With apologies... my personal life ground to a dead halt in or around January of 2002, and I haven't quite gotten it back yet.
Garrison Keillor on the craft of compelling fiction and nonfiction...on what we all look for in a story:
"...A story that carries its lesson under its arm is immediately distrusted. Thus we have people who believe, against vast evidence, that the Holocaust is fiction, becuase it has been told to them as a moral fable. The story of Anne Frank, in contrast, is palpably true for its beautiful ordinariness. We are convinced to believe in it not because Anne thinks luminous thoughts ('In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart') but because she gets the story down in detail... We read on and on about the ordinary lives of people in desperate circumstances. One October night in 1942, we learn, these Jews in hiding in Amsterdam enjoy the joke 'What makes 999 ticks followed by one tock? A millipede with a clubfoot,' and a great discovery dawns on us: that the fourteen-year-old Anne Frank is not keeping this diary as a testament against hatred and darkness, that it is simply a writer's notebook; the girl hopes to be a novelist.
"It was the Nazis who made Anne Frank a martyr and a symbol; she herself would much rather have been a satirist... She didn't aim to be a saint; she wanted to write stories in which real people ate the pot roast and ... talked about childhood, lovers, children, loneliness, and old age..."
from his introduction to
The Best American Short Stories 1998
(a rewarding volume of fiction which well exemplifies Keillor's theory of story...)
Bear with him through all the commas, just trust me.
This book is a remarkable example of non-fiction passed through a fictional lens but emerging stronger and, somehow, truer for it.
"As strong as [my mother] was physically, most of the power was in her eyes, small and blue, and when she squinted, she would squint with a murderous intensity that meant, unmistakably, that, if pushed, she would deliver on her stare's implied threat, that to protect what she cared about, she would not stop, that she would run right over you. But she wore her strength casually, had a trusting carelessness with her flesh and muscles. She would cut herself while slicing vegetables, slice the living sh** out of her finger, usually her thumb, and it would bleed everywhere, on the tomatoes, the cutting board, in the sink, while we watched at her waits, awed, scared she would die. But she would just grimace, wash the thumb clean under the tap, wrap the thumb in paper tower and keep cutting, while the blood slowly soaked through the paper towel, crawling, as blood crawls, outward from the wound's wet center."
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
"Jessica...laid her hand upon me -- more people should have this knack -- that was somehow less about comfort, which I couldn't have stood, and more about just wanting to touch me. She did not pat, she did not hug, she did not there-there. She just set her hand on my arm. That's what she always did, she'd touch my elbow or stomach or the back of my neck, as though she wondered what a sad man felt like, so we could be sad together."
"In some ways she was fastidious and in others filthy. She showered and powdered herself with talcum and then she'd put on an unwashed leotard covered in fuzzy fabric blemishes and would dance all day. By evening she would smell like something burning -- a small something, a thing that shouldn't be burned. Not consumed, just a spark at the heart of something densely packed."
Niagara Falls All Over Again
by Elizabeth McCracken
"Her rage flapped awkwardly away like a duck. She felt as she had when her cold, fierce parents had at last grown sick and old, stick-boned and saggy, protected by infirmity the way cuteness protected a baby, or should, it should protect a baby, and she had been left with her rage -- vestigial girlhood rage -- inappropriate and intact. She would hug her parents good-bye, the gentle, emptied sacks of them, and think Where did you go??"
from Birds of America
by Lorrie Moore
Sometimes a story is so much more. And some days, in my life as a writer of fiction, the best I can do is to retype the genius of others and hope -- the way patterning developmentally delayed children may reinforce sluggish neural pathways -- that with practice, my fingers will learn to create simple, elegant prose like this in my own work.
"...Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever."
"And immortality makes this other difference... If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomporably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state, or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment."
from Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis
Are these uniquely Christian sentiments? Is immortality any less important to us in our lives as Jews than it was to Lewis as a Christian? The way we lead our lives makes a difference forever. Just something to think about...
"...[There is a] perverse longing among American Jews for anti-Semitism -- not a truly dangerous amount of it, juust enough to bind the fragmenting community together. A little bit of anti-Semitism functions like the little bit of chicken pox or flu you get from a vaccine, never really endangering your health, but stimulating your immune system to fight off a full-blown case.
During periods of truly virulent anti-Semitism, Jews have wished for nothing more than the tolerance modern America has overwhelmingly provided. Now...they claim to see enemies all around. By any measure, anti-Semitism has decreased substantially since World War II, shrinking from a socially respectable belief to the fever dream of extremists. Yet in a 1989 poll by the American Jewish Committee, 85 percent of American Jews called anti-Semitism a 'serious problem,' virtually twice the figure [of] less than a decade earlier..."
from "Jew vs Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry"
by Samuel G. Freedman
Read a recent article I wrote about the Shoah (Holocaust) here.