Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Odyssey, Books 16 and 17

The Odyssey Father and Son

Why does Homer address Eumaeus? Example:

You answered him, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd, (68)
I don't recall this with any other character. Is it something special about Eumaeus? Is there a particular form that is fulfilled?

Telemachus meets Odysseus the stranger. Odysseus baits him a bit, saying if I were you, I'd kill all those suitors. And don't you have brothers? No brothers.
Zeus made our line a line of only sons.
Arcesius had only on son, Laertes,
and Laertes had only one son, Odysseus,
and I am Odysseus' only son. (131-133)
Athena reveals herself only to Odysseus, and strategizes with him. Now is a good time for a reveal of Odysseus...but only to Telemachus. Telemachus is doubtful the two alone could defeat the suitors.
These suitors are not just ten or twenty, they're far more--
you count them up for yourself now, take a moment... (275-276)
The numbers added up: 116, not counting the herald. Should one count the herald?

The plan:
  1. T, you go home.
  2. Swineherd leads O into the city as a beggar.
  3. No matter the abuse of O, T must endure it.
  4. Athena will say it is time. O will give T the nod
  5. T will round up all the deadly weapons and stow them away. If questioned he will say, "I stowed them away, clear of the smoke...."
  6. Keep out a pair of swords, a pair of spears and a pair of oxhide bucklers
  7. Athena will daze the suitors' wits
  8. let no one hear that Odysseus has come home. (334)
When the herald announces T's return, Antinous urges they kill him before he can accuse them of attempted ambush. Then they can divide up the riches. Amphinomus says no, wait for a sign from the gods. The herald Medon tells Penelope of the schemes. See? I don't think he should be included in the numbers of possible enemies.

Stranger at the Gates

Telemachus leaves the swineherd's hut. (Step 1, check) He pretends to be done with the beggar, and orders the swineherd to take him into town. (Step 2, check)

Penelope: the original damsel in dramatic distress.
bursting into tears as she flung her arms around her darling son
and kissed his face and kissed his shining eyes and sobbed,
"You're home, Telemachus!"--words flew from her heart--
"sweet light of my eyes! I never thought I'd see you again..." (37-41)
Telemachus' response: Don't fuss, Mother.

He goes to retrieve his guest, the seer, from Piraeus. Piraeus would give him the treasures from Menelaus, but T tells him to keep the stuff for now. If something should happen, he'd rather Piraeus had it.
But if I can bring down slaughter on that crew,
you send the gifts to my house--we'll share the joy. (87-88)
Should he say that? Isn't that too close to revealing the plan?

Penelope wants the full story.
"Of course, mother."
thoughtful Telemachus reassured her quickly,
"I will tell you the whole true story now... (114-116)
Not. The seer will say it though. He says all the signs say Odysseus is on his home soil. (Should he say that? Isn't that too close to revealing the plan?)

Meanwhile, on their way to the house, the goatherd taunts the swineherd and the beggar. Slightly higher on the pecking order, he thinks. Nearly there, the old dog knows Odysseus. Now the loyal old dog can die. Odysseus hides a tear. Eumaeus blames the lazy slaves for the dog's condition in the dung heap. You just can't do anything with a slave when the master's away. (353)

There seems to be something significant about the door.
Just in the doorway, just at the ashwood threshold,
there he settled down...
leaning against the cypress post a master joiner
planed smooth and hung with a plumb line years ago. (372-375)
Of course when Odysseus and the swineherd arrive, Antinous is stingy with the food not his own. Telemachus urges the suitors to be generous. (Step 3, check) Odysseus tells another tale of his life as the fictional man that is now a beggar. Antinous throws a stool at him. Odysseus says,
But if beggars have their gods and Furies too,
let Antinous meet his death before he meets his bride!" (524-525)
Odysseus is like a pesky gnat nipping at the bellicose suitor. He is toying with him.

Penelope would speak to the beggar for news of her husband, but the wily one tells the swineherd to tell her it's better to meet after sundown in private.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Odyssey: Book 15

The Odyssey The Prince Sets Sail for Home

Athena speaks as Telemachus' conscience,

wrong to rove so far,
so long from home, leaving your own holdings
unprotected--crowds in your palace so brazen (11-13)
I try to imagine this, thinking of the gods as real elements that affect one's life, thinking of the voice in one's head as that of a god. What makes one's own thought different from a deity's? How does one tell the difference? I have felt a difference in what one could call shamanic experiences, yet at the same time I could recognize those experiences as coming from me, and I could recognize they were more vibrant experiences the more I allowed a suspension of disbelief. Anyway, how useful is that? Leave home to seek long-lost Daddy..."The goddess made me do it." Then, when you have second thoughts and think you better scurry on home, again, "The goddess made me do it."

It sure is useful when a goddess tells you there's an ambush ahead, as Athena tells of the scurrilous suitors waiting for T's return. Also useful when she tells him to go to the swineherd first, where Odysseus already has arrived. Snap!

How hard can it be to take your leave. Apparently quite a tactician's task. There's the feasts one must attend, the gifts one must accept, and the obligatory time one must put in to receive such. It is a delicate maneuver to try to leave Menelaus' home quickly. On his way back T avoids the same obligation to Nestor with the help of Nestor's son. He also picks up an exiled refugee, the seer Theoclymenus. He echoes the prophecy of several with yet another sighting of an eagle carrying prey...signifying Odysseus killing the usurpers in his home.

Meanwhile Odysseus plies the swineherd for news of his home, after the man insists he should wait for Telemachus, who would give him food and clothing. Eumaeus says...
But from Queen Penelope I never get a thing,
never a winning word, no friendly gesture--
not since this, this plague has hit the house--
these high and mighty suitors. (419-422)
Odysseus also asks for the story of Eumaeus. The man was stolen when a small child by his wet-nurse who herself had been enslaved. Human trafficking was rather common back then it seems.

Telemachus makes it past the ambush, and has Piraeus take in the gifts and the wandering seer while T stops off at the swineherd's hut.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude on Thanksgiving Thursday

I've been thinking all day about how to speak of gratitude on this day. So many people do, what can I say that adds to that?

Someone shared with me this NYT article about French settlers who arrived in what is now Florida several generations ahead of the English pilgrims. Their relationships with the locals were friendly, and they developed commercial and familial relationships. They were there for religious freedom. The Spanish Catholics decided there should not be any of these "Lutherans" in the area, so the French settlers were massacred. This little blip in our North American history is news to me, and I'm sure, to many who were brought up on the mythic stories of the Pilgrims and the Natives and the First Thanksgiving.

This is a day to give thanks; it is a day to remember with gratitude, but it is also a day to include in that gratitude remembrance of those who suffered in the creation of this moment. It is a day to acknowledge the myth, recognize a sharper version of the truth, ask how I may do my part to make amends, as well as invoke the gratitude that is always a part of me but not always front and center.

A dark and bloody history of massacred and marginalized Natives allows me to be here in this land at this moment. Their descendants are now among the poorest in the United States. May they be granted the equity they deserve in the years to come.

A dark and bloody history of slavery allows this country to be as rich as it is currently. Many of their descendants are still kept in the lower rungs of the economic world, and are still discriminated against. May they be granted the equity they deserve in the years to come.

The karma of generations cannot be undone in a moment, or in a year, or in a presidency. It cannot be turned around by simply erasing discrimination. Even if that miraculously happened, descendants of oppression need support as they climb out of the pit of negative karma that's been heaped on them. The karma of the 'haves' is completely intertwined with the karma of the 'have-nots.' May those that have find the grace to right the wrongs of past and present generations.

