The School by Donald Barthelme

Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see, because we figured that ... that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root systems ... and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible. You know what I mean.

And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best. We complained about it.

So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except that just a couple of weeks before the thing with the trees, the snakes all died. But I think that the snakes – well, the reason that the snakes kicked off was that ... you remember, the boiler was shut off for four days because of the strike, and that was explicable. It was something you could explain to the kids because of the strike. I mean, none of their parents would let them cross the picket line and they knew there was a strike going on and what it meant. So when things got started up again and we found the snakes they weren’t too disturbed.

With the herb gardens it was probably a case of overwatering, and at least now they know not to overwater. The children were very conscientious with the herb gardens and some of them probably ... you know, slipped them a little extra water when we weren’t looking. Or maybe ... well, I don’t like to think about sabotage, although it did occur to us. I mean, it was something that crossed our minds. We were thinking that way probably because before that the gerbils had died, and the white mice had died, and the salamander ... well, now they know not to carry them around in plastic bags.

Fun Facts About The VNSA Booksale

The 57th annual VNSA booksale is just around the corner (Feburary 16-17) and hopefully your bookshelves are excited to receive all the new treasures. To get you even more excited about this year's fabulousness, here are some fun facts about the VNSA booksale and all of its awesomeness.

  1. It's not just for books. The VNSA sale has AV, audio, music and games.
  2. The trademark owl was drawn by Family Circus cartoonist Bill Keane.
  3. Members can't buy at the sale. It's true. They're participating for their love of literature. Thank them. Hell, even hug them. You wouldn't believe how much time they've put into this day. Each member works in their section all year, so they have touched each title numerous times and are willing to help attendees find just what they're looking for. "We do the damnedest to get people the book they're looking for," says VNSA volunteer Michele VonKampen. I believe it.
  4. It might seem like madness but it is actually a large-scale exercise in organization. There are 27 separate categories. Study the map before you go and know the difference between sections. For example "fiction" is anything 2003 or newer, "good reads" is 2002-1960 and "treasures" is anything 1960 or older. For the collectors items, stop by "rare and unusual." This is where I purchased my first first edition and I love it dearly.
  5. The different colored aprons are for different levels of participation with the booksale. Blue is for newbies, green is for 25+ years and orange is for 35+ years.
  6. Last year there were 1099 James Patterson books. Just imagine how many others are waiting to be discovered there this year.
  7. Any book VNSA thinks may not sell (overabundance of the title, less than pristine condition, etc) gets donated beforehand. Every book gets a good home :)
Now go impress your friends with your new found trivia and get even more stoked for this year's sale! Even more details can be found at the VNSA Book Sale Facebook page.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennes- see and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind.

Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal.

"Now look here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head.

"Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did."

Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar.

"The children have been to Florida before," the old lady said. "You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee."

The children's mother didn't seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, "If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?"

He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.

"She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said without raising her yellow head.

"Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?" the grandmother asked.

9 Unique Uses For a Dead Human Person

So, I've got a full on writer crush on Mary Roach. Fantastic. Fantastically amazingly fantastic. I found Stiff on my local Savers' shelf and scooped it up immediately. Not only had I been dying to read it for-e-ver, but it was a steal at $2. I am a bit dark in my tastes, so not all the information was new. But most of it was and all of it was written delightfully well. Now, for your reading pleasure, 9 unique uses for a dead human person. But please, please please please, pick up the work that inspired this list. It will be well worth your time. Promise.
1. Composting. I actually really like this idea. Instead of putting out noxious fumes to burn up flesh and bones to then pollute the air with ashes, why not give back to the earth? Try this instead: freeze dry your body, crush it up, mulch it and then nurture a memorial tree. I'm down. And I bet the tree will be grateful to.

2. Crash Test Dummies. I already was familiar with this idea, but reading about it made me more accepting of the practice. The floppy mannequinesque dolls that come to mind are only used once researchers know what levels of pressure to look for. And the only way to know how much pressure it takes to crack a human skull is to, well, crack a human skull. And when you think that 8,500 lives are saved a year by a few cadavers crashing into walls, it makes a lot more sense.

3. Penal Implants. You donate your skin with grand ideas of helping children burn victims. Which may happen. What also might happen- your skin is processed and used to cosmetically fill cougar's crows feet or make Mr. Tom's Little Tom a bit less little. But hey, I bet Little Tom is immensely grateful.

