Mar. 23, 2006

The Rider

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Rider" by Naomi Shihab Nye from Fuel: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. © Boa Editions. Reprinted with permission.

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer, born in Boston (1857). She's known for publishing the first cookbook in American history. As a young woman she worked as a housekeeper, cooking and taking care of a young girl named Marcia Shaw. Over time, she taught Marcia how to cook, and to help the girl remember what to do she wrote down simple, precise cooking instructions.

At the time, writing down recipes was almost unheard of. People learned to cook by doing. Measurements were also inexact. Everything was made with a pinch of this and a dash of that. After attending the Boston Cooking School, Fannie Farmer realized that a book full of precise instructions on how to prepare a wide variety of dishes might help many young women become better cooks.

She compiled all the recipes she had ever learned, along with advice on how to set a table, how to scald milk, to cream butter, to remove stains and to clean a copper boiler. At first, all the publishers turned her down because they reasoned that these were all things young women could learn from their mothers. Finally, Little Brown agreed to publish the book if Fannie Farmer would pay for the printing of the first three thousand copies.

The book became a kind of kitchen bible for young American wives and went on to sell more than four million copies.

It was on this day in 1743, that George Frideric Handel's oratorio "Messiah" had its London premiere. Handel had spent most of his career writing operas in Germany and Italy, but in 1711 he opened one of his operas in London and it became a blockbuster, selling out the Queen's Theater for fifteen performances. But the problem for Handel was that traditional opera was going out of style in England. Critics began to attack his work as too extravagant and full of operatic clichés. He produced a series of operas in the 1730s that had smaller and smaller audiences until finally his theater closed. He had a stroke and decided to take a break from composing. Most people thought his career as a composer was over.

But instead of giving up, Handel decided to turn his attention to the oratorio, a musical form that was like a religious opera, which told biblical stories in the form of music. In the summer of 1741 he began work on a new oratorio called "The Messiah." For twenty-five days he worked almost without any breaks, often skipping his meals and staying up all night. When he finished, he said, "I think God has visited me ... I think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself."

The first performance of "The Messiah" was at a charity concert in Dublin. It got great reviews, but Handel wasn't satisfied with it, and he spent almost another year revising parts of the score. It finally had its London premiere in the audience of the king on this day in 1743. The audience was overwhelmed by the performance.

On this day in 1989, a mountain-sized asteroid passed within 500,000 miles of Earth. According to NASA, this was a very close call. It would have hit with the strength of 40,000 hydrogen bombs, created a crater the size of the District of Columbia and destroyed everything within a hundred miles in all directions.

On this day in 1913, California novelist Jack London wrote to six writers, including H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, asking how much they are paid for their writing. London, who grew up in extreme poverty, always claimed that his chief motive for writing was money. He told his colleagues, "I have published thirty-three books, as well as an ocean of magazine stuff, and yet I have never heard the rates that other writers receive." One of the writers London wrote to—Winston Churchill, the American novelist, not the British Prime Minister—wrote back to him with useful information. In his letter thanking Churchill for his reply, London invited him to stay at his house in Sonoma County, California. He wrote, "It is as a born Californian that I dare to say that we will show you here a different California from any that you have seen so far ... this is a dandy place for a man to loaf in and to work in."

It was on this day in 1775 that Patrick Henry gave the speech that made his name, ending with the words, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

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