There’s a story by Jack London that ends with a man who commits suicide by swimming out and drowning himself in the ocean. I can’t remember what it’s called and google isn’t helping me right now. Wait– it’s called ‘Martin Eden’. Having had asthma since I was a child, I have always been terrified of dying by suffocation. The haunting description of the character’s drowning has always stayed with me, even though I clearly don’t remember much else about the book. I have always remembered the last line, which was, “And at the instant he knew, he ceased to know.”
Man, I used to love Jack London. I remember reading Call of the Wild and White Fang, which were more or less age-appropriate at the time (I was ten or eleven). But then I went on to read The Sea Wolf, which involved murder, attempted rape, horrible wasting diseases and keel-hauling (from what I can recall), and John Barleycorn, which I now know is the story of Jack London’s alcoholism from a very young age; at the time I had absolutely NO idea what it was about. Really. I didn’t even know it involved alcohol. I was a naive kid. In fact I even remember writing a book report on John Barleycorn. It was probably not a very good book report, because I probably thought the book was the story of John Barleycorn’s life, as told to Jack London by John Barleycorn. This is untrue.
I also loved the story “To Build A Fire”, about a man who freezes to death in the fridgid wilderness (of Alaska?) after his matches go out and he can’t make a fire to warm himself. As a desperate last resort, he tries to kill the dog he is traveling with, so he can stick his hands in its insides to warm himself. I remember thinking that was pretty cool. As naive as I was, I was still a ten year old.
From: ‘Molly Schoemann’
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2007 2:04 PM
Subject: Redwall Books
Below are the titles from the NINETEEN Redwall books, by Brian Jacques. I think I read about 3 of them back in the day. For each title, if it’s possible to also know how many copies were produced, and what we billed for the job, that would be great.
Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make the search easier? Thank you!
Mariel of Redwall
Martin the Warrior
Outcast of Redwall: A Tale from Redwall
Pearls of Lutra: A Tale from Redwall
The Long Patrol: A Tale from Redwall
Marlfox: A Tale from Redwall
The Legend of Luke
Lord Brocktree: A Tale from Redwall
Loamhedge: A Tale from Redwall
Rakkety Tam: A Tale from Redwall
Brian Jacques Needs a New Condo in Bermuda: A Tale from Redwall
(Ok, I made that last one up.)
I remember when I first learned that writing could be a fancy way of lying. I was in the third grade, and my classmates and I were given the assignment to “write and illustrate your favorite dream”. Lest the theoretical creativity of this assignment garner it any admiration, I should add that these written and illustrated dreams were assigned for the purpose of being raffled off en masse at a parent auction.
My elementary school had hit upon the brilliant discovery that they could force parents to bid for their own children’s artwork. No matter that Junior could produce an almost identical finger-painting at home at the kitchen table. The one he had produced in the fifteen minutes between Snack and Music periods was on the auction block, and for a school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, this meant that the bids flew fast and furious. The catch was that the work was offered only as part of an entire class’s ‘collection’. This meant that if you wanted to bring home your child’s sloppy, haphazard modeling-clay elephant, not only did you have to bid for it as though you sat at the kiddie table at Sotheby’s, but you had to bring home twenty-five other modeling-clay circus animals produced with varying degrees of enthusiasm and talent, by classmates of varying degrees of familiarity and obscurity to you and your child. Who wants to be stuck with twenty-six modeling-clay circus animals, twenty-five of which are made by children in whom you are not responsible for recognizing budding genius?
In any event, my written and illustrated dream was due. I was eight. I didn’t have that many dreams that made sense. The ones I managed to remember were hazy, meaningless fragments involving eating breakfast, sticker collecting and the Babysitter’s Club. They were no help. I needed a dream, and fast. I could drag my feet no longer. Quickly I came up with a concept, which may or may not have been quite blatantly based on a book I liked at the time, “Black Beauty”.
“At night, when I go to Sleep, I dream that I ride a black Horse through the Woods,” I wrote painstakingly in pencil. “My Horse and I gallop together all night through the forest, and I am not afraid.” That was only two lines. I needed more. What else could I say about my fake dream to make it believable? “I love my black Horse,” I went on. “After I ride my Horse, she goes in her stable.” This was some fairly sophisticated horse knowledge here, and I was proud. After all, what did I know about horses? I was born and raised in New York City. The closest I had come to horseback riding was the carousel in Central Park.
