Tag Archives: The Gathering

The Gathering: The Final Review

Well, it’s down to the wire and I’ve finally finished The Gathering for my practicum assignment. There are three days for me to write this 5-8 page paper. Seems silly to wait this close to the deadline when I’ve had over a month to accomplish it. For a writer, you’d think the deadline would be the scary, black cloud looming over my head ready to strike me down with lightening. But I love the thrill of procrastination. There’s something about the deadline that forces my creative juices to work harder. Contrary to the idea that stress creates writer’s block, sometimes the stress inspires your imagination in a way working ahead just can’t provide.

This 261 page book was difficult not in the sense that it was hard to read, but that I was attempting to read like a writer. As I’ve mentioned before, reading can be broken down into three easy categories.

1) Reading as a reader (for pleasure)- It is the most common and easy way to read. You are reading to enjoy the story and not to dissect the writing. Sometimes you just need to crawl away from the world and read to escape the realities.

2) Reading as a student (to analyze)- This is the most familiar for high school and college students. There is an English Comp. or Literature class requiring you to write about a book that you have to read. You read the book knowing what to look for in the words to write a paper.

3) Reading as a writer (to learn)-The action of a writer reading another writer’s work is different than anything else in the reading world. We don’t judge another author’s work, but try to understand how they accomplished such a feat. Especially for a young writer like myself, it is an important skill to learn from experienced authors.

Knowing I had a daunting task ahead to learn how to read like a writer, I took my time. Over the course of three weeks, I labored over this book. You would think it might take a week with how determined I am to get a good grade, but that’s not the case. This book is simply about a woman coming to terms with her closest brother’s suicide. What do you have when you mix an exotic setting (Ireland) with a great tragedy (suicide), and drop in a couple repressed memories from a deranged family? You get one confusing book. Not confusing in the sense that you couldn’t connect the story together from chapter to chapter. It is the viewpoint of the entire books. Going from imaginative memories of Veronica’s grandparents to interactions with her deranged mother, any reader can feel her confusion.

At the risk of sounding cocky, I feel like this could be on purpose by the author. Without the confusion in this woman’s life, we wouldn’t be able to understand where she’s coming from. Death can do crazy things to your life, especially with marriage, secrets, and family gatherings. The ending leaves you wanting more coinciding almost exactly with the feelings of the narrator.

I was stunned, absolutely stunned at the ending. Not because I can’t imagine things that happen when a family gets together, but it is still more shocking to someone outside of the family. Overall, the book was satisfying. It’s relative to everyone in one way or another. Regardless of how crazy your family is, it’s nice to see that other families are worse. My next step is to write this paper. Although it should be a piece of cake, I don’t want it to fall short. There is a need for me to go above and beyond what I did in my undergrad. It’s easier because I’m not analyzing the text to find a certain theme. Instead, I’m asked to find what aspects of the book I like and what has affected my writing so far.

In 5-8 pages, I think I can do this in one day let alone three. It’s easy to find what you like or don’t like about a book. With the sticky notes and scribbles in the margin, I feel like my work will pay off. So, here goes my late night start to the first critical essay!

Make sure you check out The Gathering by Anne Enright!

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The Gathering: Week Two

So, to continue my journey through England and Ireland, I have come about 1/3 of the way through The Gathering. I’m spending less time putting notes on the pages and more time actually reading, which is a good change for me. As much as I want to be the diligent student who puts notes all the way through the book, sometimes I drop off and just read. To me, you lose the entire story of the book if you spend the entire time making notes about the little details. I know that I should be commenting on everything to make it easier to write my essay, but somehow it feel right to just read it.

The premise of the story is to show the life of a family after one of its members has committed suicide. Although this a problem almost everyone will have to deal with, people hate talking about death. In the Western culture, there is a stigma to those who focus on death. Yet, the existentialism inside me feels differently. I have a soft spot in my heart for the existential side of philosophy and most people have no clue what it actually means.

Existentialism isn’t some bourgeois hobby for the rich or a struggling artist’s way of life. It is the most applicable form of philosophy. In essence,  it helps you to realize what life could possibly be worth and how to achieve the life you want. I took an existential philosophy class junior year of my undergraduate education. It was paired with psychology, but the subjects were intermingled.

