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Archive for July, 2012

Anton Chekhov: Selected Stories

From: B&N.com

I’ve been following my nose with the Russians and decided to try Anton Chekhov’s short stories. I am using a Modern Library edition with translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (whom translated the edition of Anna Karenina I read as well).

When I first started reading the stories contained within this edition, I thought, “Why have I never heard much about Chekhov before?” Seriously, why isn’t he talked about all that much? Personally, I like him. A lot. I’ve been devouring the stories in this book, so much so that I’ve often forgotten to ear-mark the pages that I found post-worthy. I did ear-mark stories which I liked the most, however.

“Small Fry” is good and I particularly like the end. I wanted to share a passage from the end, but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who decides to check it out. It’s a very short story about a clerk, but again, I don’t want to give anything away. Read it.

“The Huntsman” is another good story. I liked it because, contained within the five pages it spans is a story which goes beyond the pages. Chekhov has the ability to allude to events which happened outside the story without actually spelling them out, which allows the story to be much larger than the five pages it sits at.

“Easter Night” follows “The Huntsman” in that it alludes to events outside the story which makes it a much larger story. Outside of this, “Easter Night” is a good story in it’s own right.

“Sleepy” is a haunting story. I liked it, probably because I am an insomniac and relate well with the sleepy.

“A Boring Story” is longer than most of the stories I’ve read thus far in the book and it is by no means boring at all. The man in the story is an insomniac (so, again, I related well to him). One passage reads:

Two doors away my daughter Liza says something rapidly in her sleep, or my wife crosses the living room with a candle and unfailingly drops the box of matches, or a cupboard creaks from dryness, or the lamp flame suddenly starts to hum–and for some reason all these sounds trouble me.

Not to sleep during the night means to be aware of every moment of your abnormality, and therefore I wait impatiently for morning and daylight, when I have the right not to sleep. A long, wearisome time goes by before the cock crows in the yard. He is my first bearer of good tidings. Once he crows, I know that in an hour the hall porter will wake up  below and, coughing gruffly, come upstairs for something. And then little by little the air outside the windows will turn pale, voices will be heard in the street…

I marked many passages in “A Boring Story,” so I may devote a single post to the story itself. It may be one of my favorites thus far as well. The end of the story is interesting and I pondered it for a good hour after I finished reading.

“The Fidget” was interesting because it showed how well a story can be put together with an unlikable main character (something I am very much interested in and have tried to do in two different short stories). Chekhov does not fail at making a good story with an unlikable character (although, I do fail).

“Ward No. 6” is much longer than most of the stories in the edition, but it is good. It has a couple of longer passages I will have to share in the separate post I will devote to it and “A Boring Story.”

I still have eleven stories to read in the book and I am looking forward to it. Chekhov has been a pleasure to read thus far and reading these stories are making me consider ordering his short novels collection as well.

Oh, the Russians. Where should I look to next? I’m considering Crime and Punishment since I ordered it along with Chekhov. Ideas?

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My Brother Critic

July 29, 2012 7 comments

So, about two weeks ago I finished writing a short story (just over 8,000 words). It’s my first short story in about a year, and it is my first attempt at a 3rd person point-of-view short story ever. Usually, I don’t bother editing my short stories, nor do I tend to revise them in any way. Except if it’s for class, which most of my short stories have been for. This time, I wrote this story outside of a classroom, and, therefore, feel some special attachment to it. Oddly enough, I desire to edit it. I desire to revise. I want this one to be good enough to publish somewhere.

Following this desire, I chose to give the story to my brother, who is an avid reader like I am. I wanted him to read it and not do edits, but tell me what he thought of it. What is wrong with it? What is good about it? Now, this was a huge step for me, because I don’t particularly like people I know well reading my works of fiction (nor do I even like them knowing I attempt to write fiction!). But, since I feel so attached to this story, I felt I owed it to the story, and to future readers, that I pass it through a judge.

So, today, my brother became a critic.

I asked him what he thought of the story and he told me he liked it over all, but that he thought it ended abruptly (a bad habit of mine). Also, he said he wasn’t sure he felt attached to the characters. Neither of us was sure it mattered if he felt attached or not. Normally, I would say it would be fairly important, but we agreed it’s difficult to create characters which people attach to in such a short amount of time. I’ve read plenty of short stories that I enjoyed, but didn’t feel attached to. Finally, he explained he would re-word some portions, which will be something I take a look at specifically when I edit.

I was worried there wasn’t enough action, but my brother assured me there was enough for the content of the story. So, although I didn’t get a lot of feedback, I did get some important feedback: no sympathy for the characters, too quick of an ending, but a good story overall. My brother critic has given hope to my story and am ready to dive into the editing and revision process once and for all.
Let’s hope this story will have enough in the end for a publication somewhere.

