Short Stories

Let’s Discuss — Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler

self-inflicted wound (n): a spectacularly humiliating, and often hilarious, incident entirely of one’s own making.
see also: you did it to yourself.

Let me preface this discussion by saying I don’t read very much non-fiction. Well…I haven’t since college wherein most of what I read for four years was non-fiction stuff. Often dry, very boring, comprehensive and lengthy things sometimes related to my academic and/or professional interests–many times not. But I still think it’s important to ground yourself from whatever cloud your fiction books might place you upon and read something a little different…or at least in theory that’s how I feel. I do read a lot of news and policy magazines for fun …anyways, like I was saying, I haven’t read a lot of non-fiction of any reputable length or of any serious topic in quite a while*. So to ease back into it, I thought I would start with something light and entertaining: Aisha Tyler’s Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation.

I can admit, I have a mild obsession with Aisha Tyler. Nothing crazy. I admire her success and I feel we have a lot in common (not the success per se, but gender, height, melanin content) Also she’s a gamer and doesn’t take herself too seriously and she seems pretty cool. So I figure hey, why not read her book. In a nutshell, Tyler has compiled a variety of thirty or so very embarrassing and humiliating short stories from her childhood to adulthood; and from what I understand are actually real incidents, give or take a few name changes and vague details. Honestly, some of them are very embarrassing and funny. Others are kind of blah, but that’s to be expected. Not every story is going to possess the same shock value. Some stories are relatable. For example, The Time I Cut Myself In Half, The Time I Almost Set Myself on Fire or The Bunny Fiasco. I can relate in some twisted way to all three–Do you know how many baby birds I tried to save from the circle of life as a child? And I too have a scar that oddly splits my chest in half. I’ve pondered its’ origins for years and still don’t know why it’s there–Tyler’s story poses a good possibility, haha. Or like that one time I decided to place my entire left hand on the face of an iron, which I knew could very well be hotter than Hades…I was nine (that’s my excuse) Good thing I’m right-handed. And yes my lovely mother made me go to school, burns and all. Lesson learned. And that’s kind of the point of all Tyler’s outrageous tales. They all point to a lesson**, or lead to an inspirational “dust yourself off and try again” message.

But even for the stories I didn’t relate to as much, like The Time I Killed a Hobo or The Time I Created My First Sketch Character , I never for a second doubted her sincerity. As a reader I had to accept there are some stories that no matter how many times or ways you tell them, you just had to be there. And sometimes it’s damn near impossible to get into the author’s head. like withThe Time I Fell Asleep on the Patio Furniture at a Birthday Party.  I’m still blank-faced at that one.

Life is short, and no one gives a shit about your problems. Get up, get out there, and as the kids say, get to grinding. Do that hundredth set, and then do the hundred-and first. And then do one hundred more. You’re just getting started (159)

Self-Inflicted Wounds is a super fun and quick read. Here are some things to consider while reading it:

  • Aisha Tyler writes exactly how she speaks. Exactly. No ghost writing here.
  • Don’t feel obligated to read every single footnote. Sometimes it ruins the flow of already short stories. If you read something funny or even not that funny, then think something very childish or dirty about it, and see a superscript–Tyler beat you to it. No need to read the footnote.
  • Don’t read more than four or five stories per sitting. They will probably lose their essence if you read more. Although everyone’s different.
  • Don’t go into this thinking you’ll be on the floor, in tears laughing, spitting your coffee on your lap, cackling out loud. Just don’t. Way to set yourself up for a disappointment.
  • Enjoy each tongue-in-cheek story with a half a grain of salt.
  • Allow yourself to make connections to her stories–think about all the stupid things you’ve done, or embarrassing things that have happened and laugh. Smiling is okay too. I smiled a lot while reading this.

* Last non-fiction I read was The Devil in the White City. Before that–The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

** Debatable. There’s the occasional disconnect between the buildup in the story and then the takeaway for the reader and resolution posed by Tyler.

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Let’s Discuss — The Dead by James Joyce

He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: “Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?

Honestly, I’m having a difficult time trying to piece together my thoughts on this short story…maybe it’s because I have very few thoughts on it.

