Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Short Story #231: The Duel by O'Henry

Title: The Duel 

Author: O'Henry

Summary

O Henry - Humorist.  Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/William_Sydney_Porter.jpg
The story begins by talking about the magnificence and power of the city of New York.  The reader is then introduced to William and Jack who came to the city to make their fortunes.  William came for business and Jack for art.  They were typical boys from middle America.  After several years, the two met Jack claims that the city had won its duel against William because he is just like so many other New Yorkers.  William argues that he has adapted and become successful.  Jack position appears no better as he hates the city and finds it utterly lacking.  He longs for the peace of the Mid-West and elsewhere.  Later that night, he receives a message from his hometown and it's his girlfriend who beckons him back "and the answer will be yes."  He replies that he is simply too busy to leave.  The author then asks the reader to decide who is the winner in the duel.


Reflection

This was a fun story reflecting on the ways people live and raising the question about what it means to live in a place such as New York.  It's fascinating that despite it being over 100 years later, the story's essence with regard to New York still holds a certain amount of truth.

Short Story #231 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Short Story #230: Ten Indians by Ernest Hemingway

Title: Ten Indians

Author: Ernest Hemingway

Summary

Picture of Ernest Hemingyway - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/ErnestHemingway.jpgNick is driving home with his friend's family on the 4th of July.  Along the way, they past nine drunk Indians.  The family makes disregarding comments about the Indians while Nick doesn't quite say much.  The subject changes to talking about animals and one of the family states that Nick has an Indian girl and that they smell like skunks.  When asked by his friend, Joe, he denies it.  But one of the family insists that he seeing Prudence Mitchell.  Nick denies it again.  They drop him off and he makes his way home.  His father greats him and offers him dinner and dessert.  The father relates his day which included going fishing and running into Prudence who was with another boy.  He tells him they were having a good time and saw them "threshing around."  Nick asks if they were happy and the father says he believes so.  Nick goes to his room and confesses to himself that his heart is broken. 


Reflection

The story had a lot going on in it as usual with Hemingway.  That it was Independence Day and that Nick finds himself free is a bit of an irony within the story.  There's also contrast between independence celebration and the alcoholic dependence of the Indians that's curious to consider.  But of course, the big piece is the deny it.  Nick does not act with prudence and thus looses his Prudence.  

Short Story #230 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Short Story #229: An Experiment in Misery by Stephen Crane

Title:  An Experiment in Misery

Author:  Stephen Crane

Summary

Picture of Stephen Crane.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/StephenCrane1899.jpgA young man wanders the dark rainy in search of food or shelter.  Upon seeing a bar offering free soup, he enters.  Before taking seconds, he goes out into the night to talk with a man whom he believes will know a place to sleep.  The man identifies where the young man can sleep for 10 cents for the night but the young man believes that's too much.  A third man approaches who looks more wild than the other two and asks if they can spare two cents becuase he has five and can get a bed for 7.  After some discussion, the young man says that he'll help the crazy-looking man get the additional money, if he'll tell the young man where they can find this establishment.  The man leads him down an alley and into the place where they will be staying.  As they wander through the place, the smell and sights strike at the young man.  People lay around in various states of dress with various ailments--many with the look of death about them.  They spend the night and in the morning while wandering around, the young man tells the older one that he saw someone last night with a white nightshirt on.  The older man doesn't believe him but the young man insists.  As they wander, they pass a breakfast place and the young man decides to have breakfast.  The older man starts to pout and part ways but the young one treats him to breakfast.  They banter about their lives, jobs, and propsects.  The two retire to the park to hang out with others.  Here, the young man watches society as society ignores him and determines if he must resort to crime in order to aspire hire in life. 


Reflection

It's a rather dark and depressing tale that Crane spins.  The contrast of the young man's life with the wealth of the city around him can be tasted.  Crane provides beautiful descriptions and contrasts between the world of the poor and the rich.  He also has some great lines in this story ("It was so profound that it was unintelligible.").  It seems to me that this trip that Crane is taking is a porthole for the readers to better understand the faceless entities they pass each day.  

