The Weekend Open Thread | Reading? Writing? Thinking?

Reading: I am just starting The Story of Paradise Lost for Children (Eliza Weaver Bradburn, 1830). My copy is an incredibly poorly digitized reprint published by Sagan Press. The back blurb spit out the “The work has been selected by scholars… part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.” Why scholars? I am not a literary scholar but I know it’s important. And why “as we know it?” What does that add? Is it intended to convey the possibility that we don’t know the entirety of the knowledge base of civilization? No doubt true. Please note also that the writer who adapted Milton for children was a woman living in the 19th century. I cannot find her in any of my biographies (didn’t do a comprehensive search, though). I mention this because I am growing weary of seeing phrases such as, “Until the mid-20th century there were very few women writers.” If ignorance is bliss there are a lot of happy people out there.

Writing: Working on a short story for the prompt, Help from a Stranger. It’s for the journal, Thema. If I can make it work, it will be my fourth submission to Thema. First was rejected but the editor said it made it through several rounds. Second accepted. Third rejected but again made it through several rounds of review and I got a personalized rejection letter encouraging me to submit again.

The short story that was accepted was something very different for me. The journal tends to have what I consider a lot of pretty dark stories and poems. Can I write dark? Turns out I can, sort of. My daughters have instructed me that I am never to write anything like “Sam’s World” again. They loved it, though. Copyright reverts after publication, so first part below and then link to the whole story if you feel like reading it.

Thinking. Not in any systematic way but I’m contemplating how I feel about pedantic/didactic writing for children–especially in the moral realm. Also thinking I need to read more Andrew Lang. I’ve built up quite the stockpile of ebooks of his, thanks in large part to Zeugma.

Sam’s World

Marica Bernstein

Get it over with.

Sam wrote the words in ink at the top of a clean page. He reached for a ruler, and below the words, in pencil, drew a horizontal line, bisected it, and to the right of the bisect, another line, perpendicular to the horizontal. The geometry pleased him. To the left of the bisect he wrote you in brackets; to the right, get. He penciled it to the right of the perpendicular. He uncapped his fountain pen and struck through two of the words he’d written. He stared at over and with.

Sam’s outside world was fine. The kids were grown and happy. They had bouts of young adult angst that occasionally required an infusion of time, money, or sage advice. Giving these was a pleasure. He and Donna had done a good job. Never had they used the word ‘sacrifice’ to refer to Donna’s decision to create a home rather than a career. Their work products were fundamentally sound. Their empty nest was secure, warm, and all theirs. The kids had even come home for a good old-fashioned mortgage-burning party. Sam and Donna wanted for nothing. They liked each other— and made each other laugh. Sam’s outside world was fine.

Sam drew another horizontal across the page, bisected it, and as before, wrote the words you and get in their proper places. Under get, he drew a line attached to the horizontal at about a forty-five-degree angle, and another short horizontal at the bottom of it. On the slanted line he wrote over, and on the short horizontal, it.

Get over it.

If only it were that easy, he thought.

Sam’s inside world was slowly but surely falling apart. Months before, the lawn mower had spit out something that had dinged the outer pane of glass in the French doors just beyond his desk. He hadn’t noticed the crack until it was a few inches long. In another time, he’d have made a call. The glass would have been replaced in a week. This was not another time. He watched as crack after crack reproduced and spread. At first Sam had collected the shards from the patio floor. He no longer bothered. So shattered was the glass that small gusts knocked out whole sections of the outer pane. This afforded him a choice. He could view the world of Donna’s garden through the double-paned fractal mosaics, or with single-paned clarity. From time to time, he looked at the window and thought he should go out there and just get it over with— pull out the glass that remained. But he got over the idea. Such was the state of Sam’s inner world.

Sam looked from one to the other of his pleasing sets of lines. With. What to do with with? he wondered. And then, What the hell is a ‘function word’? Stupid internet. I should have known better. He pulled an old edition of Webster’s from the shelf, uncapped his pen, and at the bottom of the notebook page wrote, “With. Prep. In general, with denotes a relation of proximity, contiguity, or association.” ‘Function word.’ Why can’t they just leave language alone? he asked out loud to no one but himself and the old dog. At this stage, moving on would have been no more satisfying than staying where he was, so he tarried and stared at with. Why couldn’t it have been “Be done with it?” he wondered as a gust of wind sent glass tinkling to the ground, and clarified a few more square inches of Donna’s world.

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