Another person on that email list wrote eloquently of not liking gratitude lists, because when you are grateful for something, it implies you will not be grateful if it goes away, and your expectations are doomed to breed resentment. Instead he is left with "gratitude plain and simple, not for this or that, but as a process of living." It hadn't occurred to me listing of gratitude for things could be understood that way. I am thankful for Buddhism for that wisdom of "no expectations." I am grateful for this life, and I like the way he put it, this "process of living," and for me part of that is gratitude for the stuff of this life. It is here now, so I am enjoying it. Indeed, awareness that this could all change tomorrow deepens my gratitude for today.

May there be much for my country and the world to be thankful for in the year to come.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big Read IV: Jackson's "Come Dance..." + "Of Course"

The Lottery: And Other StoriesCome Dance With Me in Ireland
(read here if you have New Yorker sub)

Three women hang out together. They gossip. They play with the baby. An old man selling shoelaces, i.e. a bum, serves to delineate the differences between them.

Mrs. Archer, the young mother, would turn the man away, but taken in by his flattery regarding politeness. She straddles the line of kindness...her initial impulse would be to say no...after all "Everybody rings our bell for everything." But she wants to be nice, and wants to be seen as nice.

Kathy, young also but unmarried, is quite inclined to empathize. When the old man falters, she and Mrs. Archer are quick to help. Kathy is quick to believe he is hungry and thus weakened. Mrs. Corn, middle-aged, is the one who is ready to pronounce, "He's drunk!" even as Kathy and Mrs. Archer seek alcohol as medicine. They fix him a meal of eggs, bacon, and potatoes.

Kathy is generous with the food, though it is Mrs. Archer's. Mrs. Archer thinks of the purposes she had for that food, but is easily persuaded to give by Kathy. Mrs. Corn never trusts him.

His name is John O'Flaherty. Kathy says, "I gather you're from the old country." He affirms, and says he knew Yeats. Hmmm. I must look that up. Yes, it's possible. And he quotes him, 'Come out of charity, come dance with me in Ireland.' I think I need to revisit that poem, and consider what else might be going on here. Like some guardian angel making pronouncements, he doles out fortunes for the three women. Mrs. Archer is kind, "but I never served bad sherry to my guests. We are of two different worlds, Madam." Mrs. Corn merits a thumbed nose, and "I hate old women." Kathy merits (I think) "Come dance with me in Ireland."

I don't understand that poem. Yet. It could be important to understanding this story.

Of Course

Mrs. Tylor just has to know about the new neighbors, but mustn't make it look like she's gawking, so she peeks through curtains as she cleans her house and moves from room to room. Her daughter, same age as the new neighbor boy, gives her an excuse to go outside and meet them.

A series of "of course" moments happen. The first is one we the reader may catch, even if unwritten. The new neighbor's name: Harris. (of course!). The new neighbors do not go to the movies. Of course. They'd had disagreeable neighbors in the past who played their radio too loud. Mr. Harris doesn't like to listen to the radio. Of course. For entertainment he reads Elizabethan plays. Of course.

Feeling as though she had been rude, Mrs. Tylor said, "Where is Mr. Harris now?"
"At his mother's," Mrs. Harris said. "He always stays there when we move."
"Of course," Mrs. Tylor said, feeling as though she had been saying nothing else all morning.
Apparently, she hadn't. And apparently, "of course" no longer means "of course," but something like "like hell." For even though it sounds as though little James is invited over later, of course, Mrs. Tylor and Carol won't be there.
"Can't I go to the movies," Carol said, "please, Mother?"
"I'll go with you, dear," Mrs. Tylor said.

The Odyssey, Books 13 and 14

The Odyssey Ithaca at Last

King Alcinous showers Odysseus with presents, and urges his court to do likewise:

each of us add a sumptuous tripod, add a cauldron!
Then recover our costs with levies on the people:
it's hard to afford such bounty man by man. (13-16)
Yeahhh, these rich folks gotta stick together, and tax the underclass. Suuuure, we can bail him out, the people can pay for it! The more things change...altogether now....the more they remain the same.

The Phaeacian crew competently get Odysseus to Ithaca, and offload him and his party prizes like some smuggler's stash. Unfortunately, Poseidon finds out, and the Phaeacians must be punished. Ah, but the god's enmity didn't begin with their care for Odysseus, as Alcinous remembers a prophecy.
Oh no--my father's prophecy years ago...
it all comes home to me with a vengeance now!
He used to say Poseidon was vexed with us because
we escorted all mankind and never came to grief. (194-197)
What are gods good for if they won't support kindness?

Athena sends the obscuring mist again, so when Odysseus wakes up from his Athena-induced sleep, he doesn't recognize his own land. She sets him straight, though. The two tricksters spin tales with each other, and reminisce about the times they encountered each other, and the times they didn't. They hide his treasures in a cave, then plan his approach to his home, overrun with 'suitors'.
Come, weave us a scheme so I can pay them back!
Stand beside me, Athena, fire me with daring, fierce
as the day we ripped Troy's glittering crown of towers down.
Stand by me--furious now as then, my bright-eyed one--
and I would fight three hundred men, great goddess,
with you to brace me, comrade-in-arms in battle! (442-447)
So Athena tells him to trust the swineherd, and disguises him as an old man. They both do love their disguises.

The Loyal Swineherd

The swineherd calls off the dogs, and takes Odysseus in as the disguised beggar he looks.
My master, I tell you, would have repaid me well
if he'd grown old right here. But now he's dead...
If only Helen and all her kind had died out too,
brought to her knees, just as she cut the legs
from under the troops of men! (77-81)
He calls the suitors what they are, 'bandits.' He won't believe Odysseus is really alive, even when the old man swears. Disguised Odysseus spins quite a tale of being born a rich man's son of a concubine. As any good liar knows to do, it seems he spins some truth into the lies.
Far out of the front I'd charge and spear my man,
I'd cut down any enemy soldier backing off.
Such was I in battle, true, but I had no love
for working the land, the chores of households either,
the labor that raises crops of shining children. No,
it was always oarswept ships that thrilled my heart,
and wars, and the long polished spears and arrows,
dreadful gear that makes the next man cringe. (251-258)
For all he wanted to return home, I wonder if some of Odysseus' difficulty in getting back home had to do with a bit of truth found here. Now that he is almost there, he must still delay. There is no going's never the same. We're never the same, even if we try to go home. The loyal swineherd refuses to believe the long tale...he'd been fooled before.

While Odysseus sleeps, the swineherd gears up to go outside with the pigs. The description sounds majestic, like any hero preparing for war:
First, over his broad shoulders he slung a whetted sword,
wrapped himself in a cloak stitched tight to block the wind,
and adding a cape, the pelt of a shaggy well-fed goat,
he took a good sharp lance to fight off men and dogs. (596-599)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Read IV: The Dummy + 7 Types of Ambiguity

The Lottery: And Other Stories The Dummy

Who's the dummy?

Two women go to see the show. Mrs. Wilkins fusses a little about their table placement. They are near where the entertainers come out. Mrs. Straw presumes the owner sits near the back, near the kitchen, because "she probably makes sure the glasses are washed."

Mrs. Wilkins picked up her fork indifferently, watching Mrs. Straw. "I had a letter from Walter yesterday," she said.
"What'd he have to say?" Mrs. Straw asked.
"He seems fine," Mrs. Wilkins said. "Seems like there's a lot he doesn't tell us."
"Walter's a good boy," Mrs. Straw said. "You worry too much."
Yet another gulf between mother and child.

