I found the short story “Things You Should Know” by A. M. Homes not only an interesting read, but an exercise in equivocation. Interestingly, this equivocation works to offer the reader multiple interpretations of the story. With this view in mind, it is quite possible to interpret the story based on the way in which Homes formulates the title. She does not use an article in front of the word ‘things’, and so, ‘things’ take on a universal quality. The title is not specific and can be applied to anyone, in any situation, and at any given time. Also, the narrator does not tell us her name, and neither are we given the names of the other characters. Once again, this lack of specificity, allows us to apply the story directly to ourselves. Hence, the story is not necessarily about following a list; instead, it is about the different ways in which people deal with knowledge or the lack thereof.

As the narrator reflects on her childhood, I am acutely aware that at that stage in her life, her actions are reflective of so many people who know what they should do, yet choose not to act on what they know. For instance, even though the narrator knows that holding the heating pad too close to her ear will burn her, she does not act on this knowledge. She holds it down on her ear regardless of the fact that she knows what the consequences are for doing so. Again, knowing becomes a general knowledge—it is common sense. Furthermore, this kind of knowledge cannot be found on a piece of paper. We should ‘know’ when to act on what we ‘know’ for our own safety as well as for the safety of those around us.

The story also suggests that with knowledge comes power. In many instances, some people who possess knowledge or the “know how” wield a certain kind of power over those who do not possess the knowledge that they have. Sometimes they even go out of their way to make people feel inferior because of the fact that they ‘know’ more than others do. The narrator’s illness places her in a position where she is absent from school for quite some time. Hence, she is placed in a position where she feels inferior because she lacks the knowledge that the other students now possess. Furthermore, the students refuse to share with her what was on the ‘Things You Should Know’ list because having the knowledge that she lacks, gives them power. The narrator tells us that “. . . they’d gotten the information sheets and we no longer spoke the same language” (Homes, 375). But it is ironic that knowledge creates a language barrier, since “knowing” should have enabled them to communicate more effectively with her.

Finally, as I read through the story, I was able to reflect on how we react when we are placed in certain situations. These are situations or circumstances where we do not possess a particular kind of knowledge, which someone else deems important for us. Do we, like the narrator, spend our whole life searching for this knowledge that is based on a ‘Things You Should Know’ list? The truth is, if we spend our time searching for someone else’s version of what we should know, then life may just pass us by. The narrator’s predicament reinforces the view that we cannot live our lives based on a list that tells us what we should know. Furthermore, knowledge is not just theoretical but practical. It comes not just with age, but with maturity and experience. The more mistakes we make, the more we will learn from them. And with each lesson, we will be better equipped with the things that we should know. In all fairness though, at the end of the story the narrator comes to some level of maturity because she states that even though there is a list, it is one that you make yourself. Hence, it does not have to be a physical list or something tangible. It is knowing right from wrong and acting accordingly. Essentially, it is living, and through living comes knowledge that can be applied to our individual circumstances.

Advertisements

via Daily Prompt: Calling

“Calling”

As a Christian, I will look at “calling” from a biblical perspective. I believe that the greatest “calling” humanity can ever aspire to have is the will to love others. God has placed this calling, this will to love others deep within the confines of our hearts. But how do we unlock this calling, especially when selfishness and narcissism is constantly on display all around us? The key lies in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, recognising that He first loved us and paid the ultimate price for our sins with His life. Furthermore, a true and sincere recognition of God’s ultimate sacrifice for us will enable us to love Him with our whole hearts, souls and minds, and by extension, we will then heed the call to respond to an inner prompting to love others as we love ourselves.

via “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”

I have a deeper appreciation for graphic fiction after reading Roz Chast’s Graphic Memoir :
“Can’t we Talk About Something More Pleasant?”

“My parents and I never discussed death [. . .]”

In her Graphic memoir, Ros Chast executes an interesting narrative style by interweaving both humour and pathos. While charting the course of her parents’ lives– from birth to death, her prose takes on a certain urgency, which forces the reader to unpack several layers of comedic language to explore one of mankind’s deepest and oldest fears– Death. For, although we know that death is a natural progression—the ultimate ending to life’s journey, no one is ever quite prepared for that final moment. Still, it is this fear that reminds us of our humanity, and that we should all live our lives to the fullest because life is such a transient thing.

