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I didn’t actually read anything today.  I’m in San Francisco.  I did, however, see a Eudora Welty postcard at City Lights Bookstore and felt a nicely warmed by that little piece of home.

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I didn’t accomplish much in the way of reading today, but I did make progress on the plans for the Welty Birthday celebration at JCJC on April 13.  We’ll have programs starting at 9:30 and going to 12:20 in the Home Health Auditorium.

Right now, the program looks like this:

9:30      Conversations About Eudora Welty  (Beverly Fatherree and Sharon Gerald)

10:30    Mississippi Photographers and Welty with the WPA  (Mark Brown)

11:30    Southern Humor and Welty’s Fiction  (Tammy Townsend and Marcia Adkins)

Everyone is welcome to treat themselves to lunch afterward in the school cafeteria.  We’ll have coffee, cake, and a book discussion on Welty’s Collected Stories at 1:30 in the faculty dining hall.

Bring yourself.  Bring your students.  Enjoy!

Marshall Ramsey, cartoonist for Jackson’s Clarion Ledger, spoke at the Creating Futures Through Technology Conference.  Most of the cartoons he showed had political themes, as might be expected.  He had one about the passing of Eudora Welty, though, and I wish I could post a copy here.  It showed her atop the clouds with William Faulkner, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Willie Morris, all great authors from Mississippi.  The caption showed Willie Morris saying, “It’s not Mississippi, but it’s still Heaven.”  Great stuff.  I did appreciate that he took time out from political mockeries to pay homage to Welty.  I also appreciated that he picked that cartoon to show us at the technology conference.

Welty’s “The Wide Net” is the funniest story ever.  Read it.  Read it.  Read it.

Today marks the first full month of the blog.  It feels like a real accomplishment.  I’ve been busy.  This week I have been sick.  But I have not missed a day.  I’m not sure what that’s worth, though it does feel good to me to know I am sticking with it even when it is hard.

In this month I’ve blogged my way through one full story collection and one novel.  That’s about where I thought I would be, and it puts me fairly well on target to have blogged all of Welty’s short stories and novels by her birthday month of April.

I know this is going to get harder.  In February, I have two conferences, and in March I have one.  I hope I can say by April that I still haven’t missed a day, but we will see.

I also would like to say that I’ll keep this up for one full year, moving on to secondary works once I’ve blogged through Welty’s fiction, and then coming back again to her stories after reading the biographers and critics.  It’s a dream.  I don’t know how realistic it is given how busy I am, but I’m going to make a stab at it.

When I finish my year of Welty, I’d really like to move on to other writers–Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Zora Neal Hurston, Carson McCullers, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, etc.  If it had occurred to me before I started that I might be interested in continuing to blog my daily reading on an ongoing basis, I might have had the foresight to pick another name for my blog.   Oh, well.  With one month down, I have eleven to go to think up a name for a new blog dedicated to a new author.

Read about the Southern Literary Trail and Welty and Welty on the Southern Literary Trail.

http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/

Other Mississippi Writers are featured as well, along with great writers from all across the South, as you might expect from the name.

Today is the last day of my conference.  Tomorrow I should be back to story blogging.  For now, enjoy the link.

from Welty’s “Powerhouse”:

“When somebody, no matter who, gives everything, it makes people feel ashamed for him.”

That seems like plenty to say for one day.

The NCTE has designated October 20, 2009 as the National Day on Writing, my morning’s email informs me.  Go to their website for information:

http://www.ncte.org/action/dayonwriting

I’ve been thinking about putting together a story writing workshop with Welty as sample, prompt, backdrop, and everything else.  Maybe I need to tie this in somehow to the National Day on Writing.

What kind of to-do could we put on at JCJC for this?  What might you do at your own school?  Would you consider submitting yours or your students’ writing to the national archive?

My next story is “Powerhouse,” one I do love.  Tomorrow, I may even talk about it.  Today, I’m pressed for time and intrigued by the NCTE announcement.  Brainstorm with me if you will.  I’m sure I’ll post more about this later.

