Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Stroke of Good Fortune"

“A Stroke of Good Fortune” confronts a popular O’Connor theme: the old south versus the new south. The former eats collard greens and has a long arm extending back into the slave ridden past, the former, has taken to the cities, and in doing so, has found civility. Ruby, the main character takes this theme head on in the opening pages, confronting the arrival of her brother home from war with distaste, for while he had seen the world, he would rather be in the faded town he originally hailed from. He wants collard greens, the comforts of home. But home represents everything Ruby has moved to divorce herself from.

She has married a Florida man, has managed to remain childless, and has found a new life. Ruby wants nothing to do with her Pitman past, striving to move forward and take claim of a new, cosmopolitan existence: “Where she wanted to be was in a subdivision…where you had your drugstores and grocery and a picture show right in your neighborhood” (O’Connor 96-97). She is happy in the city and hopes to move and advance on. Thus, she fights her past with every step up the stairs, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to be happy with her station in life, and fighting the trappings of age that are descending on her. She is a young 34 in her mind, much better than her parents, who seemed to be devoid of youth: “They had been dried-up type, dried up and Pitman dried into them, them and Pitman shrunk down into something all dried and puckered up” (99). They shrunk as a result of their surroundings, the very things that Ruby has shaken off. They had kids, she does not, they lived in Pitman, but Pitman had ceased to exist.

Each step up the four flights of stairs shakes Ruby. She consistently questions her mortality, while making pains to assert herself, to show her proper place in the world order, to show that she is better than in the others. In doing so, she seems desperate. She reaches out, repeatedly notes that children killed her parents, while also noting minor weight gain, shortness of breath, and the fact that her psychic, Madam Zoleeda, noted a long illness that would bring good fortune is afoot. From here, the plot turns on the fact that Ruby, the person who viewed children as the death of her, just might actually be pregnant. Are her ankles swollen, her midsection distended? Could Bill Hill have forgotten to take a precaution and turned Ruby into a mother? O’Connor confronts the psychological grotesque here: the horrors of a life one doesn’t want, the shock of harboring unwanted life within in you. In doing so, one can feel for Ruby, yet one cannot help but pity her in a loathsome manner.

Favorite Lines:

  • “She was too tired to take her arms from around it or to straighten up and she hung there collapsed from the hips, her head balanced like a big florid vegetable at the top of the sack” (95).
  • “He had little raisin eyes and a string beard and his jacket was a green that was almost black or a black that was almost green” (99). Fantastic description here.
  • “She had expected Rufus to have turned out into somebody with some get in him. Well, he had about as much get as a floor mop” (95).
  • “Her mother got deader with every one of them [children]” (97). Speaks of Ruby’s character to a fine point.

Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

While not a new book, I read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower after becoming enamored with the film of the same name that came out in 2012. While I took a long time to finally see the movie, I made mention of it in class and a well-read, annotated copy of the book showed up the next day.

As expected with any text in the teen genre, Chbosky tackles the typical teen issues: love, lust, loss, sex, drugs, and as a central theme for the text participating in life. Written as a series of first person letters, the novel centers around Charlie, a rising high school freshman who exists on the fringes of society and specifically teen life. Not only does he not fit in, he does not understand what fitting in entails, how to approach the idea, or how to really go about his days in general. He is the kind of guy that walks home for an hour rather than tackle the social dangers of the bus, the kind who sits alone at lunch because he has no place. Thus Charlie is a Wallflower, always on the outside looking in. His peers in general do not like him. He goes about his day almost as a wisp invisible to those around him and mocked by those who do see him.

In fact, Charlie writes his letters to a friend of unknown name or character, a person he thinks would want to listen only because the friend did not take advantage of a girl when he could have. Charlie recognizes the fact that he does not and will potentially never know the friend, and thus he spills his fears, thoughts, and emotions to the friend. Charlie details the suicide of one of his few middle school friends, his growing accidental but growing attachment to a group of seniors (Patrick, Sam, Mary Elizabeth, et al.) kind enough to invite Charlie into their group of wallflowers, and the emotional trauma associated with the loss of his Aunt Helen.

From here the novel follows an awkward sense of discovery, one that is as beautiful as it is awkward. Characters stumble down predictable paths, deal with real world themes, but do so through the innocent lens that Charlie proffers. At the urging of his English teacher Bill, a man who grows to love Charlie, Charlie undertakes an odyssey of literature. This literature, classics that prompt Charlie to think and consider all stages of life, gives Charlie an escape while all the while urging him to participate in life. Charlie stumbles upon Patrick’s homosexuality, specifically as Patrick is in a room with the school’s quarterback, a relationship that is both taboo and doomed to fail. Charlie falls in love with Patrick’s stepsister Sam, someone who loves Charlie too, but not in a romantic way, at least not at first. As expected he undergoes a lot of firsts, ranging from drugs to dances to sexual encounters, but he does so through the veil of emotional damage. Like a Holden Caulfield, there is something wrong with him, but unlike Holden, who never finds an answer, Charlie under goes his catharsis, deals with genuine demons, demons that would haunt any and all, and comes out all the better.

