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Posts Tagged ‘serial novel’

That’s easy.  The most important thing is family.  Maybe that’s a plain and predictable answer, but then, I guess I’m what you would call a plain man.  My name is Christopher, but most folks just call me Chris. I work as a contractor at a roofing company.  I am married to a woman named Stephanie, and we have a son named Calvin, with a baby daughter on the way.  We live in the plains, where my family and Steph’s family and our family’s families grew up.  We are excited for our family to grow because we both come from big ones ourselves. My parents and most of my relatives live here.  We all go to church on Sunday.  And we all have dinner together on Wednesday nights at my mom’s house.  I love that I still eat  dinner in the house I grew up in, with the same old warped linoleum floors and dad’s threadbare recliner and the dusty 15th edition Encyclopedia Britannica that no one ever references.  I love that my kids will grow up knowing that house.  And proud that the roof I put on it will keep everything safe in there for a lifetime.

(Is roofing something you’re passionate about, or do you find your job  to be a means to an end?)

That’s a pretty frank question.  I guess I like that.  No dilly-dallying. So I’ll shoot straight back. Roofing is a day job, sir, and I do it to support my family.  I didn’t get an expensive college degree like Steph did.  But I like what I do well enough.  I like the idea of keeping folks’ heads dry as they eat their dinners and sleep in their beds.  I’m proud to say I’ve roofed every house of the Correnson clan.  And then some.  I guess Steph has enough passion for both of us.  She works at a homeless shelter in town, some big title like Official Events and Programs Coordinator for the Municipal Low-Income Population.  A big title to go with her college diploma.  Since we’re being frank here, I’ll tell you that I don’t much like her job.  She spends all this time and energy feeding people she don’t know, people who just come off the streets, abandoning their homes and families, not even bothering to wash their clothes or sleep in a bed.  What I mean to say is, she takes care of people who don’t even take care of themselves.  It’s not like my cousin Sarah who works in an old folks home- those people can’t take care of themselves.  This is different.  I don’t see much sense in it.   Steph keeps talking about how Jesus served the poor people, so maybe she just understands better than me. She’s always elbowing me and Cal to sit up straight and pay attention in Church, but it’s mostly over my head.  Too much talk about heaven above, but the way I figure, most everything I know is down on the ground.  I like that Jesus was a carpenter though.  I picture his calloused hands working with the grain of the wood.  It’s about the closest thing I have in common with the son of God.  Working with two by fours.

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Of course.  Actually, I have several.  The first that comes to mind is: “Life is movement; it is a quest to widen our hearts and our consciousness.”   Which reminds me what this Central American priest once said, I don’t remember it verbatim, that the horizon gets farther away with each step you take. But that is what the horizon is for…to keep walking.  I love these concepts of motion being a key aspect to life.  I get antsy just thinking about it, like I have to run outside and build or change something.  I actually can’t stay in one place very long without getting anxious, I transferred to a new college halfway through my bachelor’s degree, I love to travel, I love to move.

This is great, what a privilege to be able to explain my thoughts and ideas for other people to listen.  I feel that so many people have great ideas and inspiring thoughts that just never get heard in the global commotion.  Giving people a voice, man, that is really something I believe in- service and justice and good old-fashioned helping out our fellow mankind.

I am leaving in a few weeks to volunteer at an orphanage in Costa Rica.  I’m really thrilled to be a part of this organization that believes in sustainability and responsibility, to be part of a new project that is centered around educating children about world issues and politics so they can grow up to be informed and productive citizens.  Mark Aggrand, world changer!  Wow, I can’t wait to get started.  I have thought long and hard about where and how to serve; I don’t want my time to be about giving handouts to the needy.  That’s another one of my credos:  “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together…”  We are all one human race, right?  I don’t speak perfect Spanish, and my background is certainly very different from these kids I’ll be working with.  But I still consider them my neighbors in the wider sense of the word. And I think we are personally responsible to help each of our neighbors when they are in need.  Again, we’re all one human race, let’s help each other out.

The other quote I think about often is “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”  I just think that most people get so complacent and stuck in these ruts; they lose their sense of adventure and discovery.  I hope I always am hungry for answers and knowledge; I hope I am always foolish like a little kid trying new things or pushing the limits.  This lifestyle is much more appealing to me than paper pushing and mortgages; there is so much out there to discover! I don’t have time to stay here spinning my wheels!

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There are so many things in life that make me happy.  Margaritas.  Dancing. Love poems, sonnets, and prose.  Walking on a sidewalk with click-clacking high heels.  My best friend, soul sister, the fierce and fabulous Kat. The unnerving glow of neon in a bar with sticky floors and loud conversation.  The feeling of sweat cooling after a good hard soccer game.  The feeling when I’m talking with someone who notices that beyond my breasts is a brain and a personality.  Impromptu splurging.  Looking at the city skyline at night.

(There are people who believe that people, places, objects do not MAKE you happy, but rather that happiness is a state of mind that you create for yourself.  What do you think of that?