I have never quite understood the hullabaloo about James Joyce. I read an excerpt of Dubliners in college and was bored to tears. And here I am, finished reading The Dead, the last story in Dubliners and once again–bored to tears. So instead of me focusing on how I was bored to tears (which would be boring) I’ll explore why I was bored (less boring maybe?)

Is it my inability to connect to the Irish experience? My ignorance of Dublin society circa 20th century? I can’t call it, but I highly doubt it. I’m more inclined to believe it has something to do with Joyce’s writing style. Not necessarily his modernist roots; emphasis on the subjective and the consciousness. But rather the fact that his writing lends itself to the experimental reader. And I am not an experimental reader.

What do I even mean–experimental reader? I guess I mean those readers that are open to interpreting and deconstructing every mundane “avant-garde” detail. When you read The Dead, you’re probably wondering what details I’m even referring to. On the surface it seems like an innocent story set around a winter holiday, where a social gathering of sorts evokes sad memories. And that’s primarily what I, the non experimental reader took from it. But it’s not what Joyce intended.

Rereading certain sections leads me to believe The Dead isn’t actually about lost romantic love or dead lovers. Allusions*, symbols, epiphanies, and Gabriel Conroy’s narrative shifts suggest it has something to do with year’s change, generation’s change, country’s change and how the crossing of all this change affects the heart, mind and soul.

But that’s the wannabe experimental reader part of me drawing these conclusions. Again, it’s hard to say what this story is about because I found it extremely difficult to care enough to dig deeper into the meaning**…It’s faux open-ended, haha. I don’t know. I just don’t know. You ever heard  the saying: music for musicians? This is writing for writers (and experimental readers)

*The following link only scratches the surface of how James Joyce uses Allusion in his writing. Ctrl +F “The Dead” to see Musical Allusion in The Dead

**At this point I’m not open to reading more James Joyce, but I’m always open to hearing other explanations. What is the meaning of The Dead?

Let’s Discuss — The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I was down there with him. I was part of the night. I was the land itself—everything, everywhere—the fireflies and paddies, the midnight rustlings, the cool phosphorescent shimmer of evil—I was atrocity—I was jungle fire, jungle drums—I was the blind stare in the eyes of all those poor, dead, dumbfuck ex-pals of mine—all the pale young corpses, Lee Strunk and Kiowa and Curt Lemon—I was the beast on their lips—I was Nam—the horror, the war (199)

Many people do not like war.

Let’s forget political motivations for a second and briefly talk about realities.

The consequences: a loss of life and youth…of hope. Imagine the psychological game the mind must play on itself—the reasons for action are somewhat abstract, the enemy is blurry and the endgame is hard to realize. Yet all this is irrelevant, because as a soldier you must do as you’re told. You must serve your country. Go to war.

This is the case for all soldiers.

This is the case for many young people.

This was the case for many Vietnam veterans.

And this is the story O’Brien tells.

Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries […] They carried the land itself–Vietnam, the place, the soil–a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky […] By daylight they they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march […] one step, and the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage […] Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological (14)

O’Brien tells a series of seamlessly connected short stories about Vietnam. And what he does so well is remind the reader of how easily it could have been me or you, or anyone in that war. He wants you to understand that—the abstract, the fear, the surreal—all those feelings. The individuals imprinted in your memory— compatriots and enemies—are your brothers, cousins, classmates, neighbors, and strangers.

At the same time, O’Brien knows the reader will never know war unless they have been there. We are outsiders. But O’Brien’s storytelling opens a window to a great view of human complexity in already complex circumstances. O’Brien’s writing is artfully crafted. Fantastic. Amazing.

The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you […] There is the illusion of aliveness. In Vietnam, for instance, Ted Lavender had a habit of popping four or five tranquilizers every morning. It was his way of coping, just dealing with realities, and the drugs helped to ease him through the days. I remember how peaceful his eyes were […] “How’s the war today?” somebody would ask, and Ted Lavender would give a little smile to the sky and say “Mellow–a nice smooth war day.” And then in April he was shot in the head outside of the village of Than Khe (218)

I want to share entire passages with you. I want to convince everyone to read this book. More importantly, I need you to know I loved this book for its truths: Before war, you have life. During war, that life is not your own, or it is slipping away. After war, should you survive, that life is never completely your own again, or it is gone.