"And what is sin?"

"I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?"

from The White People by Arthur Machen


spooky news

Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed had apparently been dead since Monday with a single gunshot wound to one eye. He was slumped over a chair on the third-floor balcony of his apartment on Bora Bora Way, said cameraman Austin Raishbrook, who was on the scene Thursday when authorities were alerted to the body.

Neighbors told Raishbrook that they noticed the body Monday "but didn't bother calling authorities because it looked like a Halloween dummy," he said.

Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2009

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road yesterday, state police said.

The body, suspended about 4.5 metres above the ground, could be easily seen from passing vehicles.

State police spokesman Jeff Oldham and neighbours said people noticed the body at breakfast time but dismissed it as a holiday prank.

Associated Press, October 28, 2005

A bank robber in Loudoun County got into the Halloween spirit early when he slipped on a spooky mask, pulled out a handgun and demanded cash from tellers at a BB&T Bank, authorities said.

"This time of year Halloween masks are more prevalent in bank robberies," said Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell.

The Washington Examiner, October 27, 2009

The weeks leading up to Halloween can be a scary time, even for black cats.

Some city pet shelters and adoption agencies ban black-cat adoptions this time of year—fearful the felines could be used for religious or sacrificial purposes by groups engaged in witchcraft and paranormal communication.

Antonia Kwalick at Hope Veterinary Clinic in Boerum Hill recently used her feline instincts to thwart a potentially scary situation. A woman came into the clinic, hoping to swap her two tabbies for two black kittens. Kwalick turned her away.

"She was a little too freaky, a little too out there," Kwalick said, adding that the clinic maintains a rigid screening process.

amNewYork, October 28, 2008


opening lines

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was; but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil.

“The Fall of the House of Usher”


John Ashbery revising "Three Poems"

He puts a line through the sentence "At this point an event of such glamor and such radiance took place that you forgot the name all over again," but later he changes his mind and restores it. He crosses out "chimpanzee" and substitutes "tame bear." He crosses out "Pay attention to this passage, it could mean war." He crosses out "It is like being 'taken around' by a guide, or like visiting a big house on a hill before its contents are auctioned. There is so much one may wish to learn, and it all stops here—in the head." He rereads a little stanza he wrote on the first page and decides that it has to go:
When you flushed the toilet
And the shit boiled up
You said, Now is the time to act,
Act! Before the turds of your endurance
Disappear forever, say something,
Anything! But you live by avoiding
From left to right, carving a road so,
Old man.
New Yorker profile by Larissa MacFarquhar


John Ashbery revising

When he revises, the words he substitutes are often ones that sound like the ones he's replacing, or feel like them somehow, rather than synonyms. In recent poems, for instance, he has replaced "translucent" with "spiffy," "prisoners" with "pensioners," "unsurprising" with "undetonated," and "Just a little bit longer" with "Just a little critical wondering."

New Yorker profile by Larissa MacFarquhar


Ian Fleming revising

‘Scent and smoke hit the taste buds with an acid thwack at three o’clock in the morning.’ That was his first try. ‘Scent and smoke and sweat can suddenly combine together and hit the taste buds with an acid shock at three o’clock in the morning.’ That was his second. He got it right third time, with the sentence that became the opening line of his first book, Casino Royale: ‘The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.’

John Lanchester
London Review of Books


John Brown answers the slaveholding Senator Mason of Virginia in Charleston Prison, October 18, 1859

Mr. MASON What was your object in coming?

Mr. BROWN We came to free the slaves, and only that.

A YOUNG MAN (in the uniform of a volunteer company) How many men in all had you?

Mr. BROWN I came to Virginia with eighteen men only, besides myself.

VOLUNTEER What in the world did you suppose you could do here in Virginia with that amount of men?

Mr. BROWN Young man, I don't wish to discuss that question here.

VOLUNTEER You could not do anything.

Mr. BROWN Well, perhaps your ideas and mine on military subjects would differ materially.

Mr. MASON How do you justify your acts?

Mr. BROWN I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity—I say it without wishing to be offensive—and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly.

Mr. MASON I understand that.

Mr. BROWN I think I did right, and that others will do right who interfere with you at any time and all times. I hold that the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you," applies to all who would help others to gain their liberty.

read more


October 14-17 is the 150-year anniversary of John Brown's great raid on Harpers Ferry.

REPORTER OF THE HERALD I do not wish to annoy you; but if you have anything further you would like to say I will report it.

Mr. BROWN I have nothing to say, only that I claim to be here in carrying out a measure I believe perfectly justifiable, and not to act the part of an incendiary or ruffian, but to aid those suffering great wrong.

I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better—all you people at the South—prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled—this Negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet....

Q. Brown, suppose you had every nigger in the United States, what would you do with them?

A. Set them free.

Q. Your intention was to carry them off and free them ?

A. Not at all.

A BYSTANDER To set them free would sacrifice the life of every man in this community.

Mr. BROWN I do not think so.

BYSTANDER I know it. I think you are fanatical.

Mr. BROWN And I think you are fanatical. "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad," and you are mad.

Q. Was it your only object to free the Negroes ?

A. Absolutely our only object.

Q. But you demanded and took Col. Washington's silver and watch?

A. Yes; we intended freely to appropriate the property of slaveholders to carry out our object. It was for that, and only that, and with no design to enrich ourselves with any plunder whatever.

New York Herald, October 21, 1859.


But in fact it was January, the sky was dark and ugly;

it was not a sky you could look up into, lying on your back in the street, with pleasure, unless pleasure, for you, proceeded from having been threatened, from having been misused.

Donald Barthelme


Summer Reading (#12)

things magazine's Pelican Project


why I probably won't be able to finish my novel by the end of the year (and I have email)

“The distance is commonly very great between actual performances and speculative possibility. It is natural to suppose that as much as has been done to-day may be done to-morrow; but on the morrow some difficulty emerges, or some external impediment obstructs. Indolence, interruption, business, and pleasure, all take their turns of retardation; and every long work is lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten thousand that cannot, be recounted. Perhaps no extensive and multifarious performance was ever affected within the term originally fixed in the undertaker's mind. He that runs against Time has an antagonist not subject to casualties.”

Samuel Johnson
Lives of the Poets, re Pope's translation of the Iliad


why I should be able to finish my novel by the end of the year (and I have fewer distractions)

“Generally it took Simenon less than two weeks to write a complete novel. During a 44-year period which ended in 1972, Simenon produced four to five novels each year. In 1928 alone, he wrote 44 books. The next year, 34.

“Yet Simenon felt unfulfilled unless he made love to three or four different women each day.”

“The Man Who Loved 10,000 Women”
The Toledo Blade
May 23, 1993