How much we have always known, and how much we conveniently forget. An article from this time is titled, “We have met the polluters and they are us” and ads herald the arrival of new, more powerful computers, cameras and electric cars from Germany, foreshadowing the obsessions that grip us today.
In the midst of all this, a yellowed file card bears this message in well-formed print:
“DAVID: I BACKWASHED ALL BY MYSELF TODAY, I HOPE I DID IT RIGHT. LOVE, MAGNOLIA.”
WHO WAS MAGNOLIA?
Possibly the teenaged daughter of the man who, on another piece of yellowed paper, writes,
“THE IMPULSE, WHEN ONE IS WRITING SHORT NOTES—APHORISMS, FRAGMENTS, JOURNAL ENTRIES—IS TO STRETCH IT A LITTLE TOWARDS THE GENERAL, OR, EVEN WORSE, THE PROFOUND.”
He—I feel sure it’s a man, although the carefully formed, flowing script might indicate a woman—goes on, “THE SEDUCTIONS—CLICHES—OF STRUCTURE ARE MORE INSIDIOUS THAN THOSE OF CONTENT. NO MORE PROFOUND EPIGRAMS AND APHORISMS. NO MORE STORIES THAT CULMINATE IN EPIPHANIES”—which would wipe out a good deal of literature. “NO MORE POEMS THAT RESONATE WITH DEEP CURRENTS OF FEELING.” This would eliminate a great deal of poetry. “NO MORE HAPPY ENDINGS.”
The daughter who wondered if “I have done it right” might have heard these statements as though from an oracle.
The man—now I’m sure it’s a man—goes on, “So much is like the ‘art’ teachers send children home with. Parents are supposed to love it and put it up on the refrigerator door until they can throw it away when the children are not looking.”
Is this what happened with Magnolia’s “art”? We who have raised children remember our perhaps manufactured enthusiasm.
He goes on, as though addressing these too-receptive parents:
“Childish, unfailingly loving and fascinated audience.”
Finally: “HERO”—an arrow leads to—“TRAGEDY”—and then an arrow leads backwards to “sympathy of mom and dad.”
And, as a coda, “AROUND THE DEMIGOD” followed by an arrow leading to “SATYR PLAY.”
The Satyr play, a comedy, was part of the literature of ancient Greece. It offered “the bawdy satyr of burlesque, brazen sexuality, (including phallic props), pranks, sight gags and general merriment.”
Does raising a daughter inevitably mean enduring “art” that is not art—and the sentimentality attendant on that effort?
If so, the remedy at hand for this writer was the satyr—uncontrollable, sexually explicit, breaking the rules that seem to govern the raising of daughters.
I wonder of Magnolia ever read a satyr play, and, if she did, did she think of her father?
This is a short course in how a short story might be made.