Hmm.

While I would be unbelievably sad if I could never play soccer or eat mint chocolate chip ice cream again,  I do think that’s right.  Put someone in the isolation ward in a top security prison, take away everything that makes them happy, and they go insane.   Really, could they still be happy if the sun never shined? If they lost everyone they knew?  Could their soul muster the strength to create a synthetic happiness?  But a big part of me thinks, yes, yes.  If you put me in isolation in prison, I would learn to love singing to myself.   I think people feel unhappy in much less extreme situations, as if the little daily dramas and losses combine into a tsunami wave, drowning any chance to smile truly.  But I personally believe in loving and celebrating the little daily victories and delights.  Even Anne Sexton had a horrible personal life but found happiness in her outlet, the typewriter.

(Please explain more about your connection to poetry, as you’ve referenced it a bit.)

Oh, sure.  I’m currently studying English, with a focus on poetry.  Actually, to be even more specific, I’m really interested in modern feminist love poems.  Shakespeare was great, but you just can’t beat someone trying to explain love with things like trains, refrigerators, push-up bras, roller skates.  I love the effort of trying to explain your emotions in words.  It always leaves a little unsaid, but sometimes there’s a perfect connection between writer and audience, the aha!  I totally get what you’re saying! I thought I was the only one who felt that…. And that to me is more important than the words themselves.  This is by far the most nerdy aspect of my life.  I try to avoid bringing it up at bars because I get too excited, and it’s apparently much more attractive to remain cool and detached about things than to be passionate.  Kat and I have talked about this a little, but it’s easy for her because she’s cool and detached about everything naturally.  One time, she went to a hair salon and they accidentally put green coloring in her highlights.  She didn’t lose an ounce of steam, she just got them to agree to a month of free haircuts; and as we walked out, she said, “Lucy, I don’t care what color my hair is, life’s about fun not being serious.”  And you know what?  She looked awesome with those streaks of green.  Often I forget that she isn’t really my older sister, because I look up to her so much.  Too bad I can’t say that about my real siblings.  Maybe I should dye my hair some crazy color.  Just in time for the big Halloween party coming up.  God I can’t wait to see a hundred people crammed into our house…

 

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I don’t know what to say. Well, my name is Clay Berges.

I wake up early every morning, before most people are even dreaming about their alarm clocks going off… I love that time of day when the sky is dusty light blue, when the grass is still wet, when birds are safe to sing without direct sunlight to hide from.  Right now is a great time to work outside, mornings are still chilly enough to induce fog breath, but the days are sweeter and warmer.  I work with plants, in an arboretum. They generally stay in one place and don’t make a lot of demands.  Although they do speak to me: their leaves and flowers and bark tell me about whether they like where they live, if they are hungry or thirsty, if it’s too crowded in bed for decent night’s sleep.  They pay me in an unusual way, with currants and rosehips, brilliant smiling rhododendron blooms, and the shelter of a sweeping pine in the rain. Oh the rain, everyone complains about it because they don’t want to get their hair wet or something.  That’s pretty stupid, I guarantee you most folks got their hair wet in the shower this morning.  They probably went through the trouble of drying it too, even as they looked out the window and saw the grey clouds.  But I guess that’s what you get when most everyone has a job inside, they expect everywhere to be dry and 72 degrees.  Huh.

I don’t work with other people, endlessly yapping about their kids who can kick a ball or how bad traffic was or how they like their particular caffeine fix…No, I prefer to work with sparrows and bull snakes, woodrats, red-tailed hawks,  spiders, bumble bees.  They’re fascinating co-workers, very industrious and helpful in maintaining the life of the park.  There’s a highway along one edge of the park, and I often think about how the cars going by at 60 miles an hour are missing an entire city’s worth of life.  But rarely do they even notice what they are missing…

When I am done with work, I return home to my little cabin in the foothills.  I have had a lot of offers to sell my land, probably to make way for some god-awful development.  Thanks but no thanks, you can keep that check in your breast-pocket. My grandfather owned this land and lived in this very cabin, and he appreciated it and I appreciate it more than some rich shmucks ever would notice all the beauty about it.  My roommate is beautiful, gentle, friendly; she’s incredibly reliable too.  Never missed a meal in seven years.  Her name is Makea, and she’s an Airedale terrier.  She greets me at the door and we usually go straight to romp and walk about in the meadow for a while before dinner; and when I inevitably fall asleep in my chair reading, she makes herself comfortable in a curled up ball on my bed.  Seems rather backwards, I guess, but who minds giving up their bed for a companion?