I illustrated my falsehood. I spent a good part of my time drawing horses anyway, as an eight year old girl, so the illustrating part was criminally easy. At the end of the period, I wrote one last finishing touch. “Each morning when I wake up, I can’t wait to go back to sleep and dream of my black Horse again.” Although to the observer it read like an earnest and wistful phrase, for me, it was one last jab of insincerity at adults who would never know that I had completely put one over on them.
The truth, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was that it didn’t matter what I said. What adult was going to question the legitimacy of my dream—particularly given its innocuous subject matter? Besides, my teachers were busy coaxing twenty-five other illustrated dreams out of my classmates to pack up for that evening’s auction. My glib lie went unquestioned. And the lesson, that if you’re gutsy, you can create your own reality in words and make it believable to others, was a good one to learn.
It’s time to pack your bags! You’re going on a trip to the moon!
The temperature on the moon is negative seventy degrees. So make sure to pack warm socks, and a peanut butter sandwich.
It takes many light years to reach the moon, so get comfortable! It’s a good thing you’re in a turbo-charged spaceship. If you were traveling to the moon by car, going eighty miles an hour, it would take a lot longer. If a baby were born the day you left, its great-great grandchildren would be dead before you got there. Bring some music to play during your trip.
There is no food on the moon. There is no ice cream either. The longest a person can go without food is ten days. If they have water to drink, they can last for twenty days.
There is no water on the moon, either.
When you are in outer space, there is no gravity. You can float through the air. The food and liquid you brought aboard your spaceship can float as well!
Be careful, and don’t bump your head on any sharp corners in your space cabin. If you bleed, your blood will float through the air in tiny red droplets. That might make you go crazy.
In space, there is no one for millions of miles in any direction. Good thing you brought your Teddy Bear. I hope he likes you.
You have landed on the moon! Be sure to take a picture out the window of your spaceship.
Now that you are here, don’t go outside unless you are wearing a special Moonsuit. There is no oxygen in the moon’s atmosphere. If you leave your spaceship without a special Moonsuit, the atmospheric pressure will shrivel you until you look like a dried-up matchstick.
So zip up your moonsuit, and put your helmet on tight!
Step down from your ship. You are on the surface of the moon! Have a good look around. The night sky is beautiful.
You can see planet Earth, a billion miles away. Did you tell your Mommy where you were going? Maybe it’s time to head back. She’s probably very worried.
On the long ride home, think about all the fun you had on your trip to the moon! Remember how small your home planet looked from such a distance? Nothing really matters anymore, now that you have been so far from home.
Nobody on Earth will really understand what you mean by that. It will make you feel like you are all alone in space again.
You think you have left the moon, but you can never really leave it. It will always be with you.
I can remember exactly when it was that I stopped believing everything I heard on television.
I was eleven, and sleeping over at a friend’s apartment. She was a new friend. It may have been the first time I saw her place. Everything about it dazzled me. She had a dog! I wasn’t allowed to have a dog. She had a bunk bed—even though she was an only child! My bunk bed came with a little sister in the top bunk who always took the good pillow. There was a balcony on the far end of my friend’s living room with sliding glass doors, which offered a view of the entire city! Our windows at home faced a brick wall and still had childproof gates in them when I went away to college. My friend’s apartment was a world I could barely comprehend. And then, that night before bed, I took a shower in her bathroom.
The walls of that shower were lined with expensive fruity shampoos and gels and soaps and scrubs. Mud-masks and pore-cleansers and pumices filled the medicine cabinet. It was an adolescent girl’s wet dream. Everywhere I turned I was confronted with beauty products I had seen in commercials and coveted but could never afford. I uncapped bottles at random and inhaled, then stood panting on the bath mat. I didn’t know where to begin. I wanted to use everything! I wanted to come out of that shower with blindingly shiny hair whose bounce had a deadly force. I would scrub the calluses from my heels and leave them smelling like coconuts dusted with talcum powder and wrapped in rose petals. My skin would be clear and I would glow like a radioactive fairy princess.
I turned on the water. I reached for the first bottle and opened it. The air crackled with excitement and smelled like passionfruit.
And then I stopped, and thought about my friend.
She used these products all the time! She probably always had! Very likely her scalp had never felt the cloying embrace of a chemically scented, molasses-textured Family Dollar Brand shampoo. But when it came down to it, her hair looked more or less…like mine.
This realization hit me like a waterlogged sponge. It didn’t really matter what these shampoos and cleansers were supposed to do. They weren’t really going to make your hair shinier, or your skin glowier. My friend was a pretty girl with decent hair and skin, but I’d never noticed it particularly before, and that was the whole point of these products as far as I was concerned: making people jealous. ‘Who is that beautiful girl with the gleaming, bouncing hair?’ Women want to be her; men want to take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower in a private jet. The story of television ad after ad involves the heads of strangers turning in admiration and envy. What was the point of spending $14 for a bottle of conditioner that wasn’t going to cause your hair’s shine to sear the retinas of innocent bystanders on a sunny day?
