Jun. 2, 2009


by William Wordsworth

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

"Daffodils" by William Wordsworth. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy, (books by this author) born in Higher Brocklehampton, in Dorset (1840). His last two novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), are considered his best. Irving Howe said that "Tess is that rare creature in literature: goodness made interesting."

Jude the Obscure was considered scandalous. It's about Jude Fawley, a poor stone carver who wants to go to university but can't, and who begins a relationship with a cousin when his wife leaves him. It outraged Hardy's wife. She was afraid people would consider it autobiographical.  Hardy decided to give up novels, and turned exclusively to poetry.

Hardy said, "What are my books but one long plea against man's inhumanity to man?"

Today is the 44th birthday of memoirist and journalist Jim Knipfel, (books by this author) born in Grand Forks, North Dakota (1965) but raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He's best known for his humorous and sarcastic "Slackjaw" column, which has run weekly in different publications for more than 20 years. He's written a thousand weekly columns, a trilogy of memoirs, and a couple of novels.

Knipfel is legally blind due to a rare genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It first appeared when he was about 11 or 12, when he could no longer see in dim restaurants or see at night. When he was in his early 20s, an ophthalmologist finally diagnosed his disease and told him that he'd be blind in a few years. About five years ago, he told an interviewer that the way he viewed the world was "kind of like peering through two toilet paper tubes all the time."

He'd been writing his Slackjaw column for about 10 years when a Penguin Putnam editor approached him with a book deal to write a memoir.  The memoir, entitled Slackjaw like the column, came out in 1999.

When the book came out, the publishers sent him on a 10-city promotional tour. Knipfel later said, "Putting a blind man on a plane to 10 cities he's never been to before struck me as cruel and funny." At promotional book events,  he had to read from photocopies of his book that had been hugely enlarged, and had to use a magnifying glass and have a strong lamp shining right there on his paper to read, and even then, his eyes would give out after a page or two, and he'd make the rest up.

Knipfel is fond of his parents and has said that he had a great childhood, but he also suffered from very severe bouts of depression in his teens and young adulthood, and tried committing suicide a dozen times. When he was 22, in his final suicide attempt, he tried first to hang himself and then swallowed two fistfuls of pills and a fifth of Scotch. He stumbled out of his Minneapolis apartment, he recalls, into the hallway and "made such a commotion that the cops came and they ended up beating me up. As suicide scenes go, I thought it was pretty funny."

He was put in a psychiatric hospital in Minneapolis for the next six months, and he wrote about his stay in the Minneapolis psychiatric hospital in his second memoir, Quitting the Nairobi Trio (2000). He finished the first draft of the book in 10 days.

Knipfel says that when it comes to writing books, he prefers to write "in marathon fashion." He says, "Before I begin, before word one is typed, I need to have the complete story in my head. That's the important thing. Then I'll take what vacation time I can get from the paper, parcel out what needs to be done given what time I have available,  lock the apartment door, sit down and type eight to 10 hours a day (with regular cigarette breaks). I start with the first chapter and drive straight through to the end. I guess this comes from a deep love for the pulps."

His third memoir, Ruining It for Everybody (2004),begins:  "Whenever I hear the word 'spiritual' I reach for my revolver.'"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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