Oct. 11, 2009

If I Gave Up

by Kelly-Anne Riess

I would have followed you
to Edmonton
found a job waitressing    babysitting

even though I have three degrees
a temporary fix
while you finished school
near mountains where you climb

I wish I'd known you
when you didn't know what you wanted
then maybe you would've followed me to the Peg
I could never live in Manitoba     you said
would feel bad if I gave up
anything for you
so you ended it

even so      you couldn't stay away
visited me every summer
until she moved in

after graduation you went up north
how's that better than Winnipeg
you work 20 days on
fly down to her on days off
it could be me

"If I Gave Up" by Kelly-Anne Riess, from To End a Conversation. © Thistledown Press Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1975 that Saturday Night Live had its premiere, with George Carlin as host. The first sketch had Michael O’Donoghue as an ESL teacher attempting to teach English to his Eastern European student, John Belushi. Janis Ian and Billy Preston played music, Andy Kaufman and the Muppets were special guests, and Paul Simon made an appearance.

It's the birthday of novelist Elmore Leonard, (books by this author) born in New Orleans in 1925. Straight out of college he got a job at an advertising agency, so he would get up and write every morning at 5 a.m. before going into the office. He published some pulp Westerns, and then started writing crime fiction, and went on to write 43 books. Many of them have been turned into movies, including his novels Get Shorty (1990), Be Cool (1999), and Rum Punch (1992), which Quentin Tarantino made into the film Jackie Brown.

He said, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

The film To Have and Have Not had its premiere on this day in 1944. It was based on the novel To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) which was a hard novel for Hemingway to write, and took him about four years. He had been accused of being politically apathetic, so in this novel he tried to engage with the politics of Cuba and Key West, but the result was generally panned by critics. Philip Rahv of the Partisan Review summed it up: “In transcending his political indifference, he has not, however, at the same time transcended his political ignorance.” Hemingway published the novel in 1937, and in 1939, he sold the film, radio, and television rights for $10,000.

The film To Have and Have Not opened on this day at the Hollywood Theater in Manhattan for an exclusive showing, and itgrossed $46,200 in its first week at that one theater, and went on to be a blockbuster. It was billed as “Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not,”but in reality it was based very loosely on the novel. A man named Jules Furthman wrote the screenplay, but the government objected to it because it portrayed Cuba in an unflattering way, and in those days — the Batista regime — the U.S. and Cuba were allies. So Warner Brothers told the film’s director that the film would have to be cancelled, even though production had already started.

So the director took it to his friend William Faulkner, (books by this author) a screenwriter on the Warner Brothers payroll. Faulkner took the script and rewrote it, changing the setting to Martinique, imagining a new political conflict, combining characters, dropping others, and rewriting dialogue. But since it had attracted the government’s notice, all the changes to the script had to be sent to the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information. Since they were on a tight recording schedule, Faulkner was writing each scene about three days before it was shot, and he helped make changes even during filming. Everyone was pleased with the result, but Faulkner himself wrote to his agent: “After being present for a while at the frantic striving of motion pictures to justify their existence in a time of strife and terror, I have about come to the conclusion which they dare not admit: that the printed word and all its ramifications and photographications is nihil nisi fui; in a word, a dollar mark striving frantically not to DISSOLVE into the symbol 1A.”

To Have and Have Not is celebrated as a collaboration between two Nobel Prize winners, although Hemingway and Faulkner did not actually interact during the process of making the film, and apparently Faulkner never mentioned Hemingway at all. And neither one of them wrote the most famous line in the film: “You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” It was improvised on the spot by the director as a screen test for Lauren Bacall, and she did so well that Faulkner wrote it into the screenplay.

It's the 83rd birthday of the monk Thich Nhat Hanh, (books by this author) born on this day in Tha Tien, Vietnam (1926). He’s the author of many books on Buddhist thought, including Peace Is Every Step (1991), and his books have sold more than 1.5 million copies in English. He was exiled from Vietnam because of his anti-war work there, and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He just finished up a lecture tour in California and New York.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Stark Young, (books by this author) born in Como, Mississippi (1881). He wrote a best-selling novel about Southern plantation culture during the Civil War, So Red the Rose (1934).

He said, “I who know the smallness of my voice and the tiny stink of all our journalistic voices repeated wonder if any words of mine could matter much.”

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
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