At first glance, I thought Mr. Marblehall was an ordinary story with extraordinary description.  At second, I thought was a strange, perhaps semi-macabre story, verging on a shock value it would never quite reach.  Then I reached the end, and “Old Mr. Marblehall” turned downright brilliant on me.

 

Consider this as a lesson in descriptive detail:

 

His wife, back at home in the parlor standing up to think, is a large, elongated old woman with electric-looking hair and curly lips.  She has spent her life trying to escape from the parlor-like jaws of self-consciousness.  Her late marriage has set in upon her nerves like a retriever nosing and puffing through old dead leaves out in the woods.

 

This is not from the book that won Welty the Pulitzer, but there are people who have won them without equaling these sentences.  I live to find occasion to say “the parlor like jaws of self-consciousness” or “set in upon her nerves like a retriever.”

 

I would have loved the story for such passages whether anything ever happened in it or not.  But things did happen, or at any rate they didn’t happen in a way that was plenty happening.

 

Mr. Marblehall had a secret.  He was Mr. Marblehall and Mr. Bird.  He was the father to both Mrs. Marblehall’s son and Mrs. Bird’s son.  When he traveled supposedly for his health, he merely went across town to be his other self. 

 

That’s the part where things get weird.  They turn brilliant in the last few paragraphs. 

 

We’re told that one day the son of Mr. Bird will follow his father until he discovers Mr. Marblehall’s home, a stately place rather than a small bungalow, a manor with a box maze and door knocker that gaps open “like a gasping fish.” He’ll be exposed, his duplicity discovered by one and all.  We’re told Marblehall has a penchant for the macabre.  He loves to read tales of terror.  He reads them, and he imagines what will happen when he is discovered:  “how his two wives would topple over, how his sons would cringe.”

 

Then we are left to ponder this:  “What if nothing ever happens?  What if there is no climax, even to this amazing life?  Suppose old Mr. Marblehall simply remains alive, getting older by the minute, shuttling, still secretly, back and forth?”

 

And:  “Nobody cares.  Not an inhabitant of Natchez, Mississippi, cares if he is deceived by old Mr. Marblehall.”

 

What if nothing ever happens?  The question itself is a commentary both on the nature of life and the nature of story-telling.  People crave shocking climaxes in either case, but often in life they simply continue shuttling back and forth.  When story functions as mimesis for life, that’s what we get there as well.  We’ll be disappointed if we hope that anyone will topple over at the climax. 

 

Welty doesn’t tell how this story ends.  She gives us the questions and leaves us to ponder.  That’s what gives the story it’s power.  We, as readers, have to decide if it’s true that nothing will happen and no one will care, if we care enough to be sad for Marblehall in that case. 

 

We aren’t told, but we are given some wisdom to help us decide.  This is what “people are supposed to do”:  “they endure something inwardly—for a time secretly; they establish a past, a memory:  this they store up life.”

 

Either way, whether nothing or something happens, Mr. Marblehall has been storing up life times two.  He stores it up the way anyone else would, the way anyone’s story would, the way we do as we read and endure our thoughts of it inwardly.

 

As I read, I thought of the story as a metaphor for Natchez itself.  At first I thought, “How could he have two little boys who look alike without anyone noticing?”  Then I thought, “Ah, but it’s Natchez, and while one boy lives among the upper crust, the other exists in the working class.”

Natchez is like that.  Any small Mississippi town with claims to a rich class is.  These towns are like families cheating on themselves, comprised of two completely separate identities, nearly unknown to one another. 

 

I don’t know Welty’s intention, but I do have to wonder if the split personality of the town in some way inspired the story.  That gives me something to think about the next time I go to Natchez, and think about it I will.

I overslept this morning and came to work without my Collected Stories.  I also found myself at something of a loose end when my major task of the day was to update Blackboard course sites, and Blackboard went down for the count.

But never fear.  The day is not lost.  We are planning a party at Jones County Junior College.   Join us if you can on April 13, 2009 for Miss Welty’s 100th birthday bash.  Even Stella-Rondo might be there.

I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but Drs. Townsend and Gerald are shopping for 1940s attire, and Dr. Campbell has been sent to the dollar store for hair rollers and balloons. 

It will be fun.  There will be cake.  Accidental learning could take place.  Details to follow.