First a pair of ballroom dancers pass them for the stage. They nod to a woman in a green dress and the man with her, a ventriloquist. He does his act, but the two women can't hear, really. They fuss over their dessert. When he comes back to his table, he wants his drink, and argues with his girl. Rather, the dummy argues with her. He sounds like he's trying to reason with the dummy.
"Be quiet," the girl said, looking around her anxiously. "Everyone can hear you."
"Let them hear me," the dummy said. ...
"Now, Marmaduke," the man said to the dummy, "you'd better talk nice to your old mother."
"Why, I wouldn't tell that old bag the right time," the dummy said.
The two women leave, but not before Mrs. Wilkins slapped the dummy sharply across the face.
For a moment the man and girl sat looking at the dummy slumped over sideways, its head awry. Then the girl reached over and straightened the wooden head.

Seven Types of Ambiguity

A man and a woman enter a funky basement bookstore. Mr. Harris seems entirely a straight character, perhaps I need to dig deeper. The customers interest in books seems to be more for decor than for the merit of the particular books, even though they keep saying they like to read.

The college boy really wants the book Seven Types of Ambiguity but can't afford it. The man is interested in it, it seems only because the boy showed such an interest. He confirms with Mr. Harris that the boy is unlikely to buy it, so the man buys it. Aha. That's the diabolical moment...Mr. Harris selling the book out from under the boy, relying on the ambiguity of the boy's intent.

Hmmm. I wonder if a person needs to read this book in order to really get Shirley Jackson? Or, just study the 7 types as found at wikipedia.

See what the others are saying here.

The Odyssey, Books 11 and 12

The Odyssey 11: The Kingdom of the Dead

Ohhhh. The endless parade of the dead.

Pause for station identification as Alcinous promises to take care of Odysseus, and that yes, he trusts Odysseus is not out to cheat them.

More of the parade of the dead. Odysseus is entirely too fond of Agamemnon. I have no sympathy for Aggie. See my posts on the Iliad. He's entirely an opportunist and maybe once showed the courage of the others. And didn't his wife kill him, or have him killed, because he sacrificed their daughter? The myths vary.

Finally, Odysseus panics and rushes with his men back to their ship and they're outta there.

12: The Cattle of the Sun

Because they learned in the land of the dead that one of their own needed funeral rites, they got his body back from Circe and did right by him.

Circe gives him a map of words: you may listen to the Sirens, but not your men (I keep thinking of the sirens of O Brother Where Art Thou); the lesser of two evils is Scylla, avoid Charybdis; and by all means, do not eat the cattle of the Sun God. Tiresias told him that too. So Odysseus tells his men to avoid the island of the sun god, and not to eat an ox or ram.

How many times were they told? And what do they do anyway? Eurylochus was the tempter (read as fool?). Notice Eurylochus was the one man who held back when the other men were turned into pigs (read as coward?), and returned to tell Odysseus. Odysseus is well rid of him.

Zeus destroys the ships, and Odysseus is sent back toward Charybdis where he hangs on a fig tree until his makeshift raft resurfaces from the whirlpool; he skedaddles, and winds up with Calypso.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Big Read IV: Jackson's Elizabeth + A Fine Old Firm

The Lottery: And Other Stories Elizabeth

I was looking around for the story online and found this essay. Apparently characters were based on the Salem Witchcraft trials, and Elizabeth Style was the one accused, and the floozy receptionist that is hired briefly corresponds to the accusing child. This just adds yet another layer to these complex stories.

The hints were subtle, but I got that Elizabeth and her partner? boss? Robert Shax were lovers, and perhaps that's why she pulled him away from the agency where she was first hired and the two created this lifeless agency together. I thought perhaps Shax meant to replace her but Elizabeth assumed he meant to replace their receptionist Miss Wilson. That wouldn't just be a matter of replacing Elizabeth in the company, but as a lover. If so he chickened out and ducked out, hoping the situation would make it obvious to her. She was determined to be obtuse. Really though, I suppose it was the receptionist who was to be let go, and the eye-candy Daphne Hill was to attract gullible authors.

Elizabeth let the new one go, and parceled out what little money she had to get through the week. She was meeting Jim Harris, one of their authors, to see if she couldn't dig up more authorial leads. Hmmm, this Mr. Harris doesn't seem very daemonic, at least not until Elizabeth starts fantasizing about a life she didn't get and a future she will likely never have.

A Fine Old Firm

I got a ways into this when I realized that Mrs. Concord's son Charlie most likely wasn't writing to her at all while away at war. Yet he wrote to his sister (her daughter) Helen, and to his buddy's mother, Mrs. Friedman, who creates the instance of this story by coming to call.

"I'm Mrs. Friedman," Mrs. Friedman said. "Bob Friedman's mother."
"Bob Friedman," Mrs. Concord repeated.
Mrs. Friedman smiled apologetically. "I thought surely your boy would have mentioned Bobby," she said.
"Of course he has," Helen said suddenly.
I had to read it over again to verify. Indeed Mrs. Concord seemed pretty clueless about any news from her son. I thought perhaps it was to save face that she was sorry he couldn't join Mr. Friedman's law firm, because her son Charlie already has a position assured with a friend of his father's at a "fine old firm."

Now at the third look I realize it's because the Friedmans must be Jewish. Not only would Charlie have avoided this mention then, but Mrs. Concord would make sure there would be no such connection once the boys got home. Fine old firm = WASP to the teeth. Oh yeah, the Fine Old Firm is Satterthwaite & Harris. Uh oh, Harris. Charlie's doomed.

If a person subscribes to the New Yorker, the story can be accessed here.

The Odyssey, Bk 10: The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea

The Odyssey Then to the Aeolian isle we came

It always seems to be nine days, and on the tenth they get there, wherever it is.

So the Kind of Aeolus gave Odysseus a sack-full-o-wind. The wind gets them almost all the way home. As Odysseus likes to do, he doesn't tell his men what it is, so they get to wondering. And grumbling. And thinking the clever smooth-talking Odie has kept some plunder to himself. Well. So when Odysseus falls asleep, what do they do? The resulting deathly squall sends them right back to Aeolus' island.

'Back again, Odysseus--why? Some blustering god attacked you?
Surely we launched you well, we sped you on your way
to your own land and house, or any place you pleased.'
So they taunted, and I replied in deep despair,
'A mutinous crew undid me--that and a cruel sleep,
Set it to rights, my friends. You have the power!'
...'Away from my island--fast--most cursed man alive!
it's a crime to host a man or speed him on his way
when the blessed deathless gods despise him so. (70-81)
Next, another race of man-eating giants. They skedaddle, and wind up at Circe's island.

Eurylochus leads some men to scope it out. Circe turns them into pigs. Hermes gives Odysseus the Secret to foil Circe. Odysseus finagles his guarantee of safety, but notice he doesn't say 'with a prompt leave-taking,' and "at last, I mounted Circe's gorgeous bed..." (384)

So Odysseus brings his men back, and they have a leisurely time of it....for a year. Finally it's the men who say, 'Um hey, O, yeah. We know it's nice here and all, but um....don't you think it's time we headed home???'

