Friday, August 30, 2013

Spooky Time

Part of my summer’s reading list:  Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (actually a re-read), Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, and Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.  I’ll genre them as ‘spooky stories’.

I’ve never had the type of imagination to be creeped-out by a book.  In the back of my head I’ve always remembered it was a book.  The only book that frightens me is The Revelation of Jesus Christ.  Maybe this has to do with the sobering complexities of being a German-American.  Who knows?

Frankenstein makes me think and feel every time I read it.  Aside from the rambling monologue of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Shelly puts it out there.  She challenges readers with ideas about science and creativity: ethics and the lack thereof, how a creation can develop a life of its own, unintended consequences, and individual responsibilities.  Remember, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster.  His motivation and the monster’s are on display, as is the motivation of the narrating letter-writer Robert Walton.  Walton is on his own quest to change the world and fails.  Either this is a big oof-da for Walton, or a blessing in disguise.

Ghost Story came highly recommended and I bought it new (a rarity in our ever-recovering economy).  This was the first work by Straub I’ve read.  I wanted to like the story more than I did.  Without giving spoilers, the underlying tale is about a small fraternity of men, the Chowder Society, who entertain themselves (though entertain isn’t necessarily the right word) with ghost stories.  What they are doing is avoiding the question, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”  They don’t answer that because the worst thing they’ve ever done is a shared experience.  Instead, they tell one another about, “…the worst thing that ever happened to me.”  Soon there appears a prescient element that begins haunting them and the town of Milburn, New York.  Interestingly, this presence is interwoven in each of their individual stories.  The plot involves revenge and (remember, no spoilers) several something elses.

Finally, in the free pile at the college, I found Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.  The only reason I picked this up is because I had previously read The Things They Carried (a great guy book if ever there was) by the same author.  I had a hard time setting down In the Lake of the Woods.  The level of diction is brief and sharp, the story is ambiguous, and what happens at the end?  It is timely and brings to mind just what happens when a rising star politician (John the protagonist) has his rear-end handed to him because of a scandal.  There’s guilt and shame (spillover from an event in Viet-Nam), and the entropy of a sociopathic magician-man with daddy-issues who decides to run for higher office with a wife mostly along for the ride.

Each of these novels are non-linear.  That’s English Major jargon for ‘frame story’.  In other words, it’s not A happened, then B happened, then C.  Rather, the authors decided to start with C or B, or B-and-a-half, and then move back, and forth, in time, completing the action in different ways with different devices (yawing yet?).  In even other words, the writers are messing around with time.  And there’s the rub.

One way to look at life is to see it through the prism of accumulated experiences.  And isn’t it true that some memories are just as vivid today as they were twenty years ago?  Or what about the impact of past actions upon the future.  Ever play, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both’ (Robert Frost, btw)?

So that, while the flesh lives in linear (A, B, then C) mode according to the turns of sun and moon, the mind itself doesn’t always play by those rules.  In any given day, my brain wanders the hallways of what I have already experienced, while all around me life happens and hopefully, wisdom allows me to appreciate that what I do or fail to do today can impact others years from now.

And remember, these are spooky books.  They’re meant to bring horror and suspense to the reader.  They would be far different had the writers decided to go in a straight line.  Stop and think about how many horror movies involve prior events.  And thus, the idea of being haunted by something in the past, the specter of regret, the question of fate, and the gamble of unintended consequences based on decisions only partially of your choosing.

By the way, The Book of Revelation also hops around in time.  And let's not forget the unbreakable law of the harvest which simply states, 'As a man reaps, so shall he sew.'   Just sayin’.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CANCER UPDATE #3 - Cancer Makes You Good Lookin'!

