Daddy

Good literary nonfiction is difficult to find.  I discovered this while searching through large quantities of non-relevant links and , I’m sad to say, either uninteresting stories or interesting stories told in an uninteresting way–which is pretty much the opposite of what creative nonfiction should be.  Until I found it, the needle in the haystack, the shining star, the piece by Jalondra Davis called “Daddy.”

“For as far back as I can remember, there has been something wrong.  We are not anything like the Cosbys, the Winslows.  Daddy blows bubbles on my stomach like Cliff Huxtable did on Rudy’s sometimes, but he doesn’t always come home.  He and Mommy don’t talk like that, all smoothness and playful laughter.  There is no slow, affectionate choreography on the foyer’s cool, clean hardwood floors.  There are late night trips to fetch Daddy from Uncle Greg’s dookey green house on Main and 111th, where hard-living looking men and women drink from large brown bottles and laugh too loudly in the grassless front yard.”

You can read all of “Daddy” here or visit The Truth About the Fact, International Journal of Literary Nonfiction, where “Daddy” was published, here.

Strong Verse

In keeping with the Orson Scott Card theme of the previous post, did you know this best selling author also publishes a poetry ezine?  Strong Verse publishes new poetry every 3 days by various authors, including a few by Card himself.

Here is part of a poem called “Blood Sucker” by Catherine E. Bollinger:

“And Mama,
she was a spider,
fat and happy in the center of her web.
Now and then, to amuse herself,
she’d pluck a strand, and watch us
struggle to hold on.”

To read the rest of this poem, go here, to read some of Orson Scott Card’s poems, go here, or to visit the Strong Verse homepage, go here.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is the best novel I’ve ever read. Hands down. No contest.

If you’ve never heard of this best-selling Hugo and Nebula Award–winning novel by Orson Scott Card before, I have two things to say to you. 1) Where have you been? And 2) don’t let the plot description deter you from reading it. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Ender’s Game is about an army of kids who are recruited to save the earth from an alien race of giant bugs.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Army of kids? Giant bugs?? Sounds cheesy, right? Or you might not be all that into the science fiction genre. Here’s the cool thing – it doesn’t matter.

The story is so engaging and well written, that even if you aren’t into sci-fi or child protagonists, you will find yourself immersed in this novel from the very first chapter. And as for the giant bugs, they actually turn out to be a very complex (and non-cheesy) race of beings.

If you’ve read this book before, consider revisiting it with the audio version. It’s fun to experience and discuss well-loved stories with friends or family through books on CD. Since my husband’s reading time is taken up by lengthy technical manuals, I like to share my favorite books with him in audio form in the car or on walks.

This is especially rewarding when we do it with books that are about to be made into movies. (There is talk that a script for Ender’s Game is currently in the works.)

Following is a very brief excerpt.

“The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, ‘Andrew, I suppose by now you’re just absolutely sick of having that horrid monitor. Well, I have good news for you. That monitor is going to come out today. We’re going to take it right out, and it won’t hurt a bit.’

Ender nodded. It was a lie, of course, that it wouldn’t hurt a bit. But since adults always said it when it was going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future. Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.”

You can read a longer excerpt at the Barnes and Nobles site.

The Tell-Tale Heart

First published in 1843, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is perhaps the greatest piece of “flash fiction” ever written. 

One of the best known stories in the English language, it has inspired various tributes, both serious and silly, in other areas of creativity, including music (The Alan Parsons Project, among others) and television (The Simpsons [when Lisa hides her rival’s diorama] and SpongeBob Squarepants [when Mr. Krabs hides a pair of squeaky boots]). 

Included here is the story.  If you don’t feel like reading it, hear it performed in this classic 1953 animated short posted on youtube by jmcusack or get the very brief (and very funny) recap as told by a muppet posted on youtube by skippyshorts.

TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been, and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Harken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! — yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it — oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I first put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly — very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see the old man as he lay upon his bed. Ha! — would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously — oh, so cautiously (for the hinges creaked) — I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights — every night just at midnight — but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into his chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute-hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never, before that night, had I felt the extent of my own powers — of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and the old man not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea. And perhaps the old man heard me; for he moved in the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back — but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept on pushing it steadily, steadily.

I had got my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out — “Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For another hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear the old man lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death-watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew that it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain, or of grief — oh, no! — it was the low, stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been, ever since, growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself — “It is nothing but the wind in the chimney — it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions; but he had found all in vain. All in vain: because death, in approaching the old man had stalked with his black shadow before him, and the shadow had now reached and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel — although he neither saw nor heard me — to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing the old man lie down, I resolved to open a little — a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it — you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily — until, at length, a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open — wide, wide open — and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person; for I had directed the ray, as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And now — have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment: — do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: — so I am. And now, at the dead hour of the night, and amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable wrath. Yet, for some minutes longer, I refrained and kept still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst! And now a new anxiety seized me — the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then sat upon the bed and smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on, with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the walls. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. The old man was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If, still, you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs. I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his — could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of any kind — no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all — ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock — still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, — for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police-office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visiters all over the house. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues; while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and, while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: I talked more freely, to get rid of the feeling; but it continued and gained definiteness — until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; — but the noise steadily increased. I arose, and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; — but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro, with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men; — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had sat, and grated it upon the boards; — but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! — and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Did Russian Poet’s Writing Get Him Killed?

Vladimir Mayakovsky was an early 20th century Soviet poet and playwright who died when a bullet pierced his heart at age 37.  Here is an excerpt from a translation of his poem “My Soviet Passport”:

“With what delight
that gendarme caste
would have me
strung-up and whipped raw
because I hold
in my hands
hammered-fast
sickle-clasped
my red Soviet passport.”

Many sources call Mayakovsky’s death a suicide, while some hint at political assassination, like the article in Haaretz.com titled “The ‘Raging Bull’ of Russian Poetry”:

“He said that my father was presented with a pistol and a shoe box. Among the Russian aristocracy, such a thing meant death or humiliation: Either you commit suicide or you will lose your good name.”

To read the poem, “My Soviet Passport,” go here; to read more of the author’s work, go here; and to view the article at Haaretz.com, go here.

Edie’s Journal and Office Gossip

Since I’m running short on material to post today, I thought I’d draw your attention to my own blog.  Here is an excerpt:

“In other office gossip news, one of the managers sent an email to a client who was already unhappy with our company. In the email, she meant to write ‘sorry for the inconvenience,’ but instead wrote ‘sorry for the incontinence.’ Our system automatically checks for errors before sending messages, but since her spelling and grammar were correct (just not the actual word), she didn’t catch it, and the email was sent, apologizing for any incontinence we had caused the recipient.”

The rest of this post is about an incident yesterday where a coworker called me something that starts with a “b” and rhymes with “witch.”  You can read the full post here, or visit the blog’s main page here.

Empathic Painting Project

In the future Today you can look at a work of art and see it change in response to your mood, thanks to the Empathic Painting Project.  A Tech News Watch article states:

“Using images collected through a Web cam, special software recognises eight key facial features that characterise the emotional state of the person viewing the artwork.  It then adapts the colours and brush strokes of the digital artwork to suit the changing mood of the viewer.”

You can read the entire article here.