Feb. 24, 2009


by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.
A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—
all this resinous, unretractable earth.

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Jane Hirshfield, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). When she was in first grade, she wrote, "I want to be a writer when I grow up." She went to Princeton, worked on a farm for a year, and then spent the next few years studying Buddhism at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in northern California. She didn't write at all while she was there, almost eight years, but since then she has published many books of poetry, including Of Gravity & Angels (1988), Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), and After (2006).

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, and short-story writer Maxine Chernoff, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1952). She's the author of American Heaven (1996) and A Boy in Winter (1999).

It's the birthday of the philosopher and critic Judith Butler, (books by this author) born on this day in Cleveland, Ohio (1956). When she was a teenager, she went down in her basement to smoke cigarettes, and one day she found her mother's college textbooks — books by Benedict de Spinoza and Søren Kierkegaard — and she was fascinated. Then she started reading Jewish philosophy, because she had such bad behavior problems that she was forced to take a private tutorial with her rabbi, who introduced her to Jewish thinkers. So when she went to college, she chose to study philosophy, and from there moved into fields like queer theory, feminist theory, and cultural studies. And she went on to write many books, including the popular Gender Trouble (1990), where she argued that we "perform" our gender.

She wrote, "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."

It is the birthday of the poet Weldon Kees, (books by this author) born in Beatrice, Nebraska (1914). He went to college, then tried to make it as a movie star, a librarian, and a fiction writer. But he wasn't happy. He wrote to a friend, "I'm not doing what I want to do; is anyone?"

But then he started writing poems, and that was exactly what he wanted to do. He published a popular book of poetry, The Last Man (1943). He moved to New York, but he didn't like it, so he headed to San Francisco.

And there, on July 18, 1955, Weldon Kees called two women. The first woman was too busy to talk; he said that things were pretty bad and he was thinking about moving to Mexico. The second woman he called was the film critic Pauline Kael, whom he'd met on a local radio show about the movies. He asked her, "What keeps you going?" The next day his car was found on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, with the keys in the ignition. There was no suicide note, just his cat and a pair of red socks in the sink. His sleeping bag and savings account book were missing.

Weldon Kees' body was never found. The writer Pete Hamill said he had a drink with Kees in the late '50s in Mexico. A woman who knew him when she was a kid said that she saw him in New Orleans in 1962. His Collected Poems came out in 1960.

It's the birthday of Wilhelm Karl Grimm, born in Hanau, Germany (1786). He and Jacob, his older brother, published Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812), the first collection of folklore in modern publishing history. The Grimms enlisted the help of acquaintances to find stories, and one of their best collectors was a pretty young woman named Dortchen Wild, and she and Wilhelm got married.

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
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