Saturday, August 30, 2008

Books I've Been Reading For School: We Have Always LIved in the Castle

The last few weeks have been a bit hectic, reading and writing for school while juggling other projects and the day job. The flip side is that I'm getting through some interesting books, some I should have read a long time ago, I know.

It's schoolwork that's not too bad, eh. I may get beaten up on my first packet, but time will tell. A lot of us first semester folk have been sweating a bit until we get the hang of things.

One of the works I've had to annotate so far is We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I wrote--in a gig Charles turned me on to--a Masterplots article about The Haunting of Hill House ages ago, but I'd never checked out this other great and eerie tale from Shirley Jackson. The gist of the analysis I wrote for school focused on the fact that Jackson's technique of distancing the reader actually engaged me more.

An unreliable narrator
The novel is narrated by Merricat Blackwood, and she doesn't tell all. She hints at facts in some cases. In others she reports events and lets dialog from other characters reveal things that have come before in the recent Blackwood family history. She, her sister and her uncle are the only family members left alive after arscenic poisonings. Why? Well, she'll get to that eventually.

Merricat frequently raises questions then waits a long time to answer. To me that made even mundane events take on much more weight. I was leaning into the book to try and figure things out. It's a far from passive reading experience.

Reliable chills
By the story's end it's posible to interpret all including the things Merricat doesn't say, and to me that made it all exceptionally chilling, scarier on an emotional level that was more affecting than The Haunting of Hill House.

If you haven't, you should.

I love the cover from the Popular Library edition which I've included here. It's the edition I own, and it features a painting, obviously of Merricat that's fabulously rich in meaning.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Strange Beginnings

Once upon a time, OK, according to electronic time stamps it was 2/3/2007 and 2/9/2007, I must have been fooling around with Google Documents.

The document storage area of Google, which you can access from anywhere with a web connection, does seem like a good idea for capturing story ideas or great sentences when you're on the go.

At work? Log in and jot down that great notion before it slips away, then back to work and the story can be resumed later.

On the go? Log on via mobile device if you got 'em, or Internet cafe if you don't.

I must have thought that in February of last year anyway.

I happened to open up Google documents the other day and discovered on the dates mentioned I jotted down some lines in separate files. Or maybe they're quick brown fox sentences to show you how it all works? I don't know.

Maybe I read the lines and thought they'd be great to save. The flaw in the great plan is that it doesn't work if you enter the ideas and then don't access them for a year and a half, so that you've pretty much forgotten everything.

On 2/3/07 apparently I hammered out:

He found the note under his lunch box just after his shift ended at the welding shop.

And on 2/9/07

He doesn't remember growing a beard. Yet his face is covered. It feels like a mask as he slowly awakes. He rubs the whiskers, more than a few days' growth.

At last he opens his eyes and the light hurts.

I don't know about you, but those lines kind of make me want to read more.

What was I thinking? Or what was I reading? Does anyone recognize those lines?

Or, can you use those lines?

If anyone wants to take them and run with them, thank me in the acknowledgments. And if you use Google documents to move files or save files, again, remember to check them now and then.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If My Cat Monty Had a Twitter Account

Climbed into the second floor of the cat fort. Curled up, went to sleep. 07:23 a.m. Aug. 19

Climbed out of the second floor of the cat fort and checked food bowl. 03:45 p.m. Aug. 19.

Slapped the orange cat. 03:47 p.m. Aug. 19

Climbed back into the second floor of the cat fort. Curled up, went to sleep. 03:47:30 p.m. Aug. 19

Humans came home. Got up to check food bowl. 05:35 p.m. Aug. 19

Watched Frasier on sofa while humans had dinner. 06:20 p.m. Aug. 19

Poked male human on the leg until he gave me fresh water. 07:25 p.m. Aug. 19

Slept in fort. 08:01 p.m. Aug. 19

Got out of fort. Moved to sofa. Slept. 08:05 p.m. Aug. 19

Humans' bedtime. Got up. Solicited cat treat. 10:30 p.m. Aug. 19

Slept at foot of humans' bed. 10:45 p.m. Aug. 19

Awoke hungry. Harassed female cat eliciting hisses and howls. Human male fed me to appease us both. 03:00 a.m. Aug. 20

Slept. 03:15 a.m. Aug. 20

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Definitely Not Cuil

There are some points at which my day job and my real self and even the blog me converge.

I'm a web monkey much of the time, so when a new search engine comes on the scene, it's important for me to get familiar with it.

That of course means I need to do a search with myself as the subject. It's not vanity, it's...


Anyway there's a new search engine and Google challenger called Cuil and pronounced "cool." I'm not sure a verb form exists yet. Cuiling? I don't know if we'll get that far.

It's basically supposed to offer a little more description of sites and better privacy than Google, I believe.

