Feb. 5, 2005

Messy Room

by Shel Silverstein

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Poem: "Messy Room" by Shel Silverstein, from A Light in the Attic. © Harper Collins. Reprinted with permission.

Messy Room

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or—
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of mystery writer and novelist Margaret Millar, born in Kitchener, Ontario (1915). She wrote 21 murder mysteries, including The Invisible Worm (1941) and Beast in View (1955), which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel. She's known for writing mystery novels that are also artistic, and she wrote several non-mystery books, too. She began playing the piano when she was four, and her performances had been broadcasted over local radio stations by the time she started high school, so her writing came second to her piano playing when she was young. She was married to Kenneth Millar, who also published mystery novels under the name Ross Macdonald.

She said, "I've been an avid reader of mysteries since the age of eight... I began writing when put to bed in September, 1941, for an imaginary heart ailment. After two weeks of reading three or four mysteries a day, I decided to write one and I spent the next two weeks doing just that. I rewrote it twice and it sold to Doubleday. Whereupon I rose from bed. My heart was fine; my doctor's was considerably weakened."

It's the birthday of English novelist and short-story writer Susan Hill, born in Scarborough, Yorkshire (1942). She began writing her first novel, The Enclosure (1961), when she was only 15, working on it in the evenings after school after doing her homework. She finished it when she was 17, and it was published by the time she was 19. She's also well known for her radio plays, some of which have been collected in The Cold Country (1975). She says, "Writing a novel is nice, but it's a lonely business; when it's finished, that's it. Writing a radio play is lovely because when it's finished, it's only half there. It's a collaborative thing."

Hill always knew she wanted to be a writer. She went to a convent school as a girl, but it wasn't very strict. She says, "I didn't understand math so I went and asked the Reverend Mother if I could stop. She asked me what I wanted to do instead and when I said read in the library, she said fine." Hill wrote to novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson asking for advice about writing, and Johnson wrote to Hutchinson Publishers on Hill's behalf to help her get her first novel published. Johnson invited Hill to literary parties, and she had met W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot by the time she was 19.

Hill usually writes in pencil on lined A4 pads. She only uses a computer for office work, book reviews, or articles. She says, "I could never do real writing, novel-writing, onto any machine. I need silence, and to think, as it were, through my pen."

It's the birthday of writer, director, and comedian Christopher Guest, born in New York City (1948). He's best known for his mock documentaries, such as This is Spinal Tap (1984), which follows the tour of a fake heavy metal band, and Best In Show (2000), in which he makes fun of the world of competitive dogs shows.

Guest's films have no scripts, but he gives the actors information about their characters and a very detailed plot outline. Almost all of the specific scenes are improvised right in front of the camera. He says, "I really like to use the analogy of jazz players who basically stand up on stage and play, yet people don't question that there is no music they are reading from. This is really the same thing, but we're actors and we're really jamming-with people occasionally."

Guest would watch people out of his window when he was a little kid, and he would make up voices for the people passing by. He married actress Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 at director Rob Reiner's house. She first saw him on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and told her mother that she wanted to marry him. In 1996, Guest inherited the title of the fifth Lord Haden-Guest. The English title was given to Guest's grandfather in 1950 for his work as a physician in children's health care and as a Parliament member representing working-class districts.

Guest once said, "I found a journal from my family that went back 200 years, and one of my great, great, great, great ancestors was a ventriloquist, in London in 1802. It was eerie because I did ventriloquism when I was a kid. I never had any training. The voices just came to me." Guest also says, "Comedy is like music. You have to know the key and you have to find players with good chops."

It's the birthday of novelist William S. Burroughs, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1914). He's known as one of the founding fathers of the Beat Movement, and for his novels about drug addiction and drug culture, including Junky (1951) and Naked Lunch (1959).

Burroughs studied English literature at Harvard and did graduate work in ethnology and archaeology. He worked all sorts of odd jobs during World War II, including private detective, exterminator, advertising copywriter, factory worker, and bar attendant. It was around that time that he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He said, "There couldn't be a society of people who didn't dream. They'd be dead in two weeks."

He became addicted to heroin in 1944 and eventually moved to Mexico with his wife, Jean Vollmer. He left Mexico after he accidentally shot her in the head and killed her. He traveled around South America, but finally settled in Tangier, Morocco for several years. He went to London in 1957 to try apomorphine treatment for drug addiction because it was banned in the U.S. He said, "England has the most sordid literary scene I've ever seen. They all meet in the same pub. This guy's writing a foreword for this person. They all have to give radio programs, they have to do all this just in order to scrape by. They're all scratching each other's backs."

Burroughs wrote several other novels, including Queer, which he wrote in 1951, but it wasn't published until 1985. The book has the same protagonist, Lee, as Junky, but the homosexual subject matter kept it from being published at that time. He said, "So cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal."

Burroughs kept a daily journal with three separate columns in it. In one, he would write what he was doing, in the second he wrote what he was thinking, and in the third he wrote about what he was reading. He used to carry around big files with notes, pictures, and news clippings wherever he went. He thought of scrapbooks as his writing tools, and also usually had with him scissors, paste, and a tape recorder.

William S. Burroughs said, "In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas... a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed."

It's the birthday of French noblewoman, Marie de Sévigné, born in Paris (1626). She's famous for her letters to her daughter and other friends, where she vividly describes life at that time. They include everything from descriptions of the red buds of spring to the execution of a nun. She wrote some fifteen hundred letters over twenty-five years, and copies of her letters circulated, though most of the original, signed letters no longer exist. Her letters were greatly admired by Marcel Proust. She was orphaned by age seven, and her husband died in a duel after a short marriage. She didn't keep a journal and never made any notes for a novel. Her letters were her only writing.

On Sunday, June 21, 1671 de Sévigné wrote to a friend,

"At last, my dear, I breathe again. I heave a sigh... a weight is lifted from my heart. You tell me how well you are looking. How happy this makes me... enjoy yourself, look after yourself... I am glad you can turn your mind to dress. Do you recollect how tired we grew of that old black mantle you wore? No doubt it was meritorious but scarcely attractive to the onlooker."

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




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