So there I was, staring at the internet long enough to start having nerve-tremors when I happened to see August is almost finished.  But I haven’t even done three blog posts this month and my goal is one a week.  Apologies, shame on me… and that said:

As an adult, I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve been complimented on my appearance.  So maybe I'm a bit more masculine looking than truly handsome.  Case in point, I have yet to be ‘hot peppered’ on Ratemyprofessor.  And on those occasions when I do shave, daughter #2 tells me I look like a turtle.  Thanks sweetie pie.  Not that a well-grounded guy like myself needs such validation from outside sources.  I'm content in my own skin; I’m just sayin’.
All this, however, changed in June after I received my illustrious cancer diagnosis.  Now, I can’t go anywhere without someone saying, “You look good.”  And I’m all like, man, I wish I was single.  I mean church members, family, friends, and people at work are constantly telling me, “You look good.”  The next time one of those model-talent agencies comes to the local mall to stalk recruit teen girls, I’m going.  I could use a second career and who knows, maybe I'll make the cover of some magazine or appear in a bundle of stock photos companies buy for advertising.

I’m also seeing a new beauty line product.  Forget botox.  You want to look good?  Go get yourself some cancer, and in no time at all you’ll be having compliments out the wazoo, wherever that is.  I always wondered where the wazoo is…  Whatever it is, I’m confident mine is good looking because, like I said, cancer makes you good looking.

I know it's a kindness when people say, "You look good."  I think it's a combination of people wanting to encourage and not really knowing what else to say.  I appreciate it.  It's better than people saying, "Your skin looks like ash today.  Did you just have chemotherapy?"  It is what it is and, again, kindness is always appreciated.

Anyways – treatment four was about the same as the other three, except the day after.  I had to drag myself through the day, and only barely.  Mostly, I made the recliner stay still, though I managed to complain quite a bit.  I find complaining helps when you don’t have the energy to do anything else.  Still, no nausea, no squirts, no mouth sores - just extreme fatigue, a queasy stomach, and fried tasted buds that return after four days.

For the first three treatments I told myself, "This isn't that bad," and, "You'll get used to it".  Now, I'm not so certain.  It is about that bad, and only a unique constitution could get used to it.  It would be like getting used to the flu combined with a really rough whiskey hangover.  Yes, I remember those really rough hangovers of my misspent youth and, yes, I remember having the flu.
In a way, the, "You look good," comments from others are like me telling myself, "You'll get used to it."  It's nice to say and I want to thank my subconscious for at least attempting to encourage my own self.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Solitary Act?

A Charles Bukowski quote from an interview, 'Sunlight Here I Am:  Interviews and Encounters":

- When failures gather together in an attempt at self-congratulation, it only leads to a deeper and more, abiding failure.  The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.

Looking Forwards and Backwards

The large Autumn spiders (Philodramus dispar, Wolf, Orb Stretch, and Sheet Web) are already spanning doorways and trails around here.  I've seen the lines of geese flying south.  The pungent hickory nuts in their green shells are also falling.  By these signs I portend an early Fall.  And some days, really, what have we to do but guess of things to come?

I like Autumn.  When the summer moisture levels and temperatures align, the blaze of colors which erupt from the sumac and maples and oaks is unlike anything else.  Besides that, it just smells good.  I suppose it’s the scent of decay, and what does that say about me?  But also, in that odd manner, the scents bring back memories of younger, easier days like certain songs I've not heard in years.  When they play I recall events and faces long absent.

I grew up in the woods, on the outskirts of town with acres of fields and Ozark forests in which to wander and camp.  Caves and bluffs and root chambers along river banks gave me and a duo of friends all we needed in terms of adventure and satisfaction.  This was in an era of pre-parental administration of every moment of a teen's summer and a smuggled fifth of peppermint schnapps might appear right about dusk (that operation a tale unto itself).  Fall camping meant fewer insects and, for a week or two, rivers still warm enough for swimming.  During two or three or four day excursions time itself could be ignored and when was the last time that happened?  Things just were, and it was glorious.
These points in time, brought back now by a sniff of brown acorns and leaves soon to turn, had, themselves, no true point.  This may be what I miss most of all.