Friday Reads: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Sticks and stones may break my bones…

Do you remember reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in English classes in school? It’s the story of a town who comes together to throw rocks at randomly selected individual until they die in order sustain the well-being of their community. It is one of the “most famous short stories in American literature”. When it was written (and published in the New Yorker) a backlash ensued causing Jackson to respond:

“I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to show the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in the life lives.”

When I sat down to write today’s Friday Reads, I’d originally planned on telling you about another of Jackson’s works – We Have Always Lived in a Castle – but as I was preparing I listened to an old episode of my latest podcast obsession, This Podcast is Haunted, and decided to take this in a different direction.

Episode 18: Boy We Did Nazi That Coming (2017) was one I didn’t listen to as I originally binged the series. As a little girl I studied the life of Anne Frank – a little girl stuck in a horrific circumstance but still surrounded by those who loved her and always hopeful – and loved her. Because of this, sometimes hearing about World War II is too much for my gentle heart because it feels too close. I finally was ready today.

For those who aren’t familiar, TPIH is a podcast hosted by two women from Michigan. Cait & Jenn are bffs and you feel like you’re sitting in Cait’s barn with them as they banter about ghosts, their own lives, and the general mess America is in today. Episode 18 is about Nazi Germany in World War 2. A repeating theme of the episode was how MOST PEOPLE (except people like the Hyena of Auswitch, Irma Grese – shiver) aren’t naturally evil. It takes timing and circumstance to be manipulated so greatly that you are willing to do harm those around you. It is not in any way whatsoever ever a natural, human trait to want to put people into gas chambers and kill them.

It’s not easy to determine where Nazism began. We hear about the horrific things that happened and we say we would be on the side of the liberation. We would defend our neighbors. We would save lives.

“Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.”

It’s happening again. Groups of people are being separated from their families as they try to seek asylum in the land of the free. Children are held in cages, not given food or medication. Our government is planning to ban most asylum seekers at the southern border.

“Well, now.” Mr. Summer said soberly. “Guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can get back to work.”

Who is standing up for these families? Who is defending liberty? Who is saving lives? Are we truly so busy with our daily lives that we can’t stop to defend those who need defending? We know this isn’t right?

Right?

Have we become so immune to racism, sexism, and classism that we are going to sit on the sidelines and allow this to continue happening?

“Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn’t fair,’ she said as a stone hit her on the side of the head. ”

I hope not.

What about when you don’t have time to read?

You know what I love when I don’t have some time to read? Listen to audiobooks & podcasts! I listen to audiobooks & podcasts when I’m driving, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, walking to work, and whenever I can. I get so excited when I can check out a new podcast!

Audible – Audible is awesome if you want to purchase an audiobook and keep it forever and ever. We often download Audible books for long car trips with our little girl who is now 5. It’s great to be able to listen to an entire book for a 4 hour trip there then 4 hours back. Some people don’t love Audible because it’s owned by Amazon and we all know the best place to buy books is your local bookseller, but Audible can be a great resource for when that doesn’t work for you. (ALSO! Because you are awesome and read my musings, Audible wants to hook you up with a free audiobook! Use this link to check it out!). I love listening to historical fiction as audiobooks (and real books, too!). My favorite to date is the Other Boleyn Girl, which I’ve listened to at least twice!

Libby – Speaking of getting books locally… Libby is hooked up to your LIBRARY CARD! How amazing is that? You can borrow books the same way you do by walking in to the library, but you do it using your phone! Audiobooks and a selection of “print” books are available (including children’s books!). #winteriscoming and soon I’ll just want to be snuggled up at home in my favorite blanket. When I finally get through my to-read-pile, I’m turning to Libby.

And finally, here are my most favorite podcasts!

Fictional

HistoryChicks

Lore

Myths & Legends

Strange & Unusual Podcast

WitchWave

And of course… HistoryCast!

And, because she’s the best ever, I’m including a photo of Poe listening to the Strange & Unusual Podcast with me while I fold laundry.

