“But Charley doesn’t have our problems. He doesn’t belong to a species clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live in peace with itself. He doesn’t even know about race, nor is he concerned with his sisters’ marriage. It’s quite the opposite. Once Charley fell in love with a dachshund, a romance racially unsuitable, physically ridiculous, and mechanically impossible. But all these problems Charley ignored. He loved deeply and tried dogfully. It would be difficult to explain to a dog the good and moral purpose of a thousand humans gathered to curse one tiny human. I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quick and vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Playwright and author Anton Chekhov used expressive dialogue and vivid prose to draw his audience deep inside what on the surface might appear ordinary or mundane. Born in 1860 to a former serf, he had few fond memories of childhood, apart from the kindness of his mother. He graduated from medical school in Moscow in 1884, becoming the primary financial provider for his parents and younger siblings. It was during this time, while still practicing medicine, that he began to publish his work as a journalist and to write comedic sketches. In 1888, he published his first significant work, the autobiographical short story, “Steppe,” about the journey of a young boy through Ukraine. Today, Chekhov is known best for short stories such as “The Lady With The Dog” and for his masterpiece, Uncle Vanya. The realist play, to quote the Encyclopedia Britannica, is “a superb study of aimlessness in a rural manor house.” Seemingly simple, yet irresistibly compelling, it portrays middle class life of 19th century Russia. The ending is a masterful example of how writing need not be complicated or contrived to convey drama. If you haven’t read it–or seen it–you’ve missed one of literature’s great works.
Continue reading “Excerpt of the Day: Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya”
Painting by William Herbert Dunton “Vivian on Pet”
I see my life stretched out behind me, a meandering and muddy river—clear enough in some places to see to the bottom. Slow, then hurried. Would you like me to tell you part of it? I can’t tell you everything, I’m not finished yet. And the early years…well, they were typical. You’ll hear only what matters. The truth is I was good at being young. It wasn’t until my youth began to fade I began to suffer. Mostly from the awareness I was not young anymore. Nothing new in that. But I’ll tell you. It’s good to tell a story. That’s how you know you’re alive and that you are really here. Not just dreaming and suffering, back and forth, for no reason. Because no one is just going to come up to you and tell you your reason—you have to watch for it. The universe is noisy, always shouting about this or that, but the mind is noisy, too. If you get very quiet, you will notice signs all around, talking to you. But you’ve got to push your arrogance out of the way first. You’ve got to crack yourself open and let yourself out so you can see. A story will root you. A story will show you what you never noticed because you were too busy looking the other way. Even if it isn’t your story—even if you think it isn’t yours. Every story is about me and you, together. That’s why we all want to be told.
The meandering river. That’s the story. I see it now mostly in pictures. Moving pictures. I’ve been to the movie show—my niece took me to see Star Wars last weekend, that movie with the space cowboys and the princess. I enjoyed it. I did. My movie is in contained here on earth, though, and the voices are distinct. I see myself standing by a seed wagon on a grassy slope. Behind me is a small log house. I hold a bucket in my hand and my strawberry hair has lost its Marcel wave beneath a beat up straw hat with fraying ribbons. Men drive up over the ridge in an old Model T, about a mile away. I see them approach from across the pasture, still green in early spring. It’s a hot afternoon and I’ve already begun to freckle from the sun. I am 34 years old. No child, though still slim as I was at 14. Even then I felt undeserving of my grownup age, such as it was. I’ve advanced far beyond it now! But it seemed to me then that I’d done nothing to earn my years. I’d been married only a year. Not long after the wedding, Nate, my husband, left to earn some money. He was a federal agent—any able-bodied man in the territories could be back then, it seemed like. He’d gone off after some crook in Nevada. I’d wanted to go with him, but of course that was not a consideration he would take seriously. “There’s bound to be shooting,” he told me before he drove off.
Continue reading “Buckets of Rain – Chapter I”