Circe: Sure, of course! All you had to do was ask! But you have to go to hell first! Heheh. She gives him full instructions though so 1. He doesn't get trapped there, and 2. He gets information he needs from the dead, specifically the prophet Tiresias.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Odyssey, Books 8 and 9

The Odyssey A Day for Songs and Contests

Can't beat ads by Athena:

“Hither now, leaders and counsellors of the Phaeacians, come to the place of assembly, that you may learn of the stranger who has newly come to the palace of wise Alcinous after his wanderings over the sea, and in form is like unto the immortals.” (12-15)
King Alcinous arranges a ship for Odysseus "rigged for her maiden voyage." Why her maiden voyage I wonder? Nothing but a new ship for his guest? Others already using the other ships?

Laodamas challenges Odysseus to sports, even though he knows the man must be out of sorts for being tossed around at sea for who knows how long. Odysseus shows him, and sends a heavier discus than anyone farther than anyone else.

The bard Demodocus sings the tale of Aphrodite cheating on Hephaestus with Ares. The cunning smith rigs a trap and all the other gods laugh at the adulterer. Poseidon talks the smith into letting them go, and if the war god skips out on his fine, Poseidon will pay it himself. Of course Ares skips out along with Love.

Odysseus requests of the bard, "Sing of the wooden horse Epeus built with Athena's help, the cunning trap that good Odysseus brought one day to the heights of Troy, filled with fighting men who laid the city waste." (552-555)

Now why did he ask that if he was gonna cry? I think Odysseus did so on purpose, in order to make his hosts more curious about who he was, and to increase his loftiness by preceding his introduction with a tale already told by the bards.

In the One-Eyed Giant's Cave

Odysseus finally says who he is, and recites a litany of the troubles (many of them women) that he's been through. Of course there's Calypso, and earlier, Circe, and the queen of Aeaea. They all would have had him to themselves. And they did to a point, wink wink. "But they never won the heart inside me, never." (37) He and his man plundered Ismarus; he blames the men for their difficulties there...too greedy. Then there was the hurricane. Then there was the North Wind, and they were so close. Then the Lotus-Eaters. Bad men, eating the lotus, getting stoned were they? Finally, the Cyclops. What was Odysseus thinking? This time his men wanted to leave but nooooo, he ought to receive a guest-gift. Why would he think a cyclops gave a rip about manners?

Ok, who doesn't know the story of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops and tricking him by saying his name is "No Man" or "Nobody," and then sneaking out under the bellies of the rams? And then almost getting tossed ashore by a giant boulder the Cyclops through after the boasting Odysseus who thought himself far enough offshore?

The Cyclops remembers his prophecy.
We once had a prophet here, a great tall man,
Telemus, Eurymus' son, a master at reading signs,
who grew old in his trade among his fellow-Cyclops.
All this, he warned me, would come to pass someday--
that I'd be blinded here at the hands of one Odysseus.
But I always looked for a handsome giant man to cross my path,
some fighter clad in power like armor-plate, but now,
look what a dwarf, a spineless good-for-nothing,
stuns me with wine, then gouges out my eye! (566-574)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Big Read IV: "Dorothy and My Grandmother..." + "Colloquy"

The Lottery: And Other Stories Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors

The narrator and her friend Dot have always been told to stay away from the sailors when they went to San Francisco.

My mother told us about the kind of girls who followed sailors, and my grandmother told us about the kind of sailors who followed girls.
They made a yearly outing to San Fran to buy winter coats for the girls. They would always visit the ships, as many tourists did. What a combination... constant indoctrination of fear and propriety, mixed with acceptable voyeurism of the warship. When the narrator gets herself lost and finds a man she thinks to be the captain to help her back to her grandmother, well, there's no more visiting the ships. How do they reconcile these fearful beliefs with their own escort, Uncle Ollie, once a sailor in WWI?

Then, when going to a sold-out movie and having to take what seats they could, the girls end up next to two sailors. The sailors don't even have to do as much as shift in their seats and Dot is terrified and out the door. The group went next door to a tea room.
Dot had even started to cheer up a little when the door of the tea room opened and two ailors walked in. With one wild bound Dot was in back of my grandmother's chair, cowering and clutching my grandmother's arm. "Don't let them get me," she wailed.
"They followed us," my mother said tautly.
My grandmother put her arms around Dot. "Poor child," she said, "you're safe with us."
This is the kind of fearmongering that gets us this.


So short. I looked up colloquy. The story is a colloquy, and is about colloquy. Why do people not make sense anymore? The woman visits the doctor to find out if she's the only sane one, or the crazy one.
"No," Mrs. Arnold said, slowly and distinctly, "I guess I'd better start over. When I was a little girl--" she said. Then she stopped. "Look," she said, "did there use to be words like psychosomatic medicine? Or international cartels? Or bureaucratic centralization?"
You know she has no recourse when the doctor's part of the colloquy is to speak in just this way. She gets closest to completing this thought. Her husband feels entitled to a paper. He thinks the newsboy was supposed to save him one.
"and he started talking about social planning on the local level and surtax net income and geopolitical concepts and deflationary inflation." Mrs. Arnold's voice rose to a wail. "He really said deflationary inflation."
While all around her people speak with these new words, she cannot finish a thought. They've beaten her down with their words. She has lost the fight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 7: Phaeacia's Halls and Gardens

The Odyssey So he prayed there, the much-enduring goodly Odysseus

Not only does the princess tell Odysseus how to approach, so does Athena. He must approach the queen.

The queen is the first you'll light on in the halls.
Arete, she is called, and earns the name. (61-62)
Ah. A Virtuous one.

These people are rich, very very rich, as seafarers can be when things go as planned.
Walls plated in bronze, crowned with a circling frieze
glazed as blue as lapis, ran to left and right
from outer gates to the deepest court recess,
and solid gold doors enclosed the palace. (100-103)
Etc. Etc. Much gold, finely woven brocade, and "some fifty serving-women."
Just as Phaeacian men excel the world at sailing,
driving their swift ships on the open seas,
so the women excel at all the arts of weaving.
That is Athena's gift to them beyond all others--
a genius for lovely work, and a fine mind too. (124-128)
Athena wraps a fog around Odysseus all the way until he reaches the queen's knees. I don't get that. Wouldn't she be unnerved to find a man suddenly in front of her grabbing her knees? Everybody simply marveled.

Like Odysseus, I have found humble deprecation helps to win people over.
"Your majesty," diplomatic Odysseus answered,
"don't find fault with a flawless daughter now,
not for my sake, please.
She urged me herself to follow with her maids.
I chose not to, fearing embarrassment in fact--
what if you took offense, seeing us both together?
Suspicious we are, we men who walk the earth." (346-352)
A couple times now "a corded bed" is mentioned as though it is luxurious. To me that so would not be luxurious. I suppose it is as opposed to a cold hard floor, or in the straw with the horses.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "Flower Garden"

The Lottery: And Other Stories I had a few more thoughts about "After You, My Dear Alphonse" after reading the comments of the others. Here's what I said:

I didn't get that Johnny didn't get it, so I went back for another look. This time this sentence jumped out at me: "Mrs. Wilson lifted the plate of gingerbread off the table as Boyd was about to take another piece."

so saying that if you won't be grateful for free clothing, you can't have any more cookies.

So Johnny says, "She's screwy sometimes." Meaning, I take it, that he doesn't necessarily understand her actions as racist, but just think his mother acts irrationally at times.

So that makes me wonder why Boyd simply says, "So's mine."

