Dec. 2, 2003

Little Things

by Julia A. Carney

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Poem: "Little Things," by Julia A. Carney.

Little Things

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the might ocean
And the beauteous land.

And the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

So our little errors
Lead the soul away,
From the paths of virtue
Into sin to stray.

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Berg , born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1948). She's the author of best-selling novels such as The Pull of the Moon (1996), What We Keep (1998), and Open House (2000). In 1985, Berg was working as a nurse when she decided she wanted to spend more time with her children. She wrote an essay about quitting her job to be with her daughters, and it won a $500 prize in Parents magazine. Soon after she was diagnosed with skin cancer. Her doctor told her she had only five years to live. Berg began writing articles at a frantic pace, selling dozens of them to magazines in the next five years. Her first novel was Durable Goods (1993), about a Texas adolescent who has to travel around the country with her father, who is in the Army. Her most recent novel, Say When (2003), was published last June. Berg said, "I'm a rank sentimentalist, and I make no apologies at all for it."

It's the birthday of novelist Ann Patchett, born in Los Angeles (1963). She's best known for her novel Bel Canto (2001), which came out two years ago. She didn't do well in school, but she had decided she wanted to be a writer by the time she was in her teens. She later said, "While my girlfriends danced and dated, I sat and wrote. Every ounce of gangly energy I had went onto paper. I sprawled. I mass-produced." She started sending in poems and short stories to national publications. Her first story was published in the Paris Review when she was only 21 years old.

In the next few years, Patchett went to graduate school, got married, got divorced, quit a teaching job two days before classes began, and moved back to live with her mother in Nashville. She worked as a waitress for a year, thinking about what her first novel was going to be about as she took orders and set tables. She once said, "The novel in my imagination travels with me like a small lavender moth making loopy circles around my head. . . . [Sitting down to write it is like] grabbing my little friend (crushing its wings slightly in my thick hand), holding it down on a cork board and running it through with a pin." Finally, in 1992, she came out with The Patron Saint of Liars, about a pregnant woman who leaves her husband in California and ends up at a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. The novel was a big success.

Ann Patchett said, "I believe that my gift in this world is not that I'm smarter or more talented than anyone else: it's that I had a singular goal. I don't want other stuff: friends, kids, travel. What makes me happy is writing."

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer T(homas) C(oraghessan) Boyle, born in Peekskill, New York (1948). He's known for his big, sprawling, funny novels like World's End (1987) and his latest, Drop City, published earlier this year, about a California hippie commune in the 1970s. Both of Boyle's parents were alcoholics, and as a child he was, in his own words, a "punk," a "cynic," and a "proto-hippie." He wasn't interested in writing until he enrolled in a creative writing class in college on a whim. Everyone else in the class was writing obscure poems, but Boyle decided to write a one-act play about a couple whose son is eaten by an alligator and who keeps the son's foot on a coffee table. Boyle read it aloud in class, his classmates all loved it, and he knew that he wanted to be a writer.

But he fell into drugs for a couple of years before applying to graduate school in creative writing at the University of Iowa. He said, "Writing is a habit, an addiction, as powerful and overmastering an urge as putting a bottle to your lips or a spike in your arm." His teachers at Iowa included John Cheever and John Irving. Boyle was also studying for a Ph.D., and he wrote thick, scholarly papers on 19th century literature at the same time he was writing stories for magazines like The Paris Review and Atlantic Monthly. In 1981, he came out with his first novel, Water Music, about a Scottish explorer named Mungo Park who travels down the Niger River with a drunken con man from London. He's since published more than ten novels and story collections.

Boyle said about writing, "First you have nothing, and then, astonishingly, after ripping out your brain and your heart and betraying your friends and ex-lovers and dreaming like a zombie over the page till you can't see or hear or smell or taste, you have something."

And he said, "My goal is to make literature interesting, sexy, to bring literature back to the jaded, dull American masses, especially the young people who don't have an experience of literature and to make them realize that this is important, as important as . . . rock 'n roll."

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




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