Short Story #229 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Getting Back on Track: Recovering to Running

So my last post on running was a while back and I was discussing an injury.  The final diagnosis was a herniated disc with a pinched nerve.  Fun times!  May was a hard month, especially coming off my personal best of running a half-marathon in 2:03.  

I was able to start running in June but I had to take it easy.  For the first half of June there was pain that accompanied the running.  Additionally, June was just a very busy month for work and having to do the doctor shuffle only added to it.  July was also busy with work and teaching.  However, in both months, I managed to do over 80 miles, so I'm happy with that.  80 miles is still a distance that there are upwards of decades where I did not accumulate that much running--so I'll take it!  

Image of Train Tracks.  Source: http://pixabay.com/p-11408/?no_redirect
Getting back on
them tracks!
After the diagnosis in late June and a regiment of physical therapy that went on over June and July, the doctor gave me the go-ahead at the end of July to return to training.  During June and July, I did not do more than 6.5 miles on most occasions.  I went up to 7 once or twice.  However, now that we're gearing up to see if completing the Bay State Marathon is possible, it's back to training for me.  I talked with Dave, my coach at Breakthrough Performance Coaching and we started up slow--trying to get me back up to the longer distances I was used to before.  

This past weekend I had my first real long run in a while:  a 1.5 hour/9 mile run.  In some ways, it felt intimidating because it had been so long since running it, but in other ways, it felt like an old friend.  In fact, while I took the first six miles at a light pace, just trying to endure, I decided to push myself the last three miles of it and found that I actually managed to do under 9 minute miles.  Given that I had been happy with anything under 10 minutes, I was ecstatic to see the mileage ringing in around the 8:50s.  

It's 9 weeks or so until the Bay State Marathon.  I believe I will be in good enough shape to complete it but I'm not sure I will be doing anything better than what I did last year.  I'm slightly frustrated by this because given all that I've been putting into running, I feel like not being able to improve upon this is somehow a failure.  I know it's not, but of course, my Doubt Demon loves to prey upon such insecurities.  

Regardless, I'll continue to slay the Doubt Demon, get back in my Vibrams, and keep running.  After all, any miles complete is a victory.  I'll keep you posted as I continued with the miles.  And speaking of which, even if I do not accomplish my 4 hour marathon, or 2 hour half-marathon (though I've damn close!), I'm within 300 miles of hitting my 1000 miles for 2014.  In terms of mileage, I'm close to where I was last year at the end of the year and I've still got 4 good months of fall running!  


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Short Story #228: In Another Country by Ernest Hemingway

Title: In Another Country

Author: Ernest Hemingway

Summary

Picture of Ernest Hemingyway - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/ErnestHemingway.jpgSoldiers recovering from war are in Milan making their daily trips to the hospital.  Each day, they needed to cross a bridge to get there and selected the one with woman who sold roasted chestnuts on the bridge.  The narrator explains that one day when he appeared, the doctor assured him that he would someday be able to play football again, despite his knee not being able to bend.  Each soldier is hooked up to a machine to help help recover.  When someone else asks about their recovery, the doctor fetches a picture of before and after picture of a recovered limb.  The soldiers would walk together to and from the hospital because they were often disliked by some of the residents.  One of the soliders would convince everyone to wear black handkerchiefs around their face as a group to hid his missing nose.  The narrator discusses the reasons for different soldiers who have or haven't received medals.  When he explains to his soldiers that he largely got a medal for being an America, his fellow soldiers largely stop being friendly, except out of necessity.  In losing this kinship, he begins to have more conversations with a major who also attends the hospital.  The major inquires about his plans after the war and the narrator mentions getting married.  The major tells him to forget it and to never take up things he can lose--that the war should have taught him that.  The major leaves but when he returns he explains that he had just found out that his wife had died.  He begins to cry.  The narrator learns that the man had married her after he had returned with his injury.  The major begins to wear the black band in honor of his dead wife and now just looks out the window.  


