Mar 16, 2005

Of Beet Greens and Memory

In my oil painting class (yes, two art classes) I must finish my painting of the latest still life presented by our instructor. I choose the beets. They repose on the table, exposing their curling tails, the most charming part. "They look like mice," commented my neighbor in the class, but that's what I love about them. The problem is that between the class from two weeks ago and last week's class, the greens wilted to an ugly little heap. Not the luxuriant outgrowth of curly-edged leaves I had seen earlier. I might have known that would happen, but I guess in my mind the beets seemed eternal, like Keats' urn. So last week I painted them from memory. It was stressful and uninteresting to me. Part of my deprogramming from literary theory involves simple observation, and the object having decayed presents a problem. I'll carry on.

On another note, I bought Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried for my father for Christmas. He started it and "didn't care for it." He told me last night he prefers straight military history. The O'Brien stories, um, certainly aren't that. My father was an officer in Vietnam in 1959-60 and 1966-67. He reads many volumes of history every year, nothing on Vietnam. Behind this decision is a world of small and large denials: personal, generational, historical. At least I convinced my father to try reading it again, because I'm reading it for my book group in the summer, and "I thought it would be nice if we could read the same thing."

3 comments:

Scrivener said...

Love Tim O'Brien! Some of my best teaching experiences were of Going After Cacciato in intro lit classes. Any chance a novel would go over better than short stories? If not Cacciato one of the later ones, about vets instead of soldiers per se?

Lauren said...

Thanks so much for the recommendation. I'll make a note of it.

Scrivener said...

Guess I should say that Cacciato is no closer to "straight history" than Things They Carried, so it's not a solution to your father's complaints. But it is a great novel. And if he reads novels as well as "straight history" then maybe he would find it a little easier to transition to Cacciato. Then again, maybe not. The novel gets pretty weird pretty quick, and it is largely about desertion. Thematically, the two are very similar.

I read July, July, O'Brien's most recent, when it came out (a year ago? two now? who can keep track) and it was good, not as powerful I thought but still worth reading. And it's much less focused on Vietnam, though the war has its impact on some of the characters too.