February 28, 2016

"Well, her new husband certainly drinks. I saw him yesterday in the liquor store. Talk about divine-looking men!" Liz Carmody was a golf widow shaped like an outsize golf ball but without the little holes punched in. "Mr. Fenner told me, 'That's Madame Velanie's husband,' and I swear my nipples stood up and saluted when he passed us. He walks like a prowly tango."

- Beauty Sleep (1977)

February 7, 2016

A soft-footed maid ushered me into the chintzy, many-windowed living room of the Post apartment, where the World's Leading Authority on Etiquette held out her hand and said, "How nice of you to be so exactly on time." Having sat up half the night with her book, cramming my tousled pate full of such edicts as "A Lady Is Always Punctual," I had been so hell-bent on punctuality that I'd arrived in the downstairs lobby of the big hushed co-operative apartment building a full forty minutes early. Then I'd crouched, waiting, so that as the clock struck the hour, I could pop out like a cuckoo.

"Spilling Tea with Emily Post" (

January 17, 2016

Just as she showed instinctive skill with the plants, pruning, pinching, disbudding, grafting, feeding or not, she went at the pages with a sure hand and eye, attacking flabby transitions, misplaced prepositions, and the bevy of exclamation points she considered in a class with women who squeal, "You don't say!" "Imagine that!" In Chapter 4, she gouged out "eyes like lustrous pansies" that had been "glinting sapphire" six pages earlier, and substituted "sapphire" throughout because at least it was preferable to "lustrous pansies."

When she had finished ridding a manuscript of all these blights, she often felt the virtuous satisfaction of a gardener who's spent the day weeding and squashing bugs. But there were times, especially with bad novels, when it was hard to keep from putting on rubber gloves and ripping out whole hunks of a book like poison ivy, and in Chapter 5 she found a section that made her fingers itch. The lovers were talking baby talk in bed, making up playful nicknames for their intimate parts. If they had beaten each other with pink and blue ribbons, she couldn't have been more revolted.

-- Open the Door (1966)

January 15, 2016

While I was thus polluting the blank pads of paper intended for Art, the art teacher in grade school continued to have hopes for me, in the dogged belief that, being my mother's child, I just couldn't be that bad. Once a week, on Wednesdays, she came to the Fourteenth Street School, and we had a whirl at Art. While the other children were drawing houses with doors and chimneys and neat spirals of smoke coming out, the most I could manage was a lean-to. No smoke, no symmetry. I was equally wobbly on Halloween pumpkins, spring flowers tastefully arranged in a vase (which the teacher called a vawhse) and Christmas trees with a star on top. Stars, with all those points, drove me crazy. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I was the only child in class who became an artist's model.

The exotic role came to me at the age of eleven, when the Saturday morning art class ran out of subjects. The class had been organized by Mr. Ward, a small, gray-haired man who looked as though he'd break if you bent him in the middle. He had lived abroad for many years, but now he'd come back to Franklin, to squeeze out his last years, like dried up paint from a nearly empty tube, in doing portraits of citizens whose forbears had struck oil. On the side, he'd started the art class for twelve ladies, including Mother and Mrs. Ramspeck, all of whom paid two dollars a week for the privilege of studying under Mr. Ward.

They must have been terribly hard up for models, to choose me, and I must admit they tried my pretty sister first, but she squirmed too much. I had always had a talent for sitting static as a corpse, but it had been considered a rather unfortunate, negative talent until the art class got ahold of me.

-- from We Shook the Family Tree (1941)

June 9, 2014

I am less sympathetic with people who search for Freudian undertones in my art work. "Do you know what is symbolized when you painted that large red flower in the lower left-hand corner?" they ask in hushed tones. After I explain that the phone rang while I was holding my brush over the paper and, in leaping up to answer, I dropped a blob of red, which later was expanded into a flower because it looked less messy that way, they still act as if  my one impromptu posy were a dozen long-stemmed neuroses.

-- from "Look, I'm Framed!" (1949)

June 8, 2014

In this spirit, she had phoned and invited her neighbor over for drinks: "Bring your houseguest. Are you going to marry him?" She was old enough to say whatever she wanted to, although age had very little to do with it. She had usually said what she wanted to, from the age of eleven months on.

Men seldom objected to Lucy's frankness. She had been a beauty, and now, in her sixties, she still had the finely whittled bones, the flash and fire-- and sometimes the imperious ways-- of an indestructible belle. But not a Southern belle; Lucy was much too direct. Women were more put off by this then men. Grace Dillworth had shied away from the head-on frankness of "Are you going to marry him?" And she had gone on to commit the unforgivable (to Lucy) stupidity of refusing the invitation with top-of-the-tongue phrases like "take a rain check." One did N O T take a rain check for a command performance. Lucy, a solipsist, took a dim view of this."

-- from A Dying Fall (1973)

January 11, 2014

Mother always hoped that at least one of her children would be an artist. and since I was the oldest, she hoped hardest for me. Her method of encouraging this was to leave plenty of scratch pads and pencils and crayons around the house, but it soon became apparent that I am one of those who can draw a straight line-- and nothing more. Instead, I used the pencils and paper for my literary output. One day after I'd heard Mother reading the Jungle Book to Sally and Jimmy, I went up to my room with a new ambition. Soon my wails of agony reached through the house, and Mother came running upstairs frightened nearly silly. "What happened? What is it?" I pointed to an almost blank sheet of paper and wept anew. Mother stared at it anxiously, but she still couldn't make out what ghastly thing has befallen me. "I c-c-can't write like Kipling," I sobbed.

-from We Shook the Family Tree (1941)