Where It Began

It’s been over a month at my first “real” job. I still get paid some days to read and stare at the computer, which is nothing to complain about because it gives me time to read books that I want to read (I’ve finished Anna Karenina and Arabian Nights at work, and I am more than half way through reading some selected short stories by Anton Chekhov).
When I sit at the front desk at the law office, I look at the couch where I once sat three times waiting for three separate interviews. It’s weird to consider how little I knew at that point. I was ignorant of what went on beyond that entry room and the conference room where I was interviewed. The other day, I was turning the lights off in the conference room and remembered how peppy I felt on the day of my second interview and how I sat up straight and made witty comments from one of the conference room chairs. Again, the perspective was different back then. I wasn’t sure if I was sitting in an office that I would work in, I wasn’t sure what the job even entailed.

Now, I understand, somewhat what happens beyond the reception room. And I understand what my job entails. Where once I thought about employment, I now ponder graduate school. All those empty hours in front of the work computer have led me to a nearby university’s website, where I’ve contacted the graduate studies director for the English program and discussed if it was possible to work full-time and go to school (I contacted him outside of work, for the record. I know the boundaries between work and play). I’ve found out that the graduate courses in English are all night courses, which means it is possible to go there, which means I have to prepare for the GREs since I haven’t taken them.

So, five weeks ago I started this job and my perspective was different. It’s changed now and I am not so ignorant. I’m getting comfortable with my coworkers, I’ve been given files to take care of, I’ve helped one of the lawyers organize, and I am continuing to settle into a job that doesn’t require odd hours, weekends, and going up ladders.

One lawyer, he’s younger, fresh out of law school….he has been fairly shy with me. I think he feels bad giving me projects. He has a habit of not looking me in the eyes when he tells me to do something, which makes me believe he feels uncomfortable. I’ve tried my best to get him to feel less timid, especially since I work with him the most. Who would have thought that a job would come with an assignment such as making one of your coworkers comfortable? I certainly didn’t think about what kind of coworker relationships and problems inside those would result from getting the job while I sat on the couch in the reception room on the day of my first interview.
I never thought about how I would have multiple files at my desk, which were my responsibility to maintain. I never considered the possibility of being able to read the majority of the day at my desk while I waited for the phone to ring. All these things were far from my mind, replaced by idealized versions of what a job would mean: answering the phone, doing things so well that everyone was amazed, and over all just doing job things which made me stand out as an intelligent, deserving employee.

Two months out of college and I am only now beginning to grasp at the fibers of where this all began.
P.S. I promise to do a blog on something literary soon. Chekhov enraptures me, so I will be sure to talk about his stories sometime. I give up on trying to write a final Anna Karenina post since it’s been long enough away from it that I am sure the pages I flagged will be hard to pin down in a post.

Happy blogging, working, writing, reading, etc.!

Finishing Books, Buying Books, and Reading at Work

I haven’t updated in awhile…mostly because I am still looking for that groove: the balance between work, leisure, etc.

This first “real world” job has been somewhat slow in that I have received little training. But, what can I expect when I am in a busy office and doing legal work is more important than training the receptionist to do any thing more than answer the phone. However, one of the office’s lawyers, a younger lawyer, fresh out of law school, has been training me as things come up, and when I don’t have a lot of work, he tends to have something for me, even if it’s a simple letter.

One nice thing about not learning anything at a receptionist job is that you get to read. A lot. So, I’ve been spending a nice amount of time every day watching the phones and reading a book. I finished Anna Karenina last week. It wasn’t bad and I am looking forward to seeing how the movie this fall handles the novel. Now, I am finishing up Arabian Nights, which I bought a beautiful translation of (at least, I think it’s beautiful, but I don’t know much about the original Arabic. Also, I am reading a book on Russian history. I feel like a nerd because of I am pursuing Russian literature, something I didn’t study at all in college for my undergrad degree, but it is keeping me sane because I miss school more than any normal recent graduate.

Another perk to working is that I get to buy brand new books. Going along with interest in Russian literature, I bought a book on the history of Russian literature, a duel-language book of Russian short stories, Crime and Punishment (translated by the same people who translated the Anna Karenina edition I read: Pevear & Volokhonsky), and a book of selected stories by Anton Chekhov translated by the same people. I’m not sure what to read next, and I still need to blog about some of the nice passages I found in Anna Karenina.

This entry feels more like a journal entry than an informative blog, so I will say something somewhat meaningful: my mother and I were talking today and she was telling me about the differences in generations. In the US, there are the Boomers, generation X, and generation Y (this is what I got from her). She explained to me that some gen x and many gen y people (I’m a gen y from what I understand) don’t “live to work,” like many boomers. Instead, we “work to live”: we only work because we have to make a living. She said that some of each gen x and gen y put a lot of value on their time, and when a job doesn’t make them feel as if their time has been used usefully, they become unhappy with their job. This makes sense to me since I have never been really happy at a place I’ve worked… I have liked the people, I have liked aspects of the job, but I have yet to find a job that has made me feel like my time hasn’t been wasted in some way (I’m hoping my current job will change that).