Little Free Libraries of Salem

Little Free Libraries! What a perfectly amazing concept – you read a book. You think it’s ok, but you know you will never read it again. You want to donate to the library, but they’re all stacked up (Get it? All stacked up!?) so you bring it home again.

Now what?

Well, what about a Little Free Library! These stations are set up all around our amazing city of Salem. Locations are listed below. You can place a book in for someone else to enjoy AND if you’d like, you can choose a book left by someone else to enjoy yourself! WIN/WIN.

Here are the current locations for Little Libraries in Salem!

  • Carrollton Street
  • House of the Seven Gables
  • Lappin Park
  • Lemon Street (on the Bridge Street bike path)
  • Mary Jane Lee Park
  • Oakland Street (North Salem)
  • The Ropes Mansion Garden
  • Salem Willows (corner of Columbus & Bay View) *has been taken down (temporarily?)
  • Furlong Park on Franklin Street
  • Patton Park (corner of School and Buffum Streets)
  • Linden Street near the Forest Street intersection

Definitely check out these little libraries and make a point to tell others.

Did we miss one? Has a new one been added? Let me know! BookWitchSalem@gmail.com.

The Audrey Look

Recently I read my four and a half year old (that half is SO important!) “Just Being Audrey” by Margaret Carrillo and Illustrated by Julia Denos.

We were so late to bedtime because I made time to go to yoga for the first time since October (thank you for the Fleetwood Mac class, Rebel Yell!). L was a bit wacky, but held up pretty well for a four year old who is an hour behind bed time.

My babygirl listening to Matilda while coloring and snuggling with Poe. ❤

Early in the book she noted a house – an illustration of the house Audrey lived in while in hiding in Holland during World War II – and told me it was The Witch House here in Salem. She pondered the page for a bit and decided the illustrator must not have had a black marker, hence making it brown. Later, after much thought, she decided it wasn’t the Witch House at all because it was missing a gable.

Being her mama, I was thrilled my baby recognized an important historic building in our community and using her deductive reasoning to reason out why it wasn’t the same structure.

Aside from this book she’s never heard of World War II or Holland, so her reasoning makes perfect sense.

Later in the book Audrey moves to New York City to continue her acting career. L speaks up saying some day she might also move there, but makes note that she wants to be a veterinarian – not an actress. We talked about how people in NYC have pets and she could be a successful vet there for sure.

The book ends with pages about Audrey’s incredible work with UNICEF – an organization that saved her life during her own difficult childhood. At this point L asked me to stop reading to inquire about other books about Audrey. She wants to know about Audrey’s children and her love of cooking. About her unique style that so many replicate today.

I let her know we can find out more at the library, but was adamant we buy the books so she can have them as her own.

This made me so happy. I’m certainly not someone who feels great about consumerism and it’s impact to our economy and daily lives, but the fact that my baby hears about an incredible woman who travels the world to save the lives of children and wants to know every thing she can about this woman’s life makes me so happy – so proud.

Musings: The Darkened Room

I LOVE ghost stories. I especially love Victorian ghost stories. I also love a good feminist manifesto. No surprise to anyone, then, that I was drawn to Alex Owen’s in “The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England”.  Its premise is that during a time of great oppression, women were able to find a sense of self and belonging in a masculine dominated society. Women of England were able to create jobs in support of themselves through Spiritualism, though women can be bound “into a paradigm of weakness, instability, inferiority, and social powerlessness” (p. 242).

First, a bit of history: In 1848 New York’s Fox sisters began communicating with the dead through various knocking sounds. The sisters – Kate and Margaret – were just 12 and 15 when they began “rapping” with spirits. After the American Civil War, people sought ways to cope with the deaths of their loved ones who never returned, and being able to communicate with them – though dead – gave families a great sense of relief. The sisters became successful in their mediumship, and the concept of women communicating with spirits spread around the country and across the ocean to England.

