Saturday, 26 November 2011

me straight him funny

The problem -- no, not the problem; my problem -- with Frog And Toad Are Friends as a subject for close textual analysis, is that I wouldn't be able to do it without laughing at myself. I have enough trouble taking myself seriously under normal -- even harrowing -- circumstances. So the picture of me poring over these stories comma by comma, discussing how Lobel achieves his comic and revelatory effects ... well, I just had to shake my head. Like taking a spade to a souffle, as someone said, reviewing PG Wodehouse.

So I did a Saki story instead. That's him in the pic looking characteristically somber. He may not be as brilliant as Lobel but he's pretty brilliant. And easier to analyse without feeling like a piece of fruit. Turned out to be a good choice since my instructor is a big fan, and we had a lengthy discussion about Saki's place in the continuum of a certain kind of English humorist stretching from Wilde to Kingsley Amis.

You probably know Saki. A lot of his famous stuff has a surprising chilling flavour -- "Tobermory" or "The Reticence of Lady Anne" or "The Open Window" -- and these are great great stories. But I have a soft spot for his goofy surreal side, where he launches on a fugue of weird fantasy that takes the humour point and just runs away over the horizon with it. Wilde doesn't do that. Waugh doesn't do that. Leacock does it now and then, and Twain, but not as well as Saki. Anyway, it makes me howl with laughter. If you don't know "The Talking-Out Of Tarrington," give it a read.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

keeping up ...

So the first term of my school year is drawing to a close. Where do the weeks go? I am behind on all my assignments -- in class and out -- and I have played hooky a couple times and I owe money to the registrar and the coffee lady and there are three or four things I haven't signed up for. Geez -- you'd think I was I an undergrad again. I have learned NOTHING about time management in all my years of writing and raising kids. I am the oldest nineteen year old in the western world.

Today was a workshop day. I was supposed to present a piece of prose I found life-changing but forgot it was my turn. (Man I am no good at this.) So we spent more time analysing each other's work. It's a fun group -- scary talented and super good-natured. I try hard to keep up with them. Next week we all have to write like Nicholson Baker which is kind of cool. (That's him in the pic. A month ago we had to write like Henry James and that was much less cool.) And, if I remember, I will present a piece of prose. Wonder who I'll pick? Other presented authors have included Paul Bowles and Donald Barthelme and Sheila Heti and important guys like that. Can I do Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad All Year? I am tempted.

Maybe I'll add my work to this blog. You guys can join the rest of the class in laughing at me. Kids today have no respect for their untalented elders.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

free stuff

Here's a touching story involving car repair. It didn't happen to me -- all my car repair stories are grim. But the brother of a friend of mine (see how far removed from me this story is? I do not even know this man) had a simply wonderful moment at an auto body shop recently.

Seems that my friend's brother -- I'll call him Steve -- had had his newish Lexus dinged up pretty good in a parking lot and took it to a nearby garage to get an estimate. The mechanic looked the car over and made some notes and came up with a figure rivalling the Greek national debt. Steve blenched (I have this on my friend's authority -- Steve is a blencher) but -- as my friend says -- what are you going to do? Car repair guys have you where the hair is crisp. And then the owner of the car garage came out of his office at the back and recognized Steve.

Is it ... Dr Curtis? he said, in a thick accent of indeterminate origin -- kind of like the wine I buy. Steve, I should mention (this is the key to the story), is an eye surgeon. The garage owner gestured dramatically to his employee.
This man saved my eyes, he said. I was blind but I can see thanks to this man! He is a genius! How can I help you, Doctor Curtis?
Steve pointed to his car.
The owner shook his head and said to the mechanic, This man does not get a bill! All our work is free. All the parts are free. This man's car will look better than new when we are finished.
It is a privilege,
he continued, to be able to repay a small part of the great debt I owe you, Dr Curtis. I want to say ...
Apparently he went on for about five minutes, causing Steve some embarrassment, and when the dust settled Steve got a new-looking car for free.

Like I said, touching. As my friend was telling me the story I thought: some professions are really set up for gratitude. Take war heroes, for instance. Go into a store with a chest full of medals and some people will fall all over you for protecting their freedom. Crime fighters too -- if Superman walked around Metropolis in his cape and spandex he'd run into all sorts of thankful citizens who would be happy to offer him donuts and drinks and car repair. Surgeons are in this category. Doctor, you saved my eyes (heart, legs, whatever) means you get free stuff.

What if Steve sold shoes for a living? Would the garage owner be likely to honour excellent in-store assistance with free body work? I don't think so. Or take me. My car needs brakes. I have an appointment tomorrow. Will the guy who owns the local Midas dealership turn out to be a grateful ex-creative-writing student who recognizes me and says, Mr Scrimger, you ... improved my syntax! Thanks to you I can write clearer prose. For you -- no charge!

I'm not holding my breath.