Thursday

Aug. 13, 2009

Overnight

by Pat Schneider

The day your son calls you on the telephone
and is no more your boy, you know
he is someone else's man.
Hi, Mom! he calls across a chasm.
You guess the joy that carved it,
and you cry, Hello!

She will be the bridge, now,
between you and your son.
Overnight he has become shy with you.
Now that he knows her secret
he has guessed your own, guessed
the journeys that his father made
to fetch a son from darkness
on the other side of utter letting go.

Hello, you say, and suddenly remember
how in the fourth grade he brought a pigeon home.
How, as if it were an ordinary coming home,
he opened the front door, walked in and called,
Hi, Mom! How his eyes were pleading,
with love, like pinions, feathering the air.

"Overnight" by Pat Schneider, from Long Way Home. © Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1904, James Joyce published his first work of fiction. It was a short story, "The Sisters," narrated by a boy who finds out that an elderly priest he'd known has died. It was published in an agricultural digest, The Irish Homestead Journal, and 22-year-old Joyce was paid one pound sterling for it.

Irish writer George Russell (AE) sat on the editorial board of The Irish Homestead and had suggested that Joyce write the story. He'd met Joyce a couple of summers before, when 20-year-old Joyce came knocking on Russell's door at midnight and, after beating shyly around the bush, came out and announced his literary genius to Russell. Russell was a friend of W.B. Yeats and a leading figure of the Irish Revival himself. They conversed for a few hours, and Joyce read some poems he'd written. Russell was convinced of the young man's genius and tried to create opportunities for Joyce. Russell wrote him this letter:
Dear Joyce Look at the story in this paper The Irish Homestead. Could
you write anything simple, rural?, livemaking?, pathos?, which could
be inserted so as not to shock the readers. If you could furnish a short
story about 1800 words suitable for insertion the editor will pay £1.
It is easily earned money if you can write fluently and don't mind playing
to the common understanding and liking for once in a way. You can sign it
any name you like as a pseudonym. Yours sincerely,
Geo. W. Russell

In response Joyce wrote the short story published on this day, "The Sisters." He was commissioned to write a series of stories for the paper. Flush from getting paid for his first one, he concocted creative ways to try to borrow money from his friends. If only they'd give him money now, he promised them his future writing income payments with a higher return. For example, he was supposed to write six more stories for The Irish Homestead and get paid a pound for each of them; he offered one friend all six future pounds if only the friend would give him five pounds that day. Joyce also tried to make himself a public stock option, where people would invest in him now as capital, and once he became rich from publishing fiction, he'd pay them dividends.

And as it turns out, The Irish Homestead rescinded the commission after the third story because so many people were writing in to the paper to complain about the stories that Joyce was writing. But all three stories he wrote for them would later appear in Dubliners, and he had formed a vision for the structure and themes of the collection. He kept writing the stories he'd originally planned, even though the paper would not publish them. He wrote each of the 15 stories that form Dubliners between the years of 1904 and 1907, but it took until 1914 for Joyce to get Dubliners published. He was engaged in a colossal argument with his publisher that dragged on for years. Early on, he'd informed the publisher in a letter: "I cannot write without offending people."

In the decade between its appearance in The Irish Homestead and Dubliners, Joyce revised "The Sisters" extensively; the plot remained the same, but he made a lot of stylistic changes and altered the nature of relationships between some of the characters.

The version of "The Sisters" published 10 years later in Dubliners begins:
"There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse."

On this day in 1928, James Joyce's ever-loyal younger brother Stanislaus Joyce got married to a woman named Nelly Lichtensteiger. He was 44 years old, and it was his first (and only) marriage. In 1943, Nelly and Stanislaus had their only child, a son they named James. For many years, Stanislaus had lived with James and Nora and supported them and their children financially. He kept journals all his life, and published Recollections of James Joyce in 1950. My Brother's Keeper (1957) and Dublin Diary (1962) were published posthumously. Stanislaus Joyce died on Bloomsday 1955.

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 »