Sep. 6, 2009

In My Next Life

by Mark Perlberg

I will own a sailboat sleek
as fingers of wind
and ply the green islands
of the gulf of Maine.
In my next life I will pilot a plane,
and enjoy the light artillery
of the air as I fly to our island
and set down with aplomb
on its grass runway.
I'll be a whiz at math, master five or six
of the world's languages, write poems
strong as Frost and Milosz.
In my next life I won't wonder why
I lie awake from four till daybreak.
I'll be amiable, mostly, but large
and formidable.

I'll insist you be present
in my next life—and the one after that.

"In My Next Life" by Mark Perlberg, from Waiting for the Alchemist. © Louisiana State University Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1941 that all Jews over the age of six were required to wear the Star of David to identify themselves, in all German-occupied areas.

Anne Frank (books by this author) wrote, "Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use streetcars; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to do their shopping between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty parlors; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; Jews were forbidden to go to theaters, movies, or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields, or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc. You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that. But life went on. Jacque always said to me, 'I don't dare do anything anymore, 'cause I'm afraid it's not allowed.'"

It was on this day in 1522 that one of the five ships that set out with Ferdinand Magellan's expedition returned to Spain, having successfully circumnavigated the globe. Magellan himself had been dead for more than a year. He had landed on an island in the Philippines and converted the local tribe to Christianity, and he had agreed to stay and help them fight an enemy tribe on a nearby island, but he was shot by a poisoned arrow. The remaining two ships had continued on without him, but one tried to sail back across the Pacific, and never made it. The final ship, the Vittoria, sailed around Africa and made it to Spain on this day in 1522, with just 18 of the original 237 men who had set out three years earlier.

It's the birthday of Alice Sebold, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She's the author of a memoir, Lucky (1999), about being raped in college; and two novels, The Lovely Bones (2002) — the story of a girl who is raped and murdered and tells her story while looking down on her family from heaven — and The Almost Moon (2007), about a woman who kills her elderly mother.

She said, "You save yourself or you remain unsaved."

It's the birthday of Robert Pirsig, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis in 1928. He had an extremely high IQ — 170 at age nine — and as an adult, he consistently scored in the top 1 percent of the population. But he struggled with depression and insanity, and for a couple of years, he spent time in and out of mental institutions. In July of 1968, he set out with his son Christopher and two family friends on a motorcycle trip across the country. Afterward, he spent years writing a book of philosophy centered around the trip. In 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published, and it became a huge best seller, selling more than 5 million copies.

Later, Pirsig became something of a recluse, turned off by his sudden fame. He said: "In the first week after I wrote Zen I gave maybe 35 [interviews]. I found it very unsettling. I was walking by the post office near home and I thought I could hear voices, including my own. I had a history of mental illness, and I thought: it's happening again. Then I realized it was the radio broadcast of an interview I'd done. At that point I took a camper van up into the mountains and started to write Lila, my second book."

Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals was published in 1991, and although it wasn't as successful as his first, it still got rave reviews and spent six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Those are his only two books.

It's the birthday of social worker Jane Addams, born in Cedarville, Illinois (1860). She was the youngest of six children, and her mother died when she was young. She traveled around Europe and visited a settlement house in London's East End. Settlement houses were designed with the idea that middle-class people who wanted to serve poor neighborhoods could do it best by living in them, not just showing up to work every day and going home to a wealthy neighborhood.

So Jane Addams went home to Chicago, leased a big house in a low-income neighborhood, and started the Hull House, which became the most famous settlement house in the U.S. and a model for a new type of social work. She lived there with her friend Ellen Starr, who had been her travel companion in Europe. In less than two years, 2,000 people visited the Hull House. It started out with child care and health care, and expanded to offer kindergarten, social clubs for older kids, an art gallery, a coffee house, a library, a gym, a labor museum, and much more.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

It was on this day in 1992 that the body of Christopher McCandless was found in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless graduated from college in 1990, gave away half his money, and headed across America and eventually to Alaska. He was inspired by writers like Thoreau, and he wanted to experience a solitary existence in the wilderness. He survived for about four months before dying of starvation. He died two weeks before he was found, and weighed only about 67 pounds.

McCandless kept a journal, which was found on this day along with his body, and the writer Jon Krakauer turned McCandless' story into a book, Into the Wild (1996).

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
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