Jun. 18, 2008

Love: Beginnings

by C. K. Williams

They're at that stage where so much desire streams between them, so much
         frank need and want,
so much absorption in the other and the self and the self-admiring entity
         and unity they make—
her mouth so full, breast so lifted, head thrown back so far in her laughter
         at his laughter,
he so solid, planted, oaky, firm, so resonantly factual in the headiness of
         being craved so,
she almost wreathed upon him as they intertwine again, touch again,
         cheek, lip, shoulder, brow,
every glance moving toward the sexual, every glance away soaring back in
         flame into the sexual—
that just to watch them is to feel again that hitching in the groin, that fill-
         ing of the heart,
the old, sore heart, the battered, foundered, faithful heart, snorting again,
        stamping in its stall.

"Love: Beginnings" by C.K. Williams, from Flesh and Blood. © Farrar/Straus/Giroux, New York, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It is the birthday of musician and songwriter Paul McCartney (1942), born in Liverpool, England, where he picked out chords on a family piano. He sang in the church choir at St. Barnabas, and he got good grades in grammar school at the Liverpool Institute. When he was 14, he learned to play a left-handed guitar and met a local art student named John Lennon.

They formed a "skiffle" band called the Quarrymen. The band made its first appearance in 1957 and then spent several years based in a small Liverpool club called The Cavern. They also played several successful club dates in Hamburg, Germany, and when they returned, they met Brian Epstein, who became their manager. He suggested they replace their current drummer, Pete Best, with a young man named Ringo Starr. By 1963, the band, which had changed its name to the Beatles, was the most popular rock and roll group in England. In February of 1964, they took America by storm with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists McCartney as the best-selling composer in popular music history. His song "Yesterday" is the most recorded ever, with more than 2,000 versions. McCartney, also a painter who has had several solo exhibits, has also authored a book of poetry, Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999 (2001).

It is the birthday of novelist Gail Godwin (1937), (books by this author) born in Birmingham, Alabama. She wrote her first story, about a henpecked husband, at the age of nine.

After studying journalism at Chapel Hill, she took a job as a reporter for The Miami Herald, but lost it after a couple of years because she couldn't stop herself from adding dramatic highlights to her news stories. She moved to London and got a job with a travel service, and she wrote a novel in her spare time about a woman stuck at home on an island while her husband is working on the mainland. She couldn't get it published anywhere.

Then, one day, Godwin wrote the first sentence of a story that began, "'Run away,' he muttered to himself, sitting up and biting his nails." She wasn't sure what it meant, but she said, "A first sentence [like that] sort of excludes a story about a woman in her late twenties, adrift among the options of wifehood, career, vocation, a story that I had begun too many times already — both in fiction and reality — and could not resolve." The result was her short story "An Intermediate Stop," about an English vicar who writes a book about seeing God and becomes famous, only to find that his fame makes him miserable.

That story got Godwin accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she studied under Kurt Vonnegut and was a classmate of John Irving. Her Ph.D. thesis became her first novel, The Perfectionists (1970). Her first big success was the novel A Mother and Two Daughters (1982), about a widow named Nell Strickland and her two recently single daughters, Cate and Lydia. Godwin's next two novels were set in the South and drew upon her own life experiences. A Southern Family (1987) was based on the suicide of her half-brother Tommy, and Father Melancholy's Daughter was based on the depression that plagued Godwin's father for most of his life. In 2001, she published her first book of nonfiction, Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings.

It's the birthday of novelist Amy Bloom, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). She grew up in Great Neck, New York, and she never really fit in with the other kids. She said, "I loved to read a lot of 19th-century literature, which probably didn't do a lot for my playground skills. From the time I was a little kid, I was waiting to grow up. At nine, for my birthday, I was asked what I wanted, and I said, 'my own apartment.'"

She started out wanting to work in the theater, but in college she switched her major to social work, and became a psychotherapist. She was in her 30s with two children before she had any idea she wanted to be a writer.

Then, one afternoon, she got an idea for a mystery novel in her car. She grabbed a piece of cardboard from a McDonald's Happy Meal on the floor of the car and took notes. When she got home, she wrote 15 pages in one sitting. She never finished that mystery novel, but her first short story was selected for the Best American Short Stories in 1991.

She's continued to practice psychotherapy, while writing fiction in her spare time. She said, "I treat both the worried well and the very ill." Many of the characters she writes about suffer from mental illness.

Amy Bloom said, "Some of the traits that led me to be a psychotherapist are the ones I find in myself as a writer. I've spent a lot of time listening to people, and I am endlessly intrigued by relationships, particularly by the gap between what people say and what they truly feel, and the gap between what they do and what they really want."

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




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