiquette of the Internet. Back then we distinguished between unsolicited commercial email and unsolicited non-commercial email. These were the good old days in the early ’90s. Unsolicited non-commercial email with the whole point.

Then I started getting emails that were clearly sent knowing that they were spamming but apologizing for it in the opening of the email: “We know we’re not supposed to do this, but we’re sure you’ll agree this is an exception…” Somewhere along the line people started calling this Spam. At some point the floodgates opened. As a result of all this spam email I’ve learned a lot about Nigeria and have become an expert on penis enlargement (not that I’ve ever tried it – didn’t need too — he says, polishing his fingernails on his coat lapel).

Today, though, I got the weirdest unsolicited commercial email I’ve ever gotten.

It was from some Taiwanese folks who are apparently interested in chicken parts. All types of chicken parts. Legs, thighs, wings. Any part. They were interested in forming allegiances in the United States (and with me related in particular) regarding the importation of chicken parts into Taiwan. It’s quite lucrative, I hear. I did not know that. I’ll have to look into that. I’ve been looking for alternatives in case this whole “Jay Rush Becoming a Writer” thing doesn’t pan out.

Animation of “Robert Frost is Lazy”

A movie made from my poem Robert Frost is Lazy at a website called xTra Normal.

Click on the image to play the video.

 
   

Robert Frost is lazy.
Stopping in the middle of the night,
Listening to snow,
What a colossal waste of time.

What has he ever done to make things better?
Has a single hungry child been fed?
Has a single battered wife been comforted?

Go home Robert.
Be with your wife and kids.
Do something useful.
Instead of lazing around in the snow.

And why are you always going off in your own direction?
Stop being such a pain in the ass.

 

Under Water

Under Water
A Critical Analysis of
John Cheever’s Short Story
The Swimmer
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

It would not surprise me to learn that Neddy Merrill, the lead protagonist in John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer, was recovering from a breakdown in a mental institution, nor that he had been there during the late summer months and early autumn of the year of this story.

As the story opens Neddy is at a party at a friend’s house. He envisions a pathway home that would take him through the backyards of his neighbors in the upscale county in which he lives. Hackensack, NJ perhaps, however the place name is never mentioned. Neddy believes he can swim home from the party by going through back yards and swimming people’s swimming pools. He considers himself to be an explorer wending his way along an undiscovered river that he names after his wife Lucinda. The Lucinda River.

Neddy seems excessively happy at the beginning of the story, the author saying things such as “the intenseness of his pleasure […] seemed to flow into his chest” and that at one point he “felt tired” but was “pleased with everything.” As I was reading this early description of him I was suspicious. The way the author describes Neddy seems almost too good to be true – especially for someone who has taken the somewhat odd choice to swim home from a party by going through people’s backyards.

As Neddy makes his way from one neighbor’s pool to the next he encounters old friends and acquaintances who seem happy to see him, welcoming him into their backyards even as he climbs over their hedges unannounced, wearing nothing but a bathing suit. At some of these stops the neighbor says things like “what a marvelous surprise […] let me get you a drink.” Again – I found this somewhat odd as I read it The believability of the narrator started to wane. I came to disbelieve what the narrator told me. Why would, even friends, be so happy to see someone coming over their hedge and swimming across their pool. Why would they not find this odd? If a friend swam across my yard I would be very upset.

The author leads us to believe that the weather at the start of Neddy’s explorations is very nice. As if its some sort of sunny, summer day. However, as the story progresses images of autumn creep into the narration. When a storm blows through one of the trees loses “red and yellow leaves”. Neddy notices this but believes that the tree must have been blighted. The further into the story we get the more images of autumn appear. Additionally the author uses less buoyant words to describe Neddy’s feelings. By the middle of the story the reader begins to think that something is wrong with Neddy. The closer Neddy gets to home the less nice people are to him. At the house next to his but one, the owner with whom he has apparently had an affair, treats him rudely. By this time the descriptions of the weather have begun to be late autumn, the author using such words as “icy water” and describing Neddy as “miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered.”

When Neddy arrives at his house he finds it shuttered and closed. His daughters, whom we are led to believe are at home taking tennis lessons, are nowhere to be found. His wife is not home – how can this be? Is she still at the party?

Late in the story Neddy starts to notice that it is getting darker earlier than he thought it should be. We come to understand, although not explicitly, that Neddy has somehow lost a few months. Almost as if he’s been blacked out – as if he’s been in a coma for the months of late summer and early autumn. As if he’s been in an asylum.

This is a very good story. I would not say it was a great story but I liked it well enough. The story has moments of great subtly, however some of the things Neddy does in the beginning of the story don’t make sense. The way his neighbors react to him coming into their private spaces is so out of the ordinary it stands out. I believe the author did this to hint at the fact that Neddy was so delusional that he didn’t recognize how people were reacting to him. That Neddy didn’t realize that his neighbor’s reactions were in his own head. I just felt that these episodes could have been a little more subtly. I guess, when I read a short story, I like the under-story to remain a little more under the water.

