Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best I Read Articles Again: You Should Too

George Saunders spent about a week in a Tent City in or around Fresno, this is his report (he wrote it for GQ).

George Saunders, known primarily for his short fiction, writes some of the best creative non-fiction I've come across. While this story mostly entertaining, it starts teaching you lessons eventually. This part here that I now excerpt really gave me pause, had me think about some of the less-fortunate/deranged people I've worked with/gotten to know/tried to "help" over the years.

The Cratchit Confusion

At times, as indicated above, the PR found certain residents of the Study Area irritating, even maddening. At one particularly low point, when very tired, not himself at all, the PR, who in real life prided himself on his kindheartedness, even wrote, in the project notebook: “Exterminate the brutes.” For several days afterward, he felt bad about this while, at the same time, continuing to feel exasperated with the Study Area residents. Then the PR realized the error of his thinking, an error he thereafter thought of as The Cratchit Confusion.

Bob Cratchit, the hero of Charles Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol, is poor yet virtuous. He is honest, forthright, hardworking, clean, and articulate. He loves his family and is forgiving of those who oppress him. He is, in other words, easy to sympathize with. In the real world, however, the unfortunate may not be so likable. They may be stupid, dishonest, lazy, or mean. They may obfuscate, they may attack those weaker than themselves, they may claim their poverty is the fault of an unfair world, they may invent lives for themselves in which they are heroic sages, ahead of the curve. These negative qualities, in fact, may be the root cause of their misfortune.

But to love the unfortunate, it is not necessary to feel fond of them or tenderness toward them. Momentary irritations are inevitable, the PR came to feel; they are also irrelevant. All we must do is what we would do if we could see the unfortunate purely. Our minds can be kind when our hearts cannot. In time, he predicted, his irritation would recede and all that would remain would be feelings of sadness and protectiveness toward the Study Area residents, who, after all, had not killed or abused him but had let him walk among them with impunity, and had even been kind to him, if not always to one another.

I hope you feel inclined to take the time to read his big long article. It is not always squeaky clean, but I think we'll all survive.


Gwendolyn said...

Great article, thanks for sharing. Mental illness and homelessness go together like rama lama lama etc. I saw my homeless friend Michael last week and we hadn't talked for more than 2 minutes before he headed into space alein territory. It makes me sad because it's a problem beyond money...I think?

Curious--is The Braindead Megaphone better, worse, or incomparable to The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (if you read the latter)?

Brigham said...

Hello Gwendolyn, I hope you come back and read my answer:

The Braindead Megaphone is totally different as it's all essays like the one above. It is a very good collection, I could not recommend it more. There's an essay where he goes to Dubai, and essay where he works with the militia along the US/Mexico border, and an essay about Johnny Tremain, to name a few. It is great.

Gwendolyn said...

I came back for your answer! Thanks Brigham, I'll give it a try.(And for the record, I do know how to spell alien.)