4. Forensic Decomposition. By far one of the grossest, and coolest, things to happen to a corpse. The University of Tennessee Medical Center runs a field research facility that studies the decomposition of human bodies under different, possible criminal, situations. Corpses are encased in concrete, left in shallow graves, left in car trunks, set adrift in ponds and stacked in garbage bags, to name a few. Chemical breakdown times are established by these disintegrating bodies which helps determine time of death. Police departments everywhere are grateful.

5. Sex. Yes, we've all heard of necrophilia, or more specifically, sexual actions with the deceased. But only 22 states have laws against it. So you'd better hope to die in Arizona or Nevada, because otherwise it's not a problem to have a good time before the embalming fluid sets in. I am quite sure this doesn't take place at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

6. Human Mummy Confection. The basic idea is to steep a human cadaver in honey, let sit for a hundred years until it all congeals, then use medicinally. The story goes that aging Arabic men would eat only honey until it killed them. Then their bodies would be bathed and laid to rest in honey for the requisite century. The resulting substance would usually be applied topically, but at times it would be ingested for the patient to receive the full benefits. Honey has since been proven to have antibacterial properties, but I have yet to hear anything about the health benefits of cannibalism.

7. Face-lift Testers. Donated bodies that have been utilized for organs or other purposes can find their heads literally ending up on the chopping block. Sliced off at the chin, heads are placed in roasting pans and a few lucky plastic surgeons can tweak the techniques that keep housewives looking plastic.

8. Airplane Crash Detectives. When planes crash, usually the wreckage tells the story. When planes crash in the ocean, and sink, the plane may be irretrievable and aviation pathologists must study the "human wreckage." For example, if most of the passengers died from broken ribs, punctured lungs or ruptured aortas, it's a good indication that they had all been alive before they hit the water. If there were body parts strewn about or shrapnel in the bodies, it's likely there was an explosion. So, even if you didn't survive the crash, you could still have a short career as a detective.

9. Art Displays. German anatomist von Hagen developed an highly controversial art exhibit composed of plastinated human bodies. At the time Stiff was written, the exhibit, Koperwelten, was only touring Europe. Now most major cities have hosted an exhibit of Koperwelten, better known as BodyWorlds. I have seen it myself and have to say it's quite an experience. For the most part they look like models, but then you get close enough to see eyelashes and you remember this used to be a member of someone's family. Educational and impactful. I recommend checking it out.

Whew! Quite the list! For those of you who were intrigued, I strongly suggest picking up Stiff. You will love it. For all the rest of you, I still suggest it. It's just a killer awesome book.

Sea Oak by George Saunders

At six, Mr. Frendt comes on the P.A. and shouts, "Welcome to Joysticks!" Then he announces Shirts Off. We take off our flightjackets and fold them up.
We take off our shirts and fold them up. Our scarves we leave on. Thomas Kirster's our beautiful boy. He's got long muscles and bright-blue eyes. The minute his shirt comes off two fat ladies hustle up the aisle and stick some money in his pants and ask will he be their Pilot. He says sure. He brings their salads. He brings their soups.
My phone rings and the caller tells me to come see her in the Spitfire mock-up. Does she want me to be her Pilot? I'm hoping. Inside the Spitfire is Margie, who says she's been diagnosed with Chronic Shyness Syndrome, then hands me an Instamatic and offers me ten bucks for a close-up of Thomas's tush.
Do I do it? Yes I do.
It could be worse. It is worse for Lloyd Betts. Lately he's put on weight and his hair's gone thin. He doesn't get a call all shift and waits zero tables and winds up sitting on the P-51 wing, playing solitaire in a hunched-over position that gives him big gut rolls.
I Pilot six tables and make forty dollars in tips plus five an hour in salary.
After closing we sit on the floor for Debriefing. "There are times," Mr. Frendt says, "when one must move gracefully to the next station in life, like for example certain women in Africa or Brazil, I forget which, who either color their faces or don some kind of distinctive headdress upon achieving menopause. Are you with me? One of our ranks must now leave us. No one is an island in terms of being thought cute forever, and so today we must say good-bye to our friend Lloyd. Lloyd, stand up so we can say good-bye to you. I'm sorry We are all so very sorry."
"Oh God," says Lloyd. "Let this not be true."
But it's true. Lloyd's finished. We give him a round of applause, and Frendt gives him a Farewell Pen and the contents of his locker in a trash bag and out he goes. Poor Lloyd. He's got a wife and two kids and a sad little duplex on Self-Storage Parkway.
"It's been a pleasure!" he shouts desperately from the doorway, trying not to burn any bridges.
What a stressful workplace. The minute your Cute Rating drops you're a goner. Guests rank us as Knockout, Honeypie, Adequate, or Stinker. Not that I'm complaining. At least I'm working. At least I'm not a Stinker like Lloyd.
I'm a solid Honeypie/Adequate, heading home with forty bucks cash.
. . .
At Sea Oak there's no sea and no oak, just a hundred subsidized apartments and a rear view of FedEx. Min and Jade are feeding their babies while watching How My Child Died Violently. Min's my sister. Jade's our cousin. How My Child Died Violently is hosted by Matt Merton, a six-foot-five blond who's always giving the parents shoulder rubs and telling them they've been sainted by pain.

