In honor of Banned Books Week, I thought it would be fun to look at my favorite banned books from years past. Undoubtedly, they corrupted me beyond repair. (Hint to the powers that be: if you don’t want someone to read something, don’t make a fuss about it. When you do, it makes people want to form a whole week dedicated to celebrating the very books you tried to quash.)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
I can’t figure out what the problem was with this book. Perhaps it portrayed the military and the futility of war in a bad light. I can promise the powers that be that what I took away from this book was a keen appreciation for absurd humor. Promoting a guy named Major Major Major to major? That’s funny.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
I loved this book! The trials of a family trying to transport their dead wife/mother’s body across the state, with pit stops for extramarital affairs with preachers, an abortion, the accidental desecration of a body, taking the Lord’s name in vain . . . I just can’t figure out why this thing was banned.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
This novel committed the ultimate sin of describing war as brutal and horrible. Though now that I think about it, I’m not sure if it was banned for telling the truth, or for portraying anti-fascist guerrilla leader Pablo as a man who has some issues with all the senseless killing and maiming and torturing. Shame, shame, Papa H., for encouraging people to think for themselves. Sacrilege!
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This horrendous pile of garbage portrays a woman, Scarlett O’Hara, who sometimes uses sex to advance her position in life (gasp!) and even seems to like fooling around with Rhett Butler (the horror!). I can see how the powers that be would want this novel banned and all copies burned—when womenfolk start getting ideas, and enjoying sex, well, that can only lead to anarchy.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Huh? My biggest problem with this book was trying to keep the characters straight, plus, it was a bit boring at times. Yet the powers that be seem to be all for mind-numbing boredom, so that can’t be it. This one’s appearance on the Banned Books list is a stumper.
So there you have it: novels we’ve been told we should never, ever read. I’ve read ‘em—and a whole lot more from this list of banned books, and I turned out perfectly normal, right?
Give them a whirl. You’ll thank me for it later.
I'm writing this on day ten of unemployment. It's been an adjustment, to say the least. Like many people, I equate my job with self-worth, so I've been trying hard to not feel purposeless. It hasn't been easy.
The first few days, I was in good shape. I had a few editing projects on my slate—three manuscripts that needed cleaning up, plus one that was ready for layout. So I worked every day. And found myself wondering where the time had gone every night. My first realization: how in the hell do I get so much done when I have a full-time job? It didn't (and still doesn't) make any sense! It's not like I was pausing during the day to bake, or watch television, or even eat. I had the laptop open for a good ten hours every day, fueling my work with nothing but coffee. And still I wasn't done with the things I needed to do.
Toward the end of the week, I realized that the "where did the time go" thing was a bigger problem than I'd initially thought. See, when I'm working, I call my sister every day on my commute home. It's a lovely way to end the day: gives me something to look forward to during the drive, and Kim and I can touch base at the same time every day.
Not so much now that I have no commute. I found myself one afternoon wondering what day it was and when the heck I'd talked to my sister last. And not just that—when was the last time I'd showered? Checked the garden? Did I have gas in my car? Did the car even run, still? Yes, there's a sneaky side to unemployment that you don't pick up on right away: with all of that time suddenly on your hands, you forget how to track it. The only reason why I knew today was Friday and my blog was due is because I've taken to setting alarms that say things like "Blog due!" and a morning "Time to scrub off the stank of purposelessness!" reminder.
Finally, I'm trying to figure out why, with these days full of empty slates, I have no time to do anything. I thought for sure I'd be able to clean the house, repaint the kitchen, mash and freeze twenty pounds of potatoes, and maybe bake some pies. I've done none of these things. Not one. I did, however, force myself to step away from the laptop one afternoon to work on Halloween decorations. I'd wanted to make glow-in-the-dark floating corpses (a neat idea I'd seen on Pinterest). But when I sat down to actually do it, it seemed like a lot of work. Instead, I pulled out some old house paint and decorated a bunch of gourds that had taken over the garden when I'd neglected to pay attention to it.
The bad news: I'm just not cut out for unemployment.
The good news: my new job starts Monday.
Back in February, my friend Kristi Petersen Schoonover called to see if I’d be interested in a writers’ retreat. It would be all women, at Rudyard Kipling’s carriage house in Vermont, and the price was right. I was in.
