Dec. 2, 2012
Wild Before Winter
In my meadow luxuriates the green world
Preening itself before the yearly catastrophe of frost
One green burst of curls flung forward like a boy's
head of hair brushed over his face in football.
Now I, in my eightieth year, stripped of my defenses
Flying, drunken winds blow at my back, crashing
gleefully, turn the green world dark too soon.
Now wild before winter, in my age, deserted by my sins
Cold words spoken to my children returning hot now
to blister my heart
No more the nights with love, betrayal, obsession,
Old man, wild before winter, still childish
My little river running past as if nothing will happen
As if ice will not encase it
It's the birthday of novelist Ann Patchett (books by this author), born in Los Angeles (1963). She grew up Catholic and went to an all-girls Catholic school in Nashville, where she still lives. She said: "Catholicism really trained me for fiction writing. I think it has to be the greatest religion for a fiction writer because it is so much a tradition of story and parable. I spent my whole childhood on my knees in front of pieces of carved marble, and in my heart I was filling that stone with enormous life. That gets at the essence of storytelling."
She went to Sarah Lawrence College, where one of her teachers was the short-story writer Grace Paley. She said that Paley would cancel classes and take the students to protests, and that she discouraged any kind of pretension in their writing. Patchett said: "She taught me that writing must not be compartmentalized. You don't step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Work was the life, and who you were as a mother, teacher, friend, citizen, activist, and artist was all the same person. People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes. I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can't teach you how to have something to say."
Patchett's books include Bel Canto (2001), Truth and Beauty (2004), Run (2007), and most recently, State of Wonder (2011).
It's the birthday of short-story writer George Saunders (books by this author), born in Amarillo, Texas (1958). He grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and he loved books about World War II and baseball. In high school, he discovered Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and books by Ayn Rand and Khalil Gibran, and they changed his life. He said: "It definitely went directly from the page into my heart. I think I was a really good reader in the sense that I was a desperate reader, desperate to find out what was good, what was true, how a person should live."
He was particularly influenced by Ayn Rand; he started thinking of himself as a character from an Ayn Rand novel. He said: "I want to be one of the earth movers, the scientific people who power the world. And I don't want to be one of these lisping liberal artsy leeches." So he went to the Colorado School of Mines to study engineering, then worked various odd jobs, and finally decided to apply to the Syracuse Creative Writing Program. There were two professors who wanted to let him in, even though everyone else objected — most of the other students were stars from Ivy League schools — so he was let in as a "grand experiment." He said: "I felt more like a 'clerical error.' [...] While the other students knew all about Shelley and Keats, I knew about Alfred Wegener, the father of plate tectonics, whom we affectionately used to call 'Big Al.' But fiction is open to whoever comes in the door, as long as you come in energetically, and so I had a feeling there was room for me."
His books include CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2000), and In Persuasion Nation (2006). Tenth of December: Stories will be published next year.
Saunders said: "Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to."
His books include World's End (1987), The Tortilla Curtain (1995), Drop City (2003), and most recently, San Miguel (2012). San Miguel is the story of three generations of couples living and raising sheep on one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California, a desolate windy island known as "the graveyard of the Pacific." San Miguel is based on diaries from real families who lived there, and Boyle said that he wanted the challenge of writing something that was "non-comic and non-ironic."
San Miguel begins: "She was coughing, always coughing, and sometimes she coughed up blood. The blood came in a fine spray, plucked from the fibers of her lungs and pumped full of air as if it were perfume in an atomizer. Or it rose in her mouth like a hot metallic syrup, burning with the heat inside her till she spat it into the porcelain pot and saw the bright red clot of it there like something she'd given birth to."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®