Dec. 16, 2003

He Attempts to Love His Neighbors

by Alden Nowlan

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "He Attempts to Love His Neighbours," by Alden Nowlan from Selected Poems (House of Anansi Press)

My neighbours do not wish to be loved.
They have made it clear that they prefer to
    go peacefully
about their business and want me to do the same.
This ought not to surprise me as it does;
I ought to know by now that most people have a
    hundred things
they would rather do than have me love them.

There is a television, for instance; the truth
    is that almost everybody,
given the choice between being loved and
    watching TV,
would choose the latter. Love interrupts
interferes with mowing the lawn, washing
    the car,
or walking the dog. Love is a telephone
    ringing or a doorbell
waking you moments after you've finally
    succeeded in getting to sleep.

So we must be careful, those of us who were
    born with
the wrong number of fingers or the gift
of loving; we must do our best to behave
like normal members of society and not make
of ourselves; otherwise it could go hard
    with us.
It is better to bite back your tears,
    swallow your laughter,
and learn to fake the mildly self-deprecating
favored by the bourgeoisie
than to be left entirely alone, as you will be,
if your disconformity embarrasses
your neighbours; I wish I didn't keep forgetting

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the anthropologist Margaret Mead, born in Philadelphia into a family of social scientists (1901). She's famous for her book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). She wrote the book after she visited the South Pacific island and found its people to be more open about sexuality than people in the Western world. Her work has sparked debate and criticism in recent years, but she's still known as one of the forerunners of modern anthropology.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, born in Somerset, England (1917). He is a scientist who has also written many science fiction novels. Clarke built his first telescope when he was thirteen. During World War II, he served in the air force and also sold his first stories. Then in 1945 he wrote an article called "Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-Wide Radio Coverage?" The article explored the possibilities for a satellite that could broadcast signals while orbiting the earth, an idea that would eventually come to fruition as the communications satellite.

Clarke soon began to write many books imagining human contact with extraterrestrial life. In 1968 he wrote the book 2001, and the same year he co-authored a script for the film version with director Stanley Kubrick. The story is set in what is now the present day, but in a world where humans have the power to fly through the solar system. Astronauts head toward Jupiter when they receive a mysterious signal from alien life forms, but their mission is thwarted when the spaceship's computer tries to take control.

It's the birthday of Jane Austen, born in the parish of Steventon in Hampshire, England (1775). Her family was just wealthy enough to be considered part of the gentlemanly class, and her father often struggled to obtain enough money to support her many brothers and sisters.

Austen went to school for a time in the city of Southampton, but she came home when she nearly died from typhoid fever. Her real education began when she discovered her father's library. She began to write stories to entertain her family, inventing satires that poked fun at the great 18th-century novelists. Just after she turned 20, she began to write first drafts for many of her novels. One of these was "First Impressions," which later became Pride and Prejudice. Her father sent the manuscript to a publisher, but received no response.

Her family moved to the resort city of Bath in 1800, and for many years she appears to have written very little. She fell in love with a man she met at the seashore, but soon afterward he died unexpectedly. Then she traveled with her sister to visit a young, clumsy man named Harris Bigg-Wither, who asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted his proposal, but the following morning she did something unheard of in those days: She told him she had changed her mind. She would remain unmarried her entire life.

Austen published her first book, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. The title page said only that the book was written "by a lady," and nobody outside her family knew she was the author. Then she began to work on a new draft of Pride and Prejudice. She wrote on a table in the drawing room, hiding her notebooks whenever she heard someone come through the door. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, and it became a sensation with the British public.

Austen wrote several more novels, with her identity no longer a secret, but her readers grew less enthusiastic. The critics ignored her next book, Mansfield Park (1814). Then she wrote Emma (1816), which is now believed to be one of her greatest books. One contemporary reviewer said "the work will probably become a favorite with all those who seek for harmless amusement, rather than deep pathos or appalling horrors in works of fiction." Her relatives suggested she try writing another kind of novel, such as historical romance. She replied that "I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other." Austen died in 1817, when she was 41, probably of Addison's Disease. Her last novel, Persuasion, was published a year later.

Jane Austen said, "When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort."

It's the birthday of the philosopher and poet George Santayana, born in Madrid (1863). He is famous for saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," which became the epigraph for The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a book by William L. Shirer (1959). Santayana wrote a great deal about art and the importance of creative thinking. He once said, "Cultivate imagination, love it, give it endless forms, but do not let it deceive you. Enjoy the world, travel over it and learn its ways, but do not let it hold you." As he grew older, he became tired of his teaching position at Harvard and what he called the "thistles of trivial and narrow scholarship," so he left Harvard and spent the rest of his life writing. His books include many philosophical works, as well as collections of poetry. He also spent about 20 years working on a novel, The Last Puritan (1935), about a young man's struggles in Boston high society just before World War I.

He said, "The lover knows much more about absolute good and universal beauty than the logician or theologian, unless the latter, too, be lovers in disguise."

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
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show