Oliver J Shields-Nordness
University of North Dakota
Facing Your Writing Problems
John Edgar Wideman’s “Our Time” a chapter from Brother and Keepers is a very interesting essay explaining the hardships of living in a place like Homeland back in the 50’s. Wideman tells his story through his mother, his brother Robby, and himself bringing up throughout the story the troubles he faces as a writer. Wideman faces the issue of keeping out his own bias as he listens to the stories of his family. Wideman life turned out better than was most likely expected during that time, so it was very hard for Wideman to hear and interpret his family’s stories for truly what they meant. Wideman raises these issues within the story because he wants you to feel the struggle he had as a writer. Wideman is up front about these issues with his audience so that his audience can relate to the story in a way that draws them closer, and in turn creates for a better understanding of what Wideman is really trying to say.
Wideman’s relationship with his mother was long distant during most of the hardships that she had to face dealing with a hoodlum like his brother Robby. At the time he was concerned for his mother more than anything, but because he was living in Wyoming it could only lead him to believe that things really were not as bad as they were back at home with Robby. The communication that they did have, Wideman cherished because it was hard to come by, while explaining his mother’s past troubles in dealing with Robby he states “I’d steal myself for the moments alone with her when she’d tell me the worst” (p.664). Wideman’s relationship with his mother was much more different than hers with Robby. Robby rebelled and grew more distant from his mom and in a sense John did the same only in a different way, which led him to love all the moments he had with her. Due to Wideman’s inability to get the feel of the true pain that her mother was going through, led to his problems as a writer later on because Wideman could only put events like his brothers through his own point of view first, causing him to be misled as to what other circumstances may have caused those wrongdoings. Through all of this though Wideman knew his mother was tough, he states “She had always seemed to me to exemplify the tolerance, the patience, the long view epitomized in her father” (p.665). Wideman believes that these traits he explains of her mom should help her fight the struggles she encounters with Robby. He begins to realize though at this point she may poses all those traits, yet her son Robby would ultimately strip those away from her. Garth, who was one of Robby’s close friends and part of the hoodlum group that Robby hung out in, always had a smile on his face and could lighten the mood at any time. Garth keeps the group sane enough to get by even though they were hoodlums. When he dies, Wideman’s mother really begins to realize that her son is headed for rock bottom. It was as though in loosing Garth she lost her son as well. Robby’s view on life from that point on was to do it for Garth, which led to him becoming more and more careless with his decisions. Although Wideman hears this story, he can’t relate to it due to his location and because of the way he was brought up. Wideman never had to deal with those kinds of issues, and because of that it leads to his bias that he can’t seem to shake while writing. Wideman seems to have all the pieces together for a story of his family’s past, but he can’t truly bring out what each person was feeling unless he lets go of his bias.
Wideman finally turns to his brother six years later, at the penitentiary where he sits down for a talk neither of them is sure they are really ready for. Wideman struggles with his ability to listen to his brother, as he explains to the reader how he feels talking to his brother for the first time in six years he states “In the prison visiting lounge I...