Tuesday, 30 October 2012

There's no hope in war




In November of 1967,  Kurt Vonnegut wrote the following letter to the US government in defense of his son, Mark, who had recently refused to fight in the Vietnam War.

(Source: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters--reprinted with permission.)

November 28, 1967

To Draft Board #1,
Selective Service,
Hyannis, Mass.

Gentlemen:

My son Mark Vonnegut is registered with you. He is now in the process of requesting classification as a conscientious objector. I thoroughly approve of what he is doing. It is in keeping with the way I have raised him. All his life he has learned hatred for killing from me.

I was a volunteer in the Second World War. I was an infantry scout, saw plenty of action, was finally captured and served about six months as a prisoner of war in Germany. I have a Purple Heart. I was honorably discharged. I am entitled, it seems to me, to pass on to my son my opinion of killing. I don't even hunt or fish any more. I have some guns which I inherited, but they are covered with rust.

This attitude toward killing is a matter between my God and me. I do not participate much in organized religion. I have read the Bible a lot. I preach, after a fashion. I write books which express my disgust for people who find it easy and reasonable to kill.

We say grace at meals, taking turns. Every member of my family has been called upon often to thank God for blessings which have been ours. What Mark is doing now is in the service of God, Whose Son was exceedingly un-warlike.

There isn't a grain of cowardice in this. Mark is a strong, courageous young man. What he is doing requires more guts than I ever had—and more decency.

My family has been in this country for five generations now. My ancestors came here to escape the militaristic madness and tyranny of Europe, and to gain the freedom to answer the dictates of their own consciences. They and their descendents have been good citizens and proud to be Americans. Mark is proud to be an American, and, in his father's opinion, he is being an absolutely first-rate citizen now.

He will not hate.
He will not kill.
There's no hope in that. There's no hope in war.

Yours truly,

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge



In 1973, whilst compiling the book, "John Keats's Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets," Victoria McCabe asked the author and poet Edward Abbey to contribute his favourite recipe to the project. Thankfully, he agreed, and soon responded with the following — a recipe for "Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge," a potful of which could "feed one poet for two full weeks at a cost of about $11.45."

(Source: Postcards from Ed, via Brenda Curin; Image: Edward Abbey, via warp & woof.)

19 May 1973

Dear Victoria,

Herewith my bit for your cookbook. This recipe is not original but a variation on an old (perhaps ancient) Southwestern dish. It has also been a favorite of mine and was for many years the staple, the sole staple, of my personal nutritional program. (I am six feet three and weigh 190 pounds, sober.)

I call it Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge.

1. Take one fifty-pound sack Colorado pinto beans. Remove stones, cockleburs, horseshit, ants, lizards, etc. Wash in clear cold crick water. Soak for twenty-four hours in iron kettle or earthenware cooking pot. (DO NOT USE TEFLON, ALUMINUM OR PYREX CONTAINER. THIS WARNING CANNOT BE OVERSTRESSED.)

2. Place kettle or pot with entire fifty lbs. of pinto beans on low fire and simmer for twenty-four hours. (DO NOT POUR OFF WATER IN WHICH BEANS HAVE BEEN IMMERSED. THIS IS IMPORTANT.) Fire must be of juniper, pinyon pine, mesquite or ironwood; other fuels tend to modify the subtle flavor and delicate aroma of Pinto Bean Sludge.

3. DO NOT BOIL.

4. STIR VIGOROUSLY FROM TIME TO TIME WITH WOODEN SPOON OR IRON LADLE. (Do not disregard these instructions.)

5. After simmering on low fire for twenty-four hours, add one gallon green chile peppers. Stir vigorously. Add one quart natural (non-iodized) pure sea salt. Add black pepper. Stir some more and throw in additional flavoring materials, as desired, such as old bacon rinds, corncobs, salt pork, hog jowls, kidney stones, ham hocks, sowbelly, saddle blankets, jungle boots, worn-out tennis shoes, cinch straps, whatnot, use your own judgment. Simmer an additional twenty-four hours.

6. Now ladle as many servings as desired from pot but do not remove pot from fire. Allow to simmer continuously for hours, days or weeks if necessary, until all contents have been thoroughly consumed. Continue to stir vigorously, whenever in vicinity or whenever you think of it.

7. Serve Pinto Bean Sludge on large flat stones or on any convenient fairly level surface. Garnish liberally with parsley flakes. Slather generously with raw ketchup. Sprinkle with endive, anchovy crumbs and boiled cruets and eat hearty.

8. One potful Pinto Bean Sludge, as above specified, will feed one poet for two full weeks at a cost of about $11.45 at current prices. Annual costs less than $300.

9. The philosopher Pythagoras found flatulence incompatible with meditation and therefore urged his followers not to eat beans. I have found, however, that custom and thorough cooking will alleviate this problem.

Yrs, Edward Abbey—Tucson

Friday, 26 October 2012

Why I am an Atheist



In 1903, Kentucky-based newspaper "Blue-grass Blade" asked its readers to write in and contribute to a forthcoming feature named, "Why I am An Atheist." Hundreds of letters soon arrived and many were subsequently reprinted in the paper; over a century later, in 2011, they were compiled to form the book, Letters from an Atheist Nation.

Below is just one of the letters. It was written by Minnie Parrish, a 23-year-old divorced mother of four who later went on to become the first female doctor to practice in North Texas.

(Source: Letters from an Atheist Nation.)

Why am I an Atheist

Because it has dawned upon me that it is right to be so, and upon investigation I find no real evidence of the divine origin of the scriptures. And because I cannot, as a refined and respectable woman, take to my bosom as a daily guide a book of such low morals and degrading influences. Written by a lot of priests, I cannot accept a salvation that is based wholly upon the dreams of an ancient and superstitious people, with no proof save blind faith.

Everything that so many people think transpires from the supernatural, and many things that would really perplex the average mind, have a natural and material foundation in the workings of the human mind; that is, things that are not connected with our solar system.

It is ignorance of the scientific working of their own natures and mind that keep so much "mystery" in the air; and as long as there is a mystery afloat the people will ascribe it to the supernatural.

I am an Atheist because I know the Bible will not do to depend upon. I have tried it, and found it wanting.

In fact, I found in the scriptures the origin of woman's slayer, and that it was one of God's main points to oppress women and keep them in the realms of ignorance.

I am in the ranks of Liberalism because of its elevating principles, its broad road to freedom of thought, speech, and investigation.

MINNIE O. PARRISH
23 years old
Leonard, Texas

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Another link is broken



On January 30th of 1937, two years after his older brother, Baoth, succumbed to meningitis, 16-year-old Patrick Murphy passed away following a seven year battle with tuberculosis. The boys' 20-year-old sister, Honoria, remained. A few days later, the children's distraught parents, Gerald and Sara Murphy, received the following letter of condolence from their friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

(Source: The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald; Image: Sara Murphy in 1926 with her children, via.)

January 31, 1937

Dearest Gerald and Sara:

The telegram came today and the whole afternoon was so sad with thoughts of you and the happy times we had once. Another link binding you to life is broken and with such insensate cruelty that it is hard to say which of the two blows was conceived with more malice. I can see the silence in which you hover now after this seven years of struggle and it would take words like Lincoln's in his letter to the mother who had lost four sons in the war to write you anything fitting at the moment. The sympathy you will get will be what you have had from each other already and for a long, long time you will be inconsolable.

