Oct. 23, 2009


by Louis Jenkins

It turns out that the drain pipe from the sink is attached to nothing and water just runs right onto the ground in the crawl space underneath the house and then trickles out into the stream that passes through the backyard. It turns out that the house is not really attached to the ground but sits atop a few loose concrete blocks all held in place by gravity, which, as I understand it, means "seriousness." Well, this is serious enough. If you look into it further you will discover that the water is not attached to anything either and that perhaps the rocks and the trees are not all that firmly in place. The world is a stage. But don't try to move anything. You might hurt yourself, besides that's a job for the stagehands and union rules are strict. You are merely a player about to deliver a soliloquy on the septic system to a couple dozen popple trees and a patch of pale blue sky.

"Gravity" by Louis Jenkins from Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970–2005. © Used with permission of the poet. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Michael Crichton, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1942), whose novels include Jurassic Park (1990), Rising Sun (1992), Disclosure (1994), and State of Fear (2004). His books have been translated into 36 languages and have sold more than 150 million copies around the world. More than a dozen of his books have been made into movies.

He passed away less than a year ago, a couple weeks after his 66th birthday, from throat cancer. His assistant discovered a novel on Crichton's computer after he died: Pirate Latitudes, a story set in mid-17th-century Jamaica, about a governor's plot to loot a huge Spanish sailing ship. It's set to be published next month (November 2009), with an initial print run of a million copies.

New York Times journalist Charles McGrath wrote: "Michael Crichton … was like a character in a Michael Crichton novel. He was unusually tall, strikingly handsome, and encyclopedically well informed about everything from dinosaurs to medieval banquet halls to nanotechnology. As a writer he was a kind of cyborg, tirelessly turning out novels that were intricately engineered entertainment systems. No one — except possibly Mr. Crichton himself — ever confused them with great literature, but very few readers who started a Crichton novel ever put it down."

It's the birthday of Augusten Burroughs, (books by this author) born Christopher Robison in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1965). He's the author of the best-selling memoir Running with Scissors, based on his teenage years.

He became a dedicated diarist from a very young age. His parents gave him a tape recorder as a gift, and when he was nine, he started talking into it, telling about the events of his day. And at the age of 14, he started to write in his journal, and did so rather compulsively, he said. As a child and adolescent, he did all sorts of compulsive things: He boiled his coins on the stovetop so that they would be nice and shiny, he wrapped the family dog in tinfoil before taking it out for a walk, and he constantly checked to see that his hair was perfectly smoothed down.

His parents went to therapy but still split up, and when he was 13, his mom sent him to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Rodolph Turcotte, and his family.

Burroughs ran away from the doctor's house and settled in San Francisco, where he sold candy, waited tables, and worked as a dog trainer and a store detective. One day, he saw a bad commercial on TV and knew that he could make a better one, and he pulled out a Fortune magazine close at hand and rewrote every ad in the issue. He soon got a high-paying job at San Francisco ad agency.

His co-workers at the ad agency were concerned with Burroughs' use of alcohol and cocaine, which seemed to be getting worse, and they convinced him to enter rehab at the Pride Institute in Minnesota in a program designed specifically for homosexuals. Burroughs emerged from the 30-day program sober, and within a couple weeks he had written his first novel, Sellevision, poking fun at commercials that appear on home-shopping networks. He said he wrote it "as fast as I could type, to keep up."

The book was moderately successful, and he was encouraged to write about his childhood experiences. He said, "I thought my childhood was a disgusting mess so I never thought anyone would be interested in reading about it, even with a gallows humor." But the memoir he wrote, Running with Scissors, became a big publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Bestseller List for four consecutive years. It was made into a feature film in 2006. He's also the author of several other autobiographical works, including Dry 2003, Magical Thinking (2004), Possible Side Effects (2006), and most recently, A Wolf at the Table (2008).

He said, "The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It's not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work."

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




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