The Future is Now by Katherine Anne Porter – Selection #23 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠A♠ Ace of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of things that are (i.e. the “present” for Deal Me In purposes). This story’s title meant I could probably put it with Fate representing the present or future. I went with the present.

The Selection: “The Future is Now” – published in 1950  and included my copy of The Best American Essays of the Century” edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I found a google docs pdf copy of the essay online here.

The Author: Katherine Anne Porter – Born in Texas in 1890 and famous for her novel “Ship of Fools” and countless stories and essays. She’s been featured at Bibliophilopolis before, and my post about her short story “Theft” remains one of my more frequently visited pages.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Future is Now

“And yet it may be that what we have is a world not on the verge of flying apart, but an uncreated one – still in shapeless fragments waiting to be put together properly. I imagine that when we want something better, we may have it: at perhaps no greater price than we have already paid for the worse.”

 (above: had to go with an Ace of Spades from my Game of Thrones deck since… Season 7 is coming)

I never fail to be impressed by writing that “holds up” over the years and can still read as relevant in a totally different time and circumstance. Porter’s essay, “The Future is Now” is a good example. Written in 1950, it expresses legitimate concern about the future of humanity and shows how these thoughts are almost always with us.

This essay was written by Porter shortly after her having read an article about what to do in case of a nuclear attack – something that was starting to worry many at that point in history – and the futility in trying to prepare for one (see the underlined sentence in the photo above). Apparently, the testing of first Hydrogen Bomb was also eminent, and Porter had this in mind as well, leading to this essay also musing about the status of the human race and it’s love-hate relationship with technology.

I heartily recommend reading this essay (link given in the intro) to anyone in any time period (that sounds funny when I put it that way – what can someone of the 19th century do about it? – but I hope you understand what I mean). Personally, I choose to be hopeful in a world that often doesn’t seem to offer much hope for the future. Porter seems to choose hope as well, which is why I used the quote I did as the lead in above.

Why is the essay titled as it is? Porter explains:

“I was once reading the writings of a young girl, an apprentice author, who was quite impatient to get on with the business and find her way into print. There is very little one can say of use in such matters, but I advised her against haste – she could so easily regret it. ‘Give yourself time,‘ I said, ‘the future will take care of itself.‘ This opinionated young person looked down her little nose at me and said, ‘The future is now.‘”

Have you read Katherine Anne Porter? This essay would be a good start. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? When people at the office accuse me of being a pessimist, I deny it, borrowing the old line and saying “I’m not a pessimist, I’m just an experienced optimist.” 🙂

 

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“Theft” by Katherine Anne Porter

I completed my sixth short story from 2013’s “Project: Deal Me In” this last weekend. Although I doubt anyone is actually keeping score, I DO realize this will only be my fourth post related to this project. I’ve also read John Updike’s “Gesturing” and Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf” and still entertain hopes of eventually posting about them. :-):

Note: This post includes SPOILERS. I couldn’t find the story online anywhere.  I have a copy of it in the John Updike edited book, The Best Short Stories of the Century, which was a gift from my fellow citizen of Bibliophilopolis, Richard. (Thanks again, Richard!)

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Saturday morning I drew the Jack of Hearts. Hearts being my suit for “women authors” in this year’s project, I was led to Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Theft.” I read a story by Porter (“Flowering Judas”) for last year’s project, but somehow it didn’t make a lastng impression on me. This year’s story was much better received – by this reader anyway.

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Checking in at only six pages, “Theft” is one of the shorter of the short stories I’ll read this year. The theft which gives the story its name doesn’t really happen until the mid-point of the story, although the first sentence hints that  something may be missing: “She had the purse in her hand when she came in… She surveyed the immediate past and remembered everything clearly. Yes, she had opened the flap and spread it out on the bench after she had dried the purse with her handkerchief.” If it weren’t for the title of the story, this passage could also describe a simple “misplacement” of the purse rather than hinting it’s been stolen.

The main, unnamed character’s “survey of the immediate past” gives us a glimpse into the apparently dissipated life she must lead (for my part, I thought she mighti as have well been traipsing around Paris with that crowd from “The Sun Also Rises”) which gives us some footing when the story is rejoined “live.”

After a visit by the “janitress” of the building where she lives, she notices the purse is missing and that there can naturally be only one explanation for her purse’s disappearance. She frets for awhile because she realizes that it would be “impossible to get it back without a great deal of ridiculous excitement.”

Eventually, after considering that the purse, though having little real value and not containing hardly any money, had been a gift, she confronts the woman, who at first energetically denies the accusation. The janitress soon relents, however ,admitting the act and pleading “don’t never tell on me. I musta been crazy. I get crazy in the head sometimes, I swear I do.” She explains that she thought she’d give the purse to her seventeen year old daughter, who could use some “nice things” to help her attract a man. The telling passage is “She’s got young men after her maybe will want to marry her. She oughta have nice things. She needs them bad right now. You’re a grown woman, you’ve had your chance, you ought to know how it is!”

“You’ve had your chance.” Ouch! After this, the woman tries to give the purse back to the janitress, who then doesn’t want it either. “I guess you need it worse than she does!” Is the final, cutting barb thrown at her by the janitress.

Though the stolen item had been recovered, I thought the woman had lost far more in terms of her own dignity and self-respect. The final musing of the woman is “I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing.”

What have you read by Katherine Anne Porter? She is most famous for short stories, but did write at least one novel (that I’m aware  of). Any recommendations?

(Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980); picture from Wikipedia)

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