When I’m not writing about childhood memoirs, I’m blogging about digital marketing for a living. I loved writing this recent post, which allowed me to combine the two passions.
Photographic Print By O. Louis Mazzatenta
BODY PARTS by Ingrid de Kok
may the wrist turn in the wind like a wing
the severed foot tread home ground
the punctured ear hear the thrum of sunbirds
the molten eye see stars in the dark
the faltering lungs quicken windmills
the maimed hand scatter seeds and grain
the heart flood underground springs
pound maize, recognize named cattle
and may the unfixable broken bone
loosened from its hinges
now lying like a wishbone in the veld
pitted by pointillist ants
give us new bearings.
Me as a chubby little girl in my Christmas dress
Quite often, this memory I have of being snowed in during a blizzard in 1996 crosses my mind and tries to linger. The moment that I see myself staring out the window at the rushing snow, I quickly think of something else. I don’t know why, it’s not a bad memory at all. But for some reason, I try not to entertain it.
So here it is.
It’s 1996 and I am seven years old. I remember the year because my baby brother had just been born and I had already started to resent him. Naturally, he was the family favourite and I had lost my position as centre of attention.
The day before, my mom took me to the Pen Center shopping mall (still around, but renovated) to take advantage of the “sidewalk sale”. Unless you’re from North America, you might not know what that means, but it’s basically a big sale that retailers have at the end of a season so they can make room for new stock. Yes, it’s like boxing day except it usually runs mid-January and the difference from it being a regular sale is that every store puts sales racks or bins out front, so people can literally shop the “side-walk” or perimeter of the mall. Sidewalk sales were so special to me as a kid, because as you might know if you’ve read any of my previous childhood memoirs, my family wasn’t very wealthy so sales were a big deal for us. At this particular sidewalk sale, I spotted a pair of flannel pyjamas at Reitmans. I can still recall exactly what they looked like; white with little Winnie-the-Pooh’s all over it. He was wearing blue PJ’s and a matching sleeping hat, and he was surrounded by these fluffy clouds that could make you fall asleep just looking at them. It had three or four buttons down the front and elastic bands at the wrist. The size ‘large’ fit me like a glove, and while the saleslady said I shouldn’t sleep in something so snug, and maybe she should order me the extra-large, I didn’t care. I wanted that exact one.
It was on sale, but mom said it was still expensive. She asked the lady to hold it for us but she said it was against store policy to hold sale stock, so I was forced to walk away empty handed. I sulked all the way home, as mom tried to comfort me. That part I don’t remember, but I can still hear her soft voice playing to me on the car-ride home.
I was unreasonably stubborn, and still am, but I like to think that these days there’s a good reason behind it. Back then, I had no right to whine about pyjamas or to make my mom feel bad that she couldn’t afford such a luxury. I had plenty of pyjamas, and so what if they were my sisters hand me downs? I went to bed warm and safe every night, and that’s more than most children could ever hope for.
That night I dreamt of the Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas, and I told mom about it over breakfast the next morning. She apologised again and said she would talk to dad about it, which is what she always said when she didn’t have the heart to say no. I never counted on her actually talking to him, and even if she did, it wouldn’t make a difference. Money was money and we didn’t have much of it.
Dad came home from work and said the weather was expected to get really bad. It was either a Thursday or Friday, because the two of them always went out for a “date” on one of those days. I used to beg to come along but mom said they needed time alone, like they used to have when they were young. To this day, whenever I see a picture of them in their 20s, I can hear her saying this to me.
They went out, even though the snow was getting bad and the news channels were warning people to stay inside, it was a blizzard! Mind you, it didn’t take much for those warnings to be issued. Ontario had a reputation for “whinging” as Aussies would say, about the weather.
I didn’t think of the pyjamas while they were gone. All I could think about was if they were safe. I sat by the living room window and watched the snow pour down, minute by minute, until the minutes turned to hours and the roads turned to ice and they still weren’t home. I asked my older sister and brother if they thought our parents were ok. They admitted that they usually weren’t gone for this long, but we had to keep in mind that the roads were icy and they would be driving slow.
Then it turned 9 o’clock and I was crying. I had my favourite stuffed animal smothered in my face so my little brother couldn’t see that I was in tears. I was sitting beside his crib, praying that he would live to remember mom and dad. He was only a couple months old, and it just didn’t seem fair that if something tragic happened that night, he would grow up wondering who they were. These were my cryptic seven-year-old thoughts, which were so silly and dramatic and over the top, as such I was. I still don’t know why I feared the worst, but not much has changed to this day. I still often do.