In this story, swimming, I think, represents Neddy’s decent under the water of self-delusion. Near the end Cheever says “He had swum too long, he had been immersed too long” which can be related to his being delusional. The story in the end has Neddy coming to some realization that his home has fallen apart, that his daughters are gone, that his wife isn’t home and that his house is empty. I think this perhaps represents the fact that he is finally coming up for breath. That he is finally starting to get better. As if he’s waking up from a dream.

Animation of ‘That Face’

I made this movie from a poem I wrote called That Face at a website called xTra Normal. Its a pretty cool site I think.

Click on the image to play the video.

 
    I wish I could fly, right now,
back six years ago,
to a crisp fall day with my boy.

To a damp sunlit forest floor,
on a hike, with my girls,
exploring the joy.

Of a late morning’s walk
Finding leaves,
filled with wonder,
At the colors and shapes
and the smells.

My little girl, looking up,
with her discovering eyes,
Saying “Daddy,
remember those shells,

That we picked at the beach,
in the summer?
I remember that place.”

I wish I could fly, right now,
back six years ago,
So I could remember that face.

 

What Not To Do With Your Blog

  • Don’t post things about how bad your day was – it sucked for you – why would we want to hear about it.
  • Don’t post things about what you’re going to do in the future – stop writing blog posts and go do these things.
  • Don’t post things about going to the dentist or grocery shopping or any other mundain task that you wouldn’t even bother your spouse with – they don’t want to hear it for a reason – its boring.
  • Don’t expect your readers to know anything about what you wrote in your blog ten million years ago – as if we’ve been following you – we haven’t.
  • Don’t say your going to post somthing every day and then post for three days and then tell us, six weeks later, that you haven’t posted in a while and that you’re falling behind. We could not possibly care less.
  • Unless you have something interesting and unique to say don’t tell us all about your inane political beliefs. You just clog up the cognitive brain space that could be used for illuminating thoughts of someone who knows what they are talking about.
  • Don’t post pictures of your grandchildren. Your grandchildren are ugly.
  • When you’ve forgotten to post for two weeks don’t post a single line saying I like this youtube video of a cat dancing on the head of pin sticking out of a dogs buttox. We’ve seen it.
  • Don’t post a picture with a link under it saying see this picture in full size and then when I click it the picture is the same size. It doesn’t make any sense and its annoying and you’re waisting our time.
  • Don’t call your blog “Daily grunts from someone trying to become a writer”. First of all – you’re not a writer. Second of all – its not daily. Third of all – “grunts”? Please.

Short and Sweet

Short and Sweet
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Short Story
Little Things
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

At 502 words, Raymond Carver’s short story Little Things packs a wallop. The story revolves around two, apparently young people who are breaking up. They have a newborn baby. As the story opens the man is packing a bag – moving out – the women yells at him saying “I’m glad you’re leaving”.

During the fight the women picks up the picture of the baby that he has laid on the bed. I believe this is a fateful act. The man’s reaction to her taking that picture is to say he wants to take the baby. I don’t think he wanted the baby before she said that – that’s why he had a picture of the baby on the bed as he was packing – but after she takes the picture he wants the baby.

This women, we never learn her name, is a bitch – we don’t learn exactly what the man has done but he’s probably also an asshole of some sort. The baby, an innocent, is the one who suffers from their vitriol.

Once the argument turns nasty – over the baby – the author shows his skill. He deftly leads the reader into a scene of increasing tension. The baby – a beautiful, innocent, sweet baby – is put in danger. This is a brave thing for an author to do. Some writers may shy away from putting a baby in danger for the sake of his literary creation – not so Carver.

The argument moves into the kitchen, near a stove. The women holds the baby over the stove and of course the reader fears that the baby will be burned. The stove is mentioned three times as the argument rages. In a wonderful example of raising the tension in a story the author says “The kitchen window gave no light.” We (as the reader) is reminded about a comment in the first paragraph that there is a “shoulder-high window” in the kitchen. The focus of our fear shifts from the stove to the window. Will the child get burned or fall out of the window.

In the end we do not know exactly what happens to the baby. Carver leaves the issue ambiguous. It is pretty clear though that the baby is hurt but we don’t know if it fell out of the window, got burned by the stove or if these two assholes tore the baby limb-from-limb. We are left to decide for ourselves what is the worst thing that could have happened to the baby. The story ends with the very vague statement “In this matter the issue was decided.”

This story is very short. I feel that it could have been a little bit longer. I would have liked, for example, to have known what the couple were arguing about.

The author builds the tension very well. We worry about the stove, the window, about them grabbing the baby, everything. In the end we fear the worst and are left to decided for ourselves what happened.

I do not find very many poetical aspects to the story. It is written in a pretty straight forward manner. The word choice is pretty plain – perhaps to reflect the bareness of the apartment and the couple’s lives. This is not to say it needs to be poetical but, from my perspective, when compared to a story such as John Updike’s A&P I don’t like it as well. I like the mastery of Updike’s word usage as a personal preference.

