Sep. 11, 2009
Home By Now
New Hampshire air curls my hair like a child's
hand curls around a finger. "Children?" No,
we tell the realtor, but maybe a dog or two.
They'll bark at the mail car (Margaret's
Chevy Supreme) and chase the occasional
moose here in this place where doors are left
unlocked and it's Code Green from sun-up,
meaning go ahead and feel relieved—
the terrorists are back where you left them
on East 20th Street and Avenue C. In New York
we stocked our emergency packs with whistles
and duct tape. In New England, precautions take
a milder hue: don't say "pig" on a lobster boat
or paint the hull blue. Your friends in the city
say they'll miss you but don't blame you—they
still cringe each time a plane's overhead,
one ear cocked for the other shoe.
It's the birthday of the man who wrote under the name O. Henry, William Sydney Porter, (books by this author) born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). He is famous for inventing a particular kind of short story with a neat plot and a surprise twist at the end. In his most famous story, "The Gift of the Magi" (1905), a woman sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain, and her husband sells his watch to buy her a set of expensive combs.
He moved to New York City in 1902, after working as a banker and a newspaper columnist and spending a few years in prison on a charge of embezzlement. When he arrived, he was overwhelmed by the size and vitality of the city. He said, "I would like to live a lifetime on each street in New York. Every house has a drama in it." He lived in a small apartment with a window that only opened onto an airshaft. Every day he went to a different seedy bar and bought people drinks to hear their stories.
By the end of 1902, he had sold almost 20 short stories. In 1903, he sold more than 50. He started out writing under a variety of pen names, including James L. Bliss, Howard Clark, and T.B. Dowd, but he finally chose O. Henry. Publishers tried to solicit stories from him, but he was almost impossible to find because nobody knew his real name. In 1904, he was hired by Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World, to write a story a week, every week. He was paid more than almost any other writer in the city, usually $500 per story, but he was always broke. He gave his money away to the bums he hung around with, buying their drinks and paying their medical bills.
O. Henry's editors hated him because he would only write his stories after they had found him and physically forced him to sit down in front of the typewriter. He wrote "The Gift of the Magi" in three hours, in the middle of the night, with his editor sleeping on his couch.
He was considered a master of the short story for a decade after his death in 1910, but the next generation of writers like Sherwood Anderson and F. Scott Fitzgerald rebelled against his style, which they thought was mostly superficial trickery.
It's the birthday of D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence, (books by this author) born in Eastwood, England (1885). He wrote poetry and plays and literary criticism, but he's best known for his novels Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).
He had an incredibly difficult life. He was a teacher, but he caught tuberculosis as a young man and eventually became too sick to teach. During World War I, the British government suspected he was a German spy, because his wife was German and he opposed the war. Most of all, he struggled against censorship. More than almost any other writer at the time, he believed that in order to write about human experience, novelists had to write explicitly about sex. When he published his first important novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), he found that his editor had deleted numerous erotic passages without his permission. When he published his novel The Rainbow in 1915, Scotland Yard seized most of the printed copies under charges of obscenity. He was blacklisted as an obscene writer and none of the magazines in England would publish anything he wrote. He finished Women in Love in 1916, but couldn't get it published until 1920, and even then he could only publish it privately.
Lawrence was finally allowed to leave England when World War I was over, and he was so happy that he traveled everywhere, to Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], Australia, Tahiti, Mexico, and New Mexico.
He eventually moved back to Europe and worked on his last big novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). It was banned in England and America. One British critic called it "the most evil outpouring that has ever besmirched the literature of our country." It was not widely available until 1960, when Penguin published an unexpurgated edition.
He said, "Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."
It was on this day in 2001 that two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®