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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shorties for the 4th


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.



Author of freedom and patron of the mind. Not barrister, not member of the House of Burgesses, not member of the Continental Congress, not Governor of Virginia, not Secretary of State, not Vice President, and not President for two terms. Under the lens of history, his personal story looks much more complex now than it did to his contemporaries, but it never looks less than remarkable.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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...


  1. I love the sunshine synchronicity! Didn't know you were so powerful, did you, Queenie? Who is the new writer you like so much s/he plunged you into deep sleep?
    Iemme Nosy

  2. I shan't say who, because I insulted the story, possibly unfairly! But I'll probably mention that one again, down the turnpike.

    If I proved that powerful, I would fix all this weird weather we've been having. Mother Nature is annoyed and throwing brickbats around.

    And I would fix Blogger, to boot.

    Nosy L., I'm going to go stare at your latest masterpiece of an exercise, feed the cats, and go to bed, even though it is only 10:00. There! Now you have something for your nosiness, even if it's the wrong thing...

  3. that line about adams dying believing TJ still lived was beautiful. You really are a poet.

    I just had to comment on that real quick, I still have to read the rest, I am a slow reader :o)

  4. Susanna, what is it that you do, jobwise? And does the Grand Assembly = Masons? The altar stuff is Masons? Or is that something to do with your job, or what?

    This is the marvelous, weird thing about the internet, meeting people who live on different planets! (I know I spent part of my childhood summers in Georgia, but Alabama is just not the same thing, evidently.)

    And now, back to the very strange story I am writing for Sharyn November...

  5. I hope this is not to long a comment. Oh goodness, it embarrasses me that a real writer is reading my crap. My grammar and spelling issues have no bearing on my beloved former teachers such a Dr. Cross. Sometimes I just enjoy a stream of consciousness. The masonic order of the Rainbow is for the girls. It teaches good citizenship and such. With the whole alter thing, I just wanted to be a little vague on because it sounded so strange. Really, the bible just rests on it like any christian church.

    I guess my saving grace is that I am all heart, I am prolific if nothing else, and I have a good time :o)

    About me, I am a graduate student and until recently I worked for the museum system in Huntsville. I worked at a living history museum and volunteered there when I was 12-14. Then got a job there later. It was fun. I cannot cook hardly at all but I can do open hearth cooking, make soap, candles, and bind books. Oh, and I enjoy turning everything into a Dark Shadows episode.

    My degree will be in history, and I would like to work for the Archives or historical commission. I also interview veterans for the Fed Oral history project.

    Here is the link to a article I wrote for the UAH newsletter if you are interested.

    Hahahahaa yes, Alabama is a strange mystical place.

    From A Boy's Life by Robert McCammon...

    "I wanted to set my memories down on paper, where I
    can hold them. You know, I do believe in magic. I was
    born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town,
    among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn't
    realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by
    the silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I
    knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the
    world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit
    glow, I saw the past, the present, and into the
    future. You probably did too; you just don't recall
    it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing
    magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and
    comets inside us. We are born able to sing with the
    birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in
    grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated
    right out of our souls. We get it churched out,
    spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on
    the straight and narrow and told to be responsible.
    Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God's sake.
    And you know why we were told that? Because the people
    doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and
    youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed
    and sad of what they'd allowed to wither in

    After you go so far away from it, you can't really get
    it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of
    knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at the
    movies, it's because in that dark theater the golden
    pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come
    out into the heard sun of logic and reason again and
    it dries up, and they're left feeling a little
    heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a
    memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light
    takes your attention from the world, when you listen
    to a train passing on a train track at night in the
    distance and wonder where it might be going, you step
    beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest
    of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

    That's what I believe."

  6. "My grammar and spelling issues have no bearing on my beloved former teachers such a Dr. Cross."

    I love that line. And I think Dr. Cross would like it.

    Don't worry about the spelling; writers become horribly boring if they write too much about writers. It's better to have a nice thick world, full of all sorts of people, including warm, spunky people who can't spell and do weird rituals with girls!

    We have a living museum here, as well. And I often tramp about the place, letting my youngest greet the cows and chickens and anybody who will stop and chew the fat with a little boy. My eldest is rabid about history, has been since he was a small child. By 8, he could narrate long Civil War battles. Endlessly. Just don't ask about math.

  7. Hi Marly,

    Still no computer so I'm at the library again. One plus is that it is filled with delectable books as well. I just read Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman and could NOT put it down. It was woderfully satisfying for the soul, like a good hearty homemade meal. It is a testament that good writing still appears.

    I too love the stuff about Jefferson and Adams.

    By the way, have you gotten payment/sent the book?

    The B.Q.

  8. I haven't even hiked to the post office! I won't tell you how pitifully near it is... But will go. It's because you're not with all the other orders. And because I am lazy where I can be. Most places I can't, alas.

    I am so lazy that I took my book promotion down almost instantly, saying that I'd get back to it another day. (Honest, sure, I will.) But I am going like fury on a story and my house drudgery--the cat must clean while the mice are in Turkey and Greece. They sound like attractive, edible places for mice, don't they?

  9. "Fireworks over Glimmerglass" must be lovely- two sets, one loud, the other silent and blurred. We had so many fireworks that when the last one burst into life, the sky was gray with the smoky ghosts of its forerunners. It made me feel that our ancestors were there, too, celebrating.

  10. Hi Megan--

    Our fireworks happen Saturday, so I haven't seen any real ones or any ghosts. But I am writing a story with ghosts...

    Hope you are having a ridiculously splendid summer, with lots of good books in it.

  11. Ridiculously splendid it is, stuffed with multiple stacks of good books. I even got some poetry- Yeats and Dickinson, mostly. I admit some of it is lost on me, but I like it all the same.

    Hope your summer is idyllic. Why are you not abroad in Turkey?

  12. 5 to Turkey and Greece is rather pricey. And you know who gets to look after, do for, etc.... I'd rather go with one somebody. Any of the lot would be fine. Or 2. 5 on grand travels = exhausting for the mama in the group.

    Doesn't matter if some of that poetry is lost on you. It may get un-lost later on, and you will undoubtedly soak up some of it in secret, subterranean ways.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.