It Does Not Really Exist Until It Is Put Into Words

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I’ve been thinking about my journals lately, about how long before I began putting words to keyboard I would put them to paper. Even at six years of age I took my little red leather journal with lock and key to Canada, recording every grilled cheese sandwich and time I saw the Golden Boy, while constantly having my spelling corrected by my grandmother. It daunted me not one bit, for the urge to record what I saw, and what I felt, was far stronger than any reprimand.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. ~Oscar Wilde

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One of the things I love to read best is my old journals. They are more significant than a scrapbook, able to take me back in time and place better than a photograph. The handwriting on the page, subtly changing as I grew from child to adult, brings me back to the person I was. The life I lived.

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading. ~May Sarton

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Writing a blog is not a substitute for keeping a journal. At least it isn’t for me. When I physically write, with my favorite pen, the thoughts seem to flow with greater alacrity. The inner critic is silenced, for I know the words will not be seen by strangers’ eyes. I am writing purely for myself in my journal, uncensored and uninhibited about expressing vulnerability.

It’s different with a blog. Somehow my writing stiffens up, and pales in comparison with those whose writing I feel is so erudite. It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t even express my self the way my handwritten words do.

Writing, then, was a substitute for myself: if you don’t love me, love my writing & love me for my writing. It is also much more: a way of ordering and reordering the chaos of experience. ~Sylvia Plath

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Yet even a journal is not sacrosanct. Last summer I looked at a whole decade of journals, a box of memories I no longer wanted to remember. The entire carton went into the dumpster at school, and I cared not if mice gnawed the edges should they come across the discarded books. The mice, the rodents, the insects underground had more use for those painful words than I.

Will I live to regret that decision? Is it, as Dodie Smith suggests below, somehow cheating?

I should rather like to tear these last pages out of the book. Shall I? No-a journal ought not to cheat. ~Dodie Smith

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As of today I do not regret it. Even though I am not foolish enough to believe that by discarding the journals one can also discard the pain, I know that half of the healing lies in the writing. Keeping the books perhaps, is not quite as important as putting one’s truth into words.

There is, of course, always the personal satisfaction of writing down one’s experiences so they may be saved, caught and pinned under glass, hoarded against the winter of forgetfulness. Time has been cheated a little, at least in one’s own life, and a personal, trivial immortality of an old self assured. And there is another personal satisfaction: that of the people who like to recount their adventures, the diary-keepers, the story-tellers, the letter-writers, a strange race of people who feel half cheated of an experience unless it is retold. It does not really exist until it is put into words. ~Anne Morrow Lindburgh

There Once Lived A Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

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I used to glorify Russia, having never visited there. But I pictured the snow in sparkling white crystals, with troikas skimming over the surface, as if Russia was a fairy land made of ice palaces rather than a prison made of rooms so poorly heated a family of four cannot stay warm within the walls.

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya gives me a more accurate picture of Russia. A picture so bleak and hopeless I am grateful for every bad day I’ve ever had. Because all of them together could not equate with the life she has portrayed for the mother, also a poet, in her novella, Time is Night.

This mother’s own mother has schizophrenia. She has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital where at least she can receive a modicum of care. For the woman of the house has all she can do to manage her drunken son Andrey, freshly released from prison; her daughter, Alena, pregnant with her third child and no husband; her grandson, Tima, who counts on her for his daily existence yet lets her slide into the background when his mother appears at the door.

How can a simple apartment hold so many people? How can a poet’s salary provide enough food or money for the rent? How can a family survive under such conditions, and forgive me, such stupidity? For I know not how a woman can become pregnant over and over without a husband or a job. I know not how a son can rob from his mother when it is possible to live honorably. Maybe it is easy for me to say, as I have suffered under neither poverty nor such a hopeless existence.

This sentence, cried out by the mother as she is begging the ambulance driver to take her and her mother home, illuminates much:

On the other hand, if they get rid of me quickly, they can get a nice easy assignment: a family hacked to pieces by a drunken husband, for example.