Maybe because he realizes Johnny is blind to the race thing so far, and he wants to keep it that way as long as possible? Until Johnny becomes aware, they can just be two kids playing at soldiers and "after you."
Flower Garden

This is the longest story thus far in the collection. The beginning almost seems to be an articulation of Shirley Jackson's Theory of Personality Defined by House.
After living in an old Vermont manor house together for almost eleven years, the two Mrs. Winnings, mother and daughter-in-law, had grown to look a good deal alike, as women will who live intimately together, and work in the same kitchen and get things done around the house in the same manner.
This also seems to reveal the outcome of the story. Mrs. Winning the Younger had a chance to step out of this gray existence, but she did not. Indeed she quickly fully accepted it because this habit of living in the house of her mother-in-law had impressed her personality too deeply. Or, when push came to shove, she did not wish after all for that colorful existence, and preferred this drab one.

Mrs. Winning the younger was getting a vicarious thrill over the cottage being sold in her neighborhood. Once upon a time she wished it for herself, but she is destined to live in her mother-in-law's house. She would have painted the kitchen yellow, planted roses in the garden. Perhaps if she becomes friends with the new owner, she could even have access to the person she could have been by having access to the house. I wonder as I read if this will happen.

For a little while it does seem to happen. She pauses on her way home. She does something without the direction of her mother-in-law, and knocks on the door. Inside, "Mrs. Winning smiled with friendship at the woman in the doorway, thing, She has done it right; this is the way it should look after all, she knows about pretty houses."

Everything was as she might have done, "a little more informal, perhaps, nothing of quite such good quality" as she might have chosen. The colors of blue and orange and yellow contrast with her own ancient home with coal stove and old wooden box that had held several generations worth of toys.

Mrs. Winning makes friends with Mrs. MacLane, and her boy Howard with Mrs. MacLane's boy Davey. Everybody around seemed to make similar excuses to drop in, welcome the new neighbor, help her out. The two women would go to the store together, and neighbors began to think of them as a unit.

That all changed when Mrs. MacLane treated a mixed-race boy the same as any other boy, and hired his black father to help her with her garden. This was the moment when Mrs. Winning had a choice, to choose the new house and new personality, or turn away from this choice. They were taking a long walk in the country.
Mrs. MacLane picked Queen Anne's lace and put it into the wagon with the baby, and the boys found a garter snake and tried to bring it home. On the way up the hill Mrs. MacLane helped pull the wagon with the baby and the Queen Anne's lace, and they stopped halfway to rest and Mrs. MacLane said, "Look, I believe you can see my garden all the way from here."
It was a spot of color almost at the top of the hill and they stood looking at it while the baby threw the Queen Ann's lace out of the wagon. Mrs. MacLane said, "I always want to stop here and look at it," and then, "Who is that beautiful child?"
I thought, at this moment, just when Mrs. Winning must make a choice, Queen Anne's Lace must be significant. There is a legend that if you bring it into your mother's house, she will die. Doesn't look like it's making its way into the mother-in-law's house. Meanwhile Mrs. MacLane's house is the only spot of color, the only spot of lively sanity, in the whole town.

Mrs. MacLane admonishes her son for using the n-word, while Mrs. Winning tells the (to the locals) scandalous tale of the white mother, a local girl, who "left the whole litter of them when Billy was about two, and went off with a white man." She begins to tell, but doesn't, it is hinted, that the daughter is following in her mother's footsteps, or is a lady of the night. Nobody ever actually says. Neighbors look at it as Mrs. Winning's duty to set her friend straight. Rather than say the words, she avoids her and drops the friendship.

People stop visiting Mrs. MacLane. Despite Mr. Jones' help, the garden withers, loses its color. The state of mind of the owner now appears to be affecting her surroundings. The younger Mrs. Winning shows where her loyalty lies when her little boy is invited to a birthday party, but Davey, the friend of the black boy, is not, and Mrs. Winning is asked if she minds.
Mrs. Winning felt sick for a minute, and had to wait for her voice to even out before she said lightly, "It's all right with me if it's all right with you; why do you have to ask me?" ..."Really," she said, putting the weight of the old Winning house into her voice, "why in the world would it bother me?"
Mrs. Winning felt that she had to say something further, something to state her position with finality, so that no long would Mrs. Burton, at least, dare to use such a tone to a Winning... "After all," Mrs. Winning said carefully, weighing the words, "she's like a second mother to Billy."
Woooh. She's implying the black handyman and the widow MacLane are an item.

Jackson really pounds the nail in the coffin with this one. The garden wilts, while Mrs. Winning's lawn is greener than ever. A storm breaks off a giant branch from a tree in the Burton's yard, and stabs the remaining floundering flowers of Mrs. MacLane's garden.
"Leave it alone, Mr. Jones," Mrs. MacLane said finally. "Leave it for the next people to move!"
Mrs. Winning, walking to the store, wouldn't say hello, but turned around and went back up the hill to her house.

The Odyssey, Bk 6: The Princess and the Stranger

The Odyssey So there he lay at rest, the storm-tossed great Odysseus

Athena prepares the field by sending a dream to the princess of the land where Odysseus landed.

The princess and her girls wake Odysseus and he emerges with leaves covering the naughty bits. This doesn't stop Athena from making him all alluring. Odysseus plans his approach.

Should he fling his arms around her knees, the young beauty,
plead for help, or stand back, plead with a winning word,
beg her to lead him to the town and lend him clothing?
This was the better way, he thought. Plead now
with a subtle, winning word and stand well back... (156-160)
Odysseus isn't known as the wily charming one for nothing. Although he retreated to another area while he bathed for their modesty, I think Homer left out the part about their secretly looking on anyway. There seems to be a lot of wink-wink going on here.

Athena does her best to make him a heartbreaker:
Zeus's daughter Athena made him taller to all eyes,
his build more massive now, and down from his brow
she ran his curls like thick yacinth clusters
full of blooms. As a master craftsman washes
gold over beaten silver...
so she lavished splendor... (253-257, 260)
The princess asks that he follow later; she doesn't wish to invite catcalls. Seamen are this rough and salty all times and places aren't they?
But I shrink from all our sea-dogs' nasty gossip.
Some old salt might mock us behind our backs-- (299-300)
She mustn't compromise her virtue.

While he waits Odysseus prays for mercy and love from the Phaeacian people.
So he prayed and Athena heard his prayer
but would not yet appear to him undisguised.
She stood in awe of her Father's brother, lord of the sea (361-363)
So Athena's still trying to keep her scheming secret.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 5: Odysseus-Nymph and Shipwreck

The Odyssey Now Dawn arose from her couch from beside lordly Tithonus

Tithonus, that's not a mythic name you hear very often. Poor Tithonus...he was granted immortality but not perpetual youth.

Once again Athena speaks to the other gods, especially Zeus. "Daddy, daddy, can we get Odysseus home now. You said! And Telemachus is in danger! We have to do something!

"My child," Zeus who marshalls the thunderheads replied,
"what nonsense you let slip through your teeth. Come now,
wasn't the plan your own? You conceived it yourself:
Odysseus shall return and pay the traitors back.
Telemachus? Sail him home iwth all your skill--(24-28)
So Hermes takes the message to Calypso, who complies. She gives Odysseus the tools he needs, he creates his raft, and he packs his bags and leaves. But not before the two had a little good-bye sex. Natch.

Ruh roh, again.
But now Poseidon, god of the earthquake, saw him--
just returning home from his Ethiopian friends,
from miles away on the Solymi mountain-range
he spied Odysseus sailing down the sea
and it made his fury boil even more. (309-313)
Calmus' daughter Ino advises Odysseus to strip and wear her scarf and leave the wreckage of his raft behind. At first he doesn't but then he must. When he reaches shore he is to throw it back without looking back. He does so, but not before several cliffhanger moments of sea surges and rugged reefs.
Struggling up from the banks, he flung himself
in the deep reeds, he kissed the good green earth
and addressed his fighting spirit, deperate still (512-514)
Shore? Woods? Cold wind? Wild beasts? He chooses wild beasts, and finds a sheltered spot with leaves to cover himself.

