Jul. 31, 2008

Eating Together

by Kim Addonizio

I know my friend is going,
though she still sits there
across from me in the restaurant,
and leans over the table to dip
her bread in the oil on my plate; I know
how thick her hair used to be,
and what it takes for her to discard
her man's cap partway through our meal,
to look straight at the young waiter
and smile when he asks
how we are liking it. She eats
as though starving—chicken, dolmata,
the buttery flakes of filo—
and what's killing her
eats, too. I watch her lift
a glistening black olive and peel
the meat from the pit, watch
her fine long fingers, and her face,
puffy from medication. She lowers
her eyes to the food, pretending
not to know what I know. She's going.
And we go on eating.

"Eating Together" by Kim Addonizio from What Is This Thing Called Love. © W. W. Norton and Company, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits. He wrote Spiritual Exercises(1524), a book of meditations, prayers, and various other mental exercises designed to strengthen Catholic faith. In 1534, Ignatius and six others founded the Society of Jesus in a crypt in Paris, France.

He said, "Teach us to give and not to count the cost."

It's the birthday of children's fantasy writer J.K. Rowling, (books by this author) born Joanne Rowling in Yate, England, in 1965. She has written seven novels in the Harry Potter series, a series that has sold nearly 400 million copies.

Rowling grew up in rural England. She says that the character of Hermione in her series is "a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I'm not particularly proud of." She studied French and Classics and went on to be a secretary for Amnesty International, but she didn't like secretarial work. One day on a cross-country train trip, the idea of Harry Potter "came fully formed" into her mind. "It started with Harry," she said, "then all these characters and situations came flooding into my head." She was frustrated because she didn't have a pen to write things down, so she just sat for four hours thinking and hoped she would remember, then started writing as soon as she got home.

In the next few years, she went to Portugal, got married, and then divorced. She moved to Scotland with her young daughter, where she started writing in cafés because taking her daughter for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep and give her a few hours to write.

It took J.K. Rowling a while to find a publisher for her novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (published in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). In 1997, Bloomsbury published the first Harry Potter book with a print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which went to libraries. It has now sold about 120 million copies. Her publisher thought young boys were her target audience and was worried that they wouldn't buy a novel by a woman, so they encouraged her to use initials instead. Joanne didn't have a middle name, so she took her grandmother's name, Kathleen, and made herself J.K. Rowling.

J.K. Rowling is now the highest-earning novelist in history.

J.K. Rowling has launched a new generation of readers (and some adult readers) into the world of fantasy, but it's a genre that she doesn't actually like much herself. She didn't even realize that she was writing fantasy until after her first book was published. She says, "You know, the unicorns were in there. There was the castle, God knows. But I really had not thought that that's what I was doing. And I think maybe the reason that it didn't occur to me is that I'm not a huge fan of fantasy." She has never managed to finish the Lord of the Rings series or the Narnia series, and her favorite authors are realists: Jane Austen, whom she calls "the pinnacle to which all other authors aspire," and contemporary Irish novelist Roddy Doyle.

She planned out the entire Harry Potter series before she wrote the first book, and she says: "I wrote the story I meant to write. If I lost readers along the way, so be it, but I still told my story. The one I wanted. Without permitting it to sound too corny, that's what I owe to my characters. That we won't be deflected, either by adoration or by criticism."

And she says, "You have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good."

And, "What we forget is that kids lead this whole hidden life, however close they are to their parents. I'm aware of this with my seven-year-old daughter. I don't find it constantly, but I know it's the reality. It's the slow process of separation—and slightly underground. I have to be aware that my daughter is leading this kid life I cannot share. And that's part of the books."

J.K. Rowling, who wrote, "If you're holding out for universal popularity, I'm afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time."

And, "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

And, "Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Kim Addonizio, (books by this author) born on this day in 1954 in Washington, D.C. Her dad was a sportswriter for The Washington Post, and her mom was the tennis champion Pauline Betz. She has written four volumes of poetry, including Tell Me (2000), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and What Is This Thing Called Love (2004). Her most recent novel, My Dreams Out in the Street (2007), tells the story of Rita Jackson, a young woman living on the streets of San Francisco in the '90s. Addonizio lives in Oakland, California.

She says, "I think having to take a university job would kill the poetry in me forever." She says that for a writer, "A feeling of spaciousness is crucial. Ideas come from reading, experiences, TV, looking at art, dreams, eavesdropping. Living in as many directions as possible."

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




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