My First Commonplace post!

Hi guys! I’m super excited to post for the first time, although I’m still figuring out how to work my site.

In my fiction class, I read a story titled “Bullet in the Brain”, written by Tobias Wolff. The ending of the story has been stuck with me since last week. It’s the story is of a man who gets shot during a bank robbery because he cannot control his condescending and sarcastic ways, and starts laughing at the shooter. The author includes what the man, Anders, sees in his final moments. Here is the passage:

“Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time, which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have abhorred, “passed before his eyes.”
It is worth noting what Ambers did not remember, given what he did remember. He did not remember his first lover, Sherry, or what he had most madly loved about her, before it came to irritate him…
Anders did not remember his wife, whom he had also loved before she exhausted him with her predictability, or his daughter, now a sullen professor of economics at Dartmouth. He did not remember standing just outside his daughter’s door as she lectured her bear about his naughtiness and described the truly appalling punishments Paws would receive unless he changed his ways. He did not remember a single line of the hundreds of poems he had committed to memory in his youth so that he could give himself the shivers at will – not “Silent, upon a peak in Darien,” or “My God, I heard this day,” or “All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?” None of these did he remember; not one…
He did not remember the surprise of seeing a college classmate’s name on the jacket of a novel not long after they graduated, or the respect he had felt after reading the book. He did not remember the pleasure of giving respect. Nor did Anders remember seeing a woman leap to her death from the building opposite his own just days after his daughter was born. He did not remember shouting, “Lord have mercy!” He did not remember deliberately crashing his father’s car in to a tree, of having his ribs kicked in by three policemen at an anti-war rally, or waking himself up with laughter. He did not remember when he began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread, or when he grew angry at writers for writing them. He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something else.
This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game. He looks on as the others argue the relative genius of Mantle and Mays. They have been worrying this subject all summer, and it has become tedious to Anders: an oppression, like the heat. Then the last two boys arrive, Coyle and a cousin of his from Mississippi. Anders has never met Coyle’s cousin before and will never see him again. He says hi with the rest but takes no further notice of him until they’ve chosen sides and some asks the cousin what position he wants to play. “Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short’s the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle’s cousin repeat what he’s just said, but he knows better than to ask. The others will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all – it’s that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.
The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.”

I admire how the author can so vividly imagine a scenario that’s impossible to experience- death- and convey that picture to his readers. The main reason I’m including this passage is because of the emotional effect it had on me. I’m one of those people who think about death from time to time, and I am TERRIFIED of it. I do like to imagine, however, that in my last few seconds I will see the people I love, and the moments that meant the most to me. In this story, the character does not see anyone that he loves, but he sees a baseball field from his childhood. The author explains that although this moment is short, in our brains time is almost infinite, so the man has time to make that little moment last. The author also mentioned what the man did not see. He didn’t see the moments that altered his life. He instead saw a short moment that never seemed to be influential while alive. That sparked a thought in me. It reminded me how important the little moments in our life are, and how much of an effect they can have on us, whether or not we are aware. When Wolff writes, “The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can still make time.”, I think the author was referring to “the bullet” as life itself. I’m not sure whether the author meant it in a pessimistic way, saying that in the end all of our memories will vanish, or if he meant that we should make the most memories, have the most hope, and share talent and love while we are here. That’s the way I like to look at it. I believe that every moment matters, and I intend to live my life this way.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Beth says:

    Wow – this is a great passage to include. I’m always intrigued by how authors represent this moment just before death. I mean, like you said, it’s not something that we can ever really know, but how do we imagine it? I also find the “everything that he didn’t remember”approach to be interesting here… he goes through all of the things that we would assume would be Anders final thoughts, thereby not only directly challenging our assumptions, but also drawing a serious contrast between and emphasis of the memory that he did have at that moment. I think you’re right in that it does seem to make the argument that we should value every single moment, even the ones that seem insignificant at the time, because in the end, those might be the moments that stick with us. Anyway, it definitely inspired some thought about the content and the writing, and that’s what the commonplace is for. Nice job.


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