Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Domestic Horror

Don't you hate it when people let months, even entire years go by without updating their blogs?

Me, too.


When I moved to New York City in 1996, I never intended to leave. About a year and a half ago, the fam and I moved to a small town in New Jersey. Most New Jersey small towns within a one-hour drive of New York City are considered suburbs, and ours is no exception. With housing prices in Brooklyn showing no sign of coming down any time soon, and with my husband working in Secaucus, moving seemed like a resigned evil.

So here we are.

That first summer in our new house -- like, a real house with a backyard and basement and a mailbox that doesn't require a key -- the kids were not in any kind of camp or daycare, I was working from home part time, and blogging seemed like one more chore to drag down my mood.

Then the kids started school and things got really hectic. There were issues. There was drama. There were problems. Getting us all through each day felt like a marathon. I kept waiting for that moment when everything would click into place and I'd finally feel like this was home, this was our life, and this was fine. Everyone kept telling me how happy I should be. So I kept waiting.

I also picked up a Shirley Jackson book.

Every once in a while I go on a book-buying freeze because I find that my to-read pile has grown out of control. Whether they were given to me, I won them, or bought them and forgot, when I find I have more than two dozen unread books in my house, I force myself to read those before I buy any more.

Years ago I had attended Book Expo America and since it was the last day of the convention people were giving away free books. I picked up "Come Along With Me," a collection of Jackson's short stories and lectures. And then I forgot about it.

Reading this book at the exact moment when living in small town suburbia felt more like the American Nightmare than the American Dream tapped into something deep down in my psyche that I couldn't put my finger on. Of course stories like "The Summer People" and "The Lottery" resonated with me, but what really piqued my interest were the details of Jackson's life and her personal essays. I followed "Come Along With Me" by reading "The Haunting of Hill House" and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and I felt like, "Where have these stories been my whole life?" It was like finding my literary True Love.

After "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," I bought and read "Life Among the Savages" and "Raising Demons," both collections of Jackson's personally essays on raising children in small-town America. And though those stories happened over five decades ago, they resonate with me today with their timeless themes of stubborn children, household chaos, and small town weirdness.

Now we've settled in to our "quaint" little piece of the suburbs just fine: the kids have friends and get invited to birthday parties; my husband and I have game nights with other couples; we've been to enough restaurants to have favorites; we all have library cards. Sometimes I don't hate it here, and I'm no longer scared to drive. The summer camps are much cheaper, the schools are amazing, and I know where to find NYC-worthy bagels. But it still feels weird to me and probably always will. I'm a city girl. I feel safe in cities, with their crowds and anonymity. Growing up in Miami and living my entire adult life in New York City, I've never felt out of place as a Jew; here, I'm definitely a minority. My kids went from a school in Brooklyn where at least a dozen other children had their same Hispanic last name, to being the only ones with that name here. And though our town is known for its enormous, fancy houses, we live in a smallish house on the less-desirable end of town and on my really good days I don't feel self-conscious about that.

I've written three new stories in the past three months, and one flash piece before that, all with the same theme: the horror within our own families. I call it "domestic horror," and I fully admit I am inspired by the Shirley Jackson. My flash piece, "I Forgot to Lock the Door," was written during that first summer here when I kept waiting for the "good for families!" part of our new town to show itself and felt, instead, like we had made a huge mistake in moving here.

So yes, it's been tough at times but it's getting easier. And yes, blogging seemed like the last thing I wanted to do for a while. At least now I feel less alone, both in my real life thanks to the friends I've made, and in my inner life, thanks to Shirley Jackson.


  1. Have you ever read Dandelion Wine?

    Yeah, the blogging - mine has sort of sat there for around a year, after a burst of Norse-inspired enthusiasm. Luckily, *cough* nobody was that upset when I stopped, so I've got that going for me!

    We recently started (well, I guess more than a year, now) a monthly game night thing. It's fantastic. My wife knows that basically all I need socially to look forward to is a little gaming.

  2. Haven't read it, but I'll check it out. :-)

    *I* miss your blogs.

    If you're ever in northern NJ, we'll have to have a game night! What do you like to play? A couple of our friends out here are, like, super hardcore board gamers and have introduced us to Betrayal at Hill House (which I love) and Pandemic.

    1. We love Pandemic! So far we've played about six games, and have about a 50% survival rate, which seems pretty good. We like the usual types of games: Settlers of Cataan, Shadows over Camelot is fun, City of Horror. I've been wanting to learn Betrayal at House on the Hill for a while (we have it) but haven't gotten a chance (maybe this month...). I reached a certain point where I was like "I'm tired of not playing games!" Of course, after 30 years off I started playing D&D again, so there's that :-)

      Anytime y'all come to Chicago ;-P