Tuesday

Jan. 3, 2006

Standard Plumbing

by Marie Harris

TUESDAY, 3 JANUARY, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Standard Plumbing" by Marie Harris from Weasel in the Turkey Pan. © Hanging Loose Press. Reprinted with permission.

Standard Plumbing

Plumbing supply places, like auto parts stores, have long
counters with bar stools for the customers. When I came in, the
man behind the counter was telling a story about the time he
and his friends had decided to celebrate getting home from
Vietnam and had bought a lot of Scotch and given one bottle to
a wino who drank half of it all at once and dropped dead.
Then the man, with Walter stitched on his shirt, asked what he
could do for me and I told him I had come to buy a toilet, the
cheapest, most basic toilet they had. He wanted to know if I
was putting it in one of my apartments or something and I said
no, it was for my own house and I was, oddly enough, buying
a toilet for the first time because we were installing indoor
plumbing. The other houses I'd lived in had always come with
toilets and I'd never given much thought to choosing one,
though today I'd kind of decided I wanted bone, not white. So,
in the process of getting the bowl and the tank and the seat and
some pipes and gaskets from the warehouse, we got to talking
about our outhouses and he allowed as how the one he had in
Florida when he was kid in the fifties hadn't been all that
bad, except for the bugs and sometimes a snake, and we both
agreed that there are times out there when you see things from
an unusual vantage, for instance: that view of the night sky in
winter is unparalleled.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien, born in South Africa (1892). His family came back to England after his father died and his mother taught him Latin and converted him to Catholicism. She died when he was twelve and friends said he stayed a Catholic and continued to study languages in her memory.

He went on to philology, or the study of the derivation of languages, at Oxford, and it was there that he met his friend C.S. Lewis. Lewis later said, "At my first coming into the world, I had been warned never to trust a [Catholic], and at my first coming into the English Faculty, never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both." Despite Lewis' suspicion they took to one another right away and with a number of other men formed The Inklings, a group of writers who met in a local pub each week to talk about books and read aloud what they'd been writing. Lewis and Tolkien often talked late into the night about the idea that books could be "morally serious fantasy," dressing correct theology in the clothing of a ripping good tale.

Tolkien's idea for a novel came from his love for language. He was fluent in Classical Greek and Latin, Old Norse, Old English, medieval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon and an ancient form of German called Gothic, among other ancient European languages. He was so interested in the structure of language that he decided to invent an entire language of his own. He even invented a new alphabet to write in that language and when he began writing Lord of the Rings, he gave that new language to the Elves calling it "High Elvish." He later said, "I wrote Lord of the Rings to provide a world for the language... I should have preferred to write the entire book in Elvish."

Many critics now consider Lord of the Rings to be one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written. It's the story of Frodo Baggins, a lowly hobbit who sets out on a quest to destroy a magic ring so that it cannot fall into the hands of the evil Sauron.

It took Tolkien twelve years to write The Lord of the Rings, in part because he was a great procrastinator and refused to take any time off to work on the book. He was constantly stopping his writing in order to research various details he wanted to include, such as the proper way to stew a rabbit. He wrote to his editor more than once to say that he wasn't sure he could finish the book, but after twelve years he had finally done it. He wrote, "It is written... in my life-blood."

Tolkien wasn't sure anyone would want to read The Lord of the Rings since it was hardly the children's book his editor had asked for. He wrote, "My work has escaped from my control. I have produced a monster... a complex, rather bitter and rather terrifying romance. I now wonder whether many beyond my friends would read anything so long."

The book was moderately successful when the first volume came out in 1954, but it didn't become a huge bestseller until the 1960's when American college students fell in love with it and psychedelic rock bands like Led Zeppelin began writing songs about it. Tolkein never enjoyed having become a cult figure in his own lifetime. He tried to live quietly for the rest of his life.

J.R.R. Tolkein said, "Literature stops in 1100. After that it's only books."

He once said, "I am in fact, a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands. I smoke a pipe and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field).... I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much."


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 Sharon Olds 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 »