I chose a shampoo and began to wash the glamorous, seductive world of false advertising out of my hair. It slipped down the drain, along with soft, ginger-lime scented suds.
Saying that I went to a fiercely competitive all-girls’ high school is like saying that I am going to graduate in seven months and be thrown into an unfriendly job market full of people who will laugh openly when I mention my creative writing portfolio. In other words, it’s true, but the horror of that truth is difficult to convey on the printed page.
It’s not that I didn’t like most of the girls I went to high school with, I just liked other things better. Like applesauce, for example. Especially since applesauce didn’t spend four years asking me, “What’d you get on the Biology test? Uh-huh. Oh, I got an A.” If it ever did ask me, applesauce would probably add something like, “Well, that was a really hard test though. I’m pretty lucky; I totally guessed on a lot of it.” Truthfully, applesauce probably would have stood a good chance of doing better than I on a Biology test. Especially if it had actually studied, and not just flipped through its notes and then wandered off to watch The Simpsons.
Every year in March my high school had EXAM WEEK. A few months before Exam Week, teachers would start referring to how certain things they were teaching were going to be on the Exam. (Cue thunder, shrill screams, fainting of strong men.) A hushed silence would fall over the room, and everyone except me would take a moment of silence to tremble over the imminence of Exam Week, the Armageddon for neurotic prep-school girls who had been taking practice SATs since before they could focus their eyes. I was usually too busy composing haikus about how I wanted to be eating lunch or making out with David Duchovny instead of sitting through double history.
Ooo, Exam Week. I’m so scared, I’m trembling. Don’t let Exam Week get me! That was my reaction to Exam Week when I was listening, especially after I read in the student handbook that the Exam for any given class counted for not more than 1/7th of our grade in that class. One-seventh? I wasn’t one for numbers, but one-seventh seemed like not very much. If you divided a dollar up into seven equal amounts, each amount was only about…oh, forget it. The point is, nobody else in my class seemed appropriately impressed by my discovery that we really didn’t need to worry about these exams, as they didn’t count for much. Although now that I think about it, I have since taken Finals in college that counted for a healthy 25% of my grade for a class (now there’s a percentage I can both tabulate and respect) without getting too worked up about it. Perhaps I just lack a healthy fear of education. In any case, despite my protests, Exam Week continued to inspire fear and anorexia in those around me.
There was no middle ground. Either you gloated over your academic achievements and measured your self-worth by them, or you gleefully showed off the reading quiz you failed in English class because you hadn’t bothered to read Wuthering Heights and had written that Heathcliff was Catherine’s cat. I was the only girl in my grade to drop Math after two years of hard-earned 69’s on all my tests, which gave me five extra free periods all to myself each week. My comment that ‘Not taking math is like having a 40-minute orgasm every day’ found its way into the yearbook, where I hope the math department enjoyed it. I’ve generally found my failures to be funnier than my successes. And, you know, I’ve learned more from them. Or something.
Critics have long disagreed on the literary and historical significance of Emily Brown’s earliest known works, although it is interesting to note that of the many volumes of stories, diaries and poems attributed to her, only a very small number of these were written when the author was past the age of ten.
The reason for Brown’s mysterious and abrupt cessation in producing work has long been a subject of debate, and was the inspiration behind several fascinating dissertations by a number of established literary theorists. These include Theodore Klemp’s widely published essay “Emily Brown: Putting down the Pen after Puberty”, as well as Dr. Marvin Meddlestein’s critically acclaimed thesis, “The Fifth Grade: Did it Crush Her Creative Spirit?”
Two of Brown’s latest known works, written in the twilight of the spring before her tenth birthday and discovered by her mother while she was sifting through the back of Brown’s closet to locate the Easter decorations, seemed to support Meddlestein’s theory. One of these was an unfinished essay, written for school and never handed in, entitled “Why a No-TV Rule is a Bad Idea”. The second work, a poem entitled, “The Backyard is Totally Big Enough for Me to Have a Pony”, shows us the inner workings of a mind tormented by the restrictions enforced upon its owner’s vibrant imagination.
