Dec. 2, 2011

I like a green olive
stuffed with a pimento
after it has been submerged
for some time in a martini.
I like to go downtown with my husband,
sit in a booth at the Grand
and let the drink rub the edge
off the inane fight we had
about the furniture salesman
and whether he treated us fairly,
my view, or whether he tried
to put one over on us,
my husband's view.
In some moods we'll fight about anything
just to make the other
carry the weight of anger
we lug all day through our lives.
But that moment
when we climb into bed
on a winter's night,
letting our bodies lie down,
letting the day be over,
its not unlike the way gin
loosens the rope, lets float
the raft into its stillest waters.
Happy hour, when the landscape
loses its daylight meaning
as it slips into the silk of dusk
before night pours down its jazzy notes
in a cathedral of crushed velvet.
We are sitting side by side in the booth,
watching the flurry of holiday shoppers
come in from the cold.
By now the salesman is a jerk,
or he's a helluva guy,
either way is fine.
We are talking about anything,
having drifted out into the calm
plainness of intimacy. Nothing
profound, just a place to rest
at the end of the day,
the cord between us swinging gently
after the bells have stopped their ringing.

"Gin" by Jacqueline Berger, from The Gift that Arrives Broken. © Autumn House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Ann Patchett (1963) (books by this author). She was born in Los Angeles, but raised in Nashville, Tennessee, by her single mom. Her first published work was in The Paris Review, not bad for a 21-year-old writer. She published her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, in 1992 after several rejections and a bad case of writer's block. She wrote the book over a six-month period, while she was living with her mom and waiting tables at T.G.I. Friday's in Nashville. The waitressing job was demoralizing, but she found an unexpected sense of camaraderie there. "Everybody believed that they were special, that they weren't really a waiter, that they were the one who was getting out. ... I had to come to terms with the fact that I was just like everybody else, a girl with a dream and a plate of hot fajitas. You get out not so much because you're special but because you've got enough steel in your soul to crawl up."

Her first big success was 2001's Bel Canto, and she's also written about her friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy, who died of a heroin overdose, in Truth and Beauty: A Friendship (2004). Her most recent novel, State of Wonder, came out this year. It's a modern-day heroine's mythic quest to bring back a formula for everlasting fertility from the jungles of the Amazon.

She recently said: "I have been accused of being a Pollyanna, but I think there are plenty of people dealing with the darker side of human nature, and if I am going to write about people who are kind and generous and loving and thoughtful, so what? In my life I have met astonishingly good people."

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Berg (1948) (books by this author), born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She submitted her first poem to a magazine when she was nine years old. The magazine was American Girl, and the poem was rejected. It took her 25 years to work up the courage to write again. She worked as a registered nurse for 10 years, and one day, she entered an essay contest for Parents magazine and won. She wrote pieces for magazines for the next 10 years, and moved on to novels. Her first, Durable Goods, was published in 1993 and she currently writes about one book a year. Her most recent novel is Once Upon a