Seven months later, the weekend had arrived. I was now filled with trepidation: my job contract had just ended that day, one of the attendees had bagged, I was sick, and now drove to Vermont sad, uncomfortable, and not sure of what to expect.
I’m happy to report that none of these things mattered.
Kristi and Meghan Guidry arrived five minutes after I put my car in park and accidentally set off my own car alarm. (Hi there, neighbors!) Meghan and I had never met. No worries: within five minutes, she’d made a politically incorrect joke that had me snort-laughing like that guy from Revenge of the Nerds, and I knew we’d be fine.
Friday night was about settling in and figuring out the dynamic of the group. We ate guacamole and chips, debated who had the worst ex, played Cards Against Humanity, and figured out who would sleep where. The next day, we got to work.
We were up early, watched the sun rise over the Black Mountains, and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Then it was time to do what we’d come here to do: write.
I should mention that the house itself was lovely. Hardwood floors, a winding staircase, a creepy door leading to a basement complete with a stone sink and scratch marks on the walls. (Okay, maybe it was termite damage, but my interpretation was more fun.) I fired up my laptop in the Downton Abbey-esque living room.
And then it happened.
A knock. On the other side of the door that led to the basement.
I’d like to say I handled it maturely: laughed it off. Surely it was just a reverberation from the clink of my coffee mug on the coaster, or an echo from Meghan’s steps on the floorboards upstairs.
I did not. “Kristi!” I shouted. “There’s a ghost in the basement!”
Now, if anyone would believe me, it would be Kristi. She reads tarot cards, is married to a ghost hunter, subscribes to all notions otherworldly . . .
“Calm down. There’s nothing here. What, did you set down your coffee mug or something?”
Okay, if she wasn’t nervous, then surely I shouldn’t be. After all, she reads more into this stuff than I do.
The weekend was, in a word, fabulous. We wrote, we laughed, we had readings and discussions that made me think about the craft of writing; in short, it was exactly what I’d needed.
Then, Sunday afternoon, Meghan had to leave early. All three of us, it turned out, were dealing with illness, and hers was no longer put-offable. Kristi and I spent Sunday night talking, writing, and feeling inspired. Until we went to bed.
At 2:30 in the morning, the fire alarm went off.
I woke up, realized what it was, and waited to see if my heart was going to drop back down to under 200 beats per minute. It did. The alarm stopped. Kristi woke up. “Stacey? What was that?”
“The fire alarm.” I was already nodding off again.
“Don’t you think we should get up and make sure there’s no smoke downstairs?”
She had a point. We traipsed down the winding stairs, sniffing as we went. We found no signs of burning hardwood floors or gas stoves left unattended. We were good.
Kristi: “Shouldn’t we check the basement?”
Are you kidding? The basement monster’s down there! I thought, but didn’t say, because really, I’m in my mid-forties, and usually logical to a Spock-like degree. But I did not want to open that basement door.
There we were: two sensible adults in our Mickey Mouse jammies (why yes, we both had Disney patterns on, thank you for asking), with bed hair yet still remarkably attractive.
Kristi huddled behind me. “Open it.” Darn it! How did I get to be the door opener?
I took a deep breath and pushed the lock left until it clicked. Pulled the oaken gateway to Hell back. Glanced downstairs.
No billowing black smoke. “Everything’s fine,” I barked, slamming the door shut. We went back to bed.
The next morning, we watched our last sunrise of the retreat. Laughed at how scared we’d been. Sipped our coffee and came up with explanations. “Probably a dip in the power,” I said. “The clock on the coffee pot’s been off since we got here.”
“Or a bug that flew into the smoke alarm,” Kristi rationalized.
At that very moment, a noise made us jump out of our skins. The front door opened on its own, and the container that held the key to the house unearthed itself. We nearly soiled ourselves in the most unladylike of ways.
“Or it’s a ghost,” Kristi finally admitted.
I knew it!
I'm writing this on the eve of my last day at a job I love.
I knew the job was going to end—that's how freelance is. Contracts end and people part ways. So this doesn't come as a surprise. I haven't been weepy at all (maybe that'll come tomorrow), and I'm at peace with it. But I want to take a few minutes to tell you why I loved this job.