Reflection

There's a lot to digest in this short story--but it's Hemingway, so that's to be expected.  The relations and the rankings among the soldiers was fascinating as was the narrator's remark about not having been a true hawk like the other soldiers but could easily be confused as a hawk by those that do not hunt.  

Short Story #228 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Short Story #227 A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane

Title:  A Dark Brown Dog

Author:  Stephen Crane

Summary

Picture of Stephen Crane.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/StephenCrane1899.jpg
A boy encounters a dog on the street that takes a liking to the boy.  The boy is interesting in the dog but regularly beats him on their way home.  The dog cowers and begs forgiveness and continues to follow him home.  This hapepns repeatedly on the way home.  There is more struggle in the house when the child gets him in the house.  When the family comes home and discovers the dog, they argue about whether he will stay or not.  The father decides that since everyone wants the dog to go, he will allow the dog to stay.  From then on, the boy must be protector of the dog as others in the house feel obliged to kick and beat it as needed.  The boy regularly seeks the dog for comfort and for abuse depending on his mood.  Despite this, the stability, the feeding, and some love allow for the dog to find a comfort with the boy.  One day, the father was drunk and riotous.  The boy realized this and dives for cover but the oblivious dog does not.  He begins to abuse the dog with a coffee pot and kicking.  The child rushes forward to protect the dog but the father ignores him.  He lifts the dog and throws it out the window.  The boy races out to the dead dog and sits with him for hours on end. 


Reflection

This was a dark and sad tale from Crane that I found curious.  In some ways, he taps into the ideas of abusive relationships and how we inherit them and perpetuate them.  That the boy is both loving and contemptuous of the dog seems to be the same level of relation that runs through his family.  

Short Story #227 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/15/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Short Story #226: A Son of the Gods by Ambrose Bierce

Title: A Son of the Gods

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceSummary

The story is told through the eyes of soldiers who have been advancing against the enemy but have approached an area that is problematic to figure out.  The area is open terrain with wall far beyond and forest beyond that, so it is hard to determine if the enemy are hiding behind the wall ready to attack or have actually retreated.  The narrator watches as a soldier on horse rides in the open, wearing red as if taunting the enemy.  The soldier on horse begins to gallop and move towards the barrier.  The soldiers watch in awe and respect as the man eventually makes his way past the wall to sight the enemy and help identify where the enemy is aligned.  He survives for a long time despite the odds but eventually his horse is killed.  Before he is killed, he gives one last salute.  At this, the soldiers surge forward to fight and avenge the death of the brave soldier only to be called back by the commander and thus add to more pointless deaths.

Reflection

Again, this was another of Bierce's war tales that impressed me.  He communicates so much about the soldiers' experiences and both the challenge and honor of a soldier while contrasting the tragedy and violence of war.  When people talk about respecting the soldier while hating the war, I think Bierce captured that essence over 100 years ago.  

Short Story #226 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 8/15/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The #IceBucketChallege, Activism and Spotlights

So by now, many of us have heard about the #IceBucketChallenge for ALS.  A good amount of us have participated in it and still others have written and reported upon it.  This has been an interesting campaign that has been highly success for the ALS Association in raising awareness of the illness and what the organization does.  I was recently tagged and performed my own #IceBucketChallenge with my fiance since we were both challenged by her brother.  Of course, we followed through with a donation (above the $10 mark for each of us) and we nominated others to meet the challenge and to donate.  Here is our video:



There are plenty of people doing it but there are also lots of questions and concerns being raised about it as can be seen from the Twitter stream:


And of course, it was interesting to see how some people have tried to build upon the success of ALS and encourage support for their own causes such as the #SunBlockChallenge from BexxFine who does fundraising for the Melanoma Education Foundation.  


ALS in the Spotlight

We were nominated on Tuesday and planned to do it on Wednesday (you have 24 hours to accomplish it).  But between Tuesday's nomination and Wednesday's execution, I read a post by a friend on Facebook that got me to thinking differently about the whole thing.

