Dec. 14, 2003

don't forget

by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "don't forget," by Charles Bukowski, from Bone Palace Ballet (Black Sparrow Press).

don't forget

there is always somebody or something
waiting for you,
something stronger, more intelligent,
more evil, more kind, more durable,
something bigger, something better,
something worse, something with
eyes like the tiger, jaws like the shark,
something crazier than crazy,
saner than sane,
there is always something or somebody
waiting for you
as you put on your shoes
or as you sleep
or as you empty a garbage can
or pet your cat
or brush your teeth
or celebrate a holiday
there is always somebody or something
waiting for you.

keep this fully in mind
so that when it happens
you will be as ready as possible.

meanwhile, a good day to
if you are still there.
I think that I am—
I just burnt my fingers on

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, born in San Francisco (1919). She was the daughter of upper class, high society parents, and she never lived up to their expectations. Her mother wanted her to be a socialite, but Shirley was awkward, unattractive, and intellectual. Her mother once told her that she wished Shirley had never been born. She was shunned by her classmates in high school and spent all her time alone, reading and writing. She made a vow to herself that she would write a thousand words every day for the rest of her life, in order to prove herself to everyone who had rejected her.

In college, a man named Stanley Edgar Hyman fell in love with her when he read one of her short stories. He was Jewish, and her parents were horrified when she married him. They moved to a small town in Vermont, where her husband taught literature at Bennington College. She was an eccentric woman, and the local townspeople talked about her behind her back. They called her a Communist, a witch, an atheist and a Jew. She felt as though everyone in town were watching her and judging her, and she began to dread leaving the house.

One day, she sat down and wrote a story about a small New England town where one resident is ritually chosen by lottery each year to be stoned to death. She finished the story in two hours and sent it off to The New Yorker, where it was published as "The Lottery" in 1948. The story generated more reader response than any story ever published by The New Yorker up to that point. Hundreds of readers wrote to the magazine, demanding to know what the story meant, or asking to cancel their subscriptions because they were so disturbed.

"The Lottery" made Shirley Jackson famous, but she still struggled to find time to write while raising four children. She eventually wrote two memoirs about the experience of parenting, Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957). Her memoirs were lighthearted and funny, but she also wrote several dark novels, including The Haunting of Hill House (1959), about a group of people who try to spend a night in a house with ghosts, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), about a woman who has poisoned her entire family.

Jackson said, "[Writing is] a way of making daily life into a wonderfully unusual thing instead of a grind."

It's the birthday of Stanley Crouch, born in Los Angeles, California (1945). He's an African-American writer who has written several books of essays, including Notes of a Hanging Judge (1990) and The American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race (1995). As a young man, he became disillusioned with the civil rights movement and got involved with the Black Nationalists, who believed in living separately from whites rather than trying to assimilate. He eventually came to feel that Black Nationalism was a form of reverse racism. He has gone on to argue that Black Nationalism killed the Civil Rights movement because it encouraged African Americans to define themselves by their race alone. He wrote, "I'm not going to submit to racism, I don't care whose version of it I happen to come in contact with. . . . I'm not going to submit to any ideas that reduce the rich possibility of human life."

It's the birthday of Amy Hempel, born in Chicago, Illinois (1951). She's the author of several books of short stories, including Reasons to Live (1985), At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), and Tumble Home (1997). As a young woman, she had a series of traumatic experiences: her mother committed suicide, she had a motorcycle accident, and then she a car accident. She said, "I went from accident to accident, hospital to hospital; I'd walk out of the house in the morning and half look up to see when the . . . safe was going to fall out of the sky and smash me into the sidewalk." She became so afraid of death that she decided the only way to conquer her fear was to enroll in an anatomy class and dissect cadavers, and it worked. She got a job counseling terminally ill patients, but she wanted to write fiction on the side and wasn't getting anywhere with it. She finally decided to move to New York City, and discovered that it was only after she had left California that she could write about the life she had been living there. She wrote a series of extremely short stories about the strange people she'd known and experiences she'd had, and published them in her first collection, Reasons to Live (1985). It begins, "My heart-I thought it had stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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