Oct. 23, 2010

Night Bicycle

by Jonathan Johnson

Black mamba of the front tire
over wet streets, the wet streets,
after-rain falling from the neighborhood leaves,
luminescence of lampposts' lamps up
through the trees.

Sink into someone's porch chair
and look at all these leaves
then ride on into the smell of sawdust.
That sweet smell of wood.
Someone is renovating.

May he do it right!
May he be careful.
May he do it right.
May the work of hands satisfy.
Sleep on, Amigos!

The girl who left years ago
loved you behind that window.
She is now some person
Living a state away.
Which only makes her more.

You and me, little poem.
Mi amigo. Compadre.
Inside each dark house
the streetlights keep
doing their thing on the far wall.

Tonight though. Tonight's
streetlight makes me need you.
It's writing indifference,
little poem, indifference
to us on that far wall.

Black mamba of the front tire
over wet streets, the wet streets,
after-rain falling from the neighborhood leaves,
luminescence of lampposts' lamp up
through the trees.

"Night Bicycle" by Jonathan Johnson from In the Land We Imagined Ourselves. © Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Laurie Halse Anderson, (books by this author) born in Potsdam, New York (1961). When she was in second grade, her teacher taught them all how to write haikus, and she thought it was so magical that she decided then and there to be a writer. She is the author of novels for teenagers, novels that deal with issues like sexual violence, child abuse, and eating disorders, as well as more ordinary things like pressure from teachers, and who is the most popular girl in the school, and who comes back from summer vacation looking the best. She has won all kinds of awards, and her books have been New York Times best-sellers.

This September, her National Book Award finalist novel Speak (1999) got a lot of attention when it was singled out by a professor in Republic, Missouri, as a "filthy book" that should not be read by high schoolers. Speak is the story of Melinda, a high school freshman, who stops speaking after a traumatic date rape at a high school party. The professor called it "soft pornography" and insisted that it be removed from the school curriculum, along with a book called Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut. His remarks set off a huge backlash, much of it fueled by a large Twitter campaign in favor of Speak.

It's the birthday of best-selling novelist Michael Crichton, (books by this author) born in Chicago in 1942. He grew up in a suburb of New York, and his dad was the editor of Advertising Age magazine.

He liked to write, and when he was 13 he was on a family vacation to Sunset Crater National Monument in Arizona. He loved it, and he told his parents how surprised he was that there weren't more visitors, and they encouraged him to write about it. His mom said he should send an article to The New York Times, and his dad told him to go interview the ranger. So his family waited outside while Michael went in to do his interview. He recalled later: "Back in the car, driving to the next place, my father said, 'How many visitors do they have every year?' 'I didn't ask that,' I said. 'Is it open all year round?' 'I didn't ask that, either.' 'What was the ranger's name?' 'I didn't ask.' 'Jesus,' my father said. 'What published information did you get?' I showed him the pamphlets and brochures. 'Well, that'll be enough. You can write the story from that.'" And sure enough, The New York Times published his piece, and he was paid 60 dollars. He decided that writing was for him.

Crichton went to Harvard to be an English major, but one of his professors didn't like Crichton's writing style and kept giving him C's. So for an essay on Gulliver's Travels, he turned in an essay written not by him but by George Orwell, and the professor gave him a B- on that. He figured that if Orwell only got a B- at Harvard, the English department was too difficult for him, so he went ahead and switched his major from English to anthropology.

He went on to medical school, but tuition was so expensive that he decided to keep writing to make some extra money, and he tried his hand at novels. His first novel was Odds On (1966), and Signet bought it and then asked who his agent was, so he had to go out and find one. Michael Crichton was a very tall man, 6 feet 9 inches, so he published his first thrillers under the pen name John Lange — lange is the German word for "tall." He was publishing between two and three novels a year, so he wanted a different pseudonym for some of them, and chose "Jeffrey Hudson" for his first big medical thriller, A Case of Need (1968) — Jeffrey Hudson was a famous 17th-century dwarf in the court of King Charles I. The Andromeda Strain (1969), published under his own name, was a best-seller, and Crichton decided to devote his career to writing after all.

He went on to write a series of thrillers, many of them exploring the unintended consequences of science or technology gone too far. His books include Jurassic Park (1990), Rising Sun (1992), and State of Fear (2004). Michael Crichton managed to be a huge success not only in the literary world, but also in film and television. He was a Hollywood director, and he wrote the screenplay for some of the film adaptations of his books, including Jurassic Park. He also created the hit TV series E.R.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Bridges, (books by this author) born in Walmer, England (1844). He worked as a physician until he got so sick that he ended up retiring at the age of 38 and turning all his attention to poetry. He was the poet laureate of Britain, and he is most famous for his long philosophical poem The Testament of Beauty (1929), published six months before his death.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the most popular talk show host in American history, Johnny Carson, born in Corning, Iowa (1925). He grew up an extremely shy boy, but when he was 12 years old he happened to read a how-to book about magic tricks and he later said that it was the discovery of magic that helped him relate to people. He started writing jokes in college and went on to host a TV game show called "Who Do You Trust?" But his big break came when he took over hosting The Tonight Show from Jack Parr in 1962.

By the mid-1970s, more than 15 million people were watching The Tonight Show every night before they went to bed. When he retired in 1992, he had been on the air for 30 years. He almost never appeared in public again, and died in 2005.

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
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