Lost in the flow

Having thoroughly enjoyed two of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels, Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun, it felt like time to visit the author’s perhaps best known work, The Remains of the Day. And, of course, it is a mysterious treasure.

Ishiguro has a knack for creating endearingly flawed narrators and unfolding the story in a way that shows us the other characters in a light that the narrator doesn’t quite understand. As I write this, our friend Stevens is on his way to the climactic reunion with Miss Kenton that, I suspect, will be surprising and sweet, given my past experience with Ishiguro. (The resolution of Klara and the Sun may be my favorite reading moment of this year.)

I enjoy getting lost in stories. As a writer I should pay closer attention to the storyteller’s methods, I suppose, to see what they do to make me lost, but the enjoyment is in the story, not the dissection. And I wonder if I were to try applying lessons and formulas rather than just getting lost in the story as I tell it, the resulting work would feel a bit mechanical. I can sense when a formulaic story has reached its halfway point because the hero has come to her lowest ebb before starting to piece together her eventual triumph.

No, I’m ready to drift along with the story like the proverbial leaf carried on the stream. I would wager the authors of the best stories get caught up the same way. I’m pleased to be able to say I’ve had a few “scenes that wrote themselves” along the way, though I’ve never yet written a tale as fine as Ishiguro’s.

I’d love to see the film now that I’ve read the book, especially as I see Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are the leads.

My goal is to never be finished

I’m not in any hurry to move on to the next plane of existence. There’s still too much I’d like to do. But I know in a perfect world, I’ll leave some stuff unfinished.

“In a perfect world”? Wouldn’t a perfect world be the one where everything is completed and tied up with a bow?

Nope. Don’t think so.

How would it feel to say, “I’m finished. I’ve accomplished everything I ever wanted to do, done everything I set out to do”?

It would feel wrong, says I. There should always be something on the agenda to do next, or what’s a heaven for?

We all should leave something on the table as evidence we didn’t stop growing and learning and doing.

The best-case scenario is people will say, “Too bad he didn’t finish this and that, but look at all this other cool stuff he did.”

Notes from the road

According to the smartphone, I am 6 hours, 16 minutes on the road away from home. This will be my last entry in Eastern time for a while, maybe ever — you never know. Not being dark, just real. This — Quality Inn in West Branch, Michigan — has become my favorite stop along the way. The moose decor, the clean and quiet rooms, the friendly staff, the great attached restaurant —

It may be time to acknowledge that I love Northern Michigan and Upper Michigan almost as much as I love Wisconsin — the woods, the water, the quiet (The Mackinac Bridge!!!). It is a lovely place to visit; would I want to live here? I don’t know if I’ve been here during peak tourist season or winter, so it’s hard to say. But, this fall morning, after nine hours of sleep, I’m content to be visiting.

Tomorrow (today by the time I rework this into a blog post), I will be back in the daily grind of making community newspapers and helping run a household and finding time to write what I want to write. This has been a 2,000-mile-round-trip road trip sandwiched around a few hours with my sister-in-law and nieces and beloved cousins gathered for my brother’s funeral — and isn’t that a jarring sound, “my brother’s funeral”? I have not made family a top priority since moving to the Midwest 50 (!) years ago, and I always miss these sweet people after spending too-brief visits with them. In that seemingly distant future where I am free of daily grinds (it will likely be sooner than I expect; the future always is), I shall make a trip that involves more than scant hours with each of them — or at least any of them who want me about for a little time. I don’t want to impose.

My companions on the road (Red stayed back to care for the puppy, the hound, and the cat) have been Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck), David Rosenfelt (Dogtripping and Dachshund Through the Snow), and Agatha Christie (The ABC Murders and Poirot Investigates), with L. Neil Smith (Lever Action) keeping me company during stops. I went through Manson’s book twice — it’s very interesting and is really about how we make choices every day regarding what we give a f*ck about and making sure they’re healthier and wiser choices. I’ve asked the library queue to deliver me the follow-up — Everything is F*cked, A Book About Hope — as soon as possible.

OK, I feel the need to sum up and say something pithy here, but maybe I just did, so let me turn to one or two of the tasks that will bring home some bacon before I depart this lovely spot.

Take back your life

(With apologies to the Galaxy Being and Freddie.)

We live in a time of seemingly unprecedented privacy invasion, government overreach, and Orwellian illogic. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks cleansing my palate by writing a dystopian story about the re-education camps that may seem an inevitable product of our present condition.

