Oct. 22, 1998

Young and Old

by Charles Kingsley


Today's Reading: "Young and Old" by Charles Kingsley.

The 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature was announced on this day, given to the French writer, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, who later that day turned it down. He said, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution." And later that year, in his book, The Words, he said, "I have never thought I was the happy possessor of a 'talent.' My sole concern has been to save myself by work and faith. All the same, books do serve some purpose. Culture doesn't save anything or anyone, it doesn't justify. But it's a product of man; he projects himself into it, he recognizes himself in it; that critical mirror offers him his image."

It's the anniversary of the CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, 1962. President Kennedy had received photographs from U-2 spy planes over Cuba that showed the Soviet Union installing nuclear missiles and launch sites. He went on the air live nationally on October 22 and announced that Cuba would be placed under a naval "quarantine" until the Soviets removed them. For a few days, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Then, on October 28, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles.

It's TIMOTHY LEARY's birthday, the psychologist and advocate of hallucinogenic drugs, born in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1920. He was teaching psychology at Harvard University in 1963, when he gave the hallucinogen psilocybin to a class of 400 students and urged them and others to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." He got fired for it, but continued to preach the benefits of drugs like LSD in the pursuit of spiritual and political freedom, or just for the fun of it.

It's the birthday of DORIS LESSING, the British novelist and short-story writer born in Iran, in 1919. Her father was serving in the army there when she was born, then the family moved to a farm in Rhodesia where she was raised. She said: "Writers brought up in Africa have many advantages—being at the center of a modern battlefield; part of a society in rapid, dramatic change. But in the long run it can also be a handicap: to wake up every morning with one's eyes on a fresh evidence of inhumanity; to be reminded 20 times a day of injustice, and always the same brand of it, can be limiting."

It's the anniversary of the GREAT SPANISH INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC of 1918. The disease actually started that spring in China and spread by the movement of sailors and soldiers fighting the last months of WWI. The highest casualties were in China, though it was called the Spanish flu because in Spain it spread particularly fast. It was on this day that fatalities from the flu reached their peak. In all, over 21 million people died from the disease, a half-million Americans, 19,000 in New York City alone.

It's the birthday in Norman, Oklahoma, 1905, of engineer KARL JANSKY, the man who discovered radio waves originating in outer space, which established the field of radio astronomy. One unit of radio wave strength is called a jansky.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “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
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »