Saturday

Apr. 10, 2010

'Thou hast me on the wrack' in various styles

by John Tagliabue

Dilapidation
is only natural, not too natural
     but natural,
and so a little shaking and stumbling and
     forgetting
is natural, the world itself is shaking a bit
     and eventually
will be forgetting all of its Myths which C.G. Jung
     and Joseph Campbell
and Others got so hot about. Snake Goddesses.
     Virgin Mary. And
All That. So you can put it in perspective in
     a phrase. Nevertheless
the common cold plus all of the aches and sorrows
     and sometimes fiercest
pain and loneliness, the loss of one's false teeth, the
     forgetting of names of
people in the emotional family come along with the
     Morality Figure Dilapidation
and pinch a nerve, bruise and bruise and bruise a life
     unto exhaustion,
unto the Holy Ghost, unto the Need to say Good-bye Good-bye
     Good-bye, please
     put me to bed.

"'Thou hast me on the wrack' in various styles" by John Tagliabue. Reprinted with permission from the author. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1925 that F. Scott Fitzgerald's (books by this author) The Great Gatsby was published to mixed reviews.

Fitzgerald knew there was something missing in his novel. He wrote in a letter: "The worst fault in it I think is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe."

It didn't sell very well, either. But The Great Gatsby slowly gained popularity, and by the 1960s, it was considered a classic of American literature. Today it is one of the most-taught books in high schools.

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, (books by this author) born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). He went to the University of Massachusetts, which he said looked like it was made out of poison ivy and Tupperware, and dropped his pre-med plans to become an English major. After college, he went into the Peace Corps in Malawi, but he was thrown out for helping a poet who was a political opponent of the government and had escaped to Uganda. So Theroux went to Uganda himself, and the poet got him a job at Makerere University in Kampala, the capital city. And it was there that he met the novelist V.S. Naipaul, who was a visiting professor at the university, and became Theroux's mentor and friend for the next 30 years. Theroux started publishing novels, the first few set in Africa, including Waldo (1967) and Jungle Lovers (1971), and then Saint Jack (1973), about Singapore, where he taught for a few years. He went back to England, wrote a novel, dropped the manuscript off with his publisher, and that same day, he left for an epic journey from London to Tokyo and back again, all by train. He wrote about his experience in The Great Railway Bazaar (1975),his first travel book, which was also his first best-seller.

It's the birthday of a writer who said, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." That's Anne Lamott, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1954). She did well in school, she was a tennis star, went to Goucher College in Maryland on a tennis scholarship. But she drank too much, became an alcoholic and bulimic as well, and dropped out of college after two years. She struggled to get back on her feet, even though she was doing well as a writer — she wrote for magazines and published two novels, Hard Laughter (1980) and Rosie (1983). But her health was getting worse, with even more drugs and drinking. One night, feeling weak and drunk and miserable, she said: "I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner. ... The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there — of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this. And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, 'I would rather die.' "

Instead, she started attending a tiny church, and slowly changing her life. She published her third novel, Joe Jones (1985), which got bad reviews — and caused her to drink even more. Every morning, she woke up not knowing what had happened the night before, and she had to call friends to find out. Finally, she was speaking at a benefit for 150 people who had all paid to come hear her talk, and she drank so much during her speech that she passed out in the middle of it. So she decided to get sober, and slowly she did, and has been ever since.

A few years later, she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby, even though its father left when she told him that. She wrote her first nonfiction book about it, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (1993), and she talked about how hard it was to be a mother, and also about her conversion to Christianity. It got rave reviews, and she kept writing nonfiction books, including Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999), as well as novels. Her most recent book is Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007).

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

 









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