I found the short story A Conversation with My Father quite an interesting read. The conversation between the narrator and her father reveals their differing expectations of what a story is and what it should do, and the details that it must include or exclude. On the one hand, the narrator feels that a story must be open-ended, one that allows for renewed chances and opportunities for her characters. On the other hand, the narrator’s father believes that a story should follow a rigid plot that linearly points out what happens to each character. For him, a story should follow life’s natural progression, a progression that ultimately leads to death. Another interesting element of Paley’s story is its meta-fictional quality. One can easily follow the narrator’s story and at the same time reflect on the rules of story writing as she converses with her father.

The story that the narrator’s father asks for is reminiscent of writers of the past and also of his expectations of what a story should be. The narrator’s father wants a story to follow certain guidelines. For him, a story should pay special attention to key details of the characters’ lives but most importantly, it should follow a linear progression of ordinary life that ultimately ends in death. On a more symbolical level, he now wants his daughter to write this kind of story because he is now at the last chapter of his life, a chapter where death constantly looms over him. It is this impending tragedy that he wants his daughter to be prepared for and ultimately face.

Unlike her father, the narrator does not feel that she should be confined to a rigid system of rules for story writing. As a writer, she should be able to write a story that offers different possibilities for the characters and the readers. This view is reflected in how she describes her father in the opening lines of the story. She toys with language by using cold, harsh imagery to portray her father’s decaying physical health, but then she tempers it down by showing that despite his physical deterioration, there is still hope for him. Despite the malfunctioning of his “bloody motor”, his mind has not decayed; it is still youthful and quite sharp. By portraying the sharpness of her father’s mind she also writes her own story, one that allows for the possibility of hope for her father. She refuses to stare tragedy in the face. She does this by escaping in the stories that she creates. This portrayal of her father goes back to her idea of what a story should be . Stories should be open-ended, it should allow for second chances, progress and hope. In essence, a tragedy can be turned into a learning experience. One in which a person or a character in the story can become a better person because of the tragedy, unlike life, her characters can rewrite their own stories.

Another interesting aspect of A Conversation with My Father is the meta-fictional element of the story. The narrator narrates her own story within the confines of a short story, and tells another story as well. The story that she narrates represents the relationship between a mother and her son, and the choices that were made for the relationship to work. The mother in the story is very misguided, and the relationship is somewhat dysfunctional since the mother became a junkie in order to remain close to her son. Nevertheless, she made a conscious decision to compromise for the sake of her son. Similarly, the narrator and her father also share a relationship that involves compromise as well. The narrator compromises with her father because of the severity of his illness. She gives into his wishes, and allows him to have the last say even when he is wrong.

     A Conversation with My Father raises a lot questions about the genre of the short story.  How much details can one put in a short story? The genre does not allow time and space for a lot of personal details about the characters, and so, much of this information has to be left out.  Furthermore, this particular story is deliberately told from the point of view of the narrator who is also a writer confined within this story. For, although she maintains her individuality in writing a story that is open-ended, she still has to abide by the rules and expectations of what a short story should be.

Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” presents to us the complex nature of love. The complexities of love are neatly packaged in a dialogue between four people who are supposedly in love. The dialogue explores different perspectives on what it means to love. The characters reveal that love is not always warm, gentle or kind, but it can also be very cruel and transient. It is this dichotomy between a love that is pure and simple, and one that seems evil and fleeting that spurs the discussion of what we talk about when we talk about love. However, as the characters try to understand love and its many complexities, their initial light-hearted discussion becomes serious, dark and confusing. The shift in the mood and tone of their discussion denotes that love is indeed a mystery and it cannot be fully comprehended or even explained.  In essence, then, Carver not only uses the story to question love but also to meticulously demonstrate that there is no single or specific definition of what love is. Furthermore, since the human mind does not possess the mental capacity to fully comprehend what “true love” really is, any attempt at explaining “it” will only confuse us.