Jul. 21, 2010

Just to Feel Human

by James Tate

A single apple grew on our tree, which
was some kind of miracle because it was a
pear tree. We walked around it scratching
our heads. "You want to eat it?" I asked
my wife. "I'd die first," she replied. We
went back into the house. I stood by the
kitchen window and stared at it. I thought
of Adam and Eve, but I didn't believe in Adam
and Eve. My wife said, "If you don't stop
staring at that stupid apple I'm going to go
out there and eat it." "So go," I said, "but
take your clothes off first, go naked." She
looked at me as if I were insane, and then
she started to undress, and so did I.

"Just to Feel Human" by James Tate, from Memoir of the Hawk. © The Ecco Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). He was just 22 when he moved to Paris with his wife, Hadley, having taken a job as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. Even though he was making decent money, he liked the idea of living like a bohemian, so they moved into an apartment in the Latin Quarter, in a neighborhood full of drunks, beggars, and street musicians. Rent was 250 francs a month, or about $18, which left them plenty of money to travel around Europe when they wanted to.

He rented himself a room in a hotel, and every morning, after breakfast, he would walk to his writing room and work. He said: "I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'" One of those sentences read, "I have stood on the crowded back platform of a seven o'clock … bus as it lurched along the wet lamp lit street while men who were going home to supper never looked up from their newspapers as we passed Notre Dame grey and dripping in the rain."

It's the birthday of Hart Crane, (books by this author) born Harold Hart Crane in Garrettsville, Ohio (1899). His mother was a Chicago debutante and his father was a very successful candy businessman. An only child, he was frequently left in the company of various relatives while his parents went off on business trips together.

From the time he was a teenager, he knew that he was gay, and he was fascinated by the life and career of Oscar Wilde. When his parents' marriage fell apart, Crane dropped out of school and took a train from Cleveland to New York to begin life as a poet. He loved being in New York, hanging out with poets like E.E. Cummings and Allen Tate. But he had trouble making a living there, couldn't hold down a job. His drinking got worse and worse, and soon he was a serious alcoholic. In 1932, at the age of 33, he killed himself by jumping overboard a steam ship on his way from Mexico to New York. He left behind his masterpiece, The Bridge (1930).

It's the birthday of Tess Gallagher, (books by this author) born in Port Angeles, Washington (1943). Both of her parents were loggers — her mother was a choker setter (she fastened steel cables to logs so that they could be pulled out), and her father was a high rigger (he climbed to the tops of spar trees, trimming them along the way, and fastened lines and blocks to them). She grew up on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, she was the oldest of five kids, and the family never had much money. She loved reading and started writing for the town newspaper when she was in high school, and a couple of years later she took a class about iambic pentameter from Theodore Roethke at the University of Washington.

She started publishing, books like Stepping Out (1974) and Under Stars (1978). Since the beginning, she has stuck with a small publishing house, Graywolf Press, even as she became more famous and got offers from big publishers.

She was divorced from her second husband when she met the fiction writer Raymond Carver at a writers' conference in Dallas. They fell in love. Carver was a recovering alcoholic, had been sober for about a year, and she helped him stay sober. He died of lung cancer in 1988, and she was devastated. In 2002, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she decided that there was nothing to lose and she should be courageous and take on all the things she had avoided. One of her big decisions was to go ahead and take on one of the biggest publishers in the country, Alfred A. Knopf, and publish Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) as he had written it before it fell into the hands of editors, which she believes is what her late husband would have wanted.

In addition to serving as Carver's literary executor, she has continued to write her own award-winning books, most recently Dear Ghosts (2006), a book of poetry, and The Man From Kinvara: Selected Stories (2009).

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




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