I hadn’t been crying for too long when I heard the front door opening. I kissed Nik on the forehead, threw my stuffed animal at him, and ran downstairs. I gave my mom the biggest hug and started crying into her jacket. She couldn’t understand why, and everyone was laughing at me. My sister explained that I thought they might die in the blizzard.
“As if,” dad said, “We survived the blizzard of ’77,” and that’s a whole other story.
Mom took me upstairs to tuck me in. I crawled into bed wearing Elisa’s old nightgown. Then mom handed me a grey Reitmans bag and said,
“You better go get changed.”
There was this smile on her face, it was so big. I can’t think of it for too long or I start getting sad again, but she had this way of smiling when she knew she was about to make you really happy. And it was just the best thing I ever saw. It’s how I want to always remember her.
I loved those pyjamas, and I wore them to death. They were tight, as the sales lady had warned, but in a strange way that made me feel somewhat safer. In hindsight, I hate the person I was that day, who guilt-tripped my parents into risking their lives to buy me a pair of Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas. But then, I wasn’t really a person yet. I was just a kid. And kids do those stupid things, and they don’t regret anything at the time…
Until maybe 17 years later, when they wish they could go back in time and for once in their life, not try to get their way.
By Julia Wojciechowski
In November 2007, Amazon released the first generation Kindle device. Some people, the ones responsible for it selling out in five and a half hours, were ecstatic. Others, myself included, were gutted. We were of the idea that our beloved paperback was suddenly on the verge of extinction. But six years later, we realise that the Ereader revolution was not so much of a threat after all. Sure, book sales dropped a little and everywhere you look on a bus or a plane, someone’s traded in their 300g novel for an almost weightless screen. But the paperback still exists, bookstores are still around (though there are fewer), and we, as a culture, see that nothing can ever replace the paperback.
In a sense, the rise of the Ereader started a war on the preservation of literature. Die hard book enthusiasts, english majors and writers everywhere were adamant that this simply was not the way that stories were meant to be read. We have to smell the book, we have to turn the page, we need coffee stains and fingerprints as proof that we have been there. Whether you embrace Ebooks or hate them, it’s time to put our differences aside for now as we face a new war on literature and this one is much more personal. It is the war on reading.
Spritzing, as it has been dubbed, is the act of reading up to 1,000 words a minute. This has been made possible by a new speed reading program by a Boston-based tech company, Spritz, that promises to help you read a novel in under 90 minutes without having to move your eyes. Wait- what?
It’s true. The program manipulates text word format, limits your eye movement and shortens your brains processing time. The company claims that “spritzing” can be learned in less than five minutes, and they even let you have a go on their website. You can read more about Spritzing on the link below, because I’ve already said and heard enough. The point of me bringing this to your attention, is that I don’t want people to forget what reading a novel is about. It’s not about reading it in under 90 minutes. It’s not about finishing it as fast as you can. Reading is a journey, as George RR. Martin said, ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’ And I’m sure if I had the pleasure of speaking to George RR. Martin, he would add that the person who reads at 300+wpm lives zero, because they’re reading so damn fast that their life is over before it’s begun.
As a writer, I don’t want anyone to read my work at this unnatural speed. It is an insult to the hard work and carefulness that I put into choosing those words. As a reader, I never want to read something so quickly that I can’t recall it in great detail. The way that I memorised the opening sonnet in Romeo and Juliet when I was 13, was by savouring each word and taking my slow, sweet time. I haven’t forgotten a bar of it.
This technology will arrive soon, and it won’t be the first, and it won’t be the fastest. This is only the beginning of the war on reading; a war designed to stop our eyes from moving, to stop our hands from turning, and to make the entire process as robotic as possible.
My advice to everyone who supports the literary world and all that it stands for, is to keep reading slowly. Read slow enough to wander through the pages. Read slow enough to let your imagination loose. Read so slow that you read between the lines, and let yourself get stuck there for a moment, knowing that there are people out there reading one word at a time, without blinking, and they simply don’t have this luxury.
When we really know the world, we see that it is just a world full of errors. But we are reluctant to part from it, because in spite of everything we’ve remained fairly naive and childlike, I thought. What a good thing that I had my eye-pressure measured. Thirty-eight! We mustn’t pretend to ourselves. We may keel over at any moment.
From Concrete by Thomas Bernhard
THE TELL-TALE HEART
by Edgar Allan Poe
TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.
It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye –not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.
I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.