This book comprised of three novellas is absolutely piercing. The description of horrors each family lives under is balanced by the writing of a humane and compassionate heart. It is no wonder that the novellas in There Once Lived A Woman Who Loved Her Children Until They Moved Back In have earned Ludmilla Petrushevskaya the recognition of being one of Russia’s best living writers. Her writing contributes much to my understanding of life in Russia, of lives led in a quiet desperation. This book has touched me deeply.

Praise from other sources:

“An important writer . . . Russia’s best-known . . . She’s a much better storyteller than her American counterparts in the seedy surreal. . . . Petrushevskaya’s stories should remind her readers of our own follies, illusions and tenderness.”
—Chicago Tribune

“Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov.”
—More

[Petrushevskaya] is hailed as one of Rus­sia’s best living writers. This slim volume shows why. Again and again, in surprisingly few words, her witchy magic foments an unsettling brew of conscience and consequences.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Petrushevskaya’s short stories—which use fairy tale imagery and allegory to comment on Russia’s Soviet past and corrupt present—combine Gogol’s depth of absurdity and Shirley Jackson paranoia, to disturbing effect…The rise of the tightly constructed ‘weird’ tales of Petrushevskaya, Victor Pelevin and Tatyana Tolstaya suggests a secure Soviet literary future.”
—NPR.org

“Anything but dull, the stories twist and peak in odd places. They create nooks in which the reader can sit and think: What does this mean?”
—Los Angeles Times

What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

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The story of Marshall Field’s phenomenal success, and adulterous affair, is given to us through the eyes of his mistress in this work of historical fiction.

Renee Rosen’s heroine, the real-life Delia Caton, brings us to Chicago in the glorious nineteenth century, beginning with the Great Chicago Fire and going on to the time it hosted the World’s Fair. Included in its history are the men I’ve heard about all my life: Swift, Palmer, Armour, and of course Field himself.

Marshall Field is a legend to any shopper who ever lived or visited Chicago. His magnificent store, now replaced by Macy’s on State Street, was second to none and forged through his indomitable spirit.

My very first job was at Marshall Field’s and Company. I remember clearly the black and white training video we had to watch before going on the floor as salespeople. His mantra was made very clear to us: “Give the lady what she wants.”

But I never knew that he had an affair with Delia Spencer Caton. An affair which lasted more than thirty years and caused plenty of distress, along with the joy, in their lives.

Nor did I know that the Loop earned its nickname because Marshall Field had the cable cars loop through that area of Chicago and stop in front of his store.

What The Lady Wants is a richly imagined recreation, interspersed with fact, of how their lives may have been. It is told through the eyes of Delia, and it is her perspective that is the focus.

I enjoyed it for the history of a city I’ve known all my life; others may enjoy it for the romance and scandal. In either case, we have a clearer picture of Marshall Field himself, and the city he helped build, once we turn the last page.

Sunday Salon: Post Read-a-thon Thoughts

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Because it was my most successful read-a-thon ever, and I went to bed at 3:15 for the first time since college, I didn’t go to church this morning. My husband is greeting the people at the sanctuary door without me; perhaps they have found someone else to stand by his side as it gets rather crowded around 9:00.

And I, feeling a bit selfish, slept in late and then determined to read the Word at least in my own living room. It comforts me.

As for the 24 Hour Read-a-thon…oh, my! I did complete one book, and began another. But, reading was not the highlight. It was reconnecting to old blogging friends via Twitter. Terri, Trish, and the unconquerable Andi, were in a flurry of tweets with me in the wee hours of the morning. It was so much fun to revisit friendships established in 2006.

Now I face a week with my husband’s birthday, report cards to prepare, and Halloween activities to do with my class. I look forward to it all, but doubt it can come to quite the heights of the past twenty-four hours.

Thank you, Andi, and thank you Heather, for all you did.

