Two Good Reasons to Celebrate December 14 - Shirley Jackson ("The Lottery" Author) & Clark Terry (Montreux Jazz Festival)
On July 29th of this year, the New Yorker magazine published "Paranoia," a recently discovered short story by Shirley Jackson, who was born on this date in 1916. By now, just about every high school student since the 1960's has read, "The Lottery," her most famous story, which the New Yorker published in 1948.
According to shirleyjackson.org, that story generated the "largest volume of mail ever received by the magazine - before or since - almost all of it hateful."
I re-read the story before penning this blog, and it still gives me chills. Of course, I'm predisposed to feel that way, given news reports pouring in from Centennial, Colorado, where a high school student took his own life after critically shooting another student, an innocent who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What makes me think of Jackson in this context is that everyone who knew the shooter said what a "nice" guy he was. That's exactly how you might describe any of the characters in "The Lottery." They're this neighborly, smiling group of small-town folk, gathered in the town square as if for a concert. You'd never know from all this "niceness" that they're about to stone a woman to death.
"Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon," the story's oldest character says nonchalantly. That's our clue that the poor victim is a scapegoat. In the Bible, a scapegoat was an actual animal upon whom the collective sins of the people had been placed. It strikes me that this is what our children have become. In last year's Newtown shootings and in Columbine, and now Centennial, to name the few that come quickly to mind, the children have been made to carry the sin of internalized violence about which we are largely unconscious.
Carl Jung wrote that "unconsciousness is sin," and that may be why we see the same dumfounded expressions - the same mindless search for answers, the same entrenched debate about guns - after each of these once unthinkable catastrophes. We're unconscious of how the acceptance of violence in our culture has separated us from sanity. We accept violent movies, TV shows, and video games. We agree to it in song lyrics. We watch it on the news while eating pizza and gulping soft drinks. We accept it the way Jackson's characters in "The Lottery" accept the terrible thing they are about to do. And it's anybody guess - the luck of the draw - which school-age child will become the next scapegoat, the bearer of our collective sin.
If you don't have a published copy of "The Lottery" handy, I've included a 10-minute film version (released in 2007) below. If little Davy looks familiar, it's Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, from The Omen. Be forewarned - the filmmakers changed it a little. But the basic idea is there. Also, the New Yorker published quite an interesting interview with Jackson's son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, in the same issue as "Paranoia," and you can find that here.
Moving on to a happier subject, jazz great Clark Terry turns 93 today. Born December 14th in Saint Louis, MO, he is best known as an innovator of flugelhorn jazz. But his work with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones has taken him through swing, hard bebop and eventually to the Jazz Masters Hall of Fame. The clip below features the birthday boy himself at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival in a performance of "Samba de Orfeu." Jazz fans will recognize Oscar Peterson on piano, Milt Jackson of the Modern Jazz Quartet on vibes. Ronnie Scott, Joe Pass (guitar), Niels Pedersen (bass), and Bobby Durham (drums). It's fourteen minutes of fun. Makes you feel like dancing, don't it? So go ahead, why don't you? There's nobody here but us chickens.
I'm a storyteller whose background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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