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(Let me explain a bit about why you are reading this.  I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to declare why you chose/ found/ were given this particular book.  You can read lots of studies about how people do judge a book by its cover, by its author, by the lighting and shelf location, and the timing of fate.  Sometimes you go to reach for an interesting book and someone walks by with remnants of dog poop on their shoe and you are repulsed by the smell, so your hand instinctively shrinks back and thus you have dodged some unknown.  This is not what I am going to be (or am even capable of) explaining.  Instead, let me give you the back story about how this book got to where it is.  It started out as a conversation, a few years back…
I was a radio talk show host; my program was about recent news or studies, anyone could call in or email to share their thoughts, opinions, questions. Usually I have guests, experts or eyewitnesses in a field related to the topic of the hour.  It’s fun, check it out sometime, I’m pretty sure it’s still running.  Anyways, the topic on that fateful day (Of which I have no recollection of the date…Isn’t that funny? A life changing moment and I can’t even tell you exactly when it was. I feel like so often people remember explicit details at important moments, like “I was drafted on October 12, 1940” or, “I met him on the E. line at 67 Avenue on a sunny Monday afternoon” or, “I was brushing my teeth  and wearing my favorite flannel pajamas when I heard the news.”  I’m sure I could look it up in radio archives, but never felt the need to revisit- as if I could forget what happened anyways.) (Ahem, the topic) was celebrating community.
Seems innocent enough, people were calling in about nice neighbors and gay parades and city projects to support the disabled.  I was actually getting really riled up and excited about it, maybe even borderline preachy, telling everyone how important it was for us all come together on the same page about what it means to be a community. I was spewing out words like diversity, municipality, local, global, progress.   Hell, if you didn’t know any better you would have thought I was some Yankee Doodle Dandy about to vomit out a new world motto.  You know, community, I was talking about it, and so was everyone, and we were all on the same page.  Except, about 45 minutes into the show, you-know-what creeped in to the conversation.  (Okay, side note again! Don’t roll your eyes, this one’s important.  I am describing this Unanswerable Question in terms of fear and negativity.  But let’s be honest, my whole career is based on questions, my job is to give people tough questions to think about, the most brilliant people in the world are good at asking questions, we are born asking questions.  I love questions.  But in this case, the question in question (!) didn’t provide me with a sense of academic thirst, or a child-like wonder, or a journalistic squirm.  Instead, I felt ignorant, dread, and impotence at my inability to round together even a reasonable reply.  Something that should never happen to a well-known talk show host on-air.  I was beaten at my own game.  And for that question, while I am grateful for what the search for its answer has taught me, I will forever hold a deep and fearful respect for.) I answered a call from a young man in Alaska. He started with the typical “Thanks for letting me talk, I have been listening with interest about what everyone has said,” etc etc.  It was a little static-y because of the long distance, but suddenly  his words rang loud and clear: “But what if we define it differently?” )

(And then the show was suspended in mid-air for a moment.  And I began to pick up the pieces of my shattered understanding. The thought was followed by eloquent, controversial, beautiful explanation; clearly born out of struggle to understand the concept of community. I sat quietly, while I (and many of the listeners) absorbed the well-thought-out monologue.   As I took in the words, I knew that there had to be more, that out there were other diverse and unsung definitions living among us.  So I began this project: whose results have produced the words you are reading now; to interview a variety of people who define community in different ways, including the caller with The Question; to let them do most of the talking; to put their ideas onto paper and let it be read by the world; to start a million conversations in which we can re-interpret words we think we all define the same.)

(My questions and prompts will be in parentheses throughout their narratives.)

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This is a work of fiction. Enjoy!

(What do you do when a question is unanswerable?  I mean, there are the questions that you simply don’t know the answer to; and there are questions you prefer not to respond to because of sworn secrecy; and there are the standard theoretical questions that are used somewhat as a statement more than a query(see line one).  But then.  There is a separate category  altogether, of questions that are begging and shouting and pleading for answers; questions that make your mouth hang open or your pulse quicken or your mind race in no particular direction; questions that your soul and your brain are stirring to respond to but ultimately fall short of answering.  What do you do when you are fielded such an anomaly? Please tell me because I still want to know, even though the last time that happened to me was years ago.  Please tell me, because if it happens again, I want to be prepared this time so it doesn’t so radically change the course of my life. )

(It turns out that The Unanswerable Question can be surprisingly simple.  It doesn’t have to involve complex social theories or dense scientific data.  Nor does the syntax of the sentence need be long and complicated.  For me and my experience, it was six words followed by a question mark.  But again, let me remind you this is no ordinary question mark.  This symbol of inquiry hung in the air and grew until it filled the room.  It pressed out all other sounds, leaving a suffocating and pounding silence.  It squeezed into my lungs and left me no room for breath, let alone the chance to make a sound.  It blinded, it gagged, it threatened and menaced.  Color faded to black and white, everything in the room was broken, even time was cut open by the sharp edges of the mark.  It took about 2.3 seconds to ask; and eons to process what had been asked.   But before you get grandiose ideas about this seemingly mind-breaking inquiry (too late), know that it was certainly not the first time it has ever been asked.  In fact, it might not have even been the first time it has been asked of me.  And yet, this question did more than move me, it strapped me to a moving U-Haul and shipped me down Highway 70. It’s incredible that this small and otherwise unnoticeable part of my day has meant so much.  And yet here you are, reading about it.)

To be continued…

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