The debate about whether the ALS #IceBucketChallenge is actual activism or slactivism has created lots of writing and reflecting.  There are plenty of examples online wherein the people performing it get it all wrong, fail to mention ALS in their video, fail to donate, or fail to make themselves more aware of what ALS is and the whole reason for the #IceBucketChallenge.  This criticism of the viral movement can be understood and has clear similarities to the Kony2012 viral movement.  Of course, there are differences here too.  Each action (whether you go for the bucket or forgo it) should entail a donation to ALSA and they have reported a significant increase in donations compared to the previous year (currently, well pass double the amount from last year).  While some still argue that more time and money are being wasted, I think that's questionable at best.  Giving and receiving donations are tricky things and there has to be some stickiness to encourage people to do it.  In this case, that people are "nominated" or tagged to do it, that there's some entertainment, and some pressure (24 hours) generates a more rewarding and engaging experience and that's important for both the people donating and the organization.  We have this ideal conception of all giving being this altruistic approach with nothing to be gained from the giver but the reward of giving.  And while there are kernels of truth in this, we also live in a system (capitalism) that repeatedly tells us that this is not the way to operate and therefore, we often need more than just that good-feeling to motivate us to act charitable.  Coupled with this, of course, is the fact that so many different causes pull at our heart-strings, it's hard to decide which ones to pick.  

And Then Robin Williams Changed The Game


The post that my friend posted, struck a chord--not just in me--but in many of his friends as well.  In the post, he raised the question about where we should shine spotlights and while ALS is important, it's sometimes hard to recognize the attention that it is getting and how the discussion around mental health and suicide is much trickier to deal or as easily rally people around.  



Image: Robin Williams.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Robin_Williams_2011a_(2).jpgThat Robin Williams--a man that made so many people laugh and smile--a man whose movies so often found the inner hope within all of us--should commit suicide is a bit heart-wrenching.  It also reminds of that depression and depression-associated suicide is an equally real and tragic experience for everyone around.  In that, there's a horribly democratic element to depression that can also make it harder to talk about or create a rallying movement around.  After all, if it affects 1/5 of the population, it can be hard to feel like there is much that can be done.  It's also a sinister thing, depression.  It can lie in the shadows waiting to strike hard directly or suffer the person a thousand little cuts. I have another friend who posted the following about depression while writing this post that I thought in many ways got to the center of the challenge.  

Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 1
  
Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 2

Now for regular readers of this blog (all 2 of you), I've mentioned before about the trials and challenges I've had with depression and suicide attempts.  In reading about Robin Williams' cause of death, I took it a bit harder than I would have were it another celebrity in part because Williams was such a centerpiece of entertainment growing up, but also because his roles and messages carried  much meaning for me and were often uplifting.  One of my favorite movies of his and one that had a lot of impact on me while I struggled out of my depression and suicidal tendencies was What Dreams May Come.  It was a film that gave me another way of thinking about death and helped me think differently about a lot of things related to depression and suicide.



My friends both connected ideas that were circling in my head and many others out there who were reconciling their experiences or experiences of people they cared about.  Like Neil, I don't mean to belittle the #IceBucketChallenge but would like to acknowledge the importance of mental illness and the ways it impacts many of us directly and indirectly.  To that end, in addition to donating to the ALSA, I also decided to make a donation to National Association of Mental Illness to help find ways of helping others who find themselves unwell and unable to help themselves.  I would encourage you to donate as well if you have felt the impact of mental illness in your life.  

But more than donating, I would encourage you to reach out not just to people who you know have mental illness but just to everyone in your circle.  I think one of the biggest challenges around depression, suicide and the like is that it often goes unnoticed.  It is often an invisible illness.  I know in my own history, it was cryptic at best.  I left clues, but at the same time, they were clear clues to me because I knew what I was experiencing, whereas to others, they had little context to understand how that one comment or action was part of a larger pattern--part of a bigger call for help. That is all to say that I have no doubt we all have people who are suffering in some capacity and a friend reaching out to them could be just the something needed to help them out.  Finding ways of supporting people we care about in our life is probably the best thing we can do in the wake of Robin Williams' death.  



