Jan. 26, 2011

Eight. Doing the Dishes

by Jeanne Lohmann

We lived in so many houses, Gloria: Indiana Avenue,
Summit and Fourth, the double on Hudson Street.
And that upstairs apartment on North High we rented
from Armbruster's. Mother thought it Elizabethan,
romantic, with its leaded glass windows and wood-beamed
ceilings. Our entrance was at the side, at the top of stairs
that creaked late at night when we came home from our dates.
You had more of these than I did, even if I was older.
It was 1943, and our brother Harry was in the Navy.
I'd had a year away at college, and you were
still in high school. On this particular night
in the kitchen, doing the supper dishes, you
drying while I washed, you told me that your friend
Monabelle had a premature baby, and you'd been there,
helped to find a shoebox to put the baby in. I tried
to imagine this, kept seeing the cardboard box
with the baby, Monabelle bleeding and crying.
You didn't want our parents to hear, so we talked
softly while we put the dishes in the drainer
on the sink and hung the towels to dry.
The pilot light on the range burned purple blue
and I saw both of us new in that light, you
with so much to teach me, my self-absorbed
studious life, so intent on saving the world.

"Eight. Doing the Dishes" by Jeanne Lohmann, from Calls from a Lighted House. © Fithian Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1784, Benjamin Franklin (books by this author) wrote a letter to his daughter saying that he was not pleased about the choice of bald eagle as the symbol of America. He wished it had not been chosen as a "representative of our country" because, he said, it is a "Bird of bad moral Character." Franklin wrote about the eagle: "Like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy."

There was a different fowl that Franklin championed as a true representative of the budding United States: "The Turkey," he wrote 227 years ago today, "is a much more respectable Bird, and ... a true original Native of America."

It's the birthday of young adult fantasy novelist Shannon Hale, (books by this author) born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on this day in 1974. Her 2005 novel, Princess Academy, was a 2006 Newberry Honor Book selection and a New York Times best-seller. She writes fiction for adults, too — most recently the novel The Actor and the Housewife (2009).

She studied drama and English in college and took a break to be a Mormon missionary in Paraguay, which she said was very hard and lonely, a wonderful spiritual experience, and excellent training for a writer. She was pen pals with a boy named Dean Hale, one of her high school flings, and when she returned she thought she wanted to marry him but not quite yet; she was 22. So they broke up and she moved to Montana to do an MFA in Creative Writing. She said she was "considered the worst writer in the program" — didn't even get a chance to teach the undergrads — and in the years afterward, she got hundreds of rejections.

To pay the bills, she wrote computer-based training materials for large corporations. On her lunch break, she would work on her novel, in sections that she e-mailed herself everyday. That novel was a retelling of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Goose Girl. She finished the manuscript and found an agent, and then the novel was rejected nine times. She was laid off from her job. And then her novel sold to Bloomsbury, the same company that published Harry Potter. When Goose Girl was published in 2003, it was a huge success. It became a best-seller, won a bunch of awards, was translated into several languages, and has gone through many printings.

Goose Girl became the first novel in her popular fantasy series "Bayern." Other books in the series include Enna Burning (2004) — whose protagonist is one of the characters in The Goose Girl — and also River Secrets (2006), a coming-of-age tale starring a forest child who doubles as a spy and investigates unsolved murders. The fourth, and most recent, is Forest Born (2009).

Her pen pal from her time in Paraguay became her husband, and recently they've co-authored a couple of graphic novels, including Rapunzel's Revenge (2008) and Calamity Jack (2010), which came out just last year.

The Goose Girl begins:
She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.
The pacing queen directed ministers and physicians to the crib. They listened to her breathing and her hummingbird heart, felt her fierce grip and her tiny fingers soft as salamander skin. All was sound. But her eyes did not open.
For three days the grave-faced attendants came and went. They prodded her, lifted her lids, slipped thick yellow syrups down her throat.
"You are a princess," the queen whispered to her ear. "Open your eyes."
The baby cooed in her sleep.
When the third day had worn away to the lake blue of evening, a hand parted the nursery curtains. All was still for the night. The queen dozed on the bed. The baby in her crib dreamed of milk, her round, perfect lips nursing in sleep. A woman in a fern green robe pulled aside the curtains and tiptoed across the carpets. She slid her callused hands under the infant's back and head, held her up, and grinned.
"Did you call me out of my house to come and tell you stories?" she said. "I will, my fat one, if you will listen."

It's the birthday of Ellen DeGeneres, (books by this author) born in Metairie, Louisiana, on this day in 1958. She was raised a Christian Scientist, and as a child, she told jokes to cheer up her depressed mother. She went off to college, dropped out, worked at a law office, waited tables, tended bar, sold clothes, and painted houses. She started doing stand-up comedy around New Orleans in the 1980s. One of her friends advised her to go to therapy, and she said that that's when she got the idea to tour. She told her friend: "Why should I pay a stranger to listen to me talk when I can get strangers to pay to listen to me talk?'"

She headed out to California, had a big breakthrough at the San Francisco Comedy Festival, and started performing at The Improv in L.A. In 1994, her own television show first aired on ABC and became one of the most-watched TV shows of the mid-'90s. In 1995, she published her book My Point ... And I Do Have One, and it debuted at the No. 1 spot on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. She wrote a second book, called The Funny Thing Is ... (2003).

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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