Fall by Emma Donoghue

Harnessed and pillowed in her pod as tight as an unborn, Annie waits. Gives herself up. Too late to uncurl, scramble out, escape this watery fate. Knees to double chin, she can’t straighten so much as an elbow. Beyond all hope of an easy way out. Her lid is nailed down and it was she who paid the young boatman to do it, that’s the joke.

Her tapered barrel hangs upright in the water, bobbing on its rope. The wicked hag at the end of the fairytale gets packed in a barrel for her just deserts. Annie’s mummified in darkness. She adjusts her grip on the handles, twitches in her bindings. Her stomach is empty, in case she might vomit. One of the seams must be starting to give already, because Annie’s feet are wet.
Outside, she knows, the afternoon sun is glittering on the crowds that clog both shorelines. The motion picture company will have set their camera rolling. The bookies are offering a thousand to one on Annie coming through. Her manager has her letter in his pocket, fully exonerating him.

Discovering The Ampersand

So, my learning about writing has taken me in the direction of typography today and I am loving it. Having a bit of a background in psychology, I find it very interesting why some fonts are more pleasing, when they should be used and how people react to them. (There's a fun article on fonts causing controversy here).

But one of the most fun things I have found amidst surfing the web today was the ampersand. It's everywhere and it's a fun way through which to experience typography. This website devoted itself entirely to the ampersand and it's tons of fun. From quirky to ugly to tattooed, you can experience the ampersand in every possible way. Apparently there's a poem paying homage to this little character as well:

"But you, ampersand, oh, your voluptuousness,
how your rolling, round curves save me
from a comma splice. Why don’t you
comma little closer"

This beautiful snippet delighted me and I just had to share it. You can find the rest of the poem here (quite worth reading but not as brilliant as this verse) and should definitely check out the poet.

The ampersand truly is a beautiful expression of type and a perfect canvas to illuminate all the intricacies and charm of each font. I hope you have as much fun as I, discovering the &.......

Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov

From early morning the sky had been overcast with clouds; the day was still, cool, and wearisome, as usual on grey, dull days when the clouds hang low over the fields and it looks like rain, which never comes. Ivan Ivanich, the veterinary surgeon, and Bourkin, the schoolmaster, were tired of walking and the fields seemed endless to them.

Far ahead they could just see the windmills of the village of Mirousky, to the right stretched away to disappear behind the village a line of hills, and they knew that it was the bank of the river; meadows, green willows, farmhouses; and from one of the hills there could be seen a field as endless, telegraph-posts, and the train, looking from a distance like a crawling caterpillar, and in clear weather even the town. In the calm weather when all Nature seemed gentle and melancholy, Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin were filled with love for the fields and thought how grand and beautiful the country was.
"Last time, when we stopped in Prokofyi's shed," said Bourkin, "you were going to tell me a story."
"Yes. I wanted to tell you about my brother."
Ivan Ivanich took a deep breath and lighted his pipe before beginning his story, but just then the rain began to fall. And in about five minutes it came pelting down and showed no signs of stopping. Ivan Ivanich stopped and hesitated; the dogs, wet through, stood with their tails between their legs and looked at them mournfully.
"We ought to take shelter," said Bourkin. "Let us go to Aliokhin. It is close by."
"Very well."
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This work by H.E. Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.