Saturday

Mar. 28, 2009

Suddenly

by Louis Simpson

The truck came at me,
I swerved
but I got a dent.

The car insurance woman
informs me that my policy
has been cancelled.

I say, "You can't do that."
She gives me a little smile
and goes back to her nails.

Lately have you noticed
how aggressively people drive?
A whoosh! and whatever.

Some people are suddenly
very rich, and as many
suddenly very poor.

As for the war, don't get me started.
We were too busy watching
the ball game to see

that the things we care about
are suddenly disappearing,
and that they always were.

"Suddenly" by Louis Simpson, from Struggling Times. © BOA Editions, Ltd, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Mario Vargas Llosa, (books by this author) born in Arequipa, Peru (1936). He was raised by his maternal grandparents, who adored and spoiled him, and who told him that his father was dead because they didn't want to explain that his parents had separated.

His grandfather was a diplomat, and Vargas Llosa spent his early childhood growing up in Cochabamba, Bolivia. At the age of 10, he met his father for the first time, whom he had long believed was dead. His father was a military pilot, and he sent his son to a military academy in Lima, which was wretched and brutal. His experiences at the school became the basis for his first novel La ciudad y los perros (1963), which was published in English as The Time of the Hero (1966). It made his reputation in the Spanish-speaking world, but he put that reputation on the line in 1990 when he campaigned for president of Peru. He lost the election, moved to Europe, and swore off politics.

It was on this day in 1941 that the novelist Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the river Ouse, near her country home in Sussex in southeast England. She suffered from periods of depression for many years, and modern scholars believe she may have been manic depressive, also known as bi-polar.

Woolf, (books by this author) wrote in her diaries about her volatile mood swings. She would often be thrown into depression by her conviction that her writing wasn't good enough. But then she would get herself out of the depression by thinking of a new idea for a book.

She was relatively healthy for most of the 1920s, when she published Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). But she struggled with her book The Years (1937). She wrote in her diary, "Seldom have I been more completely miserable than I was ... reading over the last part of The Years. Such feeble twaddle — such twilight gossip — it seemed; such a show up of my own decrepitude."

Her mood grew worse as WWII broke out in 1939. She and her husband moved to their country house, which was under the flight path of the German bombers. By March of 1941, she was writing in her diary that she had fallen into "a trough of despair." She wrote, "It's difficult, I find, to write. No audience. No private stimulus, only this outer roar."

Finally, she wrote three letters, possibly as much as 10 days before she committed suicide. The longest letter was to her husband, Leonard. She wrote: "I feel certain that I am going mad again ... I shant recover this time ... I cant fight any longer. ...What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. ... I dont think two people could have been happier than we have been."

Woolf left the letters where her husband would find them and walked a half mile to a nearby river and put a heavy stone in the pocket of her fur coat before jumping into the water.

The novelist Elizabeth Bowen visited Woolf just a month before her death. Bowen wrote about Virginia: "I remember her kneeling back on the floor ... and she sat back on her heels and put her head back in a patch of sun, early spring sun. Then she laughed in this consuming, choking, delightful, hooting way. And that is what has remained with me."

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 »