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "Afternoon in Linen"

The Lottery: And Other StoriesAfternoon in Linen

Everyone is in linen. It all sounds very crisp. I think the moment in which the character shifts is right at the beginning when she thinks of Alice.

Like in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the little girl thought, looking at her grandmother; like the gentleman all dressed in white paper. I'm a gentleman all dressed in pink paper, she thought.
When Alice enters that other world, she must think like a survivor. She must act from the hidden cues, not the obvious ones. This little girl must now act in a way that will horrify her grandmother, because there are other matters to think about than those her grandmother has in mind.

At first she thinks she'll refuse to play the piano just because. That sends her further into the other-rational world of Alice. She must have a reason for not playing. She contradicts her grandmother at every turn. "I don't know any," the little girl said. Then it becomes about saving face in the schoolyard...the boy Harold will tell they other kids she writes poetry. She can't have that.

She still can't avoid the poetry...her grandmother has it in an envelope, and even has the boy fetch it. He laughs and gloats. Harriet is backed into a corner.
He'll tell all the kids on the block, Harriet though. "I didn't write it," she said.
"Why, Harriet!" Her grandmother laughed. "You don't need to be so modest, child. You write very nice poems."
"I copied it out of a book," Harriet said. "I found it in a book and I copied it and gave it to my old grandmother and said I wrote it."
Three times Harriet must say she copied the poems. Now it might even be about impressing the other kids.
Harriet looked at Howard, who was staring at her in admiration. "I copied it out of a book," she said to him. "I found the book in the library one day."
Oh her poor poor grandmother.

This just leaves me sad. Her poor grandmother thinking her granddaughter has been deliberately deceiving her.

Read what others have to say here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 4: The King and Queen of Sparta

The Odyssey At last they gained the ravines of Lacedaemon

Telemachus and Nestor's son Pisistratus arrive during wedding festivities. Menelaus says "Wait, don't tell me. You must be the sons of kings. I'm right, aren't I."

Unbidden Menelaus speaks of Odysseus.

for none of all those comrades, pained as I am,
do I grieve as much for one...
that man who makes sleep hateful, even food,
as I pore over his memory. No one, no Achaean
labored hard as Odysseus labored or achieved so much. (116-120)
Menelaus realizes T is Odysseus' son, but ponders whether to grill him. Why do that? But Helen, of the launched a thousand ships fame, steals his thunder.
"Right or wrong, what can I say? My heart tells me
to come right out and say I've never seen such a likeness,
neither in man nor woman--I'm amazed at the sight.
To the life he's like the son of great Odysseus,
surely he's Telemachus!" (155-159)
Helen goes on...
The boy that hero left
a babe in arms at home when all you Achaeans
fought at Troy, launching your headlong battles
just for my sake, shameless whore that I was." (159-162)
I seem to recall her doing this in the Iliad as well. She seems to require it of herself, call herself a shameless whore. That bit goes by unremarked upon, as though it's just part of the background noise, she says it so often. I also get this image of two embittered people, staying together for propriety, with barely veiled hostile remarks flying back and forth across the dinner table. I could so see this in a contemporary movie, the unhappy rich couple spatting incessantly, finding small ways to manipulate the other, 'for the other's own good' of course.

Like here:
Then Zeus's daughter Helen thought of something else,
Into the mixing-bowl from which they drank their wine
she slipped a drug, heart's-ease, dissolving anger,
magic to make us all forget our pains...
No one who drank it deeply, mulled in wine,
could let a tear roll down his cheeks that day. (243-248)
Can't have this war-induced grief bringing down a wedding party, can we?

Helen recounts a story of helping Odysseus when he entered the city as a beggar spy. Menelaus snarks back about her knocking on the wooden horse, hoping to get those hidden inside to betray themselves.
Three times you sauntered round our hollow ambush,
feeling, stroking its flanks,
challenging all our fighters, calling each by name-- (310-312)
Menelaus recounts his way home--how he held The Old Man of the Sea, who then had to tell him the truth. Menelaus gets to go home, the Old Man tells him, because he's the son-in-law of Zeus. So that's why the rich couple stays together: she's the one with the 'money' or 'connections'; he's the one with respectability. An unhappy match, that. The Old Man also tells him of Odysseus' being held by Calypso.

Ruh roh:
But lord Antinous sat apart,
dashing Eurymachus beside him, ringleaders,
head and shoulders the strongest of the lot.
Phronius' son Noemon approached them now,
quick to press Antinous with a question:
"Antinous, have we any notion or not
when Telemachus will return from sandy Pylos?
He sailed in a ship of mine and now I need her back..." (706-713)
Penelope discovers T's absence. She prays to Pallas, who sends a phantom with a dispatch to ease her pain. Of course she can't help but ask about Odysseus. The phantom's response:
"I cannot tell you the story start to finish,
whether he's dead or alive,
It's wrong to lead you on with idle words." (940-942)
Why idle words? So the bards can have a story to tell?

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "Charles"

The Lottery: And Other Stories Gail G shared this article from Salon back in '97 about Shirley Jackson. I look forward to reading it.

Charles (read it here)

How does the act of going to school change a child even before he gets there? Where did this come from?

I knew immediately the darling Laurie was actually 'Charles.' He'd already been displaying the same behavior, which baffled his parents, but it never occurred to them he would create a persona who did all the actions he actually did. I could see that he might learn this behavior from someone else at school, but how did we get the "sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave goodbye"? Perhaps there was a Mr. Harris character that came along and gave him ideas before story started.

I suppose, as a smart boy, he realized it was wrong to 'be fresh,' so when his mother questioned him, he quickly thought up Charles so it wouldn't be him, Laurie, who was the bad one.

"What did he do?" I asked. "Who was it?"
Laurie thought. "It was Charles," he said. "He was fresh. The teacher spanked him and made him stand in a corner. He was awfully fresh."
It's funny how he covers up his having to stay after school for being so bad.
"Charles yelled so in school they sent a boy in from first grade to tell the teacher she had to make Charles keep quiet, and so Charles had to stay after school. And so all the children stayed to watch him."
Of course mom misses the first Parent-Teacher meeting. The parents inadvertently encourage their son to act out as Charles, so they can have more stories.

I appreciate the ending. And I don't appreciate the ending. I want to read about mom's reaction as she realizes her son is Charles. I want something like the ending of The Renegade. Still, it's good for a gotcha, if you didn't get it early on about Laurie/Charles. I'm still mystified about where he got the acting out from. Perhaps that is on purpose...we the reader are supposed to be as clueless as the parents?

Read what others have to say here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 3: King Nestor Remembers

The Odyssey ...the people lined the beaches, sacrificing sleek black bulls to Poseidon

Athena in disguise makes an offering and prays to Poseidon. What happens when a goddess is acting behind another god's back, and she prays to that god? Apparently it doesn't get attention, not yet anyway.

