My pet human insists on using the computer today. I will grant her this one time. She likes the work of an author named Kirby Olson, whose blog is Lutheran Surrealism. He is a professor at SUNY-Delhi, and mostly the followers of his blog have a wide variety of views, and sometimes have real cat fights in the comments box. She has read his book, Temping, and today will post her review of the book.
You can visit his blog here and wish him well in his journey to being a world famous author.
Just remember, his site is under new construction, and he could probably benefit from the cat blogging help center at Skeezix' blog.
By Kirby Olson
Black Heron Press, 2006
Last year I came across a blog called Lutheran Surrealism, posted by Kirby Olson, who is currently an associate professor of philosophy and literature at SUNY Delhi. Originally I followed the blog for two main reasons. First, I had been raised Lutheran, and Olson’s characterizations of Lutheran culture left me rolling with laughter. Secondly, he frequently debated philosophy with a friend of his, Carl Sachs, also a professor of philosophy. I found those debates to be very enlightening and educational, since after I got past Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in school, I fell asleep in philosophy class.
Eventually I began reading some of Olson’s other works, in particular a book of poetry called, “Waiting for the Rapture,” and a novel entitled, “Temping.” I posted my thoughts on Olson’s poetry here. Today I post my thoughts regarding Temping.
Homer meets P.T. Barnum in this mock heroic epic of a semi-autobiography. The protagonist, Milhouse Moot, leads a mostly meaningless life as he goes from temp job to temp job. He revels in his lack of personal relationships, and at age 38, Moot is still a virgin. That’s easy to accept as plausible since Moot leads life with his nose buried in obscure philosophy. He loves ugliness and despises beauty.
Although Moot outwardly professes to prefer his lonely, solitary existence, the reader learns otherwise when he takes the first step on his odyssey by visiting a crass and blunt woman psychiatrist.
Moot tells her in his first visit:
“I like temping. ‘I see nothing wrong with it,’ I lied. I was acutely disgusted with my existence....yet I was too lazy to do anything about it.....There was always more philosophy to read. If this shrink thought I was going to be an easy cure, then she should have read Freud’s treatise on jokes.”
Moot then spends the entire rest of his 50 minute hour with the shrink detailing a lengthy battle with a former boss, which took the form of one-on-one basketball. The basketball battle, which Moot almost loses because of a well timed foul, becomes a precursor to an even greater battle with a future boss and romantic rival.
Despite his attempts to divert the shrink with his story, she gives him blunt advice: get drunk, get laid.
Moot’s attempt to follow this advice lands him in a brothel in Hong Kong, with a friend, Billy Whims, another writer wanna-be leading a life of temporary existence. This particular scene, in which poor, pathetic Moot does not get laid and instead faints, should have any reader in stitches. While in
This is just the beginning of Moot’s quest for permanence and beauty in his life. In his odyssey for love, marriage, and family, Moot takes his readers on a journey to grad school, then on to Finland with Lissa, who had “mistakenly married” him, then on to the Tampere Clown School, where clowning is serious business in academia.
Moot faces his second great epic battle at
Nations ups the ante with a challenge:
“This rivalry has gone on long enough. Let’s move it into the open. Name a sport, Milhouse. Name any sport. If I beat you, I sleep with your wife. If you beat me, you can have my senior salary, and I’ll take your minuscule one.”
Moot chooses badminton. To tell more would be to spoil the plot.
When I finished reading Temping, I had a sense of deja vu. Just as I had originally planned to use “Waiting for the Rapture,” to become more acquainted with certain poets Olson quotes on his blog, I had planned to use “Temping,” as an opportunity to become better versed in post modern philosophy. I spent a good amount of time trying to match Olson’s characters to certain philosophers, i.e. the shrink represents Freud, etc. Who represented Proust, Sade, Duchamp? Liisa obviously falls into the Lutheran camp. My one and only criticism is that Olson refers to so many philosophers quite casually. My knowledge of philosophy will never match that of a university professor who specializes in this discipline. I couldn't shake the sense that I missed a certain depth to the plot and characters since I did not fully understand Kant, Kierkegaard, Proust, Nietzsche, Jarry, Tate, Kelly, among other names found in Temping.
In addition, this served to divert my attention from the overall story. Once again, to me at least, Olson is sharing the story of his journey back to faith, family, and friends, this time with a humorous, yet sometimes poignant angle. I found it easier to understand his universal message through his poetry, which was not spreckled with great names of philosophers.
At the same time, Temping provides the most complete explanation, that I have found, by Olson, of his journey back to the church. On the very first post of his blog, he comments to Andrew:
Andrew,The order of my introduction into Lutheran surrealism was like this: I was raised in a Lutheran church but rebelled at age 12, and never went back. Then, about four years ago when I was 42, my daughter was baptized in a Lutheran church in a tiny village in Finland. I wept uncontrollably for about an hour as I heard those childhood hymns being sung."
This explanation seemed vague to me, as did other explanations provided on his blog. And I have read similar explanations elsewhere on his blog. How does music alone convert some one back to the church? But Temping goes further, with this description of his eldest child's baptism:
"In the morning we went to the church for the baby to be baptized. The pastor held the baby against his white and green robes, and began to recite the magical words. I felt Christ come into my heart. I had never experienced this before. Then the congregation began to sing.....I held the baby and saw God in him, and in all the world. As I tried to sing the words of the hymn, I began to weep."
This explanation helped me to understand a little better how Olson ended up as a staunch Lutheran later in life.
During his final visit to the psychiatrist, the shrink asks Moot if he has a philosophy for life.
"Life is a horrible, demented circus in which we look at others as if they are horrible mistakes, only in order to laugh. It is only with pain that we can learn to really laugh. There is however something higher than laughter that takes place when we look up into the stars or into our lover's face. That is, beyond the natural comedy, by looking up in quiet and wonder, and allowing the beauty of Christ to walk within us."Apparently, getting drunk and getting laid did wonders for Milhouse Moot.
Temping tells a heartwarming story of finding permanence, beauty, love, family, and God, with crack-up characters and scenarios. Hmmmmm, maybe the Coen brothers will make it into a movie.
p.s. the book should be rated R for language.