The first day of class, one of the most important subjects of existentialism was addressed. Death? Why do we need it? Should we fear it? And what happens after it? All of these questions are ones that existential philosophy attempts to answer. What does this have to do with The Gathering? EVERYTHING! Although it may not occur to some readers to think about philosophy while reading this book, it stood out immediately to me. For me, as a student of philosophy, how people handle death is one of the most fascinating subjects. It happens in so many different ways that the experience is hard to ignore. So, when I began reading of the family’s reaction to Liam’s death, I began to wonder.

The simplicity of the mother’s  horror, the obligation of his sister’s finances, and lastly the alteration of life after someone has died. Now the idea of death is heightened in this scenario because the death wasn’t timely or of natural causes. Liam killed himself by walking into the sea and drowning himself. Now I’m sure there are more details I will learn later, but this scene reminded me of the existential novel, The Stranger by Albert Camus. It also deals with the Western culture’s view of death.

The main character, Meursault, deals with his mother’s death in an unconventional, but familiar way. The familiar part lies in the fact that he was changed the moment his mother died. While he also had to take care of the funeral arrangements, his mother’s death allowed him to truly begin living. It wasn’t because she was holding him back physically so to speak, but the change in his life spurred a more important inner reflection that changed his life forever. Instead of tearing his life apart like it is doing to Veronica. Both responses are normal for humans to make. However, many cultures including Western will insist that they are abnormal and the behavior must stop after an appropriate amount of time. You get two days off work, if you’re lucky, and the grieving process must end after oh maybe two or three weeks.

But is that realistic to force a person to suppress feelings of grief, depression, or relief after a death? The existentialist would say no. The natural course of grief must be allowed to flow on its own or it will forever bar that person from returning to their equilibrium or becoming something better. For Veronica, her grief has only begun, but it is having drastic effects on her marriage and her family. It is possible she may never recover from the death of her brother. It may change her to the point where she must get divorced and do something completely different.

But what’s wrong with that? To me, death transforms us to a life without that person. Although death is a normal and vital part of reality, it should not be feared. It is something that happens. It needs to be handled with care. Not coddled or babied, but understood. If a person grieving needs weeks, months or years…then they should have it. That’s the way of life. When life ends it affects the living in a way we will never truly understand. You must be able to let that energy go.

For Meursault, he reacted in a way most people say a psychopath would. He was alive again. He responded in the opposite custom of the area and changed his life for the better. It was what he needed to find himself. People frowned upon Meursault for not caring enough about his mother. The existential would say that Meursault understood the nature of death and didn’t feel that he should react negatively. In some cultures death is celebrated with parties around the graves of the recently deceased. It is even ingrained in Western culture, which demands seriousness when referring to death. We gather together, eat food, and discuss the memories of the one past. In a way, all humans know that death is an inevitable end to all of us. To the ones who are conscious of it and celebrate, more power to you!  In the end, the person who realizes that death is coming no matter what, can free themselves from the fear of not living and finally live the way they want.

Check out The Stranger by Albert Camus, it is a terrific read!

The Stranger

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The Gathering Week One

Well, the first book I have to read for my residency with acclaimed western writer, Jane Boyer (Candia Coleman) is The Gathering by Anne Enright. Now you must be thinking, what is a western writer doing assigning an Irish writer to a bunch of first years (freshman so to speak)? The answer would be my upcoming trip to Dublin, Ireland in June. Why Anne Enright? Because she could very well be there during the residency and she is a fantastic example of Irish writing.

The copy I'm currently reading looks like this 🙂

I’ve had some experience with Irish writing. Mostly James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, and William Trevor. My experience first came in a Irish Short Fiction class during my junior or senior year of my undergrad. It would have been an amazing class if it had not been at 8 o’clock in the morning three days a week. There is just something about 8 a.m. that makes the brain want to work less. It was interesting nonetheless and I expect my time in Ireland will be much better than sleepy mornings in the basement of the library.

Returning to the purpose of the post, I have spent the last few days starting Anne Enright’s book.  The book is set in Ireland and England, so far. To me, they are exotic enough that just the areas she describes excite me to read more. As much as I enjoy her use of vocabulary and detailed scenes, I force myself to slow down. Too frequently, readers forget how to read slow and simply skim over the words only processing half of them. My friends and family may think I’m a fast reader because I finish books quickly, but that is not the case. In fact, I would describe myself as a slow reader on purpose. I want to savor the moments of a book whether it is for school or for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a race to get to the end of the story. A book should be read at the pace that it’s written.