But I can see another generation growing up around Honoria and an eventual peace somewhere, an occasional port of call as we all sail deathward. Fate can't have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these. Who was it said that it was astounding how deepest griefs can change in time to a sort of joy? The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.

Scott

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Eddie's House



After his death in 1959, following an illustrious, 70-year career during which he designed upwards of 1000 structures and completed over 500 buildings, Frank Lloyd Wright was recognised by the AIA as the “greatest American architect of all time.” He was, by all accounts, a true master of his craft. His smallest and perhaps most unusual project came in 1956, and began with a letter from Jim Berger, the 12-year-old son of a previous client of Wright’s. The youngster’s request was simple: he wanted to commission the design of a house for his dog, Eddie; one which would complement the family home. Incredibly, Wright agreed and supplied a full set of drawings for "Eddie's House" the next year. Construction on this tiny piece of architectural history was eventually completed by Jim's father in 1963.

(Sources: Architizer & Deborah Wright; Image: Frank Lloyd Wright, via Wikimedia.)



Transcript
June 19, 1956

Dear Mr. Wright

I am a boy of twelve years. My name is Jim Berger. You designed a house for my father whose name is Bob Berger. I have a paper route which I make a little bit of money for the bank, and for expenses.

I would appreciate it if you would design me a dog house, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house. My dog's name is Edward, but we call him Eddie. He is four years old or in dog life 28 years. He is a Labrador retriever. He is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this dog house is for the winters mainly. My dad said if you design the dog house he will help me build it. But if you design the dog house I will pay you for the plans and materials out of the money I get from my route.

Respectfully yours,

Jim Berger


Transcript
Dear Jim:

A house for Eddie is an opportunity. Someday I shall design one but just now I am too busy to concentrate on it. You write me next November to Phoenix, Arizona and I may have something then.

Truly yours,

Frank Lloyd Wright

June 28th, 1956



Transcript
Dear Mr Wright

I wrote you June 19, 1956 about designing my dog Eddie a dog house to go with the house you designed for my dad. You told me to write you again in November so I ask you again, could you design me a dog house.

Respectfully yours,

Jim Berger

The Result



Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I am a human being



In October of 1989, two weeks after a heated meeting in which he informed his hugely influential agent, Michael Ovitz, that he would soon be leaving CAA to join rival agency ICM, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (FlashdanceJagged Edge) wrote Ovitz the following defiant letter and stood firm. What was seen by many to be a brave letter quickly circulated Hollywood, and soon other allegations of Ovitz's bullying tactics surfaced. The clash was talk of the industry; Ovitz's denial fell largely on deaf ears.

Eszterhas stuck to his word and joined ICM; his next screenplay — Basic Instinct — sold for a record breaking $3million. Earlier this year, Joe Eszterhas became embroiled in a much-discussed clash with Mel Gibson.

Note: "Rand Holston" was also an agent, employed by Ovitz at CAA.

(Sources: Hollywood Animal: A Memoir, & Stuart King; Image: Joe Eszterhas, via.)

October 3, 1989

Dear Mike:

Two weeks ago I walked into your office and told you I was leaving CAA. Not for any reason that had to do with CAA's performance on my behalf, I said: I was leaving because Guy McElwaine was back in the agency business and Guy was my oldest friend in town. He was one of my first agents; he was responsible for the biggest breakthrough in my 13-year-career; he and I continued our relationship while he was at Rastar, Columbia and Weinstraub. My decision, I told you, had to do with loyalty and friendship and nothing else.

I knew when I walked in that you wouldn't be happy — no other writer at CAA makes $1.25 million a screenplay — but I was unprepared for the crudity and severity of your response. You told me that if I left — "my foot soldiers who go up and down Wilshire Boulevard each day will blow your brains out." You said that you would sue me. "I don't care if I win or lose," you said, "but I'm going to tie you up with depositions and court dates so that you won't be able to spend any time at your typewriter." You said: "If you make me eat shit, I'm going to make you eat shit." When I said to you that I had no interest in being involved in a public spectacle, you said: "I don't care if everybody in town knows. I want them to know. I'm not worried about the press. All those guys want to write screenplays for Robert Redford." You said: "If somebody came into the building and took my Lichtenstein off the wall, I'd go after them. I'm going to go after you the same way. You're one of this agency's biggest assets." You said: "This town is like a chess game. ICM isn't going after a pawn or a knight, they're going after a king. If the king goes, the knights and pawns will follow." You suggested facetiously that maybe you'd make a trade with ICM. You'd keep me and give ICM four or five clients. Almost as an aside, you threatened to damage my relationships with Irwin Winkler and Barry Hirsch. They are relationships you know I treasure: Irwin and I have done Betrayed and Music Box together and we are contracted to do four more movies; Barry has been my attorney for 13 years. "Those guys are friends of mine," you said. "Do you think they'll still be good friends of yours if you do this?"

You said all these things in a friendly, avuncular way. "I like you," you said. "I like your closeness to your family. I like how hard you work. I like your positive outlook. I like the fact that you have no directing or producing ambitions. You write original screenplays with star parts — your ideas are great and so are your scripts. I like everything about you," you said, "except your shirt." You said I reminded you of one of your children. The child would build these wooden blocks up-high and then would knock all the blocks down. "I'm not going to let you do this to yourself," you said.

That night at dinner at Jimmy's, Rand Holston was friendly, too, but he described the situation more specifically. Rand said you were the best friend anyone could have and the worst enemy. What would happen, I asked Rand, if I left CAA? "Mike's going to put you into the fucking ground," Rand said. Rand listed the particulars: If I left CAA, Rand said, no CAA star would play in any of my scripts. "You write star vehicles," Rand said, "not ensemble pieces. This would be particularly damaging to you." In addition, Rand said, no CAA director would direct one of my scripts.

But perhaps most important, Rand said, is that you would go out of your way with studio executives and company executives "like Martin Davis," to use Rand's example, to speak about me unfavorably. What would you say to them? I asked Rand. You'd say that while I was a pretty good writer, Rand said, I was difficult and hard to work with. You'd say that I wrote too many scripts. "There's no telling what Mike will say when he's angry," Rand said. "When I saw him after the meeting with you, the veins were bulging out of his neck." Even worse, Rand said, was that you would make sure the studio people knew that I was on "your shit list." And since most studio executives anxiously wanted to use CAA's stars in their pictures, these executives would avoid me "like the plague" to curry favor with you and your stars. Rand added that since I was late turning in my latest script to United Artists, I was technically in breach of contract with U.A. on my overall deal and said that if I left CAA, United Artists would sue me.

To say that I was in shock after my meetings with you and Rand would be putting it mildly. What you were threatening me with was a twisted new version of the old-fashioned blacklist. I felt like the character in Irwin's new script whose career was destroyed because he refused to inform on his friends. You were threatening to destroy my career because I was refusing to turn my back on a friend.

I live in Marin County; I spend my time with my family and with my work; I've avoided industry power entanglements for thirteen years. Now I felt, as I told my wife when I came home to think all this over, like an infant who wakes up in his crib with a thousand-pound gorilla screeching in his face.

