Dec. 2, 2006

The Longly-Weds Know

by Leah Furnas

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Poem: "The Longly-Weds Know" by Leah Furnas, from To Love One Another. © Grayson Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Longly-Weds Know

That it isn't about the Golden Anniversary at all,
But about all the unremarkable years
that Hallmark doesn't even make a card for.

It's about the 2nd anniversary when they were surprised
to find they cared for each other more than last year

And the 4th when both kids had chickenpox
and she threw her shoe at him for no real reason

And the 6th when he accidentally got drunk on the way
home from work because being a husband and father
was so damn hard

It's about the 11th and 12th and 13th years when
they discovered they could survive crisis

And the 22nd anniversary when they looked
at each other across the empty nest, and found it good.

It's about the 37th year when she finally
decided she could never change him

And the 38th when he decided
a little change wasn't that bad

It's about the 46th anniversary when they both
bought cards, and forgot to give them to each other

But most of all it's about the end of the 49th year
when they discovered you don't have to be old

to have your 50th anniversary!!!!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Ann Patchett, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1963). She's best known for her novel Bel Canto (2001), about a hostage crisis in which terrorists take control over an extravagant party and hold the guests hostage for more than four months. Over time, some hostages and terrorists become friends and even lovers.

Ann Patchett said, "If I weren't a novelist, the thing I would most like to do is build dioramas. I was one of those kids who built little worlds in shoeboxes. That's basically what novel writing is. You get to build every tree, every person, put them all in place, and decide when the sun comes up and goes down. That I can make a living at that is astonishing."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer T.C. (Thomas Coraghessan) Boyle, (books by this author) born in Peekskill, New York (1948). He was born Thomas John Boyle, but he changed his middle name to Coraghessan when he was 17. He said, "I suppose it's an affectation, of a sort, but what the hell. There are five billion of us on the planet all screaming for attention."

He never read books when he was growing up, but he loved the stories his mother read to him from newspapers. Both of his parents were alcoholics, and as a young man Boyle was a bad student and a troublemaker. He lived for several years as a drug addict, but after a friend overdosed, he decided to replace drugs with writing.

His first big success came when he published a story in The Paris Review called "Descent of Man," about a woman who falls in love with a chimpanzee. Boyle has gone on to write many novels, including The Road to Wellville (1993) about health fads in the late 1800s, and Drop City (2003) about a hippy commune. His most recent book is Talk Talk, which came out this year (2006).

It's the birthday of short-story writer George Saunders, (books by this author) born in Amarillo, Texas (1958). He's the author of two short-story collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) and Pastoralia (2000).

He grew up on the south side of Chicago, where his dad sold coal to apartment buildings. In high school Saunders read Ayn Rand and decided that the only worthy work was technological work, so he went to the Colorado School of Mines and studied geophysical engineering. He got a job for an oil company in Indonesia, and started writing fiction on the side. But he found his own work painfully earnest. He said, "In all my stories, a stoic young man who has just arrived in Asia witnesses something brutal and then recoils in silent horror."

After reading Jack Kerouac, he decided that he needed to become a drifter in order to write, so he quit his job, moved back to the States, and worked as a roofer, a slaughterhouse laborer, and a convenience store clerk. He tried to write about his working-class life in the style of Hemingway, but everything came out trite and boring.

Then one night, he had a dream that he worked at a giant surreal theme park, and he decided to try to turn that dream into a short story. And that dream inspired him to start writing the short stories that became his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996).

George Saunders's short story "The Falls" begins, "Morse found it nerve-wracking to cross the St. Jude grounds just as school was being dismissed because he felt that if he smiled at the uniformed Catholic children they might think he was a wacko or pervert and if he didn't smile they might think he was an old grouch made bitter by the world, which surely, he felt, by certain yardsticks, he was. Sometimes he wasn't entirely sure he wasn't even a wacko of sorts, although certainly he wasn't a pervert. Of that he was certain. Or relatively certain. Being overly certain, he was relatively sure, was what eventually made one a wacko."

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