The Trouble Left Unknown, Kate Chopin’s “The Storm”

Kate Chopin describes her writing method with ease: she writes in the morning, midday, and evening (but as she gets older she holds off on evening writing); she sits by a window where she can see some trees and the blue sky; she writes with a pen and ink from a grocery store; but the greater question is: why does she write?

She doesn’t give us an answer. She gives us an answer that is more satisfactory than an answer: “To seek the source, the impulse of a story is like tearing a flower to pieces for wantonness.” She continues to say that a story, if treated like a painting, won’t get you very far: “a trick, a mannerism, a physical treat or mental characteristic go a very short way towards portraying the complete individual in real life.” In “The Storm” it is impossible. Continue reading “The Trouble Left Unknown, Kate Chopin’s “The Storm””

Minimalism, Art as the Process of Simplification

I’ve always yearned for a minimalistic approach to art in which I use the fewest words or lines to produce a final creation. There is a famous story of Picasso scribbling on a napkin in a cafe. A woman hurries to him and says, “Please, how much for the napkin?” “Excuse me,” he replied. “I want to buy the sketch on the napkin.” “Twenty thousand” “What!?” “Twenty thousand,” he repeated. “But it only took you two minutes,” she said. “No, ma’am, this took me 65 years.”

It will take time and sacrifice. T his story illustrates a message I fail to communicate to anyone,  though I try: somehow it just feels like I’m always learning even if I’m not trying. The more I do it, the more I understand, the more focus and attention and analysis I put in, the better I become, even if it’s a simple line. It’s as if every inch of that line held a year each. That line couldn’t have been drawn without those years and an intensity of concentration (years alone guarantee nothing but decomposition). Continue reading “Minimalism, Art as the Process of Simplification”

If “The Sun Also Rises” Were Written by a Woman

I open my eyes. 6 am. I close my eyes. I open my eyes. 8 am. I’m almost late. I leave at 8:20. I get on the wrong train. There are also delays. I arrive late at 9:10. The old man stole my chair. I got him another one. He gave me my chair back. All is right in the world.

I’m in a detention center. A place for criminals. A place where hearsay is rampant. Mundane but I keep busy. In the world of internet, how can anyone be bored?

Except for the old man. He has no phone, no computer, no internet. He sits. He stalks. He paces. But mostly talks shit. He’s a mystery. Continue reading “If “The Sun Also Rises” Were Written by a Woman”

Escapism in “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

Paul is described to be fragile in physique and in character. “Paul was tall and very thin with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest” with abnormally large pupils and a tendency to wear flowers in his shirt pocket. In class, his teachers called him defiant, disorderly, and impertinent. The issue was that he didn’t hide his contempt; they complained that he made every physical sign—twisting away from their touch, shading his eyes, smiling at the wrong time, twitching, and gazing out the window–of withdrawal. For this, they wanted to suspend him. They wanted to suspend him. They wanted to suspend Paul simply because it made them feel insulted or uncomfortable; Paul was being punished for being slightly out of touch. “I didn’t mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it’s a sort of way I have of saying things regardless.” Is having no regard such an offense? The teachers finally realized that the boy was no defiant but had nervous tics and consequently they felt “humiliated to have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy”. The tables turn.

Paul is an usher at the local concert hall, where he gains access to and frequently enjoys the company of Gounod, Raffaelli, Rick, Augustus, and Alexandros of Antioch. “He was a model usher; gracious and smiling…nothng was too much trouble…as if it were his greatest pleasure in life…and all the people in his section thought him charming, feeling that he remembered and admired them.” Paul felt as if he were the host and was delighted, if not proud of himself and his status.

The juxtaposition of the settings reaffirmed what a place can make a person. In one, he is a mockery where pretentious and false persons openly expose their fangs and claws to rip the young boy to pieces; in the other, the “high” society of art, history, and culture, he is loved and adored. His smile is no longer a menace but of earnestness. Ironically, Paul subsequently looks down patronizingly at his teacher (who had been invited as charity), thinking “what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors?” He decided that she was not “appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit downstairs in such togs.” Paul had become as caustic and false as his teachers. He, like his teachers in theirs, had become too comfortable in his realm. Continue reading “Escapism in “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather”

The Burden and Lightness of Choice in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges

“The Garden of Forking Paths is a ‘garden’ created by P’engs’ great grandfather, Ts’ui Pen, who renounced a life of science and politics to write a novel and construct a labyrinth. Stephen Albert, the keeper of the Garden, enlightened P’eng (and us): that they were the same task. “Everyone imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same.” It is a story of infinity.

The Garden of Forking Paths is the life of choice. It is a story that describes the endless possibilities of a single choice; it tells us all the conceivable outcomes. In one regard, it leads to dread and anxiety and in another, it leads to acceptance: this is just the way things are.

Simultaneously, you should feel the burden of choice an the lightness of surrender. The burden is knowing that you will never be able to have another chance to enact an exact sequence. It is the case that:

a) A -> B -> D  and
b) A -> C -> E  and
c) A -> C -> B -> F

Continue reading “The Burden and Lightness of Choice in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges”

The Mythology of Sexes: Secrets, Lies, and Doubt in Atwood’s “Happy Endings”

The first three sentences of “Happy Endings”:

“John and Mary meet.
What happens next?
If you want a happy ending, try A”

Readers, I did not read A. This essay is on the secrets, lies, and mythologies between the sexes and on what makes up the “good stuff” of writing.

Happy endings don’t make good stories. If life was a story, I’d want a good story, not a plain one, and a story in which all goes well isn’t any good, and quite short, to be frank. When I finally read “Ending A”, Atwood gathered all sources of happiness together into a basket–love, marriage, sex, great friends, great jobs, vacation, kids with help, retirement, and stimulating hobbies—and it wasn’t enough. It isn’t a story you’d read or a movie you’d watch, so how can that be considered a life worth living?  Continue reading “The Mythology of Sexes: Secrets, Lies, and Doubt in Atwood’s “Happy Endings””

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