De la musique avant toute chose

Of music before everything

(I don’t remember why I had chosen that French verse for my—very rare—music posts, but although pretentious, I still kind of like it. Because Verlaine was right and writing is nothing if not music.)

Anyway, the song I wanted to share today is Karen Elson’s The Ghost Who Walks. Hauntingly beautiful though slightly depressing (but I find all good music depressing, or rather I find only sad music beautiful).

Have a beautiful Sunday!

KAREN ELSON, The Ghost Who Walks

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life


i hope the three (okay, i exaggerate—two) readers of this blog will forgive me for my ongoing obsession with shirley jackson that makes me post continuously only about her. both her life and her writing have been indescribably inspiring to me and i do not want to lose this surge of energy I’ve been experiencing as a result.

i finished the new biography, shirley jackson: a rather haunted life, by ruth franklin. for a while there i thought i wouldn’t be able to go through with it so soon after reading private demons. some of the same correspondence quotes were cited and some of the same significant life events highlighted, but the book was different enough to keep me reading, and i became engrossed very quickly.

it felt like this new biography brought to light a lot of new material. i liked that it focused a bit more on stanley hyman, shirley jackson’s literary critic husband, who had a big influence on her writing, and his own career upheavals felt very relevant. Otherwise, for a second there my feminist radar went up because we shouldn’t be focusing on any man, no matter how important a figure, in the biography of a brilliant woman writer. but i revised my opinion as i kept reading–it was necessary and illuminating.

i appreciated the more nuanced approach to shirley jackson’s private troubles, like the weight struggle and her relationship with her mother, and i felt like the whole book created a very human, very approachable jackson, without taking anything away from the uniqueness of her work. the book is scattered with quotes from publishing industry professionals who are in awe of her writing at the time, which is interesting. it almost seems like there are two camps of critics of shirley jackson: those who cannot think highly enough of her, and those who put her down as a minor writer who never aimed high enough (she wrote for women’s magazines! horror of horrors!).

now i really should be moving on to reading more of her novels and stories. the first will probably be the bird’s nest, a novel about multiple personalities.

p.s. i didn’t use capitalization in this blog post in shirley jackson’s honor—she used to write like this. it feels very wrong and a little freeing.

Private Demons, The Life of Shirley Jackson

jackson-shirley-family1I just finished reading the 1988 Shirley Jackson biography by Judy Oppenheimer and I am in a trance. It happens often when I read biographies: I lose all sense of myself and become that other person in my head. So I am Shirley Jackson right now, ask me anything about witchcraft, I own thousands of books on the topic.

It is rare these adult days of mine that I enjoy a book so much I am sad when it’s over, but it happened with this biography. It creates such an absorbing world that it becomes painful to disconnect from it.

What I particularly connected to were Shirley Jackson’s struggles as a mother who wrote in her spare time, whatever was left. I understood how she often had to prioritize: kids went with hair uncombed for weeks, they were unsupervised most of the time, the house was very messy, and so on. It is interesting that she is seen as a 50s woman who embraced motherhood and homemaking, when she didn’t actually seem to have been too preoccupied with any of it too much. Yes, she raised four children (well, she died quite young, so they were not all completely raised) and she lived in huge mansions where she did most of the housework, but she seemed to have been quite relaxed about what all those responsibilities entailed. And of course she had to be, because otherwise there would never have been time for any writing.

Most disturbing about this book was the need of the author to mention Shirley Jackson’s weight innumerable times. She was fat, grotesque, huge, not the way people expect a writer to look. Ugh! So upsetting! This is not her legacy. Nobody cares. What I mean, of course, is that nobody would care if she were a man. But a woman cannot just be brilliant, she must be good looking at the same time. Disturbing, to say the least.

Even with such a systemic effort to diminish the greatness of her shadow, the Shirley Jackson brought to life by this book is a memorable, awe-inspiring, cult-following worthy figure.

Now I can’t wait for the Ruth Franklin biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life,  which will be released by the end of this month. Such perfect timing!

Gothic mood

peonies, bookshelf and shadowsShirley Jackson called herself a witch and had a deep interest in the occult, which she studied and practiced throughout her life. According to her biographer, she had had visions since childhood. She could see things that were not there.

I have been feeling a stronger turn toward the dark lately. Maybe I’ve been watching too much horror on TV. Just finished the second season of Penny Dreadful. Oh, how I loved it! Give me all the Gothic horror tropes, and I’m in heaven. Penny Dreadful even used my favorite ever, Dorian Gray.