“The Morris twins each have their own ponies/ It is not fair/ That I can’t even have one pony” Brown writes. “The backyard is totally big enough/ For a little tiny pony to run around in/ Why do we have a big stupid dog/ And not a cute pony/ They eat sugar cubes.” (Brown, Collected Poems Vol. II, 1997)
In many ways, this last summer was a fairly uneventful one for me. I worked two jobs, one a fun, laid-back retail gig, the other a messy, crazed but also fun-when-the-boss- wasn’t-looking and you could sample the ice cream (as in, “What does vanilla taste like again?…Oh. Right.”) position in foodservice. A “Position in Foodservice” is the phrase you use on your resume to describe the kind of job in which you are denounced by angry tourists, sponge up endless trails of spilt ketchup, and come home each night smelling like french fries and questioning your self worth. In any case, this was a typical summer in all respects except for one: It was the summer of Baby Fever. Baby Mania. Baby Envy. Call it what you will, I had it but good.
I couldn’t tell you why. I have always more or less liked children, although during the last few years of college, it’s been mostly for their novelty. I didn’t see very many of them around Bard’s campus (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for that), so when I did, there was usually a little jolt of surprise as I remember that they exist. It’s a pleasant jolt, but it’s not by any means a jolt of longing. But this last summer, something within me clicked, or snapped, or kicked in, because everywhere I looked, I saw people walking around with their kids and I stretched my hands out feebly, trembling with jealousy. It was amazing, how abruptly the feeling arrived, considering its tenacity. It unnerved me completely. I felt as if, all of a sudden, I was the target of an insidious and diabolical advertising campaign, designed and launched by the most cruel and heartless executive of all, Nature. All around me, mothers cavorted with their babies, as slogans flashed beneath them. “You Got the Right One, Baby”, they said. And, “Enjoy BABY!” and sometimes “Baby: It’s the other Baby meat.” I don’t know how I withstood it.
I also wonder how long this obsession would have kept up under less fortunate circumstances. As it is, I am relieved but slightly sheepish to report that my baby craving vanished entirely once I was in the prolonged company of actual children. My brother Sam and his family came out to visit for a week near the summer’s end, bringing with them Sammy, age 4, and Natalie, who toddled. The kids were sweet and well behaved and said the darndest things; I on the other hand, disappointed myself by falling far short of my goal of being known and recognized far and wide as “The Cool Aunt”. Damn it, I wanted to be the Cool Aunt. Instead I was Aunt Molly, who stealthily polished off the mac-and-cheese at dinner even though she suspected it was for the kids, who probably weren’t too big on lobster salad rolls. So I like both. Is that a crime? Aunt Molly told Sammy that she couldn’t take him down into the cold, dark garage to get some toys one evening because there were bats there. No, they weren’t mean bats. But they probably would be if you woke them up.
Instead of Aunt Mode, I found myself back in the familiar territory known as Big Sister Mode. It is a mode in which you press your advantages. When your sibling is seventeen years younger than you, however, that is really easy to do, and also makes you a bad person. I was never a predatory sort of big sister, mind you. My tyranny never went further than the occasional clumsy manipulation, usually something along the lines of, “Let’s have a race to see who can finish her cookie first. Go! Ok, you win. Hey, look how much cookie I still have. Ha, ha.” Etc. Repeat as necessary until either your sibling’s memory or her motor skills are sufficiently developed to render the game ineffectual or dangerous. In any event, yeah. I discovered that for me, a baby was a bad idea not for the usual reasons, but because I would probably end up competing with it, the consequences of which are too dire to even imagine.
I was one of those children who had an enormous enthusiasm for dogs and cats and was unfortunately allergic to both. Whenever it was possible to play with a dog or a cat I did so. It takes an enormous amount of dedication (and an enormous lack of self-control) to play with something that consistently and without fail gives you a severe allergic reaction. I played with furry animals until my sneezes echoed to the cold, uncaring skies, and the tears in my itchy, watery eyes mingled with real tears of regret that I could not have this much fun all the time. More than anything in the world I wanted a puppy, and I asked for one every Christmas. I got a sister.
Looking back, I don’t think a real animal could have lived up to my expectations, anyway. I wanted a playmate, a confidant, and a licensed therapist all rolled into a big furry package that never shed or smelled like a wet dog. I was determined that my dog, when I got one, would be courageous and faithful like Old Yeller and have the wit of Snoopy, the soulful, melancholy brown eyes of a Pound Puppy, and the British sophistication of the two parent dogs from 101 Dalmatians (the cartoon, not the live-action version). On top of this, I had no real experience with owning a dog, and my subconscious assumption was that they waited, patient and immobile like stuffed animals, for you to play with them and take care of their basic needs when you felt like it. One of the more inventive of my many How To Get A Puppy When Your Parents Won’t Let You Get One schemes involved letting the puppy live in a large cardboard box on the New York City street outside my apartment building, where it would be taken care of and properly watched over by kind, attentive strangers and passers-by.
