Once upon a time no one understood what I was saying.

This is not a metaphor.

When I was a baby, back when dinosaurs roamed the land, the fashion was for women not to breast-feed their babies. Formula was so scientific! So modern! Regrettably, formula came in bottles, and bottles had nipples. Not the nice kind with the small human-shaped nipple, but the big elephant-nipple kind made out of rubber as thick as old boots.

If you were a small child, trying to get nourishment from a very big baby bottle, sometimes a Very Bad Thing would happen. Instead of swallowing with your tongue behind your top teeth...

try it now. See?...

...you would swallow with your tongue behind your bottom teeth. And if you were regularly fed with a baby bottle, you would get used to swallowing that way.

In the speech improvement trade, that’s called “reverse swallow.”

No big deal, right?


Your top teeth are embedded in bone that’s part of your skull. They’re very strong. There’s a ridge right behind them, and the tongue, which is a big piece of muscle and quite strong, can press against them and not do much harm.

Your lower teeth are part of your lower jaw, which is much less strong.

So your lower teeth and lower jaw are deformed because of the action of your tongue. I once met an 18-year-old, at Harvard, with reverse swallow, who had lost almost all of his teeth.

The muscles of your tongue develop differently, too.

You don’t have the right musculature to say some sounds correctly. Since everyone sounds fine to themselves, you don’t hear that you aren’t making them correctly.

And when I say “you,” that would be me.

So, see above: Once upon a time no one understood what I was saying. The reverse-swallow phenomenon had developed fairly recently, so no one knew what might be the cause.

They decided I was mentally defective.

Cannibals: Owen Chase and Samuel Fisher

Tonight I saw the American Experience story on whaling, “Into the Deep,” very good and moving.  It was largely about the Essex, an American whaling ship that was wrecked by a sperm whale in 1820.  The survivors were at sea for 93 days, three months, in a small whaling boat.  They resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive, eating first the men who had died, then choosing others by lot, shooting them, and eating them. 

Here is one of the survivors, Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex.  “Late in life he began to hide food in his attic, had headaches beyond his control, and eventually had to be institutionalized.”

There’s no picture of Samuel Fisher: no portrait and certainly no photograph.   He came over from England in 1740.  He was about 17.  The boat on which he came over would be called “the Starved Ship.”  The man who victualled him and his fellow emigrants didn’t approve of their religion, and he gave them bad food.

Halfway across the ocean, they discovered they had nothing left.  It was too far to go back. 

“The vessel was so scantily provisioned and the voyage so unusually long, that before it was nearly completed, the rations had to be divided among the passengers and crew, each person receiving one pint of oatmeal and a small quantity of fresh water. Samuel Fisher later recalled going to the mate with a tablespoon to obtain some water, which was refused him, there being but two-thirds of a bottleful on board on which to survive. Samuel Fisher's custom was to take a spoonful of meal, moisten with seawater, and eat it raw.”

Eventually people began to die, and like the crewmen of the Essex, the survivors began to eat the bodies. Eventually those who were going to die did and the rest began to get well.  They chose by lot.

Samuel Fisher got the short straw.

That was on a Sunday, and one cannot kill one’s fellow man on a Sunday.  They determined to kill him on the Monday morning.  And early on the morning of that day, they sighted a ship, coming out from America and still well-suppied with food.

“So deep an impression did the horrors of this passage make upon the mind of young Samuel that, in later life, he could never see, without pain, the least morsel of food wasted, or a pail of water thrown carelessly on the ground. He always afterward had more than ample supplies of food stored in his root cellar.”  He became a deacon of the church in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and is buried there, in back of Mack’s Apples.  The Macks are among his descendants, and so am I.

I see him here, in a photograph from the 1860s, fifty years after he died.  I imagine him looking out at the apple trees of Londonderry, with the same thousand-yard stare as Owen Chase, and telling over to himself, obsessively, the number of jars, of bottles, of barrels of food stored in the cellar.

  • Information about Samuel Fisher from Helen Gibson, via <http://www.sprague-database.org/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I87397&tree=SpragueProject>; most of it is also to be found in The Family of Samuel Fisher
  • "Into the Deep":  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/whaling/
  • On one of his whaling voyages, the young Herman Melville met Owen Chase's son, who gave him a copy of Chase's book about the experience.  Haunted by the story, Melville used the tragedy of the Essex as the basis for Moby Dick.
  • Read the book, Nathaniel Philbrick's Into the Heart of the Sea


It's real!

Reading In Color: Waiting on Wednesday: The Other Side of Dark ...: "Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine. In this meme you share what new book you are eagerly awaiting on this week. This week..." Thank you, Ari at Reading in Color, for featuring The Other Side of Dark today!

And thank you, Katelyn, for mentioning my baby at The Bookshelf Sophisticate!

It must be a real book.



Well, everyone else hated it, but for me,  Peter Jackson turns CGI into poetry.  I had some real reservations about the script...
SPOILER ALERT just in case you've spent the last few years with your head culturally in a bag

...do you really want to spend eternity in heaven with the other victims of your serial killer?  This strikes me as an insufficient basis for an eternal friendship, even among the truly cliched Girls that the other victims are, boo hiss...
but the acting is excellent all through.  Mark Wahlberg does a tremendous job as the father. 

And there is one moment that would be worth seeing the film for even if the rest was considerably less accomplished than it is.  At the end of the film, Susie finally gets her first kiss from her dream boyfriend.  And, heartbreakingly, it's obvious that he's now too old for her.  He's gone on to have a later and more mature relationship, and Susie never will.  Tragedy off the back of the wrist, all the more powerful for being made nothing of. 


Introducing Me

Hi, I’m Sarah Smith.  I write things.

In about two months, I’m going to have a new book out, The Other Side of Dark. It’s my first YA novel--not a difference in writing, but a big difference in the editing and publishing process.  You'll hear.

Currently I’m writing:
  • A novel about the Titanic, African American New York culture in 1912, and trust in marriage--at least that’s what it’s about today.
  • A play, based on my novel Chasing Shakespeares
  • A proposal for a book about mind invasion (Inception, anyone?)
I’m also trying to face up to a project that’s going to make me interview people whose children have been murdered.  Really scary.  I don’t want to.

In my day life, I do customer service for the Mastering group at Pearson.  So I also write articles, create videos, and fix lots and lots of issues for customers.  When you’re registering for MasteringPhysics, MasteringChemistry, MasteringEngineering, and all those, and something goes wrong, and you put in a ticket to get it fixed?  That would be me.  And many other skilled people, thank goodness.

Most recently published thing is a story, “The Boys Go Fishing,” in Death's Excellent Vacation, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner.  A fun project, not only because the story was a hoot to write, but because the anthology is doing very well:  #8 on the NY Times List, also on the PW, USA Today, and Bookwire bestseller lists!

This is why my new iPad is named Charlaine.