Thursday, January 16, 2014


Tuesday evening, I met up with the young fellow I mentor (as part of a structured program run by the Charlotte Street Foundation here, which gives artists studio space and opportunities) to go to hear George Saunders at a book reading event.

Will, who is approximately half my age, had bought the book of Saunders’ latest short stories (required) that for $15 that includes two tickets to the talk. He was sweet enough to court me on FB indirectly / directly to come along. We hadn't seen each other since "last year."

Actually, it had been a genuine while.

Neither of us had read anything from Tenth of December, and Saunders, who teaches at the prestigious Syracuse graduate creative writing program, only chose to read from it for about 10 minutes. The fictional selection was of the thoughts of a man whose co-worker had just died, and the text included the funeral.

It was intended as humor; Saunders approaches the fact that we, in his words, are all walking bags of bones, a uniting factor that should compel us to view each other with compassion.

Will laughed at the terse phraseology, lines omitting verbs to add masculine-sounding candor to thoughts like, “Bob = dead.”

I didn’t find it funny that the narrator was making fun of the way the Ukrainian Orthodox officiant was deadpanning about how odd or audacious it was that we “all” automatically took for granted we’d live another second, day, etc.

No, I think of this all the time.


It doesn’t help that less than a month ago one of my first cousins died in his sleep on Christmas morning. He had gone to bed sitting up in a chair because it felt better. His heart didn’t make it, and he left behind a wife and three children.

He was born four months after me.


So, among the answers Saunders gave to the typical array of Book Reading Questions, is the only thing I can remember two days later, after a host of brain-scrambling, at-work, in-office meetings occasioned by out-of-town writers’ visiting, a new launch of a project I’m involved in, and an overall “new day” feeling going on at my company, is this:

“Bob walked in and sat down on the brown couch.” Is it significant that he walked in? No, well,

“Bob sat down on the brown couch,” then. Well, of course it’s “down,” so,

“Bob sat on the brown couch.” Does it matter what color the couch is? No.

“Bob sat on the couch.”

Is there any reason we need to know that?

Then, after “getting rid of all the crap,” as Saunders repeatedly characterized the non-essentials of any narrative, we’re left with “Bob.”

Not much, but it’s not crap.

He said.


This comes from an author who has stuck to the short-story form after having been an engineer and a technical writer who attempted one, Hemmingway-esque, novel back when he was first married, which was an utter failure (the novel, not the marriage, which produced two, all-enlightening daughters who have since, it seems, have given every necessary other meaning to any apparent gap in his life since, etc. and etc. and on and on).

His breakthrough moment came when he overheard his wife laughing when she had discovered some dirty Dr. Suess-style poems and little drawings Saunders had been composing to keep himself sane during business meetings.

The triumph of the kitchen table. And a contrast to her head-in-hands pose Mr. Saunders demonstrated to us that she had had while reading the novel upon request.

So, humor.

And endless revision.

One story he referred to took him 14 years to get right.

Coming from a more theatrical sense of how narrative works, I find pleasure both in reading and writing narrative that describes movement and setting. I should exercise Saunders’ extraction principle on my one, very old short story about “May in the Crescent City.” What would be left after?

May stops being described as walking in her environment? It was important to me as a writer to use that as a way of showing thoughts during the passage of time. Those moments when ideas come, those moments when whose endings' change the opportunities to change ones course's end.

Willa Cather: without talking about that landscape, where is √Āntonia?

Steinbeck: without the corn pone fried in pork grease, how would we know the direness of the Joads’ situation? What is and what is not essential detail?

I haven’t attempted a short story in approximately two decades.

Where I’d carve that time from to do so . . .

I had hoped that going to the reading would be more inspirational than it was. I do feel a little better overall two days later, but the lack of immediate uplift troubled me.

My companion was contrasting the everyday existence of workdays with a vibrant holiday experience at home just weeks ago. I remember being that age; I did the same things, but I at this point can’t tell whether our action-paths are any different or will be. I have hopes, for both, for all. I guess I will have to keep in touch with him for a while : )

Currently he’s writing 500 words a day, at the challenge of a friend who is doing the same.

Here are about 800.


hearmysong said...

I enjoyed reading your 800.

pom. said...

Me also! Related/unrelated? Are you on ig? I've forgotten how to do this!