At the time, women lived their lives were as caretakers of the home. They managed the household and were expected to live extremely restricted lives revolving around their husbands and children. They were not expected to have much of a voice of their own, never mind the voice of a spirit. Once Spiritualism took hold, this all changed.

As Owen explains it, Spiritualism was a feminist movement allowing women an opportunity to channel (channel? get it! what? i’m funny!) their own energies to release themselves from the mold of a quiet, docile, housewife, to being famous. They traveled! People listened when they spoke! They made their own money!

Spiritualism spread. Women from all over the US and England became mediums; people from all over attended their seances. It was quite a time for ghost relations!

To learn more about Spiritualism in America, friends and I recently participated on a walking tour with Melissa at NowAge. Melissa brought us to a number of sights around Salem that were involved with Spiritualism: from a stop at the former home of Spiritualist disbeliever – Nathaniel Hawthorne, to a Spiritualist Church that still welcomes worshipers, and a Swedenborian Church, we learned a ton and visited some amazing places.

Going on this tour with Melissa was more than simply picking up some tidbits for Salem history nerdom, though. We met Melissa through a Tarot Tour she hosts (which is AMAZING) and love the energy she brings to our historic city. She’s a kick-ass history nerd and is part of the amazing New Age community here in Salem – modern witches who, among other things, read tarot, carry crystals, burn candles of various colors and shapes, and help others through Reiki. Melissa is part of a group of women who are all about embracing womanhood and using it to help make the world a better place. I can’t think of any better to wander around Salem with as we learn and consider the stories of women who were doing the same during the 1800s.

As I consider Owen’s take on Spiritualism – that women played a central role as mediums, healers, and believers in the late Victorian Era allowing them independence and to question gender roles of the time – I can’t help but think about the women in Salem who are working to bring back the spells of old – natural healing, teas and herbs, crystals and sage – and making them modern. Even though times have changed, women are still working to find “a sense of self and belonging in a masculine dominated society”. And I love it. 

I had a chance to sit down with Melissa at the Creative Salem office to chat about Spiritualism and why the history is still relevant today.  LINK COMING SOON!

Capture

They love you to death (FunDead Publications)

Last Sunday, I attended a book launch at The Witch House, and was thrilled to meet so many aspiring poets and the amazing women who created and run FunDead Publications – Salem’s own publication company. FunDead was established in 2015 and released their first publication (Shadows in Salem, by FunDead founder Amber Newbury) in 2016. They hope “to keep the age old art of story-telling alive and well in The Witch City.”

And, sure enough, they are.

At the former home of Jonathan Corwin, magistrate during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, FunDead welcomed a standing-room only audience for a book reading and signing. Their newest publication, Entombed in Verse, collects poems about Salem into an easy to peruse anthology. From the Salem Witch Trials, to ghosts who don’t know they’ve died, to appreciating the summer breeze at the Salem Willows, Entombed in Verse takes a look at various myths and legends surrounding The Witch City.

I loved the irony of listening to poems about Salem’s dark history at Magistrate Corwin’s house while I sat on the floor of his living space. All sorts of people – some wearing all black, some suits, some t-shirts and jeans, some (GASP!) shoulders showing. All sitting there listening to poems about the horribleness of Salem in 1692. And, to add salt to the proverbial fire, it was SUNDAY! No plotting-with-the-devil accusations today Mr. Corwin, not today.

After several of the poets (traveling to our little city from as far away as Florida!) read their poems to us, I ran about the room with my pink pen asking as many as I could find to sign my book. A few were surprised by my ask, saying they’d never signed anyone’s book before (and one dude was reluctant to use my pink pen! He finally relented and I got my signature…). It’s pretty amazing to be the first person ever to ask a poet to sign your copy of their book, and I hope to have that experience again.

FunDead has found a niche here in Salem – they are finding ways to reconcile Salem’s dark past with its witchy tourism and rich literary cultures.  I’m very much looking forward to their next release, “One Night in Salem“-  another anthology, this time taking the reader through time to experience the history of Halloween in Salem. I’m interested to know how FunDead pieces together tales of Halloween that are about more than pumpkins, witches, and candy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musing: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Confession: I didn’t know much about The Picture of Dorian Gray until just recently. I know it’s a classic. And one most people can recite the premise of at the drop of a nickel. Some classics just haven’t hit my To Be Read Pile yet.