[Agamemnon] meant to detain us there and offer victims,
anything to appease Athena's dreadful wrath-- (160-161)
I wonder if that was his daughter that Aggie wished to sacrifice? According to Aeschylus, his wife kills him for it. According to Nestor in Homer, his son did so:
But Atreus' son yourselves, even
in far-off Ithaca, must have heard how he returned,
how Aegisthus hatched the king's horrendous death. (218-220)
Nestor knows nothing of Odysseus. He says,
"Still I advise you to visit Menelaus.
He's back from abroad at last, from people so removed
you might abandon hope of ever returning home,
once the winds had driven you that far off course...
So, off you go with your ships and shipmates now.
Or if you'd rather go by land, there's team and chariot,
my sons at your service too..." (358-366)
So Athena echoes:
"...But you, seeing my friend is now your guest,
speed him on his way with a chariot and your son
and give him the finest horses that you have,
bred for stamina, trained to race the wind."
With that the bright-eyed goddess winged away
in an eagle's form and flight.
Amazement fell on all the Achaeans there. (411-417)
There's no refusing a goddess. The next day Nestor leads the choreography of a slaughter in offering. Homer makes this ritual killing sound so glamorous, but despite the gold-wrapped horns I bet it's grubby and messy and blood spatters their clean clothes. On the other hand, this must be a handsome sight:
During the ritual lovely Polycaste, youngest daughter
of Nestor, Neleus' son, had bathed Telemachus.
Rinsing him off now, rubbing him down with oil,
she drew a shirt and handsome cape around hime.
Out of his bath he stepped, glistening like a god,
strode in and sat by the old commander Nestor. (521-526)
Telemachus and Nestor's son Pisistratus ride on.

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "After You, My Dear Alphonse"

The Lottery: And Other Stories The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

After You, My Dear Alphonse (read it here)

I was curious about the title. Was it a common cultural use? Apparently so. According to this resource, it "originated with a comic strip that first appeared in 1905. The expression is generally used when two people go back and forth, suggesting the other go first, as a way of being polite."

I know I've read this story before as well.

Here's another case in which the children exist in a world that's completely inaccessible to the adult. The two are simply playing, trading the saying, carting props around, and looking for dinner. Mom, on the other hand, assumes her child ordered Boyd, the Negro boy, to haul wood, assumes Boyd would need hand-me-down clothes, and didn't feel she could assume Boyd's father held a job. When Boyd has "plenty of clothes, thank you." Mrs. Wilson thinks him ungrateful and is angry, or rather, disappointed. He hasn't fulfilled her image of a Negro boy.

Again the ending completes the separation between the children and the adult:

"Is your mother still mad?" Mrs. Wilson heard Boyd ask in a low voice.
"I don't know," Johnny said. "She's screwy sometimes."
"So's mine," Boyd said. He hesitated. "After you, my dear Alphonse."

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 2: Telemachus Sets Sail

The Odyssey The true son of Odysseus sprang from bed and dressed.

Telemachus does as Athena bid...gathered the people, and named the suitors for the hooligans they were.

Suitors plague my mother--against her will--
sons of the very men who are your finest here! (54-55)
The people are speechless.
Pity seized the assembly.
All just sat there, silent...
no one had the heart to reply with harshness. (87-89)
Contrast this with the suitors. One Antinous (what did I tell ya?):
"So high and might, Telemachus--such unbridled rage!
It's not the suitors here who deserve the blame,
It's your own dear mother, the matchless queen of cunning...." (91, 94-95)
Yeeeaaaah. Riiight. She was asking for it. She shouldn't dress that way. She was leading us on. Wow, that excuse is as old as....Homer. There's no coercion here, no sir:
...we caught her in the act--unweaving her gorgeous web.
So she finished it off. Against her will. We forced her. (121-122)
Telemachus responds, and Zeus sends a sign. Halitherses interprets. Odysseus will return and oust the suitors. The usurpers think they know better. Eurymachus has a prophecy of his own. Isn't that the way of all bullies? Let me predict for you how I will beat you up...
The prince's wealth will be devoured as always,
mercilessly--no reparations, ever...not
while the queen drags out our hopes to wed her... (225-227)
Again with the 'she led us on.'

It's not enough for the usurpers to occupy the home of Odysseus, they must mock those with less power. Telemachus ignores them, but gathers supplies as Athena instructed. While he'd made a public declaration, he proceeded secretly. Note to self:it sure helps secret plans to have a goddess act as your double.
Then bright-eyed Pallus thought of one more step.
Disguised as the prince, the goddess roamed through town,
pausing beside each likely crewman, giving orders... (422-424)
Another note to self: it sure is a confidence-booster to have a goddess on your team.
And Pallus Athena sped away in the lead
as he followed in her footsteps, man and goddess.
Once they reached the ship at the water's edge
they found their long-haired shipmates on the beach.
The prince, inspired, gave his first commands... (446-450)

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "The Witch" + "The Renegade"

The Lottery: And Other Stories The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Witch (read it here)

Oddly, I was reminded of the beginning of The Book Thief in which the mother, the girl, and her baby brother travel by train. Here we have a mother, a boy, and baby sister traveling by train. I kept expecting the baby sister to die. Perhaps the mother thinks she is a good parent, but her strapping of the baby girl so she doesn't need to hold her up, and her half-hearted replies to the bored little boy say to me lazy parent.

Still, I wonder if I will like the boy when he would say "Hi" to passing people, but he would be unhappy when they would "sometimes ask the little boy if he were enjoying the train ride, or even tell him he was a fine big fellow. These comments annoyed the little boy and he would turn irritably back to the window."

The boy narrates the journey. He placates his baby sister. He tells a story.
"I saw a witch," he said to his mother after a minute. "There was a big old ugly old bad old witch outside." This earns her non-committal reply.

A man comes along who asks the boy what he's looking for. "Witches....Bad old mean witches."
"I see," the man said. "Find many?"

He begins the man-to-boy chatter somewhat innocuously, but then tells the boy he killed his sister, cut off her head, among other things, and put her head in a cage with a bear. The good mother cannot abide this scary talk. The boy is quite amused. Finally someone who speaks his language!

This could be read more than one way. Either the man is serious, and this possibility scares the mother, or he is not, and is simply entering the child's world in which fairy tales are real and not-real at the same time. The two can laugh about people eating each other because this is all talk of imaginary worlds, not something they would actually do. The mother does not put herself in the child's view and so she is alarmed, thinking the man is putting strange ideas into the boy's head, and who knows what this stranger might do to her family.

Then I take a look at a more fanciful interpretation. As noted by other Big Readers, certain names show up in these short stories, especially Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris is the daemon lover, and if I play around with the thought that Mr. Harris could always be the daemon strolling through the little universes of these stories, well, he's the one that deflates everyone's balloon. He's the young man in The Villager who pokes a pin in Miss Clarence's little bubble of reverie. He's the man who horned in on David's date with Marcia, pushing the haus-herr out while Harris and Marcia had a grand ol' time. He's not named here, but he could be the man the boy says could well be a witch. Maybe he really did cut up his little sister, and wouldn't that make him a mischievous daemon? This teacher certainly interprets the man as diabolical.

The Renegade

I know I've read this before, but can't recall when or where.

Mrs. Walpole wants to get her kids and her dear husband off to school and work on time. She hasn't even had her coffee yet. She gets a phone call: her dog has killed her neighbor's chickens. Her neighbor Joe White was the one who identified the dog.

