Feb. 17, 1999

Country Haircuts

by Shirley Ensrud


Poem: Shirley Ensrud, "Country Haircuts," from Buckwheat Cakes and Cornmeal Mush (SME Books).

It's ASH WEDNESDAY, the first day of LENT and the seventh Wednesday before Easter. The name comes from placing ashes on the foreheads of worshipers to symbolize sorrow for sin.

It's the birthday in New York, 1929, of writer CHAIM POTOK, author of novels like The Chosen (1967), My Name is Asher Lev (1972) and plays and short stories.

The first issue of THE NEW YORKER hit the newsstands on this date in 1925, costing 15 cents.

It's the birthday of the French statesman, ANDRÉ MAGINOT, born in Paris, 1877, known as the creator of the "Maginot Line"— the elaborate concrete fortifications built on the French-German border in the 1930s to prevent the Germans from invading France. When the Germans tanks came in the spring of 1940 they simply went around the wall from the north through Belgium.

It was on this day in 1864 that the Confederate submarine H.L. HUNLEY sank the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship.

It was on this day in 1801 that the U.S. House of Representatives broke an electoral college tie and chose THOMAS JEFFERSON for President over AARON BURR.

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 »