New York, New York

Time challenges me this semester. I feel as though it stands in the corner of my dorm room, taunting me and then, encouraging me to be wasteful. I’m trying to find the balance between work time and leisure time, especially since I discovered that planning only work time makes me want to fall down face first in the snow and not move until May. There isn’t enough time for work and play, resulting in an endless list of “almost.” I read almost all of Anna Karenina. I put almost all of my clothes away. I scanned almost all of my geography textbook.

In the mad race of spring semester, I have time for a handful or less of pleasure-reading paragraphs, much to my disappointment. Fortunately, my Advanced Writing professor recently introduced me to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Summer Fiction Series for The New York Times. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, I’m not quite sure), they require a great deal of time for thought. So instead of a novel today, I would like to consider “The Clarion,” a favorite of mine.

***

Art by Andrea Wan
Art by Andrea Wan

The Clarion

by Curtis Sittenfeld

In December of my sister’s first year in medical school, before she went crazy, she drove from Lincoln back to Naperville the day that a blizzard swept the Midwest. She left early in the morning and for eight hours stayed just ahead of the storm; she stopped only once, east of Des Moines, for gas and a bathroom. After pulling into my parents’ driveway, she opened the car door and stiffly unfolded herself, and at that exact moment, the darkening sky exploded with snow. My sister stuck out her tongue and caught a flake.

***

If you’re like me, your forehead was furrowed with wrinkles of confusion when you finished reading. Living in Minnesota means that I have a fairly good grasp on blizzards. Everyone avoids being in them, and while sometimes, you can clearly see them coming, they still turn up unexpectedly. So, the sister is trying to outrun a blizzard. What does that have to do with her being crazy? Looking back at the title gave me some clues. A clarion by dictionary definition is an antique trumpet or the sound that it makes. The severe weather warnings always start with a shrill beeping of which this word reminded me.

The story clicked for me after this, although I admit that I might be wrong. The sister trying to outrun the blizzard is a metaphor for her trying to outrun the mental illness that now plagues her. Loud and clear warning signs are like the sound of an antique trumpet, but they are ignored and evaded. Still, she can’t run forever, and in the end, it catches up with her. Maybe the fact that she even tried to outrun a blizzard was a clarion, a clear warning of trouble to come. People have a tendency to think that others just “go crazy,” but I don’t think it works like that always. There are always causes and factors that play into a person losing mental stability, but we don’t always see them.

As much as I love Anna Karenina, I’m learning that a written work doesn’t have to be long in order to evoke powerful feelings and challenge the reader. Perhaps I should read more haiku.

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