Mar. 8, 2010
My husband and I stood together in the new mall
which was clean and white and full of possibility.
We were poor so we liked to walk through the stores
since this was like walking through our dreams.
In one we admired coffee makers, blue pottery
bowls, toaster ovens as big as televisions. In another,
we eased into a leather couch and imagined
cocktails in a room overlooking the sea. When we
sniffed scented candles we saw our future faces,
softly lit, over a dinner of pasta and wine. When
we touched thick bathrobes we saw midnight
swims and bathtubs so vast they might be
mistaken for lakes. My husband's glasses hurt
his face and his shoes were full of holes.
There was a space in our living room where
a couch should have been. We longed for
fancy shower curtains, flannel sheets,
shiny silverware, expensive winter coats.
Sometimes, at night, we sat up and made lists.
We pressed our heads together and wrote
our wants all over torn notebook pages.
Nearly everyone we loved was alive and we
were in love but we liked wanting. Nothing
was ever as nice when we brought it home.
The objects in stores looked best in stores.
The stores were possible futures and, young
and poor, we went shopping. It was nice
then: we didn't know we already had everything.
It was on this day in 1935 that Thomas Wolfe's novel Of Time and the River (books by this author) (1935) was published. The manuscript for it was once as lengthy as Proust's In Remembrance of Things Past; it was an epic tale composed of multiple volumes. His publisher at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins, convinced him that it should be edited down to one volume. Wolfe dedicated that completed novel, Of Time and the River (1935), to Maxwell Perkins.
It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McPhee, (books by this author) born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931), who is known for his detailed, long-format novelistic nonfiction writing on eclectic topics — these include book-length works devoted to citrus fruits, deltoid pumpkin seeds, binding energy curves, farmers' markets, merchant marine ships, the currents of the Mississippi River, birchbark canoe construction, and shifting seismic plates. He's especially found a niche in geological history, and it was for his tetralogy on the geology of America, called Annals of the Former World (1998), that he won the Pulitzer Prize just over a decade ago (1999).
He's published more than two dozen books, but he almost never writes more than one single-spaced page a day, and he doesn't feel prolific. But he said, "You know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart."
He's written for The New Yorker magazine for more than 40 years, and he teaches journalism at Princeton. He wrote in his book Oranges (1967):
"An orange grown in Florida usually has a thin and tightly fitting skin, and it is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first. California oranges are light in weight and have thick skins that break easily and come off in hunks. The flesh inside is marvelously sweet, and the segments almost separate themselves. In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®