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  #1  
Unread 09-16-2022, 02:11 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Default Two Professors

Two Professors


Two professors, dressed in the fatigues of academia—worn white shirts, ties that have been knotted far too many times, thick-soled shoes—strolled through the grove that stretches behind the university's seldom used chapel. It was a lovely afternoon, and they are speaking of love.

“Love is the force that drives the wind,” the second professor said. His red hair was turning gray. “Many enjoy the warm breeze but some aren't allowed to feel it.” The second professor dedicated his life to understanding the Napoleonic Wars. He lived alone in his little house.

The first professor had made it his life's work to look for patterns in lived time, although he secretly perceived the world as a string of disconnected visions brought together for an unknown purpose. This was his gravest professional embarrassment and fortunately was able to keep it a secret he never shared with anyone including his wife, who he met when he was only twenty years old. The summer after his first year away at a prestigious school he had manned an elevator in a deserted building that was waiting for a buyer. The elevator was the old-fashioned type with the doors he had to shut manually, running the risk each time of smashing his fingers beyond repair, and the array of buttons he pressed until the creaking chains lifted or lowered the car to its destination. He had long ago stopped wondering why his wife, a lovely girl a year older than he, had stepped into the dark container that day, or why she, without a word, gently rubbed his cheek with the back of her fingers. When the elevator stopped she dropped her hand and stepped off the elevator. The young aspiring professor surprised himself by following her out of the building and down the bright mid-day street until she stopped and waited without turning for him to be beside her. She took his arm and they continued down the street. From that day she no longer saw her previous lover who had feared mirrors the way horses fear fire. Nevertheless, even after earning his wife because of timing, the professor never saw any meaning in time.

The second professor only loved the Battle of Austerlitz. In bed, as he waited for sleep to come he thought of the Sun of Austerlitz and the young French soldiers dying on the Pratzen Heights. The first professor did not know the second professor had to keep his mind tuned in order to fight off the despair that perched each day before him like tasty flesh on the sharp edge of a blade. The first professor thought the second professor was far too romantic to be trusted with the events of the past. The second professor had once had a lover who, although she was a prodigious eater, faded away. To this day the second professor isn't certain if she walked away or if she simply disappeared into a breeze, but he does know it is of no import.

They both knew it was best if they kept their friendship focused on the world they share with us all. As they walked that day through the shifting shadows on the campus green the first professor's mind was busy with old elevators and absent mirrors and the second professor hoped the same sun that cleared the day for the perishing French corporals three centuries before would one day light the soft contours of his heart.

Last edited by John Riley; 09-19-2022 at 09:30 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-16-2022, 07:21 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Damn, John this is a wonderful and strange narrative. I almost put little as a modifier in front of little, but took it out, as it implied something I wanted, by all means, to avoid, the impression that the theme of the story was trivial or unimportant. It's not. Love runs through this story like a red thread on a floor going under doors that the writer invites the reader to walk through. The elevator in the empty building is a wonderful device, as is the theme of Prof two loving only the Battle of Austerlitz. The capitalization of "Sun" is wonderful too. Reading it, I felt the heat of the ruined landscape after battle, but then there is the victor of the battle – its Sun, the little man on the horse. And I loved the idea of the "lover who, though she was a prodigious eater, faded away. The one suggestion I would have in reference to Prof 2 is that his despair is perched "before" him, but the flesh is "atop" the razor. I want to have that sense of imminence to be present from the top. But this is small stuff compared to what a wonderful piece you have given us. Other commentators have written about how you mine and merge your poetry and fiction and, though I have not seen an earlier version of this, a poetic sensibility just jumps off the page.
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  #3  
Unread 09-19-2022, 10:17 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks, Rob, I'm happy it works. I certainly respect anything you say. It's a love and a without-love story. I think the second professor may be true with what he says at the beginning.

I fixed the "atop" issue. I let this one develop in my own petri dish for a good while. Perhaps I should do that more often.

Thanks again.
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  #4  
Unread 09-19-2022, 11:45 AM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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I like this very much John. It's witty but more than just a joke. The two proffessors are psychologically photographed.
It reminds me of the micro-fictions of M. John Harrison: you have a similar psychological insight formed through imagery used as argument: Harrison calls it twisted or unsettled Imagism, I wonder if you can relate?
In the first paragraph, should the "is" in the final sentence be a "was"?
I wonder if "delectable" is too abstract a word?
Is the first "know" in the final paragraph meant to be "knew"? But then the rest of the sentence is in present tense, so is the "was" supposed to be "were"? But then the "walked" makes the second sentence past tense. I don't think this is a stylistic trick; that is, if it is, I am not feeling its effect yet′

Hope this helps.

Last edited by W T Clark; 09-19-2022 at 11:51 AM.
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  #5  
Unread 09-19-2022, 12:59 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I enjoyed this. It seems wistful. There's a hint of the surreal to it too, which I enjoy. With regard to love, we seem to the see the gap between the concept/ideal and reality, but it's also a story I can read without too much worry about what it means, beyond it's internal coherence.

I have various mostly very minor things.

I wonder a bit why the first professor to be introduced is labelled "the second professor" and vice versa. I guess the "first professor" is primary in the story.

In P2, I think it needs to be, "he second professor had dedicated his life ... ". Otherwise it seems like he dedicates it there and then in response to the first's pronouncement -- or that he does so regularly.

