I was trying to describe you to someone

"Rural Electrification Administration co-op office. Lafayette, Louisiana. 1939" By Peter Sakaer, Rural Electrification Administration

“Rural Electrification Administration co-op office. Lafayette, Louisiana. 1939”
By Peter Sakaer, Rural Electrification Administration

Because it’s Valentine’s day; it brings to mind a story by Richard Brautigan that I was going to use in my wedding:

I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before.

I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six. 

It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time. 

Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer, to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.

It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “…the President of the United States…”

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio…

And that’s how you look to me. 

Bad dreams

‘Daddy, I had a bad dream.’

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness — it’s 3:23. ‘Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?’

‘No, Daddy.’

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter’s pale form in the darkness of your room. ‘Why not, sweetie?’

‘Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy’s skin sat up.’

For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can’t take your eyes off of your daughter. The covers behind you begin to shift.’

“Sometimes, a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalization, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.” – HP Lovecraft

If you’re a scaredy cat and alone for the week like me, you really should avoid reading things like that.

(Thanks to Longreads for the story, and its link to Aeon magazine, exploring the creation of horror stories and urban legends for the digital age – essentially a discussion on the crowdsourcing of our worst fears, and a lesson in writing and storytelling.)

The Sister Years

A New Year’s tale for the new year, by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Last night, between eleven and twelve o’clock, when the Old Year was leaving her final footprints on the borders of Time’s empire, she found herself in possession of a few spare moments, and sat down—of all places in the world—on the steps of our new city-hall. The wintry moonlight showed that she looked weary of body and sad of heart, like many another wayfarer of earth. Her garments, having been exposed to much foul weather and rough usage, were in very ill condition, and, as the hurry of her journey had never before allowed her to take an instant’s rest, her shoes were so worn as to be scarcely worth the mending. But after trudging only a little distance farther this poor Old Year was destined to enjoy a long, long sleep. I forgot to mention that when she seated herself on the steps she deposited by her side a very capacious bandbox in which, as is the custom among travellers of her sex, she carried a great deal of valuable property. Besides this luggage, there was a folio book under her arm very much resembling the annual volume of a newspaper. Placing this volume across her knees and resting her elbows upon it, with her forehead in her hands, the weary, bedraggled, world-worn Old Year heaved a heavy sigh and appeared to be taking no very pleasant retrospect of her past existence.

While she thus awaited the midnight knell that was to summon her to the innumerable sisterhood of departed years, there came a young maiden treading lightsomely on tip-toe along the street from the direction of the railroad dépôt. She was evidently a stranger, and perhaps had come to town by the evening train of cars. There was a smiling cheerfulness in this fair maiden’s face which bespoke her fully confident of a kind reception from the multitude of people with whom she was soon to form acquaintance. Her dress was rather too airy for the season, and was bedizened with fluttering ribbons and other vanities which were likely soon to be rent away by the fierce storms or to fade in the hot sunshine amid which she was to pursue her changeful course. But still she was a wonderfully pleasant-looking figure, and had so much promise and such an indescribable hopefulness in her aspect that hardly anybody could meet her without anticipating some very desirable thing—the consummation of some long-sought good—from her kind offices. A few dismal characters there may be here and there about the world who have so often been trifled with by young maidens as promising as she that they have now ceased to pin any faith upon the skirts of the New Year. But, for my own part, I have great faith in her, and, should I live to see fifty more such, still from each of those successive sisters I shall reckon upon receiving something that will be worth living for.

Published in 1839, the story describes the departure of the old year and the arrival of the new year as two sisters meeting in Salem, Massachusetts, on New Year’s Eve – the older sister, worn and jaded, and the younger sister, eager and convinced that she will fare better – isn’t that how it goes every year? And still we hold on to the faith in better times, in something worth living for, just as the author does. Read the rest of it here.