Saturday, February 27, 2010

The mystery man

It's around 10 o'clock on a Saturday night. I'm sitting at my kitchen table, writing this blog entry. I spent most of the day shoveling snow, then I drove around the wet roads of Passaic County, New Jersey, stopping to eat and look at the sky. Before coming back home I picked up some dry cleaning then settled back home to read The New Yorker and three short stories written by Richard Bausch. It was an okay day but not great. Someone called me mysterious this week after a couple of drinks. I don't think of myself as mysterious. On Thursday, the person who was responsible for laying me off a year ago clapped his hand on my shoulder, shook my hand and smiled at me during a break in a series of meetings. I wanted to hate him but I couldn't. I stood there and smiled back. Big man. My little Japanese maple was completely covered by yesterday's snow. Who knows whether or not it will survive.

Tell me it isn't strange for me to sit here and write. What am I asserting in presenting myself this way? These words, this ephemera. Simultaneously reaching out and putting up a veil. Controlling the presentation. I don't know whether I'm less interesting than the things I make up, more interesting, or really just about the same. Maybe I'm not making any of it up. Maybe this is my life.

The three Richard Bausch stories appear in a new collection called
Something Is Out There. The stories I read were about a dying mother, her son and her son's boyfriend, a sad, forced day-long sexual liaison between two married people who'd met over the internet, and a family caught in a house in rural Virginia during a blizzard after the father was shot and taken to the hospital. This last one is the title story. At the end, the mother is standing at the upstairs window staring out into the snowy night with a loaded pistol near at hand, waiting for someone. The stories are accomplished, after all, it's Richard Bausch, award-winner, distinguished teacher, collector of accolades from his fellows, a real writer's writer. The stories moved me, the characters were recognizably human, the predicaments rose above cliché, the little epiphanies -- is that what you effin call them? -- came along at just the right moment.

Even so, I thought to myself, why these stories? I mean, did they choose the writer or did he choose them? Had he discovered something, or was he exercising his talent, or just going to work so he could fill up a book? These were very good stories. I envied Bausch his professionalism. Very good stories indeed. I closed the book after reading three of them and felt my face flush. Maybe this is my life, to read fifty, sixty pages, reflect on my life, and sit stunned looking into the fire.

After a spell, I read Louis Menand's piece in
The New Yorker about depression, in which he reviews a slew of books about the pharmacological approach to treating the disease and the proliferation of known pathologies, as evidenced by the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The essay dovetailed nicely with the Bausch stories and my own state of mind. I thought to myself, though I've known grief and sadness, I would never allow myself to be classified as clinically depressed. Instead I would get angry at the world even while falling in love with the people I meet. Welcome to my waking hours, spent in trying to reconcile the two opposite emotions. Maybe that's why I write and why I'm so effin mysterious. To myself and to others.

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