We now return to our regularly scheduled encouragement: These wannabe overlords are far less relevant than they imagine.

You control the reception of their messages. If you wish to make it louder, you can bring up the volume. If you wish to make it softer, you can tune it to a whisper. You control the horizontal. You control the vertical. You can roll the image, make it flutter. You can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity.

In the big picture, on the bottom line, at the end of the day, you control all that you see and hear. You are participating in a great adventure, experiencing the awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.

It’s not theirs to control, no matter what the voice in the little box is telling you. Open your eyes, look up to the skies, and see.


So the previous 10 days emerged from some thoughts I had while reading the late L. Neil Smith’s wonderful collection of writings on liberty, Lever Action. I imagined a series of letters from a re-education gulag after the eventual triumph of the folks who want to “transform” our way of life. (I’m not thrilled about the title “Letters From After.” Maybe “American Epilogue”?)

Specifically, the series grew from a comment Smith made in 2000 about the then-leaders of China:

“…it’s worrisome to deal with a handful of geriatric bastards who know they won’t have to live with the consequences of plunging their nation into total war.”

I started musing that perhaps we should consider the motivations of the seventysomething and eightysomething tyrants who are running the U.S. ship of state into the ground — the senile and not-so-senile so-called leaders who cling to power with the fervor they once accused their adversaries of clinging to guns and religion — the basket of deplorables who seek to reshape America into a collective utopia and to hell with individual rights.

Is it so hard to imagine they could dispense with “cancel culture” and simply round up the wrong-thinkers?

Are they callous enough to aim the ship of state into the rocks knowing that, like the Chinese Communist leaders of 2000, they won’t have to live with the consequences? Is this administration the final act of a generation of collectivists who would rather leave chaos behind than a free and open society/

The Old Guard who ran China then and the Old Guard who run the United Soviet States of America now have much in common. They believe they can run the lives of millions upon millions better than those individuals can rule themselves. Or wait, do they even care about those people in the first place, as long as they are the ones lording over the rest of us? There has always been a distinct air of “Do as I say, not as I do” about them, because they consider themselves above the scrutiny of whom they consider lesser human beings. They have become wealthy on tax dollars and sit in their mansions or fly around the world burning the fossil fuel they would deny the next generation, calling US deplorable and making assumptions about “the common folk.”

OK, enough musing about real and imagined dystopia. Back tomorrow with something different.

Letters From After, Day 10

Dear Bunky,

I bet you never expected to see this handwriting ever again, huh? Well, I don’t know what BS they told you, but here’s the real deal.

I’m out. They’re not as smart as they think they are. A couple of the guys figured out how to get past the security system. I can’t tell you more in case this letter ever finds its way into their hands. Not that you would do that, Bunk, but they know we’re pals and they will probably want your opinion about stuff and maybe take a look around your place. You can decide to self-destruct this letter or keep it safe for whatever purpose.

Sandi’s dead. I’m still trying to process that. They told me she caught the bug and went down quickly, but I think she either killed herself or got herself killed somehow. They use the bug to cover any mysterious happenings. Remember the guys I told you about who freaked out on the bus coming over and in the mess hall? I asked the sarge about them, and you know what he said? Yep, the bug got ’em. Hell, it can be an awful disease, so it’s good cover for any shenanigans.

I don’t know how I feel about losing her. Remember how calm I was about getting snatched and I thought maybe I was in shock? It’s like that. She was really down the one time they let me see her, but she always had this fierce love of life. I can see where this place could take that away from her, but it would make more sense if I heard she pissed off a guard and got, you know, the ultimate punishment. That just sounds more like the Sandi I knew.

The people I’m with have a few ideas about getting the camp liberated and closed. Of course, after we got out we figured out where we are, and sorry, Bunk, I can’t share any more than that. Just know that all is not lost.

How did it come to this, that a bunch of angry old people could wave some toys and candy at us and we followed like little kids sucked in by a perv? It’s so obvious how angry and manipulative they are, but so many people only see the bright shiny objects. I guess you really can fool some people all the time.

But not everyone.

It’s been great knowing you, Bunky. I know you had to give my letters back to the sergeant every day as part of my “therapy,” but they don’t know about this letter. I’d appreciate it if it stayed that way, but I know you have to protect yourself, too — so do what you think is right.

You probably won’t hear from me again unless we both arrive safely on the other side of whatever you want to call this. Good luck, God bless, have fun, whatever. Just don’t let the bastards get you down.

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