Apr. 3, 2009

Lies My Mother Told Me

by Elizabeth Thomas

If you keep eating raw spaghetti
        you'll get pinworms,
        then I'll have to make
        a necklace of garlic for you to wear
        each night while you sleep,
        until they go away.
If you're mean to your younger brother, I'll know
        because I have a special eye
        that spies on you when I'm not home.
        You cannot hide from it,
        so don't try.
If you touch your "down there"
        any time other than when using the toilet,
        your hand will turn green and fall off.
If you keep crossing your eyes
        they will stay that way
        until the wind
        changes direction.
It is bad luck to kill a moth. Moths are
        the souls of our ancestors and it just
        might be Papa paying a visit.
If you kiss a boy on the mouth
        your lips will stick together
        and he'll use the opportunity
        to suck out your brains.
If you ever lie to me
        God will know
        and rat you out.
        And sometimes
        God exaggerates.
        Trust me —
        you don't want that
        to happen.

"Lies My Mother Told Me" by Elizabeth Thomas from From the Front of the Classroom. © Antrim House, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Herb Caen, born in Sacramento (1916). He started writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1938, and he was still writing for them when he died in 1997. He coined the term "beatnik" in 1958, and he made the word "hippie" popular in the 1960s. He also coined "Baghdad by the Bay" to refer to San Francisco. He said, "Martinis are like breasts, one isn't enough, and three is too many." And, "Isn't it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?"

It was on this day in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the European Recovery Program (also known as the Marshall Plan) into law, which allocated more than $5 billion in aid to help revitalize the economy of European countries after World War II. That amount eventually grew to more than $13 billion.

Europe was on the verge of economic collapse. Whole cities had been destroyed, factories had shut down, and the winter of 1947 was one of the coldest on record. Many Europeans were unemployed and homeless, freezing to death. A small group of American strategists and diplomats decided that the only way to keep Europe from descending into chaos would be a huge infusion of cash. So they turned to Secretary of State George Marshall, a well-known war hero and public figure, hoping he could sell the plan to the public.

Marshall immediately bought the idea, and he became its spokesperson. He announced the plan at the commencement ceremony at Harvard on June 5, 1947, and then went on a national tour to promote the plan.

Winston Churchill later said that the Marshall Plan was "the most unsordid act in history."

It's the birthday of the writer Washington Irving, (books by this author) born in New York City (1783). He wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." He was the first person who referred to New York City as "Gotham," and he created the character of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the Dutch New Yorker. "Knickerbocker" came to describe any New Yorkers who could trace their family to the original Dutch settlers, and that's where the New York Knicks get their name.

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 Jeffrey Harrison 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 »