A quiet, hot afternoon, and I'm sitting on the floor of my living room listening to the ticking of the clock on my bookshelf. I am alone, except for the fan rotating above me and fruit flies entering from the hallway, from the kitchen. I also have my thoughts of other people. The thoughts are keeping me company, and mostly, I don't mind just thinking. Sometimes it is restful. Today, it's a sort of rest.
I didn't want to read this week because I was tired; I wanted to take a break. So I pulled Cathedral from my bookshelf, hoping I could just read two or three stories and believe that it was enough. Besides, Cathedral isn't a novel, it's just short stories, and I'd already read maybe three of them. The collection includes "Where I'm Calling From," and I attended a seminar that was based on this short story but I'd never actually read it all the way through.
Carver is someone I read when I want to get better at writing. You see, sometimes I remember that writing doesn't just happen. Good writing doesn't just happen.
Much of my first-draft writing is utter crap; all the wrong words get voiced, heard, and returned to me with criticism or confusion (texts are often "first drafts," as are emails, letters, phone calls), and then I'm left wondering how to fix it all--or if it can be or should be fixed. What I mean is: good writing of any sort isn't supposed to be easy, and right now, I'm very aware that it's not. But, Raymond Carver is an author that writers should go to for an example of stellar, specific, sharp writing/ storytelling.
So. The opening lines.
"J.P. and I are on the front porch at Frank Martin's drying-out facility. Like the rest of us at Frank Martin's, J.P. is first and foremost a drunk. But he's also a chimney sweep. It's his first time here, and he's scared. I've been here once before. What's to say? I'm back. J.P.'s real name is Joe Penny, but he says I should call him J.P. He's about thirty years old."
So we know that J.P. and the narrator are the main characters, but Frank Martin is the host, so he's also very important. Since the story begins at his drying-out facility we can guess at the central problem, as well. You can figure that out for yourself. The story moves forward from the opening lines. By the end of the story we know that the story is more about the narrator than it is about J.P., even though we don't know the narrator's name. Go figure.
I mentioned this short story to a friend of mine who also writes, and knows good writing when he sees it. "I find Carver so hollow," he texted to me.
I asked him what he meant, (he hasn't responded). I want to know whether he thinks Carver himself is hollow, or merely his stories. Does he think that his storytelling doesn't get to themes that go deep enough--at least not deep enough for him (my friend)? I don't know, I don't know. But if this friend is right, and Carver is hollow, and the stories are hollow, then. . . why? Isn't hollow-living a theme in itself? It's real. I don't like that it is, but it's real. Hollowness speaks to, well: the desire to be filled. And boom. That seems pretty deep, pretty heavy. That's human.
Read Carver, decide for yourself. He's one of the great writers, you can find him at any bookstore.
Cheers and blessings, everyone. Love to you all, and live fully. (Find joy). Yes?
next week's book: Ibid. to last week. Who knows?!