Friday

Mar. 14, 2014

Why You Travel

by Gail Mazur

You don't want the children to know how afraid
you are. You want to be sure their hold on life

is steady, sturdy. Were mothers and fathers
always this anxious, holding the ringing

receiver close to the ear: Why don't they answer
where could they be?
There's a conspiracy

to protect the young, so they'll be fearless,
it's why you travel—it's a way of trying

to let go, of lying. You don't sit
in a stiff chair and worry, you keep moving.

Postcards from the Alamo, the Alhambra.
Photos of you in Barcelona, Gaudi's park

swirling behind you. There you are in the Garden
of the Master of the Fishing Nets, one red

tree against a white wall, koi swarming
over each other in the thick demoralized pond.

You, fainting at the Buddhist caves.
Climbing with thousands on the Great Wall,

wearing a straw cap, a backpack, a year
before the students at Tiananmen Square.

Having the time of your life, blistered and smiling.
The acid of your fear could eat the world.

"Why You Travel" by Gail Mazur from Zeppo's First Wife: New and Selected Poems. © The University of Chicago Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Albert Einstein's birthday (books by this author). He was born in Ulm, Germany (1879), and his pre-kindergarten fascination with a compass needle left an impression on him that lasted a lifetime. He liked math but hated school, dropped out, and taught himself calculus in the meantime. Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where his job was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices and determine whether the inventions described would actually work. The job wasn't particularly demanding, and at night he would come home and pursue scientific investigations and theories.

In 1905, he wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer. That same year, he published three more papers, each of which was just as revolutionary as the first, among them the paper that included his most famous equation: E = mc². E is energy, m is mass, and c stands for the velocity of light.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He said, "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."

It's the birthday of Sylvia Beach, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887). She founded an English-language bookstore and lending library called Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank of Paris. It opened just as the "lost generation" was discovering that city, and it became a central feature of the Parisian literary scene of the 1920s. Beach also published books, including the first — blue and white — edition of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).

It's the birthday of the humorist Max Shulman (books by this author), born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1919). He wrote several books, including Anyone Got a Match? (1964) and Potatoes Are Cheaper (1971). He grew up during the Great Depression, and he said he became a humorist because "I turned early to humor as my branch of writing ... [because] life was bitter and I was not."

It's the birthday of the photographer Diane Arbus, born Diane Nemerov in New York City (1923). She took portraits of transvestites, giants and dwarfs, twins, triplets, carnival performers, and sometimes ordinary people with troubling expressions or postures. She said: "I work from awkwardness. By that I mean if I stand in front of something instead of arranging it, I arrange myself."

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 »