I don't show up so well. I'm always competing for placement with the myriad of other Sidneys out there including former Ambassador Sidney Williams and the late mystery writer Sidney Williams, author of such works as The Body in the Blue Room.

In the first screen of results none of us fare very well. Ambassador Sidney Williams appears in a press release from the Clinton administration era. The other writer Sidney doesn't show up, and I'm represented by my old Opera blog and a used copy of Azarius from a UK bookseller. Neither is too bad. British Isle shoppers have the opportunity to enjoy my backlist, after all.
The Opera has a cross link here and a link to my home page.

I think that'll do for now. If Cuil looks like it's catching on I'll figure out optimization.

For the moment I'm off to search Charles and Wayne, just to see if they're cuiler than I am.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Different Seasons

A lot of people came to my mom's wake, people I had not seen in some time. Among the guests were students she taught long ago. They told me stories of her teaching days.

"Was she strict?" I asked.

"No, she was easy going," I heard.

That was a little surprising, but then, with consideration, not so surprising that she would have a gentle touch. She used to fix me breakfast after I was out late, heated dinner when I first worked nights, wiped my brow when I was sick.

I heard stories from my cousins too, one my mom taught to sew with detail. Another, who is a photographer, recalled how beautiful he thought she was when he was little and how photogenic. His dad was a photographer too, trained by a Dutch master photographer in post war days, and thus there are happily tons of portraits and family photos from those years.

It was good to hear the stories and to be reminded of who she was before disease submerged her thoughts and personality into a nebulous skein. It reminded me of the her I knew before nursing homes, medications and tests to see if she was engaged in life.

Jumping back, before the difficult times was important because it is important to get back to the memories that matter and are to be carried as I wend onward.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Going Home Again

Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go.
--Henry Austin Dobson

This is the doleful fact, you have to go home again for funerals and that means mixed with mourning for the lost loved one is the mourning for what used to be.

I found myself staying in a hotel downtown, a place I used to go for meetings and gatherings, occasionally for a drink in the lounge. It's changed hands a few times and though preserved still has reminders it's not what it once was.

  • Not the place I toured with other reporters when it opened with a flourish of elegance and grandeur, the place my buddy Raymond and I longed to shout: "Hail to the plebs."
  • Not the place we went once upon a time for Christmas buffets when I had grown more patrician.
  • Not the place Christine and I attended a New Year's Eve party long before we dated.
  • Not the place I made a church public relations man nervous with a skull ring I wore in my horror-writer days.
Stepping onto the street that stretched back down to the newspaper office, the sense of time's passing was not so strong. It felt more the same, like it was fifteen years ago.

It felt like I could walk up the street a few blocks, enter the front door and make my way to my desk where my stuff would be waiting including the fake photo of Jesus in the Clouds passed on to me by a predecessor with a reminder: "Don't believe everything you see or hear."

It felt like I could walk up the street and see everyone who used to be there, not just the few who remain.

On the blocks in between I found myself straining to remember what used to be here or there. The jewelry store where Christine and I picked out her engagement ring is now a restaurant.

The restaurant where I had lunch so many days was gone. I found the wooden doors though they seemed to open to nowhere, not to a special with a Coke. No shrimp po-boys, for sure.

You discover such moments, I think, only by living long enough to discover them.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

My Mother's Passing

The phone call is never expected even though it's not totally unexpected.

When the phone rang this morning, I thought it was Christine who was out shopping, calling to check if we needed one thing or another, but instead it was a hospice nurse at the nursing home telling me my mother had passed away.

I'd planned on a visit today. She cycled back into not knowing me a while ago, but I've tried to go and sit with her a while on weekends, thinking there must be some virtue even in sharing stories of my life that didn't register.

She was 41 when I was born so she'd already lived a half a lifetime. Her father died when she was a year old, and my grandmother supported the family as a seamstress and somehow they made it through the Depression and the home front of World War II.

The youngest in her family, she was educated with the help of siblings and became a school teacher just after World War II.

She was headstrong and unwavering at times, but always giving and devoted to helping others, caring for my grandmother until her last breath.

She taught mostly home economics, some English. Aside from my dad's imagination, that's where what I do comes from, I suppose. There was always Shakespeare in the house and Steinbeck.

She was a seamstress like her mother and taught a host of students to cook and sew. A few years ago when we had to go through her things I found some labels purchased from a mail order catalog -- This Garment Made by Mildred Williams. I don't know how many she used over the years.

I thought three Christmases ago she'd reached her last but she held on a while longer.

As the hospice nurse put it this morning she reached a point where she just couldn't bounce back.

I wish I could write more eloquently about her, about what she did, about things she created, but the eloquence will come later, I suppose. For now it just seems important to note her days and that she is resting at last, freed from the clouded thoughts and brittle bones that had become her prison.

There's consolation in that, that she is at rest at last.
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