Saturday, March 26, 2011


In another interview with Steven Galloway, he was asked:

It's a very morally engaged book, if that's not too cliched a way to put it. Do you think a writer is obliged to take a moral position? Is that moral aspect important to you as a writer?
It is to me, currently. I don't know if it's important for all writers to do it. It's been an interesting process for me, becoming a writer, in the eight-to-ten years since my first book was published: first you want to become a writer because you think you can, and because it would be neat or something, but slowly over time a lot of the things that you thought would be rewarding about being a writer evaporate. Book tours aren't much fun or glamorous. The attention is self-defeating in a way. There are two valuable things that are left then, at least to me as a writer: first, you get to spend most of your working time in a room by yourself living in an imaginary world - something that appeals to me greatly, and a second thing is that you get to be involved in that larger world conversation about what we can do while we're on this earth. You don't get that in many professions. If you're an orthodontist you perform a great an noble service, but you don't get to participate in the same way in that conversation. What keeps me in that little room by myself is that conversation - so it's important to me.

I italicized that section at the end above.

It's so important to me, too.  I miss, miss so much regular participation in that conversation.  Sipping from the pools of others through their blogs, and contributing to my own.

A True Day Off

Well, maybe not entirely 'true' because I'm not entirely free of obligation.  The Stupid Dog is on my lap, shuddering, or licking my hands as I try to type.  So now he's needy.  The cat stirs, and like an explosion he's up to go harass her.  Thanks, Sheila.

I've taken him out a jillion times and he refuses to eliminate.  He also only does one function at a time, so pooping and peeing require separate trips.  The trouble is, his cues are so muddled, that whining can mean, "I'm bored" "I'm hungry" "I'm lonely" or, "I need to go potty."  I've logged thousands of miles already in trips out the back door to his toilet.  I just get tired of taking him out to have nothing happen.  But my carpet is held hostage; though to anyone looking at it, it's no longer worth protecting.  The hostage is already dead.

Fridays are my days off from my job as a home health physical therapist.  So far it's been rare that it's been a true day off.  Between the phone calls it takes to hold everything together, coordinate care, communicate with team members, request orders from doctors, and wend my way through the maze of the computer program and still come up with a note that summarizes and convinces Medicare that my home visit was skilled and necessary, I usually have hours of work left to do on a Friday.  Even if I get up really early, and even if I was up really late the night before.  And, even on the Fridays when I'm not the one living with the boys, I pick up Scott from school which is only half-days on Fridays.

This date things lined up well for a Day Off.  It's spring break, so no school pick-up, and Gary took the boys on a spring trip.  I've ruefully noted that it's too bad I have to waste that time with working, and it's very true that my evenings have been consumed with work.  But I made a big push last night and didn't even have to work that long, before managing to finish most of those responsibilities and be able to feel that today really is a Day Off.

(I hope Gary and the boys don't come home early and spoil it)

The dog is making very ominous gastric noises and spasms like hiccups.  I don't even want to think about what that might mean, especially since he's on my lap and on my bed.

I let my Day Off agenda choose me.  My bookreading group is reading "The Cellist of Sarajevo" by Steven Galloway for our discussion book this April.  I actually nominated this book the cycle before this last 18 months ago and it wasn't chosen.  I had the book and so decided to read it anyway, 18 months ago.  So I wasn't in that big a hurry to get it from the library when this month rolled around.  Until I realized that I'm the facilitator for the month of April.  So I got it again and started reading.

I shouldn't be surprised anymore by the enriching a second reading can give.  I read it through quickly a year and a half ago, because it does read pretty easily.  This time,  I've been able to pause and notice some of the questions the author poses, and the ways his characters mull them over.  They're questions we consider even under the best of circumstances, so it's not just a book about life under siege.

The author grounds the story/stories firmly within the setting of the city, naming streets and landmarks, neighborhoods as his characters walk through them.  Oftentimes I breeze past place references, but for whatever reason I went searching for street maps of Sarajevo.  Now I could locate his people, and walk the streets with them.

Which makes the effect more shocking and ominous.  It forces me to consider how thin the veneer of civilization is.  If it could happen in Sarajevo, host of the 1984 Olympics, it could happen in any city.  The objects of civilization around us seem to carry their own inherent stability and sense of permanence.  I think unconsciously my whole life I've been comforted by this illusion, as if the roads, buildings, museums keep chaos from happening here.  Their underlying message seems to whisper "It can't happen here."  But as Galloway said in an interview, "These things are able to exist through an agreement human beings make as to how we treat each other."  It's a little breathtaking to realize the implications of this.  Things that appear so solid are built on the underlying quaking earth of an agreement.  In Sarajevo that agreement was broken and not only were over 10,000 of their residents killed (many, many of them children) and many maimed, and orphaned, but their museums and National Library, which contained irreplaceable, priceless texts were destroyed.  (The besiegers shot at the firefighters who came).

It's horrifying to me to think of making that leap between the kind of normal we in the West are accustomed to and don't even notice, to the kind of normal which is running across intersections and bridges for fear of being shot, shells exploding just because you've queued up for bread or water, walking past husks of buildings that used to be the university, or the National Library.

One of the questions that is ongoing for his female character Arrow is that of hatred.  The author visits and revisits the evolution of her thoughts, as she considers her role as a counter-sniper and her motivations.  Periodically she reassesses what it is that distinguishes her from them, "the men on the hills."  At first she tells herself that they shoot and shell civilians, while she only kills soldiers.  Later she tells herself that the men she is killing could have killed many people in her city.  Later she acknowledges in her heart that she is killing them because she hates them.  BUT, what's interesting and novel about this to me, is she goes further and considers why she hates them.  And her answer is that she hates them because they made her hate.  Them.  Furthermore, she realizes that the men on the hills told her she hated them by giving her reason, and in that sense have dictated what she feels and what she does.  She notices that she didn't fight this very hard.  Later in the book the theme is returned to:  That what is happening is a result of the men on the hills needing the people of the city to hate them.

The author writes:  Do the men on the hills hate her?  Or do they hate the idea of her, because she’s different from them, and that in this difference there might be some sort of inferiority or superiority that is hers or theirs, that in the end threatens the potential happiness of everyone?”
  Years ago, when my children were barely out of toddlerhood, I noticed something.  I'd take them to the park, or library where there were other children.  Sometimes when walking past another mother and child I'd see the children look at each other.  And I could feel something exchange between them--oftentimes a sort of spontaneous mutual hostility.  They'd never seen each other before, but their emotional landscape was already tipped toward dislike.

It makes me wonder if that's the "agreement" upon which our justification for the wholesale murder of war rests.  It occurs to me that war is kind of like civilization, in that it rests upon an agreement of how we treat each other, and it too has an illusion of permanence and stability.  Maybe the word "inevitability" is what I mean.  God knows there are enough resources devoted to it; so much so that it's become an industry of its own.  Run by people whose own self-interest depends upon it.

What really amazes me is that people aren't sickened enough by the result of just one wounding to shudder away in revulsion and resolve to never do that again.  And yet we do.