P.S. There are lots of spoilers ahead… So stop reading now if you plan to read this book and wish to be surprised. 

I decided to read this novel based on my adoration of Penny Dreadful (I’ll explain in another post soon, but I LOVED this show – except the last episode). It’s one of only a handful of shows I will absolutely watch again. The others being Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Daria, and the Ghost Whisperer. What? I’m into campy: Embrace your weird.

I picked this book up at Wicked Good Books here in Salem, and hoped to gain a better understanding of Dorian. I wanted to know:

  1. How the paintings came to exist in his mansion.
  2. More about his trans friend, Angelique (was she part of Wilde’s novel?? How scandalous for the time!).

Upon beginning the novel, I immediately realized it lacked the supernatural element of Penny Dreadful. I admit, Dorian was a bored rich dude whose friend painted a portrait of him that was so well done he decided to SELL HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL to remain beautiful forever. It isn’t until a third of the way through the book that this becomes obvious, though. We hear about Dorian and his escapades, prompted by his hedonist friend, Henry.  Some of Dorian’s travels are explained in detail (AKA: A trip to an opium den) while others are left to interpretation. While reading this, I was frustrated – COME ON, Oscar! Tell me something Dorian is doing! Why won’t his friends talk to him anymore? Why do people leave the club when he shows up? How can I judge him for wanting to look like a painting forever if I don’t know the deeds he’s aspiring to since it became possible? Why does Henry remain his friend if it doesn’t further his own efforts?

As for my questions?

The first is easy: Dorian’s artist friend found him so beautiful he had to paint him. Easy peasy, right? BUT WAIT! There’s more!

Regarding question 2, Angelique is never mentioned in the book. BUT there is a curious part of the novel in which the painter, Basil, admits to Dorian that he is in love with him and is worried his fondness for Dorian has caused trouble. Dorian, of course, being the person he is who is going around doing goodness knows what, seizes this opportunity to kill his friend. Dorian feels so powerful (having given up his soul and all) that his frustration with his friend asking questions about why their friends don’t want to chill anymore empowers him to murder his friend. PAUSEWAITWHATHOLDUP. That’s right. No Angelique, but Dorian stabs his friend soon after a love confession. Woah.

I love the liberty Penny Dreadful took with Dorian’s character. I love that they saw this opportunity to introduce a new character to the story who could further Dorian’s tales, but at the same time demonstrate that he did, in fact, have love in his heart. Widle’s character is so wildly (like my pun 😉 ) unlikeable, that I didn’t feel any sadness for him when he finally decided he’d had enough and killed his portrait, ummm … I mean himself. I literally rolled my eyes and thanked the gods that he finally realized the time had come to stop being so ridiculous and selfish.

Truth be told, I enjoyed this novel even though it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. I appreciated the Victorian history, and the perspective of men of the time who felt it was their duty to have money and leisure. I do wish I’d better understood it’s premise, though, and hadn’t expected a Frankenstein-style revelation, but that’s on me.

Are you weird, too?

Tonight, after a trip to Maine to visit with some family (AKA: Five hours round trip in the car alone with my three year old – <sigh> AND I FORGOT SNACKS! #momoftheyear), I unsuccessfully read my child her goodnight books and attempted bedtime. It went terribly – piano playing, door knocking, general jumping around. My wonderful husband had to step in…

Fortunately for me, that means podcast time!

I listened to The Strange and Unusual Podcast. Tonight’s episode was about the 1830 White murder (here in Salem) that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell Tale Heart” (1843). For real – Smithsonian says so! Coincidentally, the podcast creator, Alyson Horrocks, recently began a Facebook group for people following the podcast, and as I typed my introduction to say hello to the other members of the group, I remembered the literature teacher who first introduced me to gothic literature.

