In which I react to the pause ...
Stories are about truth, reason, and kindness
Here’s what George Saunders says in early Feb, 2022:
On another level, what we’re doing here is working on our powers of concentration. We read a story once, for pleasure, in the normal way, feel something, note it, then double back, asking, “Hey, how did that happen?” Things are caused, all things are caused, including, of course “feelings while reading.” When we try to attribute causes, we’re doing, on this local scale, something we do all the time in the real world: noting (believing in) cause-and-effect. Which is powerful, because, it makes the world feel less crazy and random.
What makes these times seem crazy (what has given us all a form of what Joan Didion called “the jitters”) is the sense that the center is somehow not holding; truth, reason, kindness seem to have been overthrown. But in a story, these still reign supreme. Something is perfectly described: we see it; we have been reminded of one truth about the way the world is. A certain event causes another: reason still applies. We find ourselves leaning in to learn something more about a made-up person: this is a species of kindness, proof that active curiosity still lives in us.
But in a story, these - truth, reason, and kindness — these still reign supreme. How refreshing to hear that someone these days, some particular form of writing these days, is actually interested in and encouraging us to do something involving truth, reason, and kindness. Like supporting public education. Like volunteering at our local public schools, or at the food bank, or at the senior center, the library, the adult family home. Like getting out there and mingling with the hoi poli and trying to promote these nice things, these nice attributes of human behavior: love for the truth and the power of reasoning to point out the facts, and then use of human kindness in going forward. Making things work for more of the people more of the time. When the idea of governments making life better for people was the ideal. And when people actually believed in that ideal, and oh by the way, they fought and died for it.
Both my grandfathers and my father joined military service, all three were officers due to having been to college before joining. Fortunately for them, they didn’t die in the wars they were part of, and that was probably part of their higher-ranking posts. Or maybe not, maybe just plain luck.
But I wonder, did they all believed they were making the right choice when they joined and that they joined for the right reasons? My dad, well, there was no choice in the matter. As he tells it, one day he just put on a different uniform, then went to work as usual doing the job he’d been doing in Anchorage since 1940 anyway. Working as a civil engineer first for the Army Corp of Engineers, then for the Army itself.
My dad’s father signed up with the First Washington Volunteer Army in Tacoma,WA in 1898. Such a move, maybe done on spur of the moment, may have simply been another of the many George Clark’s adventures. He must have known when he joined that he would be sent to the Phillipines, but that to him might have seemed as exotic and exciting as the Egyption expedition he went on around 1892. I wonder if he knew anything about how this war got started, or that it was almost half-over in Cuba, half-way around the world from where he found himself. Before, or maybe after the Phillipines, he went to Nome, Alaska looking for gold. Yes, that would have been after the southern Pacific and before surveying on Magnolia Bluff. Before joining the First Washing state volunteers, my grandfather Geo Clark was where? In Wyoming? California? Back East, where he came from?
Dr. CH Doe, my mother’s father, joined the American Expeditionary Force heading to Europe in 1917. Age twenty-seven at the time, Dr. Doe had completed his surgical training and was off the the fields of France to sew up wounded soldiers.
So there’s a lot of material for stories there. History, my history, Stories, of some men who had exciting careers, went far, traveled the world, and their various occupations.
There’s also the stories of their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters — ok, lots to cover. How to do it, and what if anything does the above kind of writing have to do with the “short story” as an art form?
Probably nothing. I’m engaged in writing “memoir” above, I believe. A Story to be read that lives on its own, does not depend on, and may have no relation at all to the others stories where it is collected, except being by one author. Or anthologized as realating to a certain topic. Or event. Or identity.