Jan. 13, 2005

Too Much Snow

by Louis Jenkins

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Poem: "Too Much Snow" by Louis Jenkins, from Just Above Water © Holy Cow Press! Reprinted with permission.

Too Much Snow

Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It's the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes "Don't send so much. I'm all alone now. I'll never be able to use so much." To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of short story writer Lorrie Moore, born in Glens Falls, New York (1957). She's the author of the short story collections Like Life (1990) and Birds of America (1998). She skipped a grade in school when she was growing up, and the difference in age between her and her classmates made her feel especially small and shy. She said, "I felt so completely thin that I was afraid to walk over grates. I thought I would fall down the slightest crevice and disappear."

She started writing in college, and published her first story in Seventeen magazine. She was so happy she proceeded to send them everything she'd ever written. She said, "They couldn't get rid of me. I was like a stalker. I sent them everything, and of course they didn't want anything more from me."

It was only after she told her parents about her publication that she found out they had both wanted to be writers themselves. Her father went up into the attic and brought down stories that he'd once submitted to the New Yorker, and her mother admitted that she'd given up journalism for nursing.

In grad school, Moore realized she had to decide whether she wanted to devote her life to writing or to the piano, which had been her first love. She said, "The typewriter and the piano were actually similar ideas, for my mind and for my hands. I was completely unaccomplished musically [but] I was having ecstatic experiences in the practice room and wasn't getting any writing done. So I had to choose." She chose writing, and published her first book of short stories by the time she was twenty-six years old.

Lorrie Moore's first book was Self Help (1985), in which the stories were written in the style of how-to manuals, including "How to Be an Other Woman," "How to Talk to Your Mother," and "How to Be a Writer."

"How to Be a Writer" begins, "First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age—say, 14. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at 15 you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire."

When she was asked in an interview why she writes so often about characters who make lots of jokes, she said, "I feel that when you look out into the world, the world is funny. And people are funny. And that people always try to make each other laugh. I've never been to a dinner party where nobody said anything funny. If you're going to ignore that [as a fiction writer], what are you doing?"

It's the birthday of the novelist Edmund White, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1940). He realized he was gay when he was twelve years old, but he kept trying to blame it on things like his shyness or the fact that his mother was over-protective. He came out of the closet to his father, and his father didn't believe him until he hired a private investigator to follow him around. White spent years going to psychoanalysts, trying to cure himself. He said. "I wanted to be normal, to have a wife and kids, not have a lonely old age." He finally came to terms with his sexuality when a new psychotherapist turned out to be gay as well.

He got a job working for Time Life Books, and he wrote fiction on the side. He wrote five novels about contemporary homosexual life, but he couldn't get any of them published. So finally he wrote Forgetting Elena (1973), about a man who wakes up after a party and can't remember who he is. It was the first novel White had written that didn't mention homosexuality, and it got great reviews. The writer Vladimir Nabokov called it the best new novel he'd read in years.

But even though White had had his first success with a novel that didn't address his own sexuality, he decided that if he was going to be a writer, he wanted to write about his own experiences, and so he set out to become the foremost gay novelist in America. His third novel, A Boy's Own Story (1982) was the first gay coming of age novel in America, and it became a best-seller in the United States and England. He has gone on to write a series of novels, chronicling the history of gay society in his lifetime, including The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988), The Farewell Symphony (1997), and The Married Man (2000.)

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