First off—and this is very important, so listen close—I love what I do. Really love it. I read all day, and (this is the best part) correct other people's grammar. And I feel like I make a difference, if only in preserving the integrity of English typography. So for the past two years, when I woke up in the morning to head off to my job, I did it wearing a smile. I had purpose.
Second of all (and maybe this is the best part), since I've been at this job, I've met some wonderful people. Creative, nutty, funny, serious . . . I'm leaving this place with a lot of friends that I'm a better person for having in my life now. For example, when I first started, I was worried that my oddball comments and love for all things creepy would alienate me. Then we had our first Halloween. And in a corporate office, complete with cubicles and conference rooms, the four of us in the creative services department showed up looking like this:
Mind you, we were the only four in the building dressed up that day. It was clear I had found my people.
We're all freelancers, so some of us have come and gone. New people came in. Would they think those of us that remained were nuttier than pecan logs? The second Halloween proved me wrong.
Third of all—and this is really the best part—over the past two years, I've had the best. Boss. Ever. People say that, but they don't know. They don't know what it's like to work for a man who doesn't micromanage but instead trusts you to do your job well; who makes you laugh, and doesn't blink when you show up to work wearing a pendant of the mother alien from Alien with matching face-sucker earrings; who not only doesn't question when you need a Friday off for a three-day horror convention but instead looks up the guest list and asks you on Monday if you got to meet Robert Englund. Listen: I once worked for a woman who timed my bathroom breaks and actually questioned me when I took four minutes instead of three (I am not making this up. "Who did you stop to talk to? You're not allowed to talk to anyone! Refer them to me!"). The boss I have now reminded me that there are good managers out there. And really, when it comes down to it, that's what makes or breaks a job for someone, isn't it?
As I said, the life of a freelancer means eventually you have to leave. Now it's my turn, and yeah, it's hard to say goodbye to a place that I enjoyed driving to every single day. But I'm lucky. Before I started, I didn't know Catherine, Mary Ann, Elaine, Susan, Dawn, Courtney, Jackie, John, or Albert. How fortuitous for me I that I got to work with each one of them. That I was able to laugh and smile and collaborate and commiserate every single day.
So my job is ending. And yet I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.
I’m sitting here, staring at a blank white page, knowing a blog post is due today, and thinking, “Nope. I’ve got nothing.”
I could tell you about last weekend, I suppose. Like how on Saturday, at the Connecticut HorrorFest, I kept seeing this big guy walking around and I kept doing double takes, because this man was a dead ringer for a wrestler from the nineties. But I’d seen the program. There were no wrestlers on the guest list. Couldn’t be him.
I must've flipped through that darn program twenty times. (Not once, however, did I bother to Google "real name of WWE's Kurgan.") I finally spotted my friend Johanna talking to the man in question. I went over. Told him he must hear it a lot, but he looked exactly like Kurrgan. Started embarrassingly explaining that I'm a bit of an eighties and nineties wrestling geek. He politely informed me that he was that wrestler, but had been a successful actor for over a decade now (which of course is how he was billed in the program). He may also have implied that I was not the brightest bulb in the socket.
Didn’t matter. Johanna got a picture of all three of us anyway.
On Sunday, I was at the Middletown Open Air Market. Author Rob Watts joined me. We spent the day chatting about writing, publishing, eighties movies that do and do not hold up, and held a lengthy, meaningful, reflective conversation on lesser-known child actors and where they might be now. (Billy Jacoby, we salute you.) I also had a brisk day of trading gourds for baklava with the falafel truck next to us.
I might mention that Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors came out this week. It’s a pretty spectacular anthology, if I do say so myself. Besides my contributions, there are stories from Melissa Crandall, John Valeri, Ryanne Strong, Dan Foley, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, g. Elmer Munson, Mark Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, John G.C. Brainard, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. And guess who wrote the foreword (also spectacular)? That's right, the aforementioned Rob Watts! See how I came full circle there? Anyway, I’m proud of this collection, so be sure to check it out!
Look at that. I’m already at 400 words. You know what? I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.
Happy Labor Day, everyone!
Pretty and perfect in every way.