I vividly remember not really liking this teacher’s class. She was harsh, and sometimes rude. But she was also no non-sense, which I can better appreciate as an adult thinking back to middle school and the terribleness that some people (myself included) endured. I remember this teacher reading aloud Poe’s “The Black Cat“, and noting that she hated cats… which I – an animal welfare advocate – thought was weird and not cool at all, given the content of the tale…

That said, once this teacher realized I had suddenly become enamored with Poe’s gothic tales, she made sure I wouldn’t miss out on all his stories offered. She gifted me her personal copy of “Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe” (1960), which I now savor as one of my favorite things.

I remember, the same year, drawing an illustration for a short story I’d written inspired by Poe. I recall drawing a man running, but his brain was exposed in my drawing. All of the other students drew the bodies and colors and lives of their characters, but all I concentrated on in my drawing was this character’s brain: The detailed lines and squiggles that made him human were more important to me than the colors of his clothes or where he was going. The drawing was in pencil, aside from his yellow brain.

I remember feeling like I was “weird” or not quite the status-quo. Someone who couldn’t possibly care what her characters were wearing so long as their brains were evident in her drawing.

But I also remember knowing my weird Lit teacher who made sure I was able to surround myself in stories for people like me. People who knew life was more complicated than what the character was wearing or where he was going. People who understood literature as a part of life that was to be studied, and not just endured.

And, today, as an adult, I feel welcome again into this weird world of (dare I say it, gothic) literature. This world of people who read with the intent to empathize, and to grow, and not just to admit they’ve read a particular story. I haven’t yet decided on my introduction in Alyson’s facebook group, but I know it will include a THANKS to all the “weird” people who appreciate the “more than just a story” stories, including Poe’s take on the terrible murder mystery that occurred here in Salem in 1830.

October in the Chair

I'm traveling to Boston for a work event today.  Brought Neil Gaiman's "M is for Magic" with me for the train ride.  Today's story was, "October in the Chair."

This short story is one that makes you smirk when you finish.  The premise is that each month, personified, takes turns telling a story – in order, January to December – and this turn belongs to October.  There is a bit of banter between the months so the reader can understand their "personalities", then October begins.  
October's story is about a bullied little brother, Runt, who runs away.  On his first night he finds a graveyard and bravely befriends a little boy who is a ghost.  They spend the evening climbing trees and running around.  Runt discovers that he is most happy in this graveyard with his new friend, seemingly a feeling he has never felt before. 
We hear a lot in the news about bullied kids today.  And it's so sad.  They feel so alone and scared.  And sometimes suicidal.  Just this week two local girls ran away because they were bullied at school.  Why don't we take more time to consider their feelings?  We think children feel so connected because they are on social media.  But we've all felt maxed out on our social media before.  Sometimes I think about how much social media I have and get confused because  I'm posting to the wrong account.  I should be work me but I accidentally post to my personal page.  Or my blog post gets shared to another page accidentally.  Which of these social media profiles is really me?  Two instagrams, three twitters, three fave books, who knows how many email accounts.  Sometimes even I feel a little confused about who I am… And I'm a working adult who has a solid group of friends.  Imagine feeling that sense of confusion and being 13.  Eek.  Though Gaiman didn't specify the era of when this tale took place, it feels timeless and I'm sure lots of young adults could relate.
Side note: know some readers feel Gaiman is too prolific and perhaps a bit commercial.  This story is one I would ask them to read to change their minds. Gaiman's ability to characterize the months of the year and cause no confusion is not something that is easily mimicked.  And, the ol' story within a story can seem trite… But not when OCTOBER is telling you a GHOST story.  So just chill, guys and enjoy it.  (Get it, chill, October, ghosts… Never mind.) 
 

