Nov. 21, 1998

Drive Shaft

by Janet Holmes


Poem: "Drive Shaft," by Janet Holmes, in THE GREEN TUXEDO (University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).

It's VOLTAIRE's birthday, the French writer born in Paris, 1694 as Francois-Marie Arouet. His first pieces were tragedies for the theater, and he actually kept writing plays for the rest of his life. But he became infamous as a critic of the French government and church in his essays and poems. He was thrown in prison when he was in his early 20s for these. He spent three years in England in exile, then came back to Paris and again spoke out against the government and church, and was forced to flee once more. He died at 83, and his last 25 years or so were spent in Switzerland where he wrote his best known work, the satire Candide.

It's the anniversary of MANNED FREE FLIGHT. It was on this day in 1783 in Paris that Francois d'Arlandes became the first man to fly. This was about six months after the first public balloon flight demonstration, and a year after the very first experiments with small paper and fabric balloons by the Montgolfier brothers. D'Arlandes' flight lasted 25 minutes and the balloon climbed to about 300 feet and sailed six miles out over Paris and into the countryside. One of the spectators that afternoon was Benjamin Franklin.

It was on this day in 1864 that ABRAHAM LINCOLN wrote a letter to a Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston, consoling her about the loss of five sons serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. " I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln."

It's the birthday of the Russian-American chemist, VLADIMIR IPATIEFF, born in Moscow, 1867. He worked with petro-chemicals, and discovered around the turn of the century the structure of isoprene, the basic molecular unit of rubber.

It's the birthday of novelist OLAV DUUN, born on Joa Island, off the northern coast of Norway, 1876, author of the series of books called The People of Juvik. Between 1918 and 1923 he came out with the six Juvik novels, stories about several generations of a fishing and farming family struggling to survive in the north of Norway. Norwegians think of Duun as their best-known writer who isn't known at all outside of Norway, although the Juvik novels have been translated into English.

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 »