Note (2) S.J.

October 5, 2009 - Leave a Response

Shirley Jackson: (Noun) Shirley Jackson was a writer. It was her work and she did it every day. When asked about life with her mother, one of her daughters wrote: “there was always the sound of typing”.  Shirley Jackson wrote stories, short novels, and humorous non-fiction pieces about her family (usually for women’s magazines, and then in two memoirs about child-rearing). She wrote one story that is now a classic, but most people don’t know who she is. Those that do probably had to read her story “The Lottery” in a high school English class, but have never read any other stories or novels, and probably don’t know that when “The Lottery” was published in the New Yorker, the magazine received hundreds of letters, mostly angry and disgusted, she claimed. The people in her stories were sometimes oddballs living in cramped apartments, whip-smart teenaged girls, housewives trying to do the right thing and failing miserably, retail workers, impressionable children. Many of her characters live outside of “normal” society. They rent rooms in boarding houses or work in stuffy offices, trying to get out of their bubbles, but unable to make it. Jackson was an oddball herself, in a way, according to the New England academics she lived among (associates of her husband, the critic and teacher Stanley Hyman). She propagated the view of herself as strange, claiming outright to have dabbled in witchcraft. Her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (among others) did little to disprove the belief. But she was very serious about writing, and wrote without considering genre. The point was to write well. Her stories are strange, moving, and still relevant.

Synonym: Mrs. Stanley Hyman

Selected Works:

The Lottery and Other Stories

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Haunting of Hill House

Come Along with Me



September 21, 2009 - 3 Responses

Though I’m sad that summer was a bust, I’m excited that it’s squash season and that the Brussel’s sprouts are looking better. I don’t know if it’s habit or if there is some kind of chemical reaction taking place, but I feel like cooking once September gets going. I always love cooking, but now it’s necessary. I start thinking about squash before bedtime. I think I’m going to roast things.

 To start the season off, here’s something really simple that I just made. If you like mashed potatoes (and if you don’t: who are you?) you’ll like this, trust me, even though it has a scary word in it. Parsnips!

You need:

Two Carrots

Two Potatoes (or three smallish ones)

Two Large Parsnips (If you don’t know what they look like, just go to where the carrots are in the grocery store, and pick up the bag that says “Parsnips”. That’s what I did. They are sweet and crisp. They roast well and they mash well.)

Peel and cut the vegetables up in similar sized pieces.

Throw is salted boiling water. (Don’t actually throw, as you will burn yourself)

Drain when tender, about 10 minutes. Put in a tablespoon of butter. Kosher salt and pepper to taste. Maybe a 1/4 cup of milk (I used soy) if that’s too dry you can add more.

Then, mash with a potato masher. I didn’t use an electric mixer with this like I would have mashed potatoes. You want some kind of texture.

Serve with a little extra butter if you like.

Killing Time

September 13, 2009 - Leave a Response

When I was a temp, I learned about killing time, or rather, I learned that I couldn’t kill it.  I worked for the head of Athletics at a private college in Poughkeepsie. When the woman from the temp agency called, I wrote down the assignment and directions on a piece of paper and then looked at it for a while, panicking. Athletics? I had never done anything athletic in my life, and I tried hard to avoid athletes. Now I was going to be among them, and not only that, I was going to work for the head ATHLETE. 

For a couple of weeks, I just sat, filling the space left by his receptionist. Her name was Sandy, and I would get calls, the person on the other end saying “Sandy?” in that way people do when they know you can’t possibly be Sandy. I stared at the computer, aching for work. I went through files on the hard drive and found nothing of interest. I read rules and regulations and NCAA guidelines in PDF format. I read and refreshed my email fifty thousand times a day. I got to know the staff a little, and they were nice. Athletic and nice. At lunch, I walked around the beautiful campus.

The office was located across from the Olympic sized pool, and three or four times a week, the divers would stand by the turquoise water and swing their arms around, stretching. I looked at bodies that were exceptional. The girls would slice through the air; they were small but not rail thin like you’d imagine. The boys (not really boys, I guess) were muscular, of course. I surprised myself by watching all of it with great interest, and not just for the beautiful muscled bodies. That was part of it, but it was also great motivation for physical excercise. At one point, I deluded myself into thinking I could become a swimmer.

After a couple of weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. I brought a book to work and tried hiding it in my lap as I read, but after a short time I gave up on the charade that I had anything else to do. I went through three collections of stories: O’Connor, Yates, Marquez. I reread a series of books by Poppy Brite. I read Shirley Jackson and James Baldwin. And I wrote.

I read and got paid for it. It was surreal. I wrote long hand in a small book. At the time, what I wrote felt important and special because I had never written long hand before. I look at that writing now and realize that it was really nothing, well, nothing but practice anyway. I worked for five months, and read five months’ worth of books. It was a taste of what I wish my life could be. Go to the office, remove your coat, switch on the light over your desk, and open the book. Like most people, I have to go to work and sell my time. When I get home, it’s a lot harder to turn the lights on, go to the desk and start over again. When you are alone in your house, it can feel like killing time because time ticks by in silence. You can fill it with TV (and I do that sometimes), or chopping veggies, or working out, or whatever. Or you can teach yourself, or write something, even though it won’t get you a new and better job, it won’t get you much of anything. But you do it, because you are building a career in your own mind, and always have been.

Note (1)

September 9, 2009 - One Response

” . . . the rounded living contours of these fragments of the human body were phantomlike and hazy; like a fog or a pale, uncertain aura, they enclosed a clear, detailed, and carefully defined core: the skeleton.”

-description of an X-ray.

The Magic Mountain

Thomas Mann

The Magic Mountain (1)

September 7, 2009 - 2 Responses

On the back of my copy of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, the editors call it a “dizzyingly rich novel of ideas.” An ordinary young man visits his sick cousin at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps and ends up staying for seven years. The sanatorium, a strange community full of sick people from all over Europe, is meant to be a “microcosm for Europe” before WWI. I don’t know very much about European history, only what I learned in High School (and that isn’t enough), so tackling this book felt like a daunting task. I’ve been using the sales receipt as a book mark, and it’s dated 2007, and that’s when I first started it. A writer whose books I’d admired talked about The Magic Mountain at a signing, so I picked it up. I read about one hundred pages and then put it down, because at that time I was very worried that I was missing some piece of the historic puzzle. S0, the book sat on my shelf for these last few years, and I’ve always wanted to finish it . . . because, I really enjoyed the bit that I’d read. So, I’m trying again, and I’m making you hold me accountable. I don’t know why I feel like I HAVE to finish this novel, but now that I’m sitting down with it again, I’m enjoying Mann’s language, the real beauty of his descriptions, the surreal moments, the high altitude, the odd conversations  . . . I don’t really have a mind for philosophy, and “novels of ideas” usually leave me pretty cold, unless they’re complete. By that I mean, they have to be more than novels of ideas, they have to have characters and life. At least for this reader. I like books about people.

Even though Ulysses is filled with allusions and puzzles (which Joyce delighted in), it is still a book that can be enjoyed having not solved every puzzle or understood every allusion. It is, in some ways, a novel about “what the heart is and how it feels” as Stephen’s mother says at the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I’m still learning what The Magic Mountain is about; I haven’t finished it yet, so I should shut up about it until then.