Sep. 30, 1998

His Father's Whistle

by Robert Wrigley


Today's Reading: "His Father's Whistle" by Robert Wrigley from WHAT MY FATHER BELIEVED, published by University of Illinois Press (1998).

It's the FEAST OF ST. JEROME, commemorating the early scholar of the scriptures, Jerome. He was born in Croatia in 347, and made one of the first translations and revisions of the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin.

It's the birthday of poet W.S. MERWIN, born in Union City, New Jersey, 1927, the author of 15 books of poetry, including in 1970, The Carrier of Ladders, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's TRUMAN CAPOTE's birthday, born Truman Streckfus Persons, in New Orleans, 1924, author of In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and other books and short stories. He grew up in his mother's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, sent there from New Orleans by his mother who claimed she was not suited to being a parent. His aunts and cousins raised him until he was nine years old. He said, "I felt like a turtle on its back, so different from everyone, so much more intelligent and sensitive and perceptive. I was having 50 perceptions a minute to everyone else's five. I always felt that nobody was going to understand me, going to understand what I felt about things. That's why I started writing. At least on paper I could put down what I thought."

The first volume of Louisa May Alcott's book LITTLE WOMEN was published on this day in 1868. The story of four sisters, whom Alcott describes like this: "Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft, brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt; for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a fly-away look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman, and didn't like it. Elizabeth was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her `Little Tranquillity.' Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person—in her own opinion at least. A regular snow-maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair, curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners."

RALPH WALDO EMERSON and his fiancee, ELLEN LOUISA TUCKER got married this day in 1829. Emerson at that time was a 27-year-old Unitarian preacher and had just been ordained at Second Church, Boston. Two years after Emerson and Tucker married, she died of tuberculosis, and in grief he left the ministry and began writing full-time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's final opera, THE MAGIC FLUTE, was premiered on this day in 1791 in Vienna; the story of Pamina and her mother, the Queen of the Night; and Tamino, an Egyptian prince; and the bird catcher, Papageno. The premiere took place at a big, barn-like theater on the outskirts of Vienna, and the audience loved it because some of the arias were like folk songs.

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  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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