In the two weeks that have gone by, I have thought about little else than the things you and Rand said to me. Plain and simple, cutting out all the smiles and friendliness, it's blackmail. It's extortion, the street-hood protection racket we've seen too many times in bad gangster movies. If you don't pay us the money, we'll burn your store down. Never mind that in this case it wasn't even about money — not for a while, anyway: I told you that ICM didn't even want to split the commissions with you on any of my existing deals — "Fuck the commissions," you said, "I don't care about the commissions." Even the dialogue, I reflected, was out of a bad gangster movie: "If you make me eat shit, I'm going to make you eat shit."

As I thought about what happened, I continued, increasingly, to be horrified by it. You are agents. Your role is to help and encourage my career and my creativity. Your role is not to place me in personal emotional turmoil. Your role is not to threaten to destroy my family's livelihood if I don't do your bidding. I am not an asset; I am a human being. I am not a painting hung on a wall; I am not a part of a chess set. I am not a piece of meat to be "traded" for other pieces of meat. I am not a child playing with blocks. This isn't a game. It's my life.

What I have decided, simply, after this period of time, is that I cannot live with myself and continue to be represented by you. I find the threats you and Rand made to be morally repugnant. I simply can't function on a day-to-day business basis with you and Rand without feeling myself dirtied. Maybe you can beat the hell out of some people and they will smile at you afterward and make nice, but I can't do that. I have always believed, both personally and in my scripts, in the triumph of the human spirit. I have abhorred bullying of all kinds — by government, by police, by political extremism of the Left and the Right, by the rich — maybe it's because I came to this country as a child and was the victim of a lot of bullying when I was an adolescent. But I always fought back; I was bloodied a lot, but I fought back.

I know the risks I am taking: I am not doing this blithely. Yes, you might very well be able to hurt me with your stars, your directors, and your friends on the executive level. Yes, Irwin and Barry are friends of yours and maybe you will be able to damage my relationships with them — but as much as I treasure those relationships with them, if my decision to leave CAA affects them, then they're not worth it anyway. Yes, you might sue me and convince UA and God knows who else to sue me. And yes, I know that you can play dirty — the things you said about Guy in your meeting with me are nothing less than character assassination. But I will risk all that. Rich or poor, successful or not, I have always been able to look myself in the mirror.

I am not saying that I don't take your threats seriously; I take your threats very seriously indeed. But I have discussed all of this with my wife, with my fifteen-year-old boy and my thirteen-year-old girl, and they support my decision. After three years of searching, we bought a bigger and much more expensive house recently. We have decided, because of your threats and the uncertainty they cast on my future, to put the new house up for sale and stay in our old one. You told me of your feeling for your own family; do you have any idea how much pain and turmoil you've caused mine?

I think the biggest reason I can't stay with you has to do with my children. I have taught them to fight for what's right. What you did is wrong. I can't teach my children one thing and then, on the most elemental level, do another. I am not that kind of man.

So do whatever you want to do, Mike, and fuck you. I have my family and I have my old manual imperfect typewriter and they have always been the things I've treasured the most.

Barry Hirsch will officially notify you that I have left CAA and from this date on Guy McElwaine will represent me.

Sincerely,

Joe Eszterhas

Monday, 22 October 2012

Our Frank



On the night of December 21st, 1988, a bomb exploded on board New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 and ripped the aircraft apart, its wreckage then raining down on the sleepy Scottish town of Lockerbie below. All 259 passengers and crew perished, as did 11 local residents. One of the passengers, 45-year-old Frank Ciulla (pictured above), had been travelling home to his wife and three children in New Jersey for the Christmas holidays—his body was discovered on Margaret and Hugh Connell's small farm in Waterbeck, nearly 8 miles from the main crash site.

Almost four years later, the Ciulla family finally found the strength to visit Scotland. They went to Minsca farm and stayed with the Connells; they saw the quiet spot where their father and husband came to rest, far away from the chaotic scenes in Lockerbie; and they asked all of the questions they had been desperate to ask since getting the news. After the visit, the Connells wrote the following letter to the Ciullas. It was cherished and read aloud on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, as the Lockerbie Cairn was dedicated in Arlington. The two families remain close.

(Heartfelt thanks to both families for allowing me to feature this in the Letters of Note book, and to Frank's son in particular for being so helpful. To hear him discussing and reading this letter, visit NPR.)

My Dears Lou, Mary Lou and family,

I can hardly believe that I am writing to you. This is something that I had longed to do since 21st December, 1988. When your dear one came to us from the night, it was so unbelievable, haunting and desperately sad. You said that your visit altered the picture for you in many ways; this is just how it was for us too. Frank was a young man with a name but connected to nobody. Now at last we can match him with a loving family. Sometimes I would stop to think as the months went past, "I wonder how his loved ones are coping now, I wonder what they are doing?"

We were told maybe some of the relatives would never come; we were afraid that you'd come and not want to get in touch. I was so thankful that you made the effort to come and ask all the questions you had always wanted to ask. You had at last found someone who could fill in those last hours, that piece that had always remained a mystery. It's the "not knowing" that can bring so much pain and bewilderment. We all have imaginations that can run riot in us, and I'm sure your dear souls must have had untold agonies wondering and worrying.

It was just wonderful to meet you face-to-face. We needed to talk to you all too. As you said, we will get to know Frank through you. He was never just "another victim" to us. For months we called him "Our Boy." Then we found out his name. He was "Our Frank." Please believe me we were deeply affected by his coming to us. We will never forget our feelings seeing him there, a whole-bodied handsome man, the life gone out of him in a twinkling. We were just past trying to grasp the whole thing.

Then to have to leave him there, but he was visited throughout the night by police and a doctor and we went back again in the morning. He was a fellow man and he had come to us in the saddest way. So now through him we have you in our hearts, and please, we want you all to know that you are welcome here whenever you come.

The Connell Family

Thursday, 18 October 2012

People simply empty out



In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a full-time writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did exactly that, and just weeks after leaving work finished writing his first book, Post Office, a semi-autobiographical story in which Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, Henry Chinaski, muddles through life as an employee of the US Postal Service. It was published by Martin's Black Sparrow Press in 1971. 15 years later, Bukowski wrote a letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full-time employment.

(Source: Reach for the Sun Vol. 3; Image: Charles Bukowski, via.)

8-12-86

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don't think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don't get it right. They call it "9 to 5." It's never 9 to 5, there's no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don't take lunch. Then there's OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there's another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, "Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don't want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can't believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: "Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don't you realize that?"

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn't want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

"I put in 35 years..."

"It ain't right..."

"I don't know what to do..."

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I'm here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I've found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: "I'll never be free!"

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I'm gone) how I've come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Regarding your Hampton Wick



Since 1968, at which point she and her best friend famously sought out and made a plaster cast of Jimi Hendrix's penis, legendary groupie Cynthia Albritton (a.k.a. Cynthia Plaster Caster) has been immortalising rock stars' members — and, since 2000, breasts — in plaster for the world to see; and quite successfully too, as evidenced by the exhibitionsdocumentary film, tribute songs, and upcoming autobiography that have followed.

In 1965, three years before getting the first yes from Hendrix, Cynthia wrote the following admiring letter to Keith Richards in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to introduce herself. It was reprinted in Stanley Booth's book, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.

NSFW links: A trip to Cynthia's website is advised, but not to those currently at work; also, Jimi Hendrix's cast can be seen, and bought, here.

(Source: The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, via Ben Moss; Image: Keith and Mick in 1971, via.)