24 Read-a-thon Update #3

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The slippers are on, the husband’s gone to bed, and Samantha the kitty was just climbing up to read with me when I tried to snap her blurry picture.

Here’s a better one:

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And this, of a poor, bored kitty with nothing to read…

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It’s a good thing this is a read-a-thon because I’m reading a book which seems it will never end! I’m ready to abandon it for something translated. (i. e. more interesting)

24 Hour Read-a-Thon Update #1: “Give The Lady What She Wants”

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Those words have more to do with a very famous man in Chicago’s history than they do with the read-a-thon taking place today.

For before Macy’s became a poor replacement for Chicago’s favorite department store, Marshall Fields was the quintessential place to shop.

If my mother didn’t sew my clothes herself, of a quality which would be hard to replicate, she bought them at Marshall Fields. We made a day of it, going to the State Street store, with layers upon layers of floors and departments. There was anything available to buy that anyone could ever want, from French perfume to evening dresses to mattresses. There was even a notions department, for sewing things, and a foundations department for lingerie.

There were men running the elevator, dressed in red coats and white gloves, turning a brass wheel when you entered, and asking, “What floor, please, Ma’am?”

And Christmas wasn’t complete until we had dined under the enormous Christmas tree in the Walnut Room after viewing the windows on the streets. Each window fit a theme for the year, perhaps Cinderella, and the windows told the story in successive rows with mechanical figures doing, or making, something to fit the theme.

When Macy’s came, my sisters-in-law and other dear friends, cut up their Fields’ credit cards vowing never to return again. And really, though I still have mine for a store now defunct, the trip to the store on State Street is no longer worth the effort.

So why this tale of shopping? Because I am reading What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen, and it is bringing back such happy memories as it tells the story of Marshall Field and his (previously unknown to me) extramarital affair with Mrs. Arthur Caton. Perhaps the book dwells a bit too much on Delia, but I am fascinated in learning more about the man who established this magnificent Chicago landmark. One which is missed to this day.

A proper review will be forthcoming when I finish the novel.

Eagerly Anticipating The 24 Hour Read-a-thon

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I could begin with Book Three of The Century of Giants trilogy by Ken Follett, which Dutton sent me to review before its publication on Sepetmber 16, 2014…

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Or, I could read the three novellas by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya which “tell disquieting and extreme stories of family that for almost two decades were censored by the Russian government,” sent to me this week from Penguin.

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Or, I could finish this book by Renee Rosen which tells of Marshall Fields’ life, because it brings me so utterly back to my youth in Chicago.

But no matter which book I choose, it will be a glorious celebration of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, an event I remember celebrating with her before she passed away many years ago.

In between reading, and writing comments for those readers on Team Hughes (as I did sign up for “cheerleading”), I will lead a discussion for our book club on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And I will undoubtedly write what will prove to be a long string of posts for the event.

Happy reading, fellow ‘thoners.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James (And, While We’re At It, Let’s Discuss Gothic Literature)

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“Well,” I thought to myself as I opened this novel, “I don’t usually read Gothic literature.”  But then I found myself enjoying the eerie escape on a cold, October night. I also found myself remembering Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, both of which I have read at least twice because they so captured my interest.

In fact, there is a rather long list of literature in this genre that I have read with great pleasure:

  • The Pit and The Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Bleak House and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

So what categorizes a novel as Gothic literature? The following elements precisely:

  • a virginal maiden
  • an older foolish woman
  • a hero
  • a tyrant or a villain
  • a stupid servant
  • clergy which is ineffective or evil
  • and the setting as a character itself, usually a building with secrets of its own

That said, I hardly expect Gothic literature written today to meet the glorious drama of classics in the past. But An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James has been a fun treat this Halloween season. If you are interested in a story which takes place in a haunted, English village, with a maiden who is trying to calm the ghost of Walking John while discovering the cause of her Uncle’s death, and an Inspector with whom she falls in love, this would be just the ticket.

You can also read about it here at A Work in Progress, and here at Indextrious Reader, two blogs I admire.

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