Anyway, I asked her why it might be that I, a gen y person, would like school, which is more work than a 9-5 job in many ways, more than I would like a job. She said it depends on what a person considers valuable use of their time. So, for me, school fulfills something within me that tells me that the time I have used has been useful to me in some way. It’s interesting. I’m considering looking into it more since I’ve heard my mom talk about “work place generation differences” a number of times before.

So, perhaps one way to stay sane until I feel like my time at work is useful, will be to continue to read, since that has always made me feel like my time was used wisely. Reading at work, what more could I ask for?

No Power = Staff Development

Yesterday, I witnessed something I have never witnessed in a work place (I’m not even sure how common it is). About two hours into work, the power went out. Normally, at home or elsewhere, the power comes right back on, a minor failure (unless it’s winter). However, try as it might, the lights flickered for a second here and there, but it always ended in darkness.

Since most of the projects I was working on for the law firm needed the computer, I wasn’t sure what the office would do until the power came back on. Most of us gathered together in one of the rooms and talked, while one of the lawyers suggested that if the power didn’t return in 30 minutes, she would bring us out for lunch in the park. It never passed my mind that she meant the firm would pay for my lunch, and I started to worry about how little money I had since my first paycheck won’t be in until next week. Recent and current college students know what I mean: you are barely scraping by as is without having to buy an unexpected lunch (I pack my lunches).

Thirty minutes rolled by, and we ended up getting ready to go for lunch. I commented to one coworker that I would bring my lunch since I was slighly broke. He said, “Don’t worry about it, the firm is paying.” I felt struck by astonishment. The place I work for would be paying for my lunch and it wasn’t a special occasion? This has never happened, but I haven’t worked in many offices, mostly retail, where, apparently, my choice in store determined how much I would receive (friends of mine worked at other retail stores and got bonuses for good monthly sales, although they weren’t paid commission, and given nice parties). Not that the retail places I worked were bad. On the contrary, one place I worked had some of the best coworkers a person could ask for. I digress….The point is, I was astonished something such as paid lunch could happen!

One of my coworkers recorded a message for our phone system (although, with the back up power, the phones would shut off in 30 more minutes). For the message, she said the office was closed for “staff development.” I wondered what else we would be doing while at lunch if we really were doing staff development, whatever that meant.

It turns out that we didn’t do anything specific to develop, but as a new employee, I was given a chance to start relationships with my coworkers and see their personalities outside work. We had a great time with many laughs. I couldn’t help but think about how my college degree helped me get here: to a place where having no power at work meant going out with my coworkers for some staff development.

Not only did I get to learn a little about everyone, but I was able to see how interesting of people they are outside the constraints of work. I learned that one of the lawyers had gone to school for Russian Studies at one point, which intrigued me since I am now reading more Russian literature. I learned how some of my coworkers came to work at the office and the ups and downs they have had while there, and I learned how to relax a little around the people I work with.

Finding Time with a Job & How the Job is Going

Initially, I was afraid to get a job after graduation (mostly because I was enjoying my free time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. However, after one week of work, I think I can handle this.

What I’ve done is wake up early (I don’t have to be into work until 8:15). In the morning, I work out (since later in the day would be difficult), I eat, shower, and write a little. I then work, obviously, but I have a one hour lunch break, which I use to read. Sometimes, things in the office are going slow, and I’m allowed to read at my desk as long as I watch for visitors and answer phone calls. When I get home in the evening, I eat dinner, and read more or write, depending on how I am feeling. But, every day I try to get at least 500 words of writing in.

This is my first weekend where I have been employed, so I am using it as a relaxation time. I have read and written both days, at least for a little bit. And I allowed myself to sleep in, which has given me some much needed energy. I’m glad to say that there is time, as long as I schedule the time for myself. 

On the job front, I am also happy to report that college somewhat prepared me for what I am doing. As a refresher, I am now working at a law office where I will fill the roll of a receptionist/paralegal. At the moment, I am mostly doing receptionist work until they find time to train me. However, a second woman will be starting in a month and we will share the receptionist desk duties, so I will have more time to focus on paralegal work.

General work duties, such as phone, copier, scanning, etc. are things I learned in previous positions elsewhere. But, letter writing (which I preformed extensively at my local Congressman’s office as an internship) and projects are utilizing skills which my degree prepared me with. For instance, I have a minor in professional writing (mostly because I realized I met the requirements during my final semester) and some of the courses I took prepared me to do different types of writing for different settings. As such, in the office, I have written to coworkers via email, I have created letters using templates, which were sent out on letterhead, and I have written emails for one of the law partners, which he dictated to me, and I fixed up with proper punctuation and such. The projects I’ve had so far have been fairly simple, but some have required some research, which I enjoyed and perfected throughout college.

It’s pleasing to know that my degree was not useless, and I am glad to be given a chance to work at a law office (apparently, 150 people applied) based on my education (go, English degree!) and some of my work experience. 

I still think about school every day, and wonder if/when/and for what I will go to graduate school for. I miss my literature courses.