August 2, 1965

Dear Keith,

We watched you on the TV the other night and the first thing that grabbed our eyes was your lovely Hampton Wick. After that we did little besides studying it. We're not kidding; you've got a very fine tool, as a friend of ours puts it. From the way your pants project themselves at the zipper, we figure you've got a beauty of a rig. Sometimes we hoped you'd whip it out or something, but they don't have TV cameras that could focus on anything that large, do they? Hey, tell Mick he doesn't have to worry about the size of his either; we noticed that already (well, who could help but?). Our favorite names for you are Keith the Giant Meat and Hampton Mick.

Keith, we're serious; we judge boys primarily by their Hamptons because they're so exciting to look at and contribute so much to a healthy relationship. We can hardly wait till you come into town in November, maybe then we can find out more about what's inside your pants.

We hope you don't think we ought to receive head treatment or be put away before we attack men or something. We hope you sympathize with us and agree that sex should be openly appreciated just like all other works of beauty and ingenuity. We like to say that we really think while other people just sit there all cringed and inhibited inside, afraid they'd offended someone if the told them something complimentary about their Hamptons or, as in your case, their shoulder boulders.

Would you like to write us back and confirm our beliefs about your Hampton Wick? Would you say, aside all the humility, that it is as spectacular as your pants have lead us to believe? Do you always wear your rig on the right side because you're right handed or doesn't it make any difference? What is the first thing YOU look for in GIRLS?

If you're interested, drop by awhile, why don't you, when you're in Chicago or give us a ring. We're both 18 and like to wear tight-fitting sweaters. We think a girl should wear things tight on top to please a boy, and that a boy should do the same at the bottom to please us.

So please don't forget to answer us. And keep pleasing us by wearing those pants good and tight.

Reach us at:

Cynthia Plastercaster
Chicago, Ill.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

How I would like to work for you!



In March of 1933, in an attempt to secure some work, 23-year-old Eudora Welty wrote the following charming letter to the offices of The New Yorker. Incredibly, they turned her down.

Eudora went on to write numerous pieces for The New Yorker and later won multiple awards for her work, including, in 1973, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, The Optimist's Daughter. Seven years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(Source: What There Is to Say We Have Said; Image: Eudora Welty in 1997, photo'd by Annie Leibovitz, via.)

March 15, 1933

Gentlemen,

I suppose you'd be more interested in even a sleight-o'-hand trick than you'd be in an application for a position with your magazine, but as usual you can't have the thing you want most.

I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930-31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia's School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation's most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A. ('29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.

As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse's pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.

Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night, if you can't hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.

There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase you, but consider my other alternative: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay's Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.

Truly yours,

Eudora Welty

Monday, 15 October 2012

Some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal



In May of 2006, 46 years after the publication of her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, reclusive author Harper Lee wrote the following letter to Oprah Winfrey, on the subject of reading and her love of books. It was subsequently published in Oprah's magazine, "O."

(Source: O; Image: Harper Lee, via.)

May 7, 2006

Dear Oprah,

Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn't know how? I must have learned from having been read to by my family. My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children's classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime.

So I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often — movies weren't for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We're talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression.

Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store's books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another's entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again.

As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts. Aesthetic frissons ran a poor second to the thrills of acquisition. The goal, a full set of a series, was attained only once by an individual of exceptional greed — he swapped his sister's doll buggy.

We were privileged. There were children, mostly from rural areas, who had never looked into a book until they went to school. They had to be taught to read in the first grade, and we were impatient with them for having to catch up. We ignored them.

And it wasn't until we were grown, some of us, that we discovered what had befallen the children of our African-American servants. In some of their schools, pupils learned to read three-to-one — three children to one book, which was more than likely a cast-off primer from a white grammar school. We seldom saw them until, older, they came to work for us.

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

The village of my childhood is gone, with it most of the book collectors, including the dodgy one who swapped his complete set of Seckatary Hawkinses for a shotgun and kept it until it was retrieved by an irate parent.

Now we are three in number and live hundreds of miles away from each other. We still keep in touch by telephone conversations of recurrent theme: "What is your name again?" followed by "What are you reading?" We don't always remember.

Much love,

Harper

Friday, 12 October 2012

Everything comes to an end



On November 9th of 2004, Stieg Larsson — journalist and author of the posthumously published Millennium series of novels, the first of which was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was 50-years-old. The next month, Stieg's long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, found the following letter amongst his belongings, marked "To be opened only after my death," and written prior to a trip to Africa in 1977 when he was just 22.

Eva read extracts of the letter at Stieg's funeral, the day after its discovery.

(Source: "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me; Image: Stieg & Eva in 1980, via.)

Stockholm,
February 9, 1977

Eva, my love,

It's over. One way or another, everything comes to an end. It's all over some day. That's perhaps one of the most fascinating truths we know about the entire universe. The stars die, the galaxies die, the planets die. And people die too. I've never been a believer, but the day I became interested in astronomy, I think I put aside all that was left of my fear of death. I'd realized that in comparison to the universe, a human being, a single human being, me...is infinitely small. Well, I'm not writing this letter to deliver a profound religious or philosophical lecture. I'm writing it to tell you "farewell." I was just talking to you on the phone. I can still hear the sound of your voice. I imagine you, before my eyes...a beautiful image, a lovely memory I will keep until the end. At this very moment, reading this letter, you know that I am dead.

There are things I want you to know. As I leave for Africa, I'm aware of what's waiting for me. I even have the feeling that this trip could bring about my death, but it's something that I have to experience, in spite of everything. I wasn't born to sit in an armchair. I'm not like that. Correction: I wasn't like that...I'm not going to Africa just as a journalist, I'm going above all on a political mission, and that's why I think this trip might lead to my death.

This is the first time I've written to you knowing exactly what to say: I love you, I love you, love you, love you. I want you to know that. I want you to know that I love you more than I've ever loved anyone. I want you to know I mean that seriously. I want you to remember me but not grieve for me. If I truly mean something to you, and I know that I do, you will probably suffer when you learn I am dead. But if I really mean something to you, don't suffer, I don't want that. Don't forget me, but go on living. Live your life. Pain will fade with time, even if that's hard to imagine right now. Live in peace, my dearest love; live, love, hate, and keep fighting...

I had a lot of faults, I know, but some good qualities as well, I hope. But you, Eva, you inspired such love in me that I was never able to express it to you...

Straighten up, square your shoulders, hold your head high. Okay? Take care of yourself, Eva. Go have a cup of coffee. It's over. Thank you for the beautiful times we had. You made me very happy. Adieu.

I kiss you goodbye, Eva.

From Stieg, with love.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

I beg you to take my child



In 1869, in response to a sharp rise in the number of babies being abandoned in New York, often in dangerous circumstances, The Foundling Asylum — run by Sister Irene Fitzgibbon, pictured above — opened to the public with a single white cradle on its doorstep, and immediately began to give safe shelter to unwanted infants. In the first two years alone, 2'500 children were taken in.

Babies were often abandoned at the Foundling along with a letter, many of which have since been preserved by the New York Historical Society. Below are just five examples.

Transcripts follow each image.

(Source: The wonderful Ephemeral New York & the New York Historical Society on Flickr; Image above: Sister Irene at the Foundling Asylum in 1888, via Wikipedia.)



