Jun. 22, 2008

Of The Terrible Doubt Of Appearances

by Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills,
       shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be
       these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and
       the real something has yet to be known,
(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
       and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
       aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
       indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
       might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
       they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
       points of view;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer'd by
       my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
       holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and
       reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am
       silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of
       identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

"Of The Terrible Doubt Of Appearances" by Walt Whitman. Public Domain.

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque, (books by this author) born in Osnabrück, Germany (1898). He's the author of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), about World War I. He was drafted into the German military during the war, but because his mother was sick, he was allowed to visit her often and didn't see much fighting. In one of the only battles he did take part in, he suffered shrapnel wounds and spent the rest of the war in the hospital.

After the war, he took a teacher's course offered to veterans by the government, but quit after a year. He worked as a test-car driver, a gravestone salesman, an organist in an insane asylum, and eventually got a job writing for an athletics magazine. He wrote All Quiet on the Western Front in his spare time, and it was a huge success. The book describes trench warfare during World War I, told by a young man in the German army. It sold more than a million copies in Germany in its first year. Nazis were beginning their rise to power at the time, and they hated the book because it portrayed World War I as misguided and pointless. It was one of the books they publicly burned in 1933. When the film version of the book premiered in Berlin, Nazi gangs attacked the theater. Remarque lost his German citizenship in 1938 and eventually moved to the United States.

It's the birthday of novelist and memoirist Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (books by this author) born in Englewood, New Jersey (1906). The daughter of a lawyer and an educator, she enjoyed an affluent upbringing that included New York prep schools. She went to Smith College and majored in English, and the year she graduated one of her poems appeared in Scribner's Magazine.

She met Charles Lindbergh in Mexico City, where her dad was an ambassador, at a reception for Lindbergh, who had just completed a solo flight from New York to Paris. Lindbergh took her flying, and afterward, she wrote, "Clouds and stars and birds — I must have been walking with my head down looking at puddles for 20 years." They got married in 1929, and she accompanied him on flying tours around the world. She was in the plane with him, helping to navigate, when he broke the transcontinental speed record in 1930, and the next year she got her own private pilot's license. In the 1930s, she began to write about their adventures in the air and published an article in National Geographic called "Flying around the North Atlantic" (1934). She then wrote North to the Orient (1935), a book about their Arctic-Asian journey, and then Listen! The Wind (1938), about trips across the Atlantic Ocean. She wrote several more books, including a best-selling collection of essays, Gift from the Sea (1955), a book of poems, and several volumes of diaries and letters covering the years she spent flying around the world.

It's the birthday of screenwriter, director, and producer Billy Wilder, born in Sucha, Poland (1906), then part of Austria. His mother, who nicknamed him Billy because of her fascination with Buffalo Bill, died in Auschwitz during World War II. As a teenager, he hung around gambling rooms, playing lots of cards and billiards and learned, he said, "many things about human nature — none of them favorable." He got job as a journalist and wrote crime reports, sports stories, and personality profiles. In a single day, he interviewed Arthur Schnitzler, Richard Strauss and Alfred Adler. He also tried to interview Sigmund Freud, who kicked him out of his office when he learned the name of the newspaper that Wilder was working for, which was considered a tabloid. In addition, Wilder wrote scenes for dozens of silent films and was hired to dance with older women at the Eden Hotel.

After Nazis took power in Germany in the 1930s, Wilder moved to the United States because he was Jewish. He lost his first job, so by law he had to leave the country and return on a new visa. He went to a Mexican border town where some refugees had to wait for years to get back into the United States. Wilder talked his way to the front of the line at the visa office. When he told the border officer that he planned to write movies in Hollywood, the officer said, "Write some good ones," and stamped his passport.

When he got back to Hollywood, he moved into a closet attached to a ladies restroom at a hotel. He said it was hard to sleep, with women coming in and going out at all hours of the night. He learned English by going out on dates with any American woman who was willing, and started writing screenplays for Fox Film Corporation.

Wilder liked to work with a partner writing screenplays. He said that writing alone was "suicidally boring." He would walk around the room shouting and gesturing and his partner was supposed to take notes. After working on a script with Wilder, Raymond Chandler said, "[It was] an agonizing experience and has probably shortened my life."

He eventually produced and directed dozens of films, many with big stars like Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlene Dietrich. Some of his hits were The Apartment (1960), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Double Indemnity (1944).

He said, "The only pictures worth making are the ones that are playing with fire."

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