Monday

Nov. 26, 2012

Any Morning

by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

"Any Morning" by William Stafford from Ohio Review Volume 50 (1993). © 1993 by William Stafford. Used by permission of the Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of the Estate of William Stafford. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Marilynne Robinson (books by this author), born in Sandpoint, Idaho (1943). Her first novel, Housekeeping (1980), is the story of two sisters in a town called Fingerbone, Idaho; their mother commits suicide and their aunt, an eccentric drifter, moves back to town to take care of them. Housekeeping got good reviews but didn't sell very well.

Robinson got a teaching fellowship at the University of Kent in England. She was alarmed to learn about a nuclear facility that was dumping toxic waste into the Irish Sea, while local children suffered from unusually high rates of cancer. She wrote Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989), criticizing Britain for not caring enough. She said: "I began what amounted to an effort to reeducate myself. After all those years of school, I felt there was little I knew that I could trust, and I did not want my books to be one more tributary to the sea of nonsense that really is what most conventional wisdom amounts to."

She went back to teaching at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she immersed herself in reading. For years, she read journals and books about the early days of Iowa. She published a book of essays about theology. Then, almost 25 years after Housekeeping, Robinson published a second novel, called Gilead (2004). Set in 1956, the novel is a series of letters from a dying 76-year-old Congregationalist pastor in the town of Gilead, Iowa; the letters are all written to his seven-year-old son. A few years later, she published a third novel, Home (2008), a companion book to Gilead.

In Gilead, she wrote: "Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it."

It's the birthday of science writer Jonathan Weiner (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). His mother was a librarian and his father a physicist, and he was equally enchanted by literature and science; he couldn't decide which one to make the basis of his career. A few years out of Harvard, he was hired to write a companion book to the PBS series Planet Earth (1986), and he has been a science writer ever since. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (1986), about the rapid evolution of Darwin's finches in the Galapagos in reaction to changes in their food. His most recent book, Long for This World (2010), is about the attempts to find scientific ways to achieve immortality.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Charles Schulz (books by this author), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1922). His parents left school after third grade, and his father was a barber who supported the family on 35 cent haircuts. Every Sunday, Schulz and his father read the "funny pages" together, and the boy hoped to become a cartoonist someday. But he had a tough time in school — he felt picked on by teachers and other students. He was smart enough to skip ahead a couple of grades, but that only made it worse. He wished someone would recognize his artistic talent, but his cartoons weren't even accepted by the high school yearbook.

After high school, he was drafted into the Army; his mother died of cancer a couple of days before he left. When he came home, he moved in with his father in the apartment above the barbershop. He got a job teaching at Art Instruction, a correspondence course for cartooning that he had taken as a high schooler. There he fell in love with a red-haired woman named Donna Mae Johnson, who worked in the accounting department. They dated for a while, but when he asked her to marry him, she turned him down and soon after married someone else. Schulz was devastated, and remained bitter about it for the rest of his life. He said: "I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much. A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is."

Schulz started publishing a cartoon strip called L'il Folks in the local paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but they dropped it after a couple of years. Schulz sent some of his favorite L'il Folks cartoons to the United Features Syndicate, and in 1950, the first Peanuts strip appeared in seven national newspapers. The first strip introduced Charlie Brown, and Snoopy made an appearance two days later. The rest of the Peanuts characters were added slowly over the years: Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Pig Pen, Peppermint Patty, and many more. Throughout the years, the object of Charlie Brown's unrequited love is known simply as The Little Red-Haired Girl.

Peanuts was eventually syndicated in more than 2,500 newspapers worldwide, and there were more than 300 million Peanuts books sold, as well as 40 TV specials, four movies, and a Broadway play.

Charles Schulz said: "My whole life has been one of rejection. Women. Dogs. Comic strips."

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 Jeffrey Harrison 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 »