Transcript
2-21-71

New York Tuesday

Kind Sisters,

you will find a little boy he is a month old to morrow it father will not do anything and it is a poor little boy it mother has to work to keep 3 others and can not do anything with this one it name is Walter Cooper and he is not christen yet will you be so good as to do it? I should not like him to die with out it his mother might claim him some day I have been married 5 years and I married respectfully and I did not think my husband was a bad man I had to leave him and I could not trust my children to him now I do not know where he is and he has not seen this one yet I have not a dollar in the world to give him or I would give it to him I wish you would keep him for 3 or 4 months and if he is not claimed by that time you may be sure it mother can not support it I may some day send some money to him do not forget his name.

Yours respectfully,

Mrs Cooper



Transcript
New York April 6th

My dear good Sister,

Please accept this little outcast son of mine trusting with God's help that I will be able to sustain it in your institution. I would not part with my baby were it in any way possible for me to make a respectable living with it, but I cannot, and so ask you to take my little one, and with the assistance of Our Blessed Lady I promise to place in the contribution box, each month all that I can spare from my earnings, and to bring it clothes as often as my means will allow. This is no idle promise Good Sister. I know how often such are made and broken, but I will do my duty. Its name is Joseph Cavalier.



Transcript
Sister Superioress

I am a poor woman and I have been deceived under the promise of marriage, I am at present with no means and with out any relatives to nurse my baby. Therefore I beg you for god sake to take my child until I can find a situation and have enough means so I can bring up myself. I hope that you will so kind to accept my child and I will pray god for you.

I remain humble servant

Teresa Perrazzo

New York, Dec. 3rd 1874



Transcript
New York July 3rd 1872

Kind Sisters of Charity

This worthy man Mr. Edward Keefe has had the misfortune to lose within about a week, both daughter and wife. The mother of his child died today, leaving upon his hands a tender infant but a few hours old.

He prays of you to care for it and sustain in it the feeble spark of life which God has placed there.

Yours truly

F.E. Donlin MD
No 1 Ludlow Place



Transcript
Dear Sister of Mercy,

Please take care of my baby as I can not do it my self. I trust God will reward you. I do not know if I live or die. I give it in charge of you and the Almighty. I have sinned can not expect much good luck. It will not be christened as I know you will attend to that. If I live I hope to claim it some day. Its fathers name is Hudson. You call it as you think best. I am not able to write any more. I call it Julia R Hudson.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Damn you all to hell



In July of 2012, in an admirable attempt to secure him as a guest on his Nerdist Podcast, Chris Hardwick sent a beautiful 1934 Smith Corona to noted typewriter collector Tom Hanks and popped the question. Within days, Hanks responded with the charming letter seen below, typed on the Corona.

Unsurprisingly, the anecdote-filled podcast that resulted is wonderful. It can be heard here.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Chris Hardwick; Image: Tom Hanks, via.)



Transcript
13 July 2012

PLAYTONE

Dear Chris, Ashley, and all the diabolical genuies at Nerdist Industries.

Just who do you think you are to try to briibe me into an apperance on your 'thing' with this gift of the most fantastic Cornona Silent typewriter made in 1934?

You are out of your minds if you think... that I... wow, this thing has great action... and this deep crimson color... Wait! I'm not so shallow as to... and it types nearly silently...

Oh, OKAY!

I will have my people contact yours and work out some kind of interview process...

Damn you all to hell,

(Signed, 'Tom Hanks')

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

I was meant to be a composer



In 1919, at which point he was just 9-years-old, Samuel Barber wrote the following letter to his mother and left it on his desk for her to find. She did, and a year later Barber began to compose his first opera, “The Rose Tree.” He was still only 26 years of age when, in 1936, he finished his most famous work, “Adagio for Strings.”

Samuel Barber went on to win worldwide acclaim for his work and numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice.

(Source; Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music, via Futility Closet & Shaula; Image: Samuel Barber, via.)

NOTICE to Mother and nobody else

Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing.—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very),

Love,

Sam Barber II

Monday, 8 October 2012

Here the roads seem to fork



As well as being one of the most popular American humourists of the 19th Century and founder of the Laramie Boomerang, Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye was at one point the proud Postmaster of Laramie City. Unfortunately, in 1883, three years before his contract was due to expire, an attack of meningitis forced him to leave his post and focus instead on his writing. Before he did so, he wrote the following letter of resignation to the U.S. President, Chester Arthur.

Although both are fantastic, it's interesting to compare this with William Faulkner's resignation letter as a postmaster 40 years later. The contrast couldn't be more stark.

(Source: Remarks, by Bill Nye; Image: Bill Nye in 1878, via.)

Postoffice Divan,
Laramie City, W.T.

Oct. 1, 1883

To the President of the United States:

Sir.—

I beg leave at this time to officially tender my resignation as postmaster at this place, and in due form to deliver the great seal and the key to the front door of the office. The safe combination is set on the numbers 33, 66 and 99, though I do not remember at this moment which comes first, or how many times you revolve the knob, or which direction you should turn it at first in order to make it operate.

There is some mining stock in my private drawer in the safe, which I have not yet removed. This stock you may have, if you desire it. It is a luxury, but you may have it. I have decided to keep a horse instead of this mining stock. The horse may not be so pretty, but it will cost less to keep him.

You will find the postal cards that have not been used under the distributing table, and the coal down in the cellar. If the stove draws too hard, close the damper in the pipe and shut the general delivery window.

Looking over my stormy and eventful administration as postmaster here, I find abundant cause for thanksgiving. At the time I entered upon the duties of my office the department was not yet on a paying basis. It was not even self-sustaining. Since that time, with the active co-operation of the chief executive and the heads of the department, I have been able to make our postal system a paying one, and on top of that I am now able to reduce the tariff on average-sized letters from three cents to two. I might add that this is rather too too, but I will not say anything that might seem undignified in an official resignation which is to become a matter of history.

Through all the vicissitudes of a tempestuous term of office I have safely passed. I am able to turn over the office to-day in a highly improved condition, and to present a purified and renovated institution to my successor.

Acting under the advice of Gen. Hatton, a year ago, I removed the feather bed with which my predecessor, Deacon Hayford, had bolstered up his administration by stuffing the window, and substituted glass. Finding nothing in the book of instructions to postmasters which made the feather bed a part of my official duties, I filed it away in an obscure place and burned it in effigy, also in the gloaming. This act maddened my predecessor to such a degree, that he then and there became a candidate for justice of the peace on the Democratic ticket. The Democratic party was able, however, with what aid it secured from the Republicans, to plow the old man under to a great degree.

It was not long after I had taken my official oath before an era of unexampled prosperity opened for the American people. The price of beef rose to a remarkable altitude, and other vegetables commanded a good figure and a ready market. We then began to make active preparations for the introduction of the strawberry-roan two-cent stamps and the black-and-tan postal note. One reform has crowded upon the heels of another, until the country is to-day upon the foam-crested wave of permanent prosperity.

Mr. President, I cannot close this letter without thanking yourself and the heads of departments at Washington for your active, cheery and prompt cooperation in these matters. You can do as you see fit, of course, about incorporating this idea into your Thanksgiving proclamation, but rest assured it would not be ill-timed or inopportune. It is not alone a credit to myself, It reflects credit upon the administration also.

I need not say that I herewith transmit my resignation with great sorrow and genuine regret. We have toiled on together month after month, asking for no reward except the innate consciousness of rectitude and the salary as fixed by law. Now we are to separate. Here the roads seem to fork, as it were, and you and I, and the cabinet, must leave each other at this point.