Take the Donuts (AFP)

A friend recently asked me where this adventure would take me next.  
The answer?  DONUTS. 
I’ve been making my way through Amanda Palmer’s recent release, The Art of Asking.
For those who aren’t familiar with AFP:  
She’s an artist whose family is from affluent Lexington, Massachusetts.   She’s married to my modern literary fave, Neil Gaiman.  As a student, one day she realized she wanted her “real job” to be an artist so she cut back her hours scooping ice-cream and became a statue.  You know the ones – people who paint themselves one color then stand very still until you give them a tip?  Yup.  That was her art.  She moved into an artist apartment and started a band (she had played piano her whole life) and became kind of famous! She hated being famous, though – the record companies kept telling her to stop talking to her fans.  They kept telling her she had to dress a certain way and had to play her music a certain way.  They even told her she was fat and that they’d have to edit her first music video to hide it.  So, she quit them.  In order to keep making her records, she started giving away her art for free.  She sold burned copies of her CDs for $5.  Stayed after her shows for hours signing autographs and talking with her fans.  She started an email list and responded to people who emailed her.   She put her songs available for “pay what you like” on her blog.  She became very active on Facebook.  And on Twitter. She throws house parties for free at fans’ homes.  She has randomly scheduled pillow fights before her shows.
What is Amanda Palmer most famous for, though?  Asking fans to pay for her to make a record.  And they did it.  She had a goal of raising $100,000.  Fans contributed $1,192,793.  Yup, almost $1.2 million dollars more than she asked for.  Since this successful campaign, AFP has continued making music, continued hooking fans up with free tickets, continued being a social media queen.   She even went on to do a TED to discuss her story and the success of making art and letting people pay what they want for it – even if it’s nothing.
In her book, AFP elaborates on this success.  She talks about artists often worrying that they’ll be seen as frauds by the “Fraud Police” because their art is weird.  Or maybe the artist thinks no one wants to pay for their creation – how can they be legit if no one wants to give them money?  Her advice to those who fear such rejection?  Take the donuts.  She explains that even Thoreau – known for living in a tiny hand-made cabin next to a pond for years – had his mom bring him donuts and pastries on Sundays.  AFP asks the reader to consider whether Thoreau would be considered a “poser” today if he accomplished the same mission and was given donuts by his mom.  
I’m obsessed with this idea.  Be you.  Let people help you be you.  Let people give you donuts.  Recently I had a chat with a friend about how sometimes I feel like a fake because my circle of friends is extremely creative – musicians, artists, librarians, authors, video game designers – and I am not.  He told me that, though I feel like a fake – ahem, fraud – I am not.  The others see me as creative, too.  Me?  Really?  I was (and am!) flattered and hope I can continue with my artsy projects* so I feel less like a fraud.   I’ll probably keep my day job and take a pass on becoming a statue, but I will most definitely continue writing.  I’m going to keep Pining dorky things on Pinterest.  I’m going to keep sending unicorn memes to my friend.
Now, who’s up for donuts?
*Disclosure Statement:  My husband is probably laughing as he reads this because I have 45,395 hobbies.  I sometimes paint, I sometimes play guitar, I sometimes take photographs, I read a lot, I try to write a lot. And by sometimes I mean rarely.  And by rarely I mean I need to practice playing my guitar.  Right now. 

Taking the donuts is hard for a lot of people. 

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think when they see us slaving away at our manuscript about the pure transcendence of nature and the importance of self-reliance and simplicity. While munching on someone else’s donut. 

Maybe it comes back to that same old issue: we just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love. 

Try to picture getting angry at Einstein devouring a donut brought to him by his assistant, while he sat slaving on the theory of relativity. Try to picture getting angry at Florence Nightingale for snacking on a donut while taking a break from tirelessly helping the sick. 

To the artists, creators, scientists, non-profit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing, 

Please, take the donuts. 

To the guy in my opening band who was too ashamed to go out into the crowd and accept money for his band, 

Take the donuts. 

To the girl who spent her twenties as a street performer and stripper living on less than $700 a month who went on to marry a best-selling author who she loves, unquestioningly, but even that massive love can’t break her unwillingness to accept his financial help, please…. 

Everybody. 
Please. 
Just take the fucking donuts.