Many of Raymond Carver’s stories revolve around similar themes – dysfunctional families, children being hurt in the fallout of a marriage. Carver’s father was apparently an alcoholic so perhaps his choice of story line reflects this fact. This story was first published in 1988 in the book Where I’m Calling from: New and Selected Stories.

This is the second version of the story that Carver wrote. He wrote a very similar earlier story called Mine indicating what he thinks this story is about. Its about how parents, during a separation or divorce will hurt their children. The story need not be read as a literal story – it can be read as an allegory of how people treat their children as things during a separation and hurt them.

I think the story is pretty good if a little short.

A Little Too Cute

A Little Too Cute
A Critical Analysis of
Kate Chopin’s Short Story
The Story of an Hour
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

Ms. Chopin’s short story The Story of an Hour was first published in Vogue Magazine on December 6, 1894. Originally titled The Dream of an Hour the story has been widely anthologized. The story may be one of Ms. Chopin’s most popular. After her death in August of 1904, Ms. Chopin’s stories and books fell into obscurity. By the 1960’s and 1970’s however Ms. Chopin’s work experienced a resurrection, being recognized by some as “…one of feminism’s sacred texts…” (Susan Cahill, 1975). Today her stories, this one in particular, are recognized as powerful early expressions of the true feelings women of the time.

Early in this story, Mrs. Mallard, the lead protagonist, learns of her husband’s death in a train accident. A family friend, Richards, who apparently works with Mr. Mallard learns of the accident “at the newspaper”, hinting that Mr. Mallard owns the paper. The story says Mr. Mallard’s name “lead the list” of those who were killed, reinforcing his important social position.

When she first learns of the death Mrs. Mallard is crushed by the news. She sobs on her sister’s shoulder. Retiring to her room she finds a “comfortable” seat near the window. Looking onto the scene outside her window she sees sparrows twittering in the eaves, she sees the treetops in the square across the street “aquiver with the new spring life”, she smells the “delicious breath of rain….in the air”. Unusual things, I think, for the recently bereaved to notice.

The word choices the author makes in describing Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to the death are very unexpected. Initially the reader is lead to believe that Mrs. Mallard is distraught, however the word choice belies a different reality. The words have an optimistic air, reminding one of freshness and spring, not things normally associated with a recent death.

A feeling comes over Mrs. Mallard that she cannot resist. We see her sitting in her comfortable chair, looking out the window at the pretty sights and we are told that she is holding something back. We are led to believe this something is an outbreak of sorrow, however in a very effective passage, the author teases us, and then finally reveals that Mrs. Mallard is happy. The author says “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully.“ Why fearfully? What is coming?

We soon learn that what is coming is an overwhelming feeling of joy at the death of her husband. She is fearful of what others might think of her, as the author may have been as she wrote those lines. In 1894, a story of a happy widow, one who feels “free, free, free!“ might be somewhat shocking to the reading public. Some researches believe that the obscurity that Ms. Chopin’s work fell into was this resistance to the idea of a women, a married women, having her own feelings outside of her husband.

In the end we learn that Mr. Mallard is not dead. As Mrs. Mallard is descending the stairway, after having been convinced by her sister to come downstairs, Mr. Mallard surprisingly opens the front door. Unaware that there has even been an accident he knows nothing of what’s going on.

His family friend, Mr. Richards, is apparently aware of the feelings that Mrs. Mallard is feeling because he tries to hide her from Mr. Mallard – to no good effect.

In a stunning shock of irony, Mrs. Mallard, whom, in the first sentence of the story we are told, has a heart condition, succumbs to the shock of her’s husband’s continued life and dies on the steps.

I think the story is OK. I do not think it is an excellent story. I found the depth of the woman’s exultation at the death of her husband to be a bit overblown. The husband is described as having “kind, tender hands” and having “never looked save with love upon her”. I found it a little bit hard to understand why she was so overjoyed if he was such a decent guy. Her exultation at his death is more indicative of someone being abused. I feel that it is possible that Ms. Chopin, the author, chickened out. Didn’t have the bravery to actually describe the man as he really was. The wife’s exultation at his death did not coincide with the way Mr. Mallard is described.

Another thing about this story that I find a as a shortcoming is the ironic ending. I am not sure about this but I think that short stories of the time were more formulaic. An ironic ending may have been an expected part of a short story. I think the story may have been better if Mrs. Mallard hadn’t died. Her death doesn’t add anything to the story. Death is bad outcome for her – don’t get me wrong – but it seems to me that worse outcome would have been if he had said “Why is dinner not ready?” when he came home.

I think it’s a good story – not a great story. Its so short that there is not a lot of opportunity to fully describe all the characters, nor the setting. I would have liked to have just a bit more information about Mr. Mallard. What level of society did the family exist in? Was the author saying something about all women of the time or just women of a certain socio-economic strata? I also felt that the irony was a bit too cute.