You will find the key under the door-mat, and you had better turn the cat out at night when you close the office. If she does not go readily, you can make it clearer to her mind by throwing the cancelling stamp at her.

If Deacon Hayford does not pay up his box-rent, you might as well put his mail in the general delivery, and when Bob Head gets drunk and insists on a letter from one of his wives every day in the week, you can salute him through the box delivery with an old Queen Anne tomahawk, which you will find near the Etruscan water-pail. This will not in any manner surprise either of these parties.

Tears are unavailing. I once more become a private citizen, clothed only with the right to read such postal cards as may be addressed to me personally, and to curse the inefficiency of the postoffice department. I believe the voting class to be divided into two parties, viz: Those who are in the postal service, and those who are mad because they cannot receive a registered letter every fifteen minutes of each day, including Sunday.

Mr. President, as an official of this Government I now retire. My term of office would not expire until 1886. I must, therefore, beg pardon for my eccentricity in resigning. It will be best, perhaps, to keep the heart-breaking news from the ears of European powers until the dangers of a financial panic are fully past. Then hurl it broadcast with a sickening thud.

(Signed)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Book-banners are invariably idiots



When, in 2007, author Pat Conroy was told by a concerned student that two of his books, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, had been banned by the Kanawha County school board following complaints from parents, he sent the following letter to the area's local newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and made known his disgust at such censorship. It was immediately published. After much deliberation and publicity, the bans were eventually lifted.

To read other letters of note related to the banning of books, click here. To discover more about Banned Books Week, which ends tomorrow, click here.

(Source: Pat Conroy; Image: Pat Conroy, via Tulsa Town Hall.)

October 24, 2007

To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.

I've enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn't have any money either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.

In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene's careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book's galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene's defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.

About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, "Lord, this is how I found the world you made." They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I'm perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I've been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You've now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don't know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.

I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you've just done what history warned you against—you've riled a Hatfield.

Sincerely,

Pat Conroy

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

I'm still someplace



In his wonderful book, Chuck Reducks, the late-Chuck Jones — a true legend in the world of animation who, amongst countless other achievements, created characters such as Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, and also directed what is widely considered to be one of the best cartoons ever made: What's Opera, Doc? — credits his beloved "Uncle Lynn" with teaching him "everything [he] would need to know about animated cartoon writing" during his early years, going on to paint him as a hugely positive influence in his life in general and an "ideal uncle" whom he "worshipped."

Uncle Lynn also knew how to write a beautiful letter. One day, soon after the sad death of the Jones's dear family dog, Teddy, Uncle Lynn sent the following to young Chuck and his siblings.

(Source: The magnificent book, Chuck Reducks; Image: Chuck Jones (right) with his siblings in 1916, via.)

Dear Peggy and Dorothy and Chuck and Dick,

I had a telephone call last night. "Is this Uncle Lynn?" someone asked.

"Why yes," I said. "My name is Lynn Martin. Are you some unregistered nephew?"

"This is Teddy." He sounded a little impatient with me. "Teddy Jones, Teddy Jones the resident dog of 115 Wadsworth Avenue, Ocean Park, California. I'm calling long distance."

"Excuse me," I said. "I really don't mean to offend you, but I've never heard you talk before—just bark, or whine, or yell at the moon."

"Look who's talking," Teddy sniffed, a really impatient sniff if ever I've heard one. "Look, Peggy and Dorothy and Chuck and Dick seem to be having a very rough time of it because they think I'm dead." Hesitate. "Well, I suppose in a way I am."

I will admit that hearing a dog admit that he was dead was a new experience for me, and not a totally expected one. "If you're dead," I asked, not being sure of just how you talk to a dead dog, "how come you're calling me?" There was another irritated pause. Clearly he was getting very impatient with me.

"Because," he said, in as carefully a controlled voice as I've ever heard from a dog. "Because when you are alive, even if the kids don't know exactly where you are, they know you're someplace. So I just want them to know I may be sort of dead, but I'm still someplace."

"Maybe I should tell them you're in Dog Heaven, Teddy, Maybe to make 'em feel—"

"Oh, don't be silly." Teddy cleared his throat. "Look, where are you?"

"Oh, no, you don't. We're trying to find out where you are," I barked.

"Hey, I didn't know you could bark." He sounded impressed with my command of the language.

"Wait just a minute," I said. "You had to know where I am, or you couldn't have called me on the telephone, right?"

"Boy, you know so little," said Teddy. "I simply said I called you long distance. Who said anything about a telephone? They asked me if I knew where you were, and I said you were someplace else, besides 115 Wadsworth Avenue. So they dialled someplace else and here I am and here you are."

"Can I call you back?" I asked dazedly. "Maybe that'll give me a clue."

"Be reasonable," said Teddy. "How can you call me back when neither you nor I know where I am?"

"Oh, come on, give me a clue," I begged desperately. "For instance, are there other dogs around there? I've got to tell the kids something."

"Hold it," said Teddy, apparently looking around. "I did see a pug/schnauzer with wings a minute ago. The wings could lift the schnauzer part of him off the ground, but the pug part just sort of dragged through the grass bumping into fireplugs."

"Fireplugs?"

"Orchards of them, hundreds of 'em. Yellow, red, white, striped. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have to pee anymore. I strain a lot, but all I get is air. Perfumed air," he added proudly.

"Sounds like Dog Heaven to me," I said. "Are there trees full of lamb chops and stuff like that?"

"You know," Teddy sighed. "For a fair to upper-middle-class uncle, you do have some weird ideas. But the reason I called you was Peggy, Dorothy, Chuck, and Dick trust you and will believe anything you say, which in my opinion is carrying the word 'gullible' about as far as it will stretch. Anyway, gullible or not, they trust you, so I want you to tell them that I'm still their faithful, noble, old dog, and—except for the noble part—that I'm in a place where they can't see me but I can see them, and I'll always be around keeping an eye, an ear, and a nose on them. Tell them that just because they can't see me doesn't mean I'm not there. Point out to them that during the day you can't see the latitudes and you can't really see a star, but they're both still there. So get a little poetic and ask them to think of me as 'good-dog,' the good old Teddy, the Dog Star from the horse latitudes, and not to worry, I'll bark the britches off anybody or anything that bothers them. Just because I bit the dust doesn't mean I can't bite the devils."

That's what he said. I never did find out exactly where he was, but I did find out where he wasn't—not ever very far from Peggy, Dorothy, Chuck and old Dick Jones.

Sincerely,

Lynn Martin, Uncle at Large

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Beauty of Words



In 1890, after living and working in the U.S. for 20 years, Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn moved to Japan and immediately fell in love with a culture and language about which he would then write until his death fourteen years later. In 1893, he sent the following wonderful letter to his friend and occasional editor, Basil Hall Chamberlain, and eloquently defended the use of unintelligible but physiognomically beautiful Japanese words in his English-language work.

(Source: The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn, Vol. III; Image: Lafcadio Hearn, via.)

June 5, 1893

Dear Chamberlain,—

Thanks for strictures and suggestions. I changed the text as you desired, except in the case of the word Kuruma. That has been fully explained in preceding articles. (By the way, I never heard a Japanese use the word jinrikisha.) My observations about the sailors were based upon police reports in the Japan "Mail." I killed the word gwaikokujin; as you said, it is an ugly word. I revised, indeed, the whole paper.