For example, Carrie by Stephen King, I read in one sitting or a few hours. It was relatively small for a Stephen King novel, but the fast paced nature of the story is what led me to read it quickly. The author somewhat dictates how fast or slow you read the book, but the story also does that.  For the books I’m required to read for school, though, I deliberately take my time to savor and analyze the book. As I have  learned from my first residency, there is a difference between reading as a reader and reader as a writer. I struggle automatically to differentiate the two while reading.

However, I’m not alone as it is a skill acquired with time and practice. It is easy to enjoy a story and read for pleasure. It is another to read from an academic point and analyze potential literature for archetypes and common themes. It is another point all together to read as a writer. It is completely different to read thinking about style, voice, and point of view. To understand how a writer wrote such a fantastic story from the inside is a task not easily handled. So, I have only delved 1/5 of the way through the world Enright has created.

I am following an Irish family as they suffer through one of many deaths. The main character, Veronica Hegarty, is suffering most from her brother’s suicide. Although, from the first few pages, their deranged mother seems to be suffering more than all of her remaining children combined. I think the casual nature that Enright brings in the dysfunction of the family appeals most to me. Everyone thinks they have the most dysfunctional family, until they look at the house next door or down the street. It is that familiarity that your family infuriates you (Veronica being the responsible one and having to take care of all the arrangements) and soothes you (hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will) without you even realizing it. She depicts a playful relationships with the past and present of Veronica’s life in addition to an imaginative past of her grandparents’.

I am struck by how quintessential family can become in just a few chapters. It doesn’t have to relate at all to your own family because people always find similarities in the smallest things. It is simply the struggle of dealing with family and death that makes this book so easy to connect. Two elements that in one way or another shape every human being, every living creature on the planet. I look forward to each page, attempting to understand the bits of Irish culture embedded in the  story as well as the overall feeling of Enright as a writer. If I do have the chance to meet Enright, I will surely faint for the sheer fact that she is an acclaimed Irish writer. More importantly, I will again be in awe of those much more experienced and eloquent doing the most valuable thing in the world, writing.

So, I leave you reader to return to The Gathering and coincidentally my cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hope you will check out this little piece of Irish life as I prepare to write a paper about it.

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Inside the Life of A Grad Student

I have stated before that I am currently seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Carlow University. Pittsburgh is my setting for the next two years and it is an under rated place for writers.

My master’s program is unique because it is low residency in addition to studying abroad. It leaves me with a lot of time to write and amazing places to see. My first residency began almost a month ago and ended 11 intense days later. The low residency allows me to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Eight hours of seminars, workshops, and guest speakers with little time to breathe. I learned so much I can’t even write down the enormous amounts of knowledge I have now. You might not think 11 days can teach you a lot, but when you get a group of energetic, lonely writers together knowledge flows like a fountain of wine. I can tell you that already I have made life long friends in under two weeks. It is astounding what can happen when you put people with a common interest in the same room.

As the residency came to a close, I felt sad knowing I would have to go out into the world alone and use my new knowledge to write. It was so comforting to share my ideas with people who truly cared about giving constructive comments to improve my work.

From the end of the residency until June, I have some assignments and a lot of writing to do. Hopefully, though, I can count on the comments from my readers on here to help me with my fiction and guide me until my next residency.  Tomorrow I will have to e-mail 10 pages of my fiction to my mentor and in another two weeks I will have to  prepare a critical essay from a book I’ve read. Seems pretty simple for a graduate program, huh? Well, the easy part may seem to be the lack of work. In reality, the freedom and self-motivation become the difficult parts. Lucky for me I am a page away from my assignment due tomorrow.

The book I will start to read is The Gathering by Anne Enright, which is fitting because in four months I will be getting on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. My next residency is at Trinity College in IRELAND?! Since I am not a well-traveled young woman, this trip will be the first of many adventures I will have the pleasure of taking. Thanks to Carlow’s required study abroad aspect of the program, I get to visit a country I have dreamed of seeing for my entire life.

Only 11 days of class, four books, four papers, and then  trip to Ireland. How can life get any better? Let me tell you, I am one lucky girl that I can spend my days writing my heart away and my nights comfortable in my bed dreaming of four leaf clovers and Irish pubs.

I truly am grateful for the opportunities given by this program and enjoy every second of my new life as a full-time writer. My friends, colleagues, and family get to read what I do every day and see the happiness writing can bring a person.

Besides, how can a writer not be happy with this library to look forward to?

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