Jul. 27, 2009


by Martha Collins

Draw a line. Write a line. There.
Stay in line, hold the line, a glance
between the lines is fine but don't
turn corners, cross, cut in, go over
or out, between two points of no
return's a line of flight, between
two points of view's a line of vision.
But a line of thought is rarely
straight, an open line's no party
line, however fine your point.
A line of fire communicates, but drop
your weapons and drop your line,
consider the shortest distance from x
to y, let x be me, let y be you.

"Lines" by Martha Collins, from Some Things Words Can Do. © The Sheep Meadows Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1940 that Bugs Bunny made his official debut in an animated film short called A Wild Hare. Even though a slightly different version of the rabbit had been around in some earlier films, A Wild Hare is considered the first official Bugs Bunny film because it's the first one that used his trademark voice and the first time he asked Elmer Fudd, "What's up, Doc?" Bugs Bunny was modeled on Groucho Marx.

It's the birthday of Indian novelist and short-story writer Bharati Mukherjee, (books by this author) born in Calcutta (1940). She went to a school run by Protestant missionaries, and she started writing from an early age, continuing as she moved to London and then back to Calcutta.

She studied English literature, got a master's, and then her father agreed to let her go to school in America for a couple of years while he looked for a suitable Bengali husband for her back in Calcutta. He had an American scholar over to dinner, and said that his daughter wanted to go to America and study creative writing, so where should he send her? The scholar recommended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, so Mukherjee's father wrote to the poet Paul Engle, who directed the program for many years, and soon she was off to Iowa. In the workshop, Mukherjee met another writer, Clark Blaise, and after dating for two weeks they got married in September of 1963, during a lunch break, in a lawyer's office over a coffee shop. Her parents weren't too happy, but within the year the couple had a son, and as she said, "that made up for everything." Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise are still married, and they have written several books together. She has written many books on her own, as well, including The Middleman and Other Stories (1988), Jasmine (1989), and most recently, the novels Desirable Daughters (2002) and its sequel, The Tree Bride (2004).

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Hardwick, (books by this author) born in Lexington, Kentucky (1916). She grew up in a big Protestant family, with 10 brothers and sisters, and she was a Southern belle. But she didn't want to stay that way. She said, "Even when I was in college, 'down home,' I'm afraid my aim was — if it doesn't sound too ridiculous — my aim was to be a New York Jewish intellectual." So in 1939, after getting her master's degree in English from the University of Kentucky, she left for New York, where she went to Bohemian parties and hung out at jazz clubs.

She had gone to New York to get her Ph.D. at Columbia, but she decided there was no point because she wouldn't be able to get an important teaching job as a woman. So she dropped out and started writing fiction. Her first novel was Ghostly Lover (1945), and she started writing essays as well. She wrote about why she didn't like Boston, about Mick Jagger, Sylvia Plath, Herman Melville, and O.J. Simpson. She also wrote about how book reviewing was going down the tubes, and so she decided to do something about it, and along with her husband, the poet Robert Lowell, and some of their friends, she helped found The New York Review of Books. Robert Lowell took out a small loan, and they put the first issue together on their dining room table.

It's the birthday of journalist Joseph Mitchell, (books by this author) born in Fairmont, North Carolina (1908). He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1938, and he worked there until he died in 1996. From the 1930s until 1964, he wrote for The New Yorker about people on the margins of New York — criminals, evangelists, con artists, the fishmongers at the Fulton Fish Market and a flea-circus operator. He was famous for writing about people without passing judgment on them. In 1965, he published Joe Gould's Secret. Joe Gould was a writer who told Mitchell all about the exhaustive book he was writing called Oral History, which was 9 million words long and based on 20,000 conversations. Mitchell eventually discovered that although Joe Gould was constantly writing, filling notebook after notebook, in fact he had intense writer's block. The Oral History was all in his head, and the notebooks were filled with the same few scenes, written out over and over.

After Joe Mitchell published Joe Gould's Secret, he himself never published another word, even though he continued to go to his office at The New Yorker. After he died in 1996, a colleague of his, Roger Angell, wrote: "Each morning, he stepped out of the elevator with a preoccupied air, nodded wordlessly if you were just coming down the hall, and closed himself in his office. He emerged at lunchtime, always wearing his natty brown fedora (in summer, a straw one) and a tan raincoat; an hour and a half later, he reversed the process, again closing the door. Not much typing was heard from within, and people who called on Joe reported that his desktop was empty of everything but paper and pencils. When the end of the day came, he went home. Sometimes, in the evening elevator, I heard him emit a small sigh, but he never complained, never explained."

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  • “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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