I’m going to get back to the title at some point. A couple days ago, I ingested more than the suggested amount of pre-workout and I was stuck with an idea for a post. However, I then decided I didn’t want to write while under the influence of caffeine so I should actually exercise like I intended to. Which I did. And then once I was finished, I didn’t have the drive nor desire to finish writing what I started. I kind of planned to just delete this open tab so I wouldn’t be taunted by the unfinishedness of it all. That was until I had a dream last night.
The song that inspired me while on the pre-workout was from Hamilton. The dream that inspired me to continue what I started was also about Hamilton. Except, I was dead. I don’t know how I knew I was in purgatory, but I was. It was distinctly neither heaven nor hell, just purgatory. I explained to my wife this morning as much as I could remember and I remember even less now. All I can say is that I wasn’t in the land of 1776, I was not part of the American Revolution, I was just part of a stage show. What’s the better word for an extra nowadays? A background artist. I think that applies to movies and tv, not stage plays. I was a member of the ensemble. You could see me in the background of pubs, drinking beer, staring around aimlessly while plans for a revolution were being rapped/sung. I was in the room where it happened, but it wasn’t that interesting because I was aware I was in a musical and I had no escape. I know purgatory is a Catholic idea, and I don’t even know much about it. I know it’s kind of the flux state before you get sent to Heaven, but like, I don’t know why you get sent there, what happens there. I say all this because I barely know anything about it, and yet I was certain I was in it in this dream. I couldn’t escape, I just had to go through show after show, knowing that eventually, I’d be moving on to the next step. Which I think I assumed was Heaven, more so me being optimistic than Hell.
As I just typed that out, it became painfully obvious that this was my brain trying to process my current life of funemployment. Where I’ve been talking to a specific job for two months, have done 3+ hours of interviews, got promoted to the next stage over and over, and still waiting for the finality of it all. Realizing that is so much less exciting than wondering why I was in some between-worlds Hamilton-inspired purgatory. Ugh, self-reflection can be so boring. Plus, hyphenates can be so overused.
I was going to dive deeper into the dream and comment further on it, except what’s the point? I understand the dream, I understand the message. It was more just annoying that I’d wake up, close my eyes again, and immediately start hearing “Raise a glass to freedom” in my brain. Hamilton is a great musical, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re constantly in the background, you can still get tired of the songs. I also write these blogs to attempt to provide myself some escapism from my funemployment woes, and I thought sleep was part of that too. No, nope, it isn’t. Now my dreams are just barely veiled metaphors and parables and fables and blah blah blah that are not letting me get any distance from my thoughts. Let’s move on, let’s address this title.
I am still reading Gogol. I am still reading Barthelme. I’ve spoken of them before, authors of before my time. Gogol especially, Barthelme was alive during my lifetime. I bought books of their short stories because I saw them both (the authors) listed on the greatest short stories ever page. They are surely skilled writers and some of their stories are magnificent works. However, if you hear about the best film of all time, you watch the movie. Do you then watch all the director’s previous and future works? Do you make sure to read every screenplay the writer writes? Do you follow the actor’s career forever hoping they’ll pull off a performance like that again? A better example would be to use a novel by an author because it’s the same context as a short story. If someone is known as writing the greatest novel ever, that doesn’t magically make all their other works seminal. Any work of art should be judged on its own merits, which doesn’t carry over a sheen to be applied to all previous and future works. It might make you excited to read other things, watch other things, to try other things, but it doesn’t guarantee their quality.
I write this because I do not walk out of movies. I’ve seen some real doggone crappy movies. I write this because I do not quit on books halfway through. I force myself to finish them. Why? Maybe a hope that there will be something memorable or worthwhile that I’ll be angry at myself over for missing. Maybe because I’m a masochist who loves to torture himself. Or maybe just because once I start something, I just felt a compulsion to finish it. Eventually. That relates more to literature, if a movie is crappy, I’ll finish it all at once. If a book is lackluster, I might take my time, but eventually, I’ll whittle it down.
Again, all of this is being said to say that just because you write “one of the best short stories of all time” does not mean that every story you write is a hit. However, because I was initially interested in these authors due to their potential as the best, I continue to read their stories in the hopes of finding another story that might be a gem. I’m not saying the stories are bad, or a waste of time. No, to be clear, I’m not saying all of them are. I am saying that some of them are. But it’s that damn title of having one of the best short stories ever that I keep reading and reading because if they could do one of the best, they must be pretty good. Which again, I digress, they are. Except for even the best baseball players bat .350 and that means they’re still missing more often than they hit. That’s how I feel about these stories. They wrote great ones, they wrote bad ones, but more importantly, they wrote so damn many of them. These books of their stories are 400+ pages each. And I can’t stop reading them. I wish I could. I’m nearing the finish line and I’m so excited to close them after that final page and never touch them again. Then one day I’ll tell my kids I read the best short story of all time, and they won’t care. Then I’ll ask them to read it and they won’t even know what a book made of paper is. Then, well, they’ll go back to whatever it is they do and I’ll wonder was it worth it to read that story? And I’ll tell myself…so it goes.