Maybe it’s fall approaching. Maybe it’s just my having completely fallen in love with Shirley Jackson and seeing in it a sort of sign for guidance in my own writing career. I don’t know. Part of it it’s also accepting that it has always been there, lurching. I was almost shocked when someone described my first book as “dark”. I had never seen it that way, but I had to admit the assessment to be right. In spite of myself. Because what I wanted was a book that reflected a sense of optimism, as I was—at the time—that readers should be left with hope and a feeling that life is not all bad. Apparently I never succeeded and now I don’t mind is so much anymore.

I think from now on I’ll just give up and surrender to whatever darkness overcomes me. Why fight it? I am working on a full-blown Gothic story right now. Feels good.

Finished this other book

Blog book the end

It’s a strange feeling. I don’t even know what “finished” means. I basically decided that all the threads were connected and there was nothing new I wanted to add, and I could bear it if someone actually read the thing.

I couldn’t tell you at this point how I feel about this book. I feel some sort of attachment to it, I want it to do well in the world and not get too bruised when it inevitably gets hit, but I am not sure how much I believe in it. But the truth is that the more I keep it under wraps, the more I doubt it, and as soon as it gets out there, I start to feel defensive of it. When I think of it as something that’s now independent, on its own feet, I don’t begrudge it so much. The weird little creature that it is.

I’ve been working on it since I was pregnant with my son (he is three now) and parts of it have been brewing for much longer than that. Still, it never feels like enough. I could put a few more years in, easy. But it is time. It will not necessarily become better if I put more time in, probably the opposite is true: it would become even more entangled and confusing than it already is (working on solving that problem now).

Writing a novel is very involved work and requires a lot of dedication and clear-mindedness. My dedication weavers with my children’s moods and my mind is more often than not blurred by lack of sleep and too many disturbances and distractions. Raising a toddler is not work that really goes hand in hand with writing a novel.

I used to believe that women might have an advantageous position in the writing world because they can legitimately take this break from work to raise their children and they can use that time for writing. But raising children is full time work. Not only full time, but all-time, uninterrupted, back-breaking, soul-crushing work. There isn’t much you can do at the same time. Surely, not writing a book. I mean, yes, there are some brilliant people out there who still do it and do it well; I, on the other hand, just seem to be failing at both.

Anyway, a milestone. Now the creature is already tormenting someone else. I’m free! Well, not exactly free, but less burdened: I’m no longer alone with it in the room. I might actually escape this one too!

I’m with her


I think I’m going to spend the rest of the year in tears. Hillary Clinton has become the first woman presidential nominee from a major party in the US. It’s ridiculous that it’s happening only in 2016, but nevertheless it feels like such a gigantic moment, I can’t bear it. It’s a beautiful day!

Sewing: the summer boxy top

It started last summer. Actually, I have been saving this post from last summer too, I know, much of a blogger I am not. But the madness continues: I keep making and wearing these easy boxy tops that have become almost a uniform. Most of them from recycled materials too, I realize now.

Last summer I made (and photographed) these three you can see here. The two top ones were made from old curtains. When we first moved into our house, I ordered linen online and made curtains for every room. I replaced them almost everywhere by now, and I am using the fabric for other things. The bottom, navy blue top is made from a length of fabric I found at the thrift store, for about three dollars.

These are the most comfortable, easy to wear and easy to make tops I have ever had the pleasure of having in my closet. I’m not a good seamstress: I’m most afraid of (bad at) cutting and sewing the shoulder curves of blouses. But these tops have a dolman sleeve (not too loose, though). So for these tops I copied the pattern from an older blouse (which I might have even bought originally for the exact reason that I could copy its pattern).

patterntopsummerSometimes I don’t even trace any pattern or measure anything—I just cut something similar to this shape. It usually turns out okay anyway, it’s that easy.

summertops2My favorite of the tops I made last year is the lighter colored one, which is of a heavier linen weight. I probably wear it once a week. Here it is below:

These tops work best with jeans or other more tailored pants. I don’t like them as much with linen or lightweight pants, although that works too for very hot days or beach outings. I do wear them over maxi dresses too (the more lightweight of the tops, which is also shorter, work great like that).

summertops4I wear this navy blue one the least, because of the color. First of all, all my clothes are these days either black or white (off-white) and this is navy—doesn’t feel right. Then, since my bottoms are always either black or blue (as in jeans), it doesn’t create a lot of contrast in the outfit, so I’m not crazy about it. If I ever get some light grey jeans, which I’m kind of looking for, I think it will look great with those.