I couldn’t have a puppy, but I could have goldfish, my parents said. I sure could. And I had goldfish, off and on, for many years. I discovered early on that I received precious little emotional fulfillment from taking care of a creature with a six-second memory and no awareness of my existence. Not that I didn’t try. I named my fish, I took care of them, I watched them swim. It’s pretty much all you can do, though I somehow continued to expect more—and to be disappointed. A short but eloquent poem that I wrote at the age of five perfectly expressed my feelings of disillusionment at the deep and profound bond that failed to develop between me and any of my goldfish. It went:
I have a little fishI love her very muchBut she doesn’t care.
The thought that I wrote that poem still troubles me. My parents think it’s hilarious.
I have been giving this topic a lot of thought, because last week I bought another fish. I haven’t owned one since early on in high school. My motivations have changed, I reasoned. This is a frivolous purchase; I’m getting a little blue fighting fish because it looks pretty and it will jazz up my room. I won’t even name it. Look how far I’ve come!
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe I like my feelings unrequited. But I really think it’s going to be different this time. Just now when I looked over at my fish, I could have sworn it gave me a look like it understood. At least, for six seconds.
I was born and raised in the city—note the oblivious ease with which I refer to it as “the city”—and the overwhelming fear and sadness I have been experiencing since that infamous Tuesday are difficult for me to express in words, through poetry, or with magazine and newspaper-photo collages. I have been deeply affected in ways I never could have imagined, one of which involves the fact that I am living in a single this year.
The idea of having a single used to make me giddy to the point of public embarrassment. My little sister and I have always shared a room, and I found the concept of living in a room, and not on a ‘side’ both strange and wonderful. I refused to believe that my friends who lived in singles at school really and truly had them all to themselves. Surely there was a sibling or a roommate stashed in the closet or under the desk.
All summer I feverishly anticipated the move into a room of my own. I plotted and re-plotted ways in which I would organize the furniture (the bed by the window? The bed not by the window?) and spent hours at K-Mart pricing throw pillows. In late August I drove to my single on gossamer wings.
Sure, it was wonderful at first. My room was my castle, my playground, an homage to half-assed interior decoration. But I began to realize that I hadn’t properly valued the hidden advantages of having a roommate. A roommate gives you someone to say “goodnight” to who won’t borrow your toothbrush, take up the bed, or be huffy if you don’t want to eat breakfast with them in the morning. A roommate is someone you get to sleep later than because they scheduled two nine a.m. classes and you never have to get up before noon. In addition, a roommate is a barometer of normalcy, a reminder that there is a world outside your little room, a world filled with other people, some of whom probably don’t like to hear Rubber Soul played back to back five or six times every afternoon. (This is unless you are unfortunate enough to have been matched with someone who is weirder than you in every significant way, which, in my school, is not that unlikely.)
When the two of you get along, talking to your roommate when you should be doing work is one of the most enjoyable methods of procrastination out there. When the two of you don’t get along, complaining to your friends about your stupid roommate is one of the most enjoyable methods of procrastination out there. But no matter how you feel about them, your roommate is a fairly consistent presence in your life at school. I didn’t realize how much I missed that constant human contact until September 11th when all I wanted to do was sit in my room and cry over The New York Times.
It’s a lot harder to leave your room when you live alone and you’re unhappy. No one drags you from your bed because they think you need to get out more; no drives you from the room with their boyfriend who throws his jacket on your bed and informs you that your little sister is hot after seeing family photos on your wall. Unless your friends are checking in on you constantly, no one observes you alphabetizing your cds, picking the price stickers off of your used books or watching the paint dry on your walls (for those of you who live in the newer dorms on campus).
I’m not sure when I began to realize that my habit of spending extended periods of time alone in my single was not doing me any good. I think it was when a friend stopped by to visit and found me sitting in my room with the door closed, talking back to the people who were giggling in my hallway. “What are you doing? They can’t hear you,” she said, to which I muttered darkly “Oh, they can hear me all right.”
Eventually I began emerging more and more frequently from my room and forcing myself to seek out the company of others. Unsurprisingly, it made me feel better. And while I was disappointed to discover that living alone wasn’t as great as I had imagined, especially during difficult times such as these, my concept of a dream-single was probably too fantastic for the reality to have ever come close anyway. With the possible exception of a single in one of the Village Dorms, which have temperature control to the degree. Can you even imagine?