Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Beggar Maid

Yesterday I wrote about hope and laughter and being disadvantaged. I've also been reading stories from Alice Munro which gives me pause to think.

She is a brilliant writer. Her skill in crafting sentences into paragraphs is awe inspiring. But what she does best of all is write about regular, even mundane things. There is no action in her stories; no guns or knives or killing. Instead she writes about the internal life and how it relates to our environments, the past and the present. I often find myself stopping to re-read bits, sometimes several times; savouring, digesting, thinking.

In the "The Beggar Maid", she tells the story of a girl from a poor background that goes off to university on a scholarship. She finds accommodations with a retired professor. The house is filled with treasures from China and other places travelled to.

"Dr. Henshawe's house had done one thing. It had destroyed the naturalness, the taken-for-granted background, of home. To go back there was to go quite literally into a crude light. Flo had put fluorescent lights in the store and the kitchen. There was also, in a corner of the kitchen, a floor lamp Flo had won at Bingo; its shade was permanently wrapped in wide strips of cellophane. What Dr. Henshawe's house and Flo's house did best, in Rose's opinion, was discredit each other. In Dr. Henshawe's charming rooms there was always for Rose the raw knowledge of home, an indigestible lump, and at home now her sense of order and modulation elsewhere exposed such embarrassing sad poverty in people who never thought themselves poor. Poverty was not just wretchedness, as Dr. Henshawe seemed to think, it was not just deprivation. It meant having those ugly tube lights and being proud of them. It meant continual talk of money and malicious talk about new things people had bought and whether they were paid for. It meant pride and jealousy flaring over something like the new pair of plastic curtains, imitating lace, that Flo had bought for the front window..." ~ Alice Munro

You may wonder what this has to do with the men from the Shepherds of Good Hope. I'm not really sure myself, except that it has changed my understanding of what it means to be in their position. It seems to me, that it is wrong to impose my own experience and expectations on them, and judge according to my life. It would be like someone ultra rich seeing my life and pitying me for my poor circumstances. I don't pity myself.

Reading her stories makes me pause and consider my own preconceptions about others, and even to look at how I judge my own life, my own experiences. Should life be judged? Or should every experience be felt as it is, without a harsh eye? Judgement and mindfulness do not go hand in hand and are instead at odds with each other.

She inspires me to try to write better, but really what I do write is just a joke next to her prose.