"The dog," the voice said. "You'll have to do something about the dog."
A sudden unalterable terror took hold of Mrs. Walpole. Her morning had gone badly, she had not yet had her coffee, she was faced with an evil situation she had never known before, and now the voice, its tone, its inflection, had managed to frighten Mrs. Walpole with a word like "something."
She has her coffee, and some breakfast. Too depressed to do her laundry, she seeks help from her neighbor, Mrs Nash. That moment, when the terror took hold...remember that moment.
Mrs. Walpole, stepping into Mrs. Nash's kitchen, was painfully aware of her own kitchen with the dirty dishes in the sink. Mrs. Nash was wearing a shockingly clean house dress and her kitchen was freshly washed; Mrs. Nash was able to fry doughnuts without making any sort of a mess.
So Mrs. W has difficulty keeping a neat house, and Mrs. N does not. What does that say about their personalities? I think it unfolds with the the business of the dog becomes ever more sinister, and Mrs. W is more horrified, and more the outsider from all her neighbors, it begins to look like while she is the most unconditioned by the norm of the community. Everybody down the line knows her dog killed chickens, and everybody down the line has something harsh for her to do with the dog. Mrs. Nash is the nicest, with the suggestion the dog must be chained in the yard. Mrs. Nash identifies the caller, the aggrieved neighbor: the Harrises.

It is Mrs. Harris that delivered the first moment of terror, the moment which changed Mrs. Walpole's day, indeed her life in the country, irrevocably. My theory about Harris being the pin-pricking daemon still holds.

Moving on. Remedies include tying a dead chicken around the dog's neck until it rots enough to fall off, or setting the dog loose with a mother hen defending her chicks. These remedies are delivered with seemingly cruel laughter. It is a matter of fact in their world that something must be done, and it doesn't matter how it hurts the dog. It matters to Mrs. Walpole. It matters that they are all quite cavalier, while she is horrified by her bloody dog, and by their somethings that could be done.

The capping touch is that her children have also already heard, and they also are quite cavalier about the death of the dog.
"All around," Judy said. "Let me tell it, Jack. You hammer these nails all around so's they make spikes inside the collar."
"But it's loose," Jack said. "Let me tell this part. It's loose and you put it around Lady's neck..."
"And--" Judy put her hand on her throat and made a strangling noise.
The children really do drag out the telling of this remedy. They relish it. Don't they have feelings about this dog? But they already fit into this little world. Their dog does not, nor does their mother. The dog gets a long rope, and is encouraged to go after chickens. When she gets close, they puuuuuull on the rope.
"And--" Judy made her strangling noise again.
"The spikes cut her head off," Jack finished dramatically.
Jack completes the separation of Mrs. W. the renegade from their inclusion with the locals.
"Cut your head right off," Jack was saying.
The ending is just chilling and amazing:
Everything was quiet and lovely in the sunlight, the peaceful sky, the gentle line of the hills. Mrs. Walpole closed her eyes, suddenly feeling the harsh hands pulling her down, the sharp points closing in on her throat.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Odyssey, Bk 1: Athena Inspires the Prince

I persuaded three of my friends to read along with me, how cool is that? Murasaki (I'm not sure which one that is) has already commented:

Book 1: the hoards of feasting suitors-what a mob scene! Go, Telemachus! And Athena's sparkling, flashing eyes everywhere...
I don't think I can match that. One of my friends went for it because he's been asked to give a lecture on music theory and how myths are involved, or something like that.

So we find out Poseidon is mad at Odysseus and that's why he can't go home, and I immediately wonder, Am I forgetting something from the Iliad, should I know the reason why? I just needed to be patient...60 lines later I find out it's because of the whole blinding the Cyclops thing. Don't mess with a kid of the gods. Don't you know better? Then I thought, how could I forget The Odyssey begins this way? Somehow my memory kept it as picking up where The Iliad left off.

But now Poseidon is away getting his props from the Ethiopians, "off at the farthest limits of mankind, a people split in two, one part where the Sungod sets and part where the Sungod rises." (26-28) I thought that was interesting, have no idea what it means.

As the gods do, Athena takes advantage of that distance, and proposes a plan to all the other gods.
let us dispatch the guide and giant-killer Hermes
down to Ogygia Island, down to announce at once
to the nymph with lovely braids our fixed decree:
Odysseus journeys home--the exile must return!
While I myself go down to Ithaca, rouse his son
to a braver pitch, inspire his heart with courage
to summon the flowing-haired Achaeans to full assembly,
speak his mind to all those suitors, (100-107)
Are those suitors, or raiders, or land-grabbers? Telemachus grills the stranger Athena about the outside world, and whether (s)he knew his father. Poor T, he must not really have any memory of his father. Athena proceeds as planned: dad's coming home, T; buck up T, be a man and kick these perpetual frat boys out.
How obscenely they lounge and swagger here, look,
gorging in your house. Why, any man of sense
who chanced among them would be outraged,
seeing such behavior. (264-267)
And more specifically:
Fit out a ship with twenty oars, the best in sight,
sail in quest of news of your long-lost father.
...First go down to Pylos, question old Kind Nestor,
then cross over to Sparta, to red-haired Menelaus...
Now, if you hear your father's alive and heading home,
hard-pressed as you are, brave out on more year. (322-328)
Somehow Telemachus knew the stranger had to be Athena of the flashing eyes.

I think we've gotta watch out for Antinous. If I remember my ancient Greek (I don't) I think it means 'not brainy'. He'll be like the lead frat boy, thickest and meanest of all. He prays "that Zeus will never make [Telemachus] king of Ithaca." (443)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Reading the Odyssey

The Odyssey The Odyssey by Homer

I'm about to read The Odyssey for the next in the series of Read the Classics: Greece and Rome at my library. I'm attempting to put myself on a schedule earlier this time so I won't be rushed near the end. I was impressed with the professor for this group when he led the discussion on The Iliad. He began with a small lecture on background history, much of which can be found on his web pages here. He led us in a recitation of the first line in Greek, somewhat as Homer (or one of those bards) might have done. That was neat. He built it syllable by syllable until we had the whole line. He then did a round robin, getting impressions from each person who attended, what stood out for us, etc. He sometimes made comments in response, but not in a lecture-y way. We still had time for discussion as a group after all that, and he was quite skilled in leading the conversation and tying threads together.

I asked him how much class time he would spend on this work, as there was just too much for us to cover in two hours. He said six hours...and that led to a conversation about a possible next time where it could be a series of three discussion groups rather than just the one. (This was so much better than the Hume discussion. I decided not to pursue that series further. The prof was much younger and not really aware, I thought, of what this could be. He lectured most of the time, regurgitating the bits of Hume we had just read. But that is a subject for another post. I have a bone to pick with Hume.)

So, starting Sunday, I will read one book a day, so I read at least 6 books a week. As I did with The Iliad, I'll write about it here so I can keep track of my thoughts. I'd love to have people read with me and make comments. A person could get it from their library and easily catch up with me. A person could also use these online sources: four translations from the Gutenberg project; or the Perseus project here. I'll be reading the Fagles translation, but linking to the Butler translation at the Perseus project.

I also got into the 1800s Novels Classics series, so I'll also be reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein during this time, and I'll be reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night for the library book group that I facilitate. Bizzzeeee.

Odyssey Schedule:
Books 1-6 by November 15
Books 7-12 by November 22
Books 13-18 by November 29
Books 19-26 by December 6

Have I bitten off more that I can chew? Oh, and did I mention I'm learning to do storytimes as done at my library? I'll be busy auditing youth librarians at their craft over the next several weeks, and piece by piece, practicing those skills myself. We read or tell a story with the six early literacy skills in mind. In fact we are to mention how the book expresses one of those skills to the parents attending. We also do songs, rhymes, and fingerplays. I also must create my own flannel board story. Finally, after doing each of the parts of a storytime, I must present a full storytime three times to get certified. If given the stamp of approval, I will be able to sub for storytimes. The goal is to accomplish all this by the end of February.