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Short Story #225: The Murder by John Steinbeck

Title:  The Murder

Author:  John Steinbeck

Summary

John Steinbeck Sketch - Image source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5054/5509984031_1e3d7293a2_z.jpg
Adjacent an old and ancient castle in California is an abandoned house owned by Jim Moore.  He regularly contemplates burning it down but finds that he can't.  Moore grew up in that house and knows everything about it.  He's owned it since his parents died.  He has made a successful enough life at the house with farmstock and such that he regularly visits the bar in Monterey every Saturday.  He marries a Slav woman, named Jelka whose father encourages him at the wedding to make sure he properly beats Jelka to keep her in line.  Moore is put off by this advice and proceeds to enjoy his life with his new wife.  Moore becomes frustrated with Jelka because though she is attentive to all of his needs, she does engage him or ever really talk to him.  She is docile and passive in this regard.  The lack of connection sends Jim back to his regular trips to bar and visiting with the women there.  On one Saturday night as he ventures into town, he encounters a neighbor who mentions that he found a dead cattle in the corner of Moore's property that had been clearly killed by human hands.  Moore sets out to explore his territory and eventually ends up back at his house wherein he finds Jelka in bed with her cousin.  He promptly shoots the man.  The local deputy sheriff arrives the next day and they discuss the issue.  Though Jim will be officially charged, he will not need to be brought in and he will be exonerated.  Before leaving, the deputy implores Moore to go easy on Jelka.  He takes Jelka into the barn and whips her.  When they come out, Moore tells her that he hurt her as bad as he could without killing her.  She asks if he's hungry and she goes to make breakfast.  After breakfast, he explains that they will go to town and get new lumber to build a new house.  

Reflection

The layering of this story with the idea of a castle, the need for a new space, and the various ideas of property and ownership were well constructed.  However, the idea of property and ownership within this story were problematic, given that the protagonist is legally free to kill a man and nearly kill his wife.  I would love to see a more complicated meaning here that provides more criticism of Jim but the biggest commentary appears to be to take proper care of his property and that is just not really a message I can appreciate in any way given who is considered property.  


Short Story #225 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/28/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Short Story #224: One of the Missing by Ambrose Bierce

Title:  One of the Missing

Author:  Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce
Jerome Searing is an orderly for the Federal army.  His general sends him on a mission to scout ahead and make sure that there are no surprises waiting for them.  This is a typical mission for Jerome and he takes delight and care in scouting ahead.  He comes upon a planation and can see the Confederate army in retreat.  He takes aim to shoot one of them just make there one less solider but at the same time, a captain far off shoots a cannon at the structure that Jerome is hiding in.  When Jerome comes to, he is partially buried in the debry and finds himself incapable of moving his body because of the the way the debris covers him.  As he examines his surroundings and options, he realizes that his rifle is pointed right at him.  He anticipates it going off at any minute since it was primed to fire before the explosion.  He tries to distract himself from  metal ring facing him with other thoughts and even by closing his eyes but every time he closes his eyes, he feels the bullet burying into him.  Eventually, he finds a loose board that he tries to use to block the gun but when that is ineffective and he has lost all hope, he uses the board to help pull the trigger.  The gun doesn't go off; it was fired when the building collapsed.  Yet the potential firing was enough to send Jerome to his death.  Later, his brother, Adrian Searing is ordered to move forward and explore the area that his brother has scouted.  As they pass the destroyed building, they see a body in the wreckage but the debris has tinted his Federal coat gray and the state of death hints that the body had been dead much long so none of them realize who they are looking at. 

Reflection

I rather liked this tale by Bierce.  It's one of his stronger ones by far and has elements that are parallel with Chickamauga and The Occurence At Owl Creek Bridge.  Of course, the naming (Searing) was well chosen in that so much of the story is consumed by a bullet potentially searing his brain.  But there is also irony in that Searing's goal to make a widow and orphan of some solidier by shooting the retreating Confederate army is exactly what he does by staying too long and getting killed himself.  Bierce also captured the stress and challenge of staring down a gun for a long time.   It's definitely a worthwhile read among his works.  


Short Story #224 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 8/13/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.