P3 "The first professor had dedicated his life's work to look". Seems a little bit odd. "had dedicated his life to ..." or "had made it his life's work to ..." or "lifes's work was" or something. Otherwise it sounds like it's like a book: I dedicate this book, which is my life's work, to my wife. But the book isn't about my wife.

“Love is the force that drives the wind,” the second professor said. His red hair was turning gray. “Many enjoy the warm breeze but some aren't allowed to feel it.” The second professor dedicated his life to understanding the Napoleonic Wars. He lived alone in his little house.

"and fortunately was able to keep it a secret he never shared with anyone" seems a bit wordy and a touch redundant. How about, "and he had never told anyone"

I wonder a bit about the line about the previous lover and his fear? I'm not clear what it's adding. I guess, it tells us that she had left someone for him. And yes, you have a call-back at the close, but what the fear or mirrors has to do with anything, I'm not sure. That the lover was afraid of reflections, and by extension of reflection, whereas the prof is a reflective type? If there's a point, maybe it needs some expansion?

"Nevertheless, even after earning his wife because of time, the professor never saw any meaning in time." I'm not clear how he has earned his wife because of time. Does this mean, because they'd been together a long time he'd come to have earned her? It doesn't sound like he earns her in the first place. Also the story of how he meets his wife seems to back up the profs idea that events are "brought together for an unknown purpose". A seemingly chance encounter. A woman drawn to him for no obvious reason.

"The second professor had no wife" seems to reiterate what we've already been told. Maybe it's enough to say, "The second professor had once had a lover who ..."

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-19-2022 at 02:43 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 09-19-2022, 09:19 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Cameron, I'm really glad you like it overall. I've seen Harrison mentioned but have never read him. You make me wish I had. I think it's a book in the near future. Thanks.

Thanks for the grammar catches. I had a copy editor and proofreader for so many years. I'm still lazy.

I'll have to take a longer look at "delectable."


Matt, I always appreciate your help. I like that you overall seem to appreciate what it is. I always use your notes in rewriting.

I need to keep the first and second professors because they are both main characters, even if the first one gets more attention.

Thanks for the catch in p2

I will go with "had made it his life's work"

I'll have to look at the wordiness. I don't want that impression anywhere in this one.

I knew the mention of her ex-lover would stand out. I think it puts this strange woman in some context. Where did she come from? Why was she stroking his face and why did she stop walking so he could reach her? Everything about her is odd and so is this. I'll consider if it's too much.

I'll have to think about your last note. I'm not rejecting it necessarily but don't want to make a rash decision.

I'm coming to think of these types of pieces more as prose poems than as stories. I write stories occasionally and used to write them exclusively. I have a good ear for the difference. This one doesn't go anywhere. It's all about seeing what is in front of us. In that regard, it's more of a poem than lots of lined and measured works that no one considers to be anything but poems.

Thanks again, guys.
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  #7  
Unread 09-19-2022, 09:33 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I've made many of the suggested changes in the original post. I forgot I may want to do it in another post that marked out the changes. Sorry. It's getting late for me now that I'm teaching part of the day.

Excuses, excuses

Last edited by John Riley; 09-20-2022 at 12:34 AM.
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  #8  
Unread 09-20-2022, 07:56 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
Hi John, I’ve been gathering my thoughts on this curious vignette for a few days... I do agree with the general sentiment of both Matt and Cameron that you could make this less circuitous and clean up the syntax a bit. I think, too, that you could continue to make this more and more curious. I definitely get an absurdist vibe from the N in the telling of the story.

The opening line’s imagery is strong. It creates the basis for everything that follows and is returned to in the story’s ending. I do find it curious that the professors are simply identified as “first” and “second”. It is disconcerting — A good thing! It always takes me a while to become familiar with characters’ names in a book, movie, play, etc.. I tend to listen less to the actual names and more to the distinctive actions/behaviors. Same in real life. Here, you’ve done away entirely with naming them and instead assign them numbers. It is strangely helpful to me in keeping track of who is who. It’s also somewhat impersonal, which is interesting… It may be a nod to the anonymous professorial persona that seems to settle upon profs as they age. In fact, that aspect is, to me, one of the most intriguing aspects of this story: the ossification aspect of academia.

The opening paragraph sounds very much like director's notes for a scene. I can’t decide if I like that kind of narrative style in prose because it reads a bit like staging.

Observations
  • One professor‘s interest/preoccupation was macro/abstract (looking for patterns in lived time). The other’s was micro/realist (the Battle of Austerlitz). Curious dichotomy.
  • What is most significant to me is that their relationship was a close one in one sense (they strolled the campus grounds together and mused over things) my sense is they were strangers to each other. The internal reality always trumps the external reality, is what I feel this is saying. It is impossible for a person to know what events/experience from the external world will worm their way into the internal world where reality will make a mos=nster of it, somehow, someway, by hook or crook, and so on and so forth.
  • I can’t put my finger on why I do, but I feel like this is posthumus and biographical.
  • “Dressed in the fatigues of academia” is a great image. It may be, though, that you need an additional qualifier to more accurately identify the image. Something like, “dressed in the fatigues of old academia”.

Much enjoyed. As ordinary as it reads on the surface, it has an undercurrent of surrealness/isolation running through it.

.
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  #9  
Unread 09-28-2022, 05:13 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Jim, sorry about the delay responding. Your insights are valuable. As is common in my work I have a hunch, a feeling, not an idea when I start. Reading someone's deep understanding of what they see in a work helps me a great deal when rewriting.

Thanks
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