Jul. 31, 2001
My Life Before I Knew It
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Poem: “My Life Before I Knew It,” by Lawrence Raab from The Probable World (Penguin).
My Life Before I Knew It
I liked rainy days
when you didn't have to go outside and play.
At night I'd tell my sister
there were snakes under her bed.
When I mowed the lawn I imagined being famous.
Cautious and stubborn, unwilling to fail,
I knew for certain what I didn't want to know.
I hated to dance. I hated baseball,
and collected airplane cards instead.
I learned to laugh at jokes I didn't get.
The death of Christ moved me,
but only at the end of Ben-Hur.
I thought Henry Mancini was a great composer.
My secret desire was to own a collie
who would walk with me in the woods
when the leaves were falling
and I was thinking about writing the stories
that would make me famous.
Sullen, overweight, melancholy,
writers didn't have to be good at sports.
They stayed inside for long periods of time.
They often wore glasses. But strangers
were moved by what they accomplished
and wrote them letters. One day
one of those strangers would introduce
herself to me, and then
the life I'd never been able to forsee
would begin, and everything
before I became myself would appear
necessary to the rest of the story.
It's the birthday of writer Susan Cheever, born in New York City in 1943. She worked first as a journalist, then began writing novels and memoirs, including a memoir of her father, John Cheever titled, Home Before Dark, and published in 1984. Reading his journals, she said she learned "a lot of things I hadn't known before—how different life was for my father than we had imagined, how the humor he used was just transmuted pain."
It's the birthday of essayist and story writer Faye Moskowitz, born in Detroit in 1930. She's the author of A Leak in the Heart: Tales from a Woman's Life, Whoever Finds This: I Love You, and other books.
It's the birthday of novelist Lynne Reid Banks, born in London in 1929. She trained to be an actress (like her mother, Muriel Marsh), then turned to writing novels: The L-Shaped Room, and An End to Running. She has also written children's books, such as The Indian in the Cupboard, which came out it 1980.
It's the birthday of playwright Peter Nichols, born in Bristol, England, in 1927, author of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, as well as other plays.
It's the birthday of memoirist Primo Levi, born in Turin in 1919. He trained as a chemist, then quit his laboratory job to join the Italian Resistance. He was betrayed to the Germans, who sent him to Auschwitz, where he worked as a slave laborer. He said that he was "a chemist by conviction," but added, "after Auschwitz, I had an absolute need to write. Not only as a moral duty, but as a psychological need." His autobiographical trilogy includes Death in Auschwitz, The Reawakening, and The Periodic Table.
On this day in 1703, Daniel Defoe was locked in a pillory frame before Temple Bar in London. His satire, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, was written as if by high churchmen, but its arguments were nonsensical. The pamphlet sold widely, and both sides—dissenters and high churchmen—took it seriously. Both sides were furious when it was revealed to be a hoax. Defoe was held in Newgate Prison for 15 months, during which time he was displayed in the pillory, head and hands locked in place. His fiction masterpieces still lay ahead of him: Robinson Crusoe in 1719, and Moll Flanders in 1722.
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