May 27, 2004
Who We Want
Poem: "What We Want," by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening. © W.W. Norton. Reprinted with permission.
What We Want
What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names--
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of poet Linda Pastan, born in New York City (1932). Her collections include Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 (1998) and The Last Uncle (2002).
It's the birthday of hard boiled detective novelist Dashiell Hammett, born in St. Mary's County Maryland (1894). He's the author of The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1934), both of which were made into classic movies.
It's the birthday of best-selling mystery novelist Tony Hillerman, born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (1925). Most of his books take place in the American Southwest, including People of Darkness (1991), A Thief of Time (1989) and his latest, The Sinister Pig (2003).
It's the birthday of novelist John Barth, born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930). He's known for writing innovative fiction in novels like The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Chimera (1972) and LETTERS (1979).
It's the birthday of novelist Herman Wouk, born in New York City (1915). His novels include The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Winds of War (1971), The Hope (1994) and The Glory (1995).
It's the birthday of Julia Ward Howe, born Julia Ward in New York City (1819). She was a poet, essayist, and leader of the women's movement, but she's best known to us today as the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," in which she wrote:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible, swift sword;
His truth is marching on."
It's the birthday of ecologist and nature writer Rachel Carson, born in Pennsylvania (1907). Her best-selling book about the dangers of pesticides, Silent Spring (1962), became one of the most influential books in the modern environmental movement.
It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer John Cheever, born in Quincy, Massachusetts (1912). He wrote for more than fifty years and published over two hundred short stories. He's known for writing about the world of American suburbia. Even though he was one of the most popular short story writers of the twentieth century, he once said that he only earned "enough money to feed the family and buy a new suit every other year."
In 1935 he was published in The New Yorker for the first time, and he would continue to write for the magazine for the rest of his life. His stories were collected in books including The Way Some People Live (1943) and The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953). The Stories of John Cheever, published in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize and became one of the few collections of short stories ever to make the New York Times bestseller list.
Cheever kept journals his entire life, and a few years before he died in 1982, he told his son that he wanted selections from his journals to be published. The Journals of John Cheever came out in 1990. He wrote in his journal about his alcoholism, his depression, his bisexuality, his family and his writing.
He wrote in his journal: "I worked four days a week on the "[Wapshot] Chronicle," with intense happiness. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I had a course in advanced composition at Barnard College. My weekends went roughly like this. On Saturday mornings, I played touch football until the noon whistle blew, when I drank Martinis for an hour or so with friends. On Saturday afternoons, I played Baroque music on the piano or recorder with an ensemble group. On Saturday nights, my wife and I either entertained or were entertained by friends. Eight o'clock Sunday morning found me at the Communion rail, and the Sunday passed pleasantly, according to the season, in skiing, scrub hockey, swimming, football, or backgammon. This sport was occasionally interrupted by the fact that I drove the old Mack engine for the volunteer fire department and also bred black Labrador retrievers. As I approached the close of the novel, there were, in my workroom, eight Labrador puppies, and on my desk the Barnard themes, the fire-department correspondence, [and] "The Wapshot Chronicle." . . . My happiness was immense, and I trust that the book will, in some ways, be a reminder of this."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®