Saturday, February 03, 2007

far away you roam

Three things (how I love the number three):

Darrell had an arthroscopy done on his left knee Thursday morning, and all went well. He's currently recovering and will soon be back to 100%. I will post pictures, if anyone wants to see?...

MySpace decided yesterday to stop loading on my computer. I've written to them, and have yet to hear a response. So, if you need to get in touch, please email instead.

I finished reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen just now. What a great story. I love dysfunctional family stories. Here are some parts I especially enjoyed:

It's the fate of most Ping-Pong tables in home basements eventually serve the ends of other, more desperate games. After Alfred retired he appropriated the eastern end of the table for his banking and correspondence. At the western end was the portable color TV on which he'd intended to watch the local news while sitting in his great blue chair but which was now fully engulfed by Good Housekeepings and the seasonal candy tins and baroque but cheaply made candle holders that Enid never quite found time to transport to the Nearly New consignment shop. The Ping-Pong table was the one field on which the civil war raged openly. At the eastern end Alfred's calculator was ambushed by floral print pot-holders and souvenir coaster from the Epcot Center and a device for pitting cherries which Enid had owned for thirty years and never used, while he, in turn, at the western end, for absolutely no reason that Enid could ever fathom, ripped to pieces a wreath made of pinecones and spray-painted filberts and brazil nuts.

"She takes pills for three months, the pills make her unbelievably obtuse, and the obtuseness then defines itself as mental health! It's like blindness defining itself as vision. 'Now that I'm blind, I can see there's nothing to see.'"
Denise sighed and let her cone of flowers droop to the sidewalk. "What are you saying? You want to follow her and take away her medicine?"
"I'm saying the structure of the entire culture is flawed," Chip said. "I'm saying the bureaucracy has arrogated the right to define certain states of mind as 'diseased.' A lack of desire to spend money becomes a symptom of disease that requires expensive medication. Which medication then destroys the libido, in other words destroys the appetite for the one pleasure in life that's free, which means the person has to spend even moremoney on compensatory pleasures. The very definition of mental 'health' is the ability to participate in the consumer economy. When you buy into therapy, you're buying into buying. And I'm saying that I personally am losing the battle with a commercialized, medicalized, totalitarian modernity right this instant.

And one Sunday morning, after he'd stood at the window counting squirrels and assessing the damage to his oak trees and zoysia the way white men in marginal neighborhoods took stock of how many houses had been lost to "the blacks," Alfred had performed an experiment in genocide. Incensed that the squirrels in his not-large front yard lacked the discipline to stop reproducing or pick up after themselves, he went to the basement and found a rat trap over which Enid, as he came upstairs with it, shook her head and made small negative noises. "Nineteen of them!" Alfred said. "Nineteen of them!" Emotional appeals were no match for the discipline of such an exact and scientific figure. He baited the trap with a piece of the same whole wheat bread that Chip had eaten, toasted, for breakfast. Then all five Lamberts went to church, and between the Gloria Patri and the Doxology a young male squirrel, engaging in the high-risk behavior of the economically desperate, helped itself to the bread and had its skull crushed. The family came home to find green flies feasting on the blood and brain matter and chewed whole-wheat bread that erupted through the young squirrel's shattered jaws. Alfred's own mouth and chin were sewn up in the distaste that special exertions of discipline – the spanking of a child, the eating of rutabaga – always caused him. (He was quite unconscious of this distaste he betrayed for discipline.) He fetched a shovel from the garage and loaded both the trap and the squirrel corpse into the paper grocery bag that Enid had half filled with pulled crabgrass the day before. Chip was following all this from about twenty steps behind him, and so he saw how, when Alfred entered the basement from the garage, his legs buckled a little, sideways, and he pitched into the washing machine, and then he ran past the Ping-Pong table (it had always scared Chip to see his father run, he seemed too old for it, too disciplined) and disappeared into the basement bathroom; and henceforth the squirrels did whatever they wanted.

"So, what, you got cigarette burns, too?" Gitanas said.
Chip showed his palm. "It's nothing."
"Self-inflicted. You pathetic American."
"Different kind of prison," Chip said.

The more Gary thought about it, the angrier he got. He sat by himself in his study, unable to stem his rising agitation or to slow the steam-locomotive pace at which his breaths were coming. He was blind to the pretty pumpkin-yellow sunset unfolding in the tulip trees beyond the commuter tracks. He saw nothing but the principles at stake.

It was true that Al had asked her to move the jars and magazines, and there was probably a word for the way she'd stepped around those jars and magazines for the last eleven days, often nearly stumbling on them; maybe a psychiatric word with many syllables or maybe a simple word like "spite." But it seemed to her that he'd asked her to do more than "one thing" while he was gone. He'd also asked her to make the boys three meals a day, and clothe them and read to them and nurse them in sickness, and scrub the kitchen floor and wash the sheets and iron his shirts, and do it all without a husband's kisses or kind words. If she tried to get credit for these labors, however, Al simply asked her whose labors had paid for the house and food and linens? Never mind that his work so satisfied him that he didn't need her love, while her chores so bored her that she needed his love doubly. In any rational accounting, his work canceled her work.

"And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight – isn't that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you're less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn't it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you've experienced before? You see things more clearly and you know that you're seeing them more clearly. And it comes to you that this is what it means to love life, this is all anybody who talks seriously about God is ever talking about. Moments like this."

The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence.

He looked at the window through which he was ready, at last, to throw himself. Or give him a gun, give him an ax, give him anything, but get him out of here. He had to make Chip understand this.
Chip covered his shaking hands with his own.
"I'll stay with you, Dad," he said. "But I can't do that for you. I can't put an end to it like that. I'm sorry."
Like a wife who had died or a house that had burned, the clarity to think and the power to act were still vivid in his memory. Through a window that gave onto the next world, he could still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window's thermal panes. He could see the desired outcomes, the drowning at sea, the shotgun blast, the plunge from a height, so near to him still that he refused to believe he'd lost the opportunity to avail himself of their relief.

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posted by Jennifer at 2/03/2007 02:55:00 PM

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