Almost two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of independence, as the country celebrated the jubilee with dash and frolic. I love the idea of Jefferson drifting on until the 4th, surfacing to make certain of the date and then letting go--and of Adams yielding, believing that Jefferson still lived.
PRIORITIES OF THE 4TH
"MY EYES DAZZLE"
Before I fell asleep last night, I read a newish story by a writer I like. It was full, chock full. It was too full. It had special beauties in every inch of space. It was exhausting. I fell asleep like a stone dropping down a mile-deep well. I didn’t hear a splash, I was asleep so quick.
I’m going to have to try it again. At bedtime.
I hate for stories to be “reduced” by paraphrase or summation. One of my most hated writing-related activities is to help write flap copy. I love editors who don’t ask me and just go right ahead, and then wave it under my nose. If I’d wanted to write a book in 200 words, I would have done so.
And in general, I'm not fond of the School of Carver, with its demented grandchild-of-Hemingway simplicity.
On the other hand, it is possible for a story to be so encrusted with pearl and the four elements and outlandish density that it lacks utterly those islands of rest that the traveler craves.
FIRING THE STORY CAN/N/ON
Lex Williford and Michael Martone have sent out a survey to various writers about the next Scribner’s anthology of short stories. Some of the ones I suggested were so precisely the expected ones that I cannot remember what they were.
The ones that were not expected were ones I thought just might possibly make it into an anthology of the last 36 years, even though they were not in the literary playpen, not exactly. I nominated Jeffrey Ford’s “Creation,” and John Crowley’s “The Nightingale Sings at Night.” The Ford story I was sure was the right one, but Crowley—wasn’t sure. It struck me as an interesting note to add to the previous anthology, anyway.
And the third involves something I cannot understand. Why, oh why, is there no Isaac Bashevis Singer in the Scibner’s anthology? He published eleven volumes after 1970. Presumably the previous anthology had an even earlier cut-off date. Is Singer somehow not “literary”? Is he not “realistic” enough? Is he too other? Is it because he was born elsewhere? Is it because we don’t allow stories by Americans to be translated?
Since almost all writers teach, this is, naturally, an anthology of stories to be taught. It occurs to me now that it would be lovely to include a few stories that cannot be taught. Of course, there is something in all good stories that cannot be taught, though teachers often don’t seem to understand this essential little fact.
A SHINY MOMENT
On July 2nd, I drove through the flooded world with N & R on the way to the Episcopal camp where N will spend two weeks. A few minutes into the trip we passed its former location in Cooperstown, a sentimental spot for the children, and I sighed. Oh well. A long drive ahead. We stopped for a picnic and got caught in a downburst. The rain didn’t end and visibility didn’t start until—as we were driving past the entrance and up the hill, the three of us belting out "You are my sunshine"—abruptly a queer golden light banished the rain, and the whole world brightened and settled down to the business of light. And we got out of the car. Boys shouted to N. that they’d asked to be in his cabin, and the jolly little boy frisking-about began.
B. A. M.
The Byzantine Adventure Mail from M. & B. in Turkey looks good, rather like visiting the medieval webbesyte where Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: “Tough to type on the Byzantýne keyboard. The keys are not ýn the same place. B. flew just fýne, not even a whýmper. The scýentýfýc meetýngs start today and we are now at the conference center. Lots of Amerýcans here so I am never lonely for englýsh.”
JAVA & COOKIES
Blogger still will not let me post pictures. Occasionally they tell me that I have no cookies and java, even though I have so much java and so many cookies that I can have the stuff for breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, supper, dinner, midnight repast, and assorted snacks. They also tell me I can’t get in, so I drop my password in a secret door left open in the kitchen garden. The Pot Boy will always, always let me in.
HAPPY 4th OF JULY!
And a salutory warning, dealing with the Fall of Man: “If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” –Thomas Jefferson
I know that the face of the human wolf has been looking out at us for millenia, but the world seems especially man-wolfish at the moment. Certain small events in distant places break our hearts, even on a day that should be all rejoicing, and shadow us all with the hour of the wolf.
Be attentive, Mr. Jefferson says; beware the law of our human nature.
Fireworks over Glimmerglass to come...