There is also a dress-version of this pattern (just longer and curved a little back toward the hem, for a bit of a cocoon effect) which I wear for the beach, although my husband says that I look like I’m from a cult. Whatever. What’s so bad about that, right?

This year I made two more of these tops: one light blue, from another piece of linen fabric found at the thrift store, and one ivory colored, from a silk-cotton blend fabric that I had made into a sling for the baby three years ago and maybe carried him in that twice.

And just to contradict myself, this is in no way exclusively a summer top; of course I made one or two of these for cold weather also, to be worn over long-sleeved tees or dresses, instead of a cardigan.


It’s too much already, but I have plans for more. This might be the only thing that I can sew properly and I’m getting better at it, so I think I’ll go on. And on. Nobody stop me. It doesn’t hurt that I like the look a lot, and it’s still kind of in this summer, I think—I’m not that much of an expert. Doesn’t really matter, since this is really it for me and I’ll wear this style forever and ever. It’ll be my signature. My uniform.  And we’ll walk together, hand in hand, forever, until the end of the world.

Or until I get bored, whichever comes first. (Boredom will most likely come first, but for the purpose of this post, let’s stay with the forever and ever.)

To curate and style or not to curate and style?

pink flower on black_small I have been spending more time on Instagram in the past few months than on any other social media. I enjoy the visual impact and the brevity it entails. I also enjoy the debate it often generates. I enjoy following those people who react against the trends, who speak up against the pretty but unrealistic styling, against “personal branding,” against curating our lives to death, etc. These people think beyond what’s being served to them, beyond the rules that we’re told work, and they care more about their own personal stance and view of the world than about making it big by following in the footsteps of those who already did.

That being said, I can’t really do what they do. I can’t really speak with the same conviction because although I see the fault of trends, I also see their allure, and although I understand how they suck you in and make you “inauthentic,” I also value the aesthetic they often bring along.

I got sucked into minimalism. I like flat lays and tidy object arrangement photography. I like black and white. Uniforms. I don’t mind a good photo of coffee. Next to a book. Next to a pair of glasses, that obviously should rest on the photographer’s nose, not on the table. I admire clear, well-defined, well-constructed, honest (when I can tell) personal brands. I like a good photo of any kind. If it tells me a story.

It’s not all bad, is it? Obvious, painstakingly styled images are aplently, sure, but that’s the risk. I can recognize from afar a formulaic Web presence. Even then I sometimes cannot stay away, if it’s well done, with just a small dose of individuality, effort and intelligence.

There are always many followers of anything that has worked for someone at some time. Not everyone does it well. Not everyone succeeds all the time. And when we’re online, none of us is authentic. We’re someone we want to be. A construct.  We’re always selling something online, in exchange for money or something else (I prefer the money, much more straightforward). We always have a purpose online. And I think it’s wonderful, especially since so many of us lack purpose in real life. But that makes us deceitful at times. At least by omission. And that is fine too, I think.

Curate and style all you want, I say, as long as you have a reason for it and that reason is apparent, so that I can make up my mind quickly if I’m interested. As long as I can tell that you strongly believe in what you’re selling. I don’t need much more than that.

I don’t have many pet peeves. Maybe none. But I know many people who do. They are opinionated, wonderful people, probably with tons more personality than I can handle. I find myself more often than not understanding all sides of a debate. Well, sure I do have my limitations there too, but they are pretty basic and common. I am not one to raise my voice on one side or another of a debate, usually, because most times both sides make sense to me. Sometimes it takes some work to reach there, but I strive for it. However, I am quite taken with people who can take unfaltering stands and defend their position as the only one of merit while deriding all others. How sparkly and fascinating they are! A bit judgemental, sure, and can put me off sometimes, but then, they can’t be perfect, or I’d probably hate them.

P.S. I am not making an argument here against taking stands. That is always a good thing and we should all do it. I just don’t know how necessary it is to try to prove that I can be right only when others are wrong. My voice might not be as thunderous when I don’t disparage others, and I might not get as many applauds from the crowds hungry for an adversary, but I hope I might stay closer to the truth and more humanistic, which is always my aim.