What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)
by Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver 1938 – 1988
Raymond Carver Jr. a short story writer and poet is a major American writer of the late 20th century and also a major force in the revitalization of the short story in the 1980s.
Carver was born in Oregon a mill town on the Columbia River and grew up in Yakima Washington. His father a skilled sawmill worker was a fisherman and a heavy drinker. Carver’s mother worked on and off as a waitress and a retail clerk. His one brother James Franklin Carver was born in 1943.
Carver was educated at local schools in Yakima Washington. After graduating from High School in 1956 Carver worked with his father at a sawmill in California. In June 1957 aged 19 he married 16-year-old Maryann Burk when she was already pregnant. When their second child was born the next year Carver was 20. Carver supported his family by working as a janitor sawmill laborer delivery man and library assistant. During their marriage Maryann worked as a waitress salesperson administrative assistant and high school English teacher.
Carver became interested in writing in California where he had moved with his family because his mother-in-law had a home. Carver attended a creative-writing course taught by the novelist John Gardner who became a mentor and had a major influence on Carver’s life and career. During this period he was first published and served as editor for Toyon the university literary magazine in which he included several of his own pieces under pseudonyms. He later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa for one year. Maryann graduated from San Jose State College in 1970 and taught English at Los Altos High School until 1977.
In the mid-1960s Carver and his family lived in Sacramento where he worked as a night custodian at Mercy Hospital. He would do all of the janitorial work in the first hour and then write at the hospital through the rest of the night. With his appearance in the respected Foley collection the impending publication of Near Klamath by the English Club of Sacramento State College and the death of his father 1967 was a landmark year for Carver. That was also the year that he moved his family to Palo Alto California so that he could take a job as a textbook editor for Science Research Associates. He worked there until he was fired in 1970 for his inappropriate writing style. In the 1970s and 1980s as his writing career began to take off Carver taught for several years at universities throughout the United States.
During his years of working different jobs rearing children and trying to write Carver started to drink heavily. By his own admission eventually he more or less gave up writing and took to full-time drinking After being hospitalized three times Carver began his ‘second life’ and stopped drinking on June 2 1977 with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Carver met the poet Tess Gallagher at a writers’ conference in Dallas Texas in November 1977. Beginning in January 1979 Carver and Gallagher lived together in El Paso Texas in a borrowed cabin near Port Angeles in western Washington state and in Tucson Arizona. In 1980 the two moved to Syracuse where Gallagher had been appointed the coordinator of the creative writing program at Syracuse University; Carver taught as a professor in the English department. He and Gallagher jointly purchased a house in Syracuse at 832 Maryland Avenue. In ensuing years the house became so popular that the couple had to hang a sign outside that read Writers At Work in order to be left alone. In 1982 Carver and first wife Maryann were divorced. He married Gallagher in 1988 in Reno Nevada. Six weeks later on August 2 1988 Carver died in Port Angeles Washington from lung cancer at the age of 50. In the same year he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Carver’s career was dedicated to short stories and poetry. He described himself as inclined toward brevity and intensity and hooked on writing short stories.
Raymond Carver is buried at Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles WA. The inscription on his tombstone reads:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
This is an interesting poetic commentary on his loving relationship with his second wife the poetess Tess Gallagher.
No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy. Gravy these past ten years. Alive sober working loving and being loved by a good woman. Eleven years ago he was told he had six months to live at the rate he was going. And he was going nowhere but down. So he changed his ways somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest? After that it was all gravy every minute of it up to and including when he was told about well some things that were breaking down and building up inside his head. Don’t weep for me he said to his friends. I’m a lucky man. I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.
This is a thinking post so put your thinking cap on. The post must refer to the two Carver’s love poems above.
What is love? What does each of us understand by the charged word love? Is there more than one kind of love as Carvers story claims?
Carver was married twice. His own life story presents two completely different kinds of love and completely different kinds of relationships; the first one with his first wife in the first part of his life; he married very young had two children and was often drunk. The second relationship
with his second wife during the last 11 years of his life was very loving and creative. These two kinds of love found their way into his story and poem. And as poetry is the language of the heart the second kind of love at the end of his life is beautifully expressed in the above two short poems.
Writing the Post:
Write a paper with a thesis statement quotes in-text quotes citing and works-citing. The paper should relate to the following points:
1. There are two couples involved in the conversation around the table; however there are four more relationships involved in this story about the meaning of love each relationships presents another kind of love. Each person seems to have his own idea of what love is. Explore each one of the five different forms of love as expressed by the four characters. Bring one relevant quote from each.
(Mel and Terry; Mel and his first wife; Terry and her first husband; Nick the narrator and Laura; the old couple in the car crash)
2. Find a connection between the story and Carvers two poems Late Fragment and Gravy.
3. Throughout the story Carver uses light as a metaphor and he ends the story with the room going dark. Explain
4. What writing technique/s does Carver use to tell his story and drive the plot forward? (description narration dialogue or any other?)
5. If you like the story and find it interesting what do you think is the reason for its success? If you dont like it what to your opinion is the reason for its failure?
6. Any scene/s that you especially like?
The answers should be in a form of an essay.