Recognizing the ugliness of words, however, you must also recognize their physiognomical beauty. I see you and the Editor of the "Atlantic" are at one, however, in condemning my use of Japanese words. Now, I can't entirely agree with either of you. As to the practical side of the question, I do. But as to the artistic, the romantic side, I don't. For me words have colour, form, character; they have faces, ports, manners, gesticulations; they have moods, humours, eccentricities;—they have tints, tones, personalities. That they are unintelligible makes no difference at all. Whether you are able to speak to a stranger or not, you can't help being impressed by his appearance sometimes—by his dress—by his air—by his exotic look. He is also unintelligible, but not a whit less interesting. Nay! he is interesting BECAUSE he is unintelligible. I won't cite other writers who have felt the same way about African, Chinese, Arabian, Hebrew, Tartar, Indian, and Basque words—I mean novelists and sketch writers.

To such it has been justly observed: "The readers do not feel as you do about words. They can't be supposed to know that you think the letter A is blush-crimson, and the letter E pale sky-blue. They can't be supposed to know that you think KH wears a beard and a turban; that initial X is a mature Greek with wrinkles;—or that '—no—' has an innocent, lovable, and childlike aspect." All this is true from the critic's standpoint.

But from ours, the standpoint of—
The dreamer of dreams
To whom what is and what seems
Is often one and the same—
To us the idea is thus:

"Because people cannot see the colour of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motions of words:

"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums which are thinly and weirdly played by words:

"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words:

"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words—the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words:

"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel? Surely one who has never heard Wagner, cannot appreciate Wagner without study! Why should the people not be forcibly introduced to foreign words, as they were introduced to tea and coffee and tobacco?"

Unto which, the friendly reply is—"Because they won't buy your book, and you won't make any money."

And I say: "Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people."

All this is heresy. But a bad reason, you will grant, is better than—etc.

Faithfully,

Lafcadio Hearn

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Heinlein Maneuver



In 1962, as he gave his Guest of Honor speech at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon delivered the following anecdote about writer's block and fellow novelist, Robert Heinlein:
"I went into a horrible dry spell one time. It was a desperate dry spell and an awful lot depended on me getting writing again. Finally, I wrote to Bob Heinlein. I told him my troubles; that I couldn't write—perhaps it was that I had no ideas in my head that would strike a story. By return airmail—I don't know how he did it—I got back 26 story ideas. Some of them ran for a page and a half; one or two of them were a line or two. I mean, there were story ideas that some writers would give their left ear for. Some of them were merely suggestions; just little hints, things that will spark a writer like, 'Ghost of a little cat patting around eternity looking for a familiar lap to sit in.'

This mechanical, chrome-plated Heinlein has a great deal of heart. I had told him my writing troubles, but I hadn't told him of any other troubles; however, clipped to the stack of story ideas was a check for a hundred dollars with a little scribbled note, 'I have a suspicion your credit is bent.'

It is very difficult for words like 'thank you' to handle a man that can do a thing like that."
The incredibly generous letter in question — sent by Heinlein just two days after being asked for help and directly responsible for two of Sturgeon's subsequent stories ("And Now the News" and "The Other Man") — can be read, in full, below.

(Source: Speech excerpt via And Now the News, letter via 'New York Review of Science Fiction No. 84'; Image: Robert Heinlein in 1976, via Wikipedia.)

Broadmoor
Colorado Springs, Colorado

11 Feb 1955

Dear Ted,

What this job really calls for is a meeting of the defunct MaƱana Literary Society. Almost all writers need cross-pollenation—myself most certainly! (I am at present stuck on p.148 of the best set-up for a novel I ever had in my life and I cannot get the Goddam thing to gel!) The M.L.S. used to give ideas such a kicking around that a man went out of there with notes enough for three months; when Jack Williams, Anthony Boucher, Cleve Cartmill, Mick McComas, and several others all got to snarling over the same bone, something had to give.

My only regret at living in this idyllic ivory tower surrounded by snow-covered mountains, deer, Chinese pheasants, tall pine trees, and silence is that while a writer needs a lot of silence, he also needs stimulating talk.

But I will do the best I can at this distance. I must say that I am flattered at the request. To have the incomparable and always scintillating Sturgeon ask for ideas is like having the Pacific Ocean ask one to pee in it. By the way, did I tell you that I bought a copy of MORE THAN HUMAN in Singapore? Or that I didn't get home with it because a Dutch ship's captain borrowed it from me? If you happen to have a spare around you might send it to us, inscribed.

Mmm...Sturgeonish ideas—Well, here's one that might be Campbellish: a society where there are no criminal offences, just civil offences, i.e., there is a price on everything, you can look it up in the catalog and pay the price. You want to shoot your neighbor? Go ahead and shoot the bastard. He has a definite economic rating; deposit the money with the local clearing house within 24 hrs.; they will pay the widow. Morality would consist in not trying to get away with anything without paying for it. Good manners would consist in so behaving that no one would be willing to pay your listed price to kill you. Of course if your valuation is low and your manners are crude, your survival probabilities are low, too. Down in Paraguay murder is a private matter, the government figuring that either his friends and relatives will avenge the deceased, or he was a nogoodnick and who cares? There is another culture in which if a man kills another man, accidentally or on purpose, he must replace the other man, even to taking his wife and his name. Obviously our own pattern is not the only way of looking at crime; maybe we are prejudiced.

This idea, developed, should appeal to JWC. He hates all government, all authority, even though he is not fully aware of it—and he thinks money can do no wrong.

Here is another Campbell-type culture: why should government enforce private contracts at all? At present you can go into court and sue—and (sometimes) force another man to conform to his contract or wrest damages from him. Is there good reason for this to be a function of government? Should it not be a case of let the contractor beware? Why should society as a whole give a hoot whether or not the private, civil promises between two men are kept?

What are the minimum, indispensable functions of government? What functions are present in all human societies? Is it possible to name anything which obtains in one society which is not differently just the reverse in another? Or not done at all? Has there ever been a truly anarchistic society? The Eskimos, perhaps? We have an anarchist running a newspaper in this town, who is opposed to public roads, public schools, public anything—he maintains that it is not ethical for a majority to do anything collectively which each individual did not already have the right to do as an individual. This is an explosive notion; a corollary is that all taxation is wrong, all zoning laws are wrong, all compulsory education is wrong, all punishment by courts is wrong. In the mean time he lives in a well-policed society, his own considerable wealth protected by all these things he deplores. But one thing is sure: many of the things we take for granted are not necessary to a stable society, but we take them for granted. You could get a Campbell-style story out of doubting the most sacred of sacred cows—except big business, of course; John does not tolerate outright heresy.

We know very little about multiple personality, despite the many case records. Suppose a hypnoanalyst makes a deep investigation into a schizoid...and comes up with with the fact that it is a separate and non-crazy personality in the body, distinct from the nominal one, and that this new personality is a refugee from (say) 2100 A.D., when conditions are so intolerable that escape into another body and another time (even this period) is to be preferred, even at the expense of living more or less helplessly in another man's body.

Or do it this way: hypnoanalyst hypnotizes patient; second personality emerges and refuses to go away. Original-owner personality is a nogood, a bastard, a public enemy, a wifebeater, etc.; new personality is a real hero-type, good, smart, hardworking, etc. What is the ethical situation? Should the analyst try his damnedest to suppress and wipe out the false personality and give the body back to its owner? Or should he accept that the world is improved by the change? This could be made quite critical.

