Wednesday

Jan. 20, 2010

Hitchhiker

by Galway Kinnell

After a moment, the driver, a salesman
for Travelers Insurance heading for
Topeka, said, "What was that?"
I, in my Navy uniform, still useful
for hitchhiking though the war was over,
said, "I think you hit somebody."
I knew he had. The round face, opening
in surprise as the man bounced off the fender,
had given me a look as he swept past.
"Why didn't you say something?" The salesman
stepped hard on the brakes. "I thought you saw,"
I said. I didn't know why. It came to me
I could have sat next to this man all the way
to Topeka without saying a word about it.
he opened the car door and looked back.
I did the same. At the roadside,
in the glow of a streetlight, was a body.
A man was bending over it. For an instant
it was myself, in a time to come,
bending over the body of my father.
The man stood and shouted at us, "Forget it!
He gets hit all the time!" Oh.
A bum. We were happy to forget it.
The rest of the way, into dawn in Kansas,
when the salesman dropped me off, we did not speak,
except, as I got out, I said, "Thanks,"
and he said, "Don't mention it."

"Hitchhiker" by Galway Kinnell, from Imperfect Thirst. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of filmmaker Federico Fellini, born in the town of Rimini in Italy (1920). He said, "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

It's the birthday of novelist Susan Vreeland, (books by this author) born in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1946. She grew up in California, became a teacher, and for 30 years she taught English and ceramics in the San Diego public schools. She wrote a book called What Love Sees (1988), based on the true story of her parents' friends, a couple who were both blind but who managed a ranch and raised children with the help of a Seeing Eye cow. But she was also busy with her teaching, and for a while she wrote occasional stories or articles, but not much else.

Then, in 1996, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She had chemotherapy and operations, and for a few months she couldn't do much but read, and even that was hard for her. So instead, she paged through art books, and she especially liked Vermeer, whose paintings were so calming. She needed more treatment, and she had to take off another year of teaching, and so she started writing stories based on Vermeer. Vermeer only painted 35 paintings, and so Susan Vreeland imagined that he had painted one more, and she wrote a story about that, and then several more stories about Vermeer and the imagined 36th painting and the people who owned it over the years. She said, "My goal at the time wasn't to create a novel that would make it out in the big world. It was to have enough time left in my life to finish this group of stories and print out 12 copies, so my husband could give them to members of my writing group so they'd have something to remember me by." She did finish them, and she turned them into a novel, and a tiny publishing house in Denver agreed to publish the novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999).

Girl In Hyacinth Blue was a best-seller, and Penguin bought the rights. Vreeland got better, and now she had an audience for her work, so she wrote four more novels centered around art, including The Passion of Artemisia (2002) about one of the first influential female artists, Artemisia Gentileschi, and most recently, The Boating Party (2007), about Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Both novelswere New York Times best-sellers.

It was on this day in 1892 that the first official basketball game was played, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Basketball was the brainchild of James Naismith, a Canadian who was teaching at a YMCA training school in Springfield, which prepared young men to go out and be instructors in YMCAs. Naismith was teaching physical education, but the winters were cold in Massachusetts, and his students were frustrated that they couldn't go outside. He wanted something physically challenging but that could be played indoors, in a relatively small space. He tried all kinds of new and old games, but nothing worked. Finally he remembered a game he had played as a kid in Canada, a game called Duck on a Rock. He took a few rules from that and adapted it into a game he called Basket Ball. He nailed peach baskets to the balcony on each side of the gym, but the baskets had solid bottoms, so if anyone managed to get the ball in the basket someone else had to climb up and get the ball down. The rules evolved, and basketball caught on fast, helped by the spread of YMCAs. Naismith helped establish the sport at the college level, becoming head coach at the University of Kansas. By the time he died in 1939, basketball was an official Olympic event.

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 Sharon Olds 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 »