Favorite Lines:
  • “I need to know people exist. I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciate what that means.”
  • “I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out what how that could be.”
  • “For the rest of the school year, the teachers treated me different and gave me better grades even though I didn’t get any smarter. To tell you the truth, I think I made them all nervous.”
  • “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
  • “Maybe these are my glory days, and I’m not even realizing it because they don’t even involve a ball."
If you intend to purchase the book, please consider supporting this blog by using this link:The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Skora Fit: A Shoe Review

The Skora Fit: A Shoe Review
In action.
Skora produces high quality, neutral shoes, and they have done so for over two years, having recently held their second anniversary sale. Their past models include the Skora Phase, the Form, the Base, and the Core, all zero drop shoes with a neutral platform. But as the company continues to grow and evolve, they have created a trainer that has unique quality and appeal. Recently, I received a sample of the Fit, a shoe the effectively replaces the Base while marrying it with the Form. After running in a 5 mile road race in them on March 1, 2014, hitting a casual 33:47 and the a 15k of 64:11(The Gate River Run)  a couple weeks later, I have fallen very much in love the shoe.
Out of the Box

The Fit takes everything I like about Skora and improves on it. First off it is a trainer with the RO1 platform, a platform that is thick enough to allow one to navigate all surfaces, and I mean all—gravel, grass, road, track, pine forest trail, mud, drainage pipes, yes I run everywhere, have all been privy to my testing—without giving up the feel of the surface. While I love using the Phase and Core for speed work, the RO2 sole always limits me a bit with a virtually non-existent stack height, it is a bit too thin for my running style and build to use every day. So the Fit with the RO1 sole that has long been my favorite really helps. I can run with confidence on a daily warm-up route that encompasses many of the above surfaces, and feel confident while in a zero drop (the platform from heel to toe is level), low stack height situation. 
In use during a 5 mile road race.

Secondly, the Fit mirrors the build of the Form, my go to shoe for the last year, but instead of leather, Skora has presented a synthetic material that breaths much better in Florida humidity (yes February in Florida is humid and April has proved to be more so). While I've never thought the Forms to be hot per se, even in August heat of Florida, the Fit is cooler and I can notice the fact. The seamless upper has a cushy feel, an embrace that is much welcomed, and it is built with a flex that can accommodate different foot shapes. The shoe works well with my wide feet and has a wide toe box, a key ingredient in preventing blisters and allowing your feet to run the way they should: without having your toes smashed together.While this is not toe box of the Core, by far Skora's most roomy model, your toes can move freely and are not scrunched together.

That said, the inside of the shoe has a significant amount of comfort, having a 16mm stack height, which while it may not seem like much, is by far the thickest of all Skora's models. The RO1 platform is a bit more hidden than on the Form, and the shoe has more of a flexible platform feel: you feel what you need to feel while receiving ample protection. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an ultra-padded, neutral shoe the companies like Altra put out (shoes which have their place), but the shoe offers a strong build and springy comfort, especially with then new 3D printed upper.

Skora Sizing
  1. Synthetic materials are great in Florida. While I love the leather Skora models, a more breathable shoe is a godsend in the humidity. 
  2. Unlike the Base, the shoe has ample width and room: this shoe gets a lot of things right in this regard, trust me there. Even though it might feel snug at first, it reacts and adjusts, the shoe almost has a living quality to it. Any and all tightness fades after a wear or two. 
  3. You feel everything, with or without the insole. You can walk and run the way you are intended to, with full sensation. The sole is a bit more hidden though, the ridges and build that allow for flexibility are not noticeable at this juncture. 
  4. Flexibility. These shoes bend every which way, and they do so with little to no effort. They are neutral, they are light, the can run fast. I have run 300m repeats on grass in them, hitting close to where I wanted to be, and nailed 400m repeats on the track, hitting 8 between 75 and 83. The held up great through back-to-back 3200m thresholds around 12:35. I was confident in my running and thought little about the shoe, a key aspect. This fact remains evident in road races as well, holding up in both a 5 miler and a 15k without invoking any thoughts of footwear.
  5. Great Colorways, great appearance as Skora evolves, working to build a brand identity to advance as a company.
  6. The Form, which the Fit betters, had a saggy heel. The heel did not alter the fit of the shoe, it was an appearance issue. While this heel may be a bit heavy on the bottom, now it looks great all around.
All models of the Fit.
Cons (all of these were initial and have essentially ceased to be concerns):

  1. At times I feel a bit loose in the toes, I noticed this fact most early in runs. The material, which is printed via 3D printers, took a couple times out to get used to. When I fixated on the idea, I felt my toes digging in and grabbing the shoe. My feet had a different working feel, which is fine, but I did expect a slightly different feel. Since I rotate shoes, this shouldn’t be a huge problem—I see this being a long mileage and race shoe anyway. Over time, this thought has dissipated, but it is worth noting.
  2. The insole has raised perforations, something I love, but I feel as if these are a bit too overdone. They seem a bit too up there, a bit too protruded. I hate pointing out issues with a shoe I like, but honesty is key. This irritant vanished after a few runs as well and as I have crossed into the range of multiple hundred, they are not an issue.
  3. Laces. The shoe laces, as is common with Skora, are a bit long. I always tuck my laces, regardless of brand and model, so not a major issue.
Skora can be found socially at: 
facebook.com/skorarunning  |  @skoraRunning | http://instagram.com/skorarunning/#