What is a personality? A memory track? A set of evaluations? A set of habit patterns? What happens to a soul in a transorbital lobotomy? Is it murder to kill a man's personality, sick though it may be, in order to make his body a bit more tractable for ward nurses and relatives?

The central problem of philosophy, of religion, of all psychology is one so pervasive and so hard to come to grips with that it is largely ignored, just as fish ignore water. The solipsists deal with it and so did you in ULTIMATE EGOTIST (and so did I, quite differently, in THEY). It is the problem of the individual ego, the awareness of "I." There you sit, inside your skull. How long have you been there? Always. How long will you be there? Always. Environment changes—even your body, even your penis and balls, are nothing but environment. The "I" remains, the one unchangeable thing...and a thing utterly unaccounted for in all philosophy, all religion. Of, the double-talk on the subject has endless, but but that is what is has been: double-talk. Until we know how consciousness hooks onto matter and why and where it comes from, we don't know anything. And we don't. But the problem permits infinite variation in fiction.

I have had a dirty suspicion since I was about six that all consciousness is one and that all the actors I see around me (including my enemies) are myself, at different points in the record's grooves. I once partly explored this in a story called BY HIS BOOTSTRAPS. I say "partly" because I touched on one point only—and the story was mistaken by the readers (most of them) for a time-travel paradox story...whereas I was investigating whether "the wine we thought we swallered could make us dream of all that follered...but we was only simple seamen so of course we couldn't know."

But it still is no solution of the problem of ego to discover (as we may, or may not) that the snake eternally eats its own tail. We still haven't accounted for the snake. Korzybski has pointed out that a fact needs no "why." This gives rational adjustment to the world we are in...but it does not solve philosophical problems.

Nor does it do any good to dive into your own belly button, like JWC and Ron Hubbard. It is sane to state the questions; it is not good to kid yourself about the answers. Incidentally, all of the respectable religions these days are founded on point: that it is virtuous and obligatory to kid oneself about the answers, i.e., you must have "faith."

Merde!—squared and cubed. The answers are not to be found by singing hymn number forty-six, with the Young Men's Bible Class coming in on the chorus. Not yet by the battles with straw men that the formal theologians indulge in. How did I get inside my skull?

You could have a hell of a hassle in a society in which there were a group, large or small, of illuminati who really do know what happens after death (as compared with the fakers we now have) and who in consequence have different motivations and different purposes from the others who are the way we are now. Just for a touch, they might try a man in absentia for suiciding to avoid his obligations...then maybe have some one else suicide to go after him and carry out the sentence. (But hell, Bill, I don't have to tell you—just some of your usual hoke that Dick Burbage can get his teeth into. We start rehearsals Wednesday. Quote and unquote).

Science explains nothing. It merely formulates observed data.

A statistician in the Department of Commerce is fiddling with the new digital computer, running some data from the last census. No doubt about it; the machine says that there are more red-headed babies than there ought to be. Must be some mistake in the data; the machine can't be wrong. The enrollments in dental schools are down, too. And appendectomies have decreased. Should the reports of parthenogenesis be rejected as impossible? Why so many of them?

"June 28—The new bull calf looks better all the time. Met a leprechaun today. Nice little guy. I'm going to have to drain the south forty."

This character is absent-minded. When he day dreams his reveries are very real. He is especially likely to do this in public transportation; he can be riding a bus, catch a glimpse of a house which reminds him of one he knew in another city. Trouble is that when he gets off the bus he is like as not, if he is still absent-minded, to get off in the city he has been day-dreaming about, instead of the one he was in. When he was a kid and had not been anywhere, this simply got him scolded and he had a reputation for being too dopy to notice that streetcar he was getting into. But now that he is grown and knows many cities (instead of just neighborhoods in one city) it is downright embarrassing, as he is likely to get on a bus in Cincinnati and wind up three-quarters of an hour later in Seattle with one dollar and thirty-seven cents in his pocket.

One day his ability to recapture other places moves him not only to another city but back to the Taft administration. Well, maybe it is all for the best.

The bloke sells dreams, in pills. Euphoria, along with your fantasy, is guaranteed. The pills are not toxic, nor are they harmful the way narcotics are, but they are habit-forming as the euphoria dreams are much better than reality. Can the Pure Foods & Drugs people act?

This guy sells soap and cosmetics, door to door like the Fuller Brush man. She tries their beauty soap; she becomes beautiful. So she tries their vanishing cream...

A little cat ghost, padding patiently around in limbo, trying to find that familiar, friendly lap...

Story about two countries fighting not with men, not with robots, but with mutated-animal soldiers. Fighter-pilot cats (all the gadgetry automatic, but the piloting done by the supercat), Rhino tanks, ape paratroopers, sea lion "frogmen" etc.

Fundamentalist congregation, convinced that faith can move mountains, concentrates on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills—and the greatest neo-Egyptian sculpture ever carved disappears, mountain and all. Should the Public Works Administration sue the church? Or is that suing God? Or should they ask them to pray it back? Or should they systematize this into a new form of theo-engineering? If so, civil engineers will have to have divinity degrees as well in the future. What is faith without (public) works?

A Hollywood stunt man kills himself getting a really fine effect. They cut it out of the picture. Will he haunt the producer?

A man is troubled by gophers in his garden. He digs into their burrow, finds a nest with baby gophers in it, kills them. The gophers really move in on him now, undermine his house, flood it, wreck it completely, while he tries to save it.

A seeing-eye dog growing too old to do his work...

There is something important other than rest in the notion of sleep. In sleep we almost catch the secret, almost understand what it is all about. It might be possible to abolish sleep; we might develop a race of able, smart, hard, efficient people who never need to sleep. Only they wouldn't have any souls.

Once there was a man who could not stand it. First he lost the power to read and then the headlines did not bother him any longer. Then he lost the power to understand speech and then the radio could not bother him. He became quite happy and the wrinkles smoothed out of his face and he quit being tense and he painted and modelled in clay and danced and listened to music and enjoyed life.

Then a clever psychiatrist penetrated his fugue and made him sane again. Now he could read and listen to the radio and he became aware again of the Cold War and juvenile delinquency and rapes and rapacity and et cetera ad nauseam.

He still couldn't stand it. He killed quite a number of people before they got him.

There was this man Flammonde who came to our town and grandly borrowed what he needed. Edward Arlington Robinson has dealt well and fully with Flammonde in verse but he has not been described in prose. The power that Flammonde had was to make everyone around him happier, richer in experience, greater in his own self-esteem. Naturally a man like that would not have to work. It is a neat trick.

What exact knowledge of how human beings work can enable a man always to make other people happier simply by his own presence?

Cats have made a racket and a good thing out of this knowledge for seven thousand years without even bothering to flatter the recipient of the pleasure.

Ted, I have about run dry and Ginny has just announced dinner. We hope to take a freighter for Constantinople about the first of May. We don't know whether we will be sailing from New York or from New Orleans; we have applied both ways and have no firm booking as yet. One way we might see you soon; the other way we would not. But let us hear from you when pressure permits; it has been too long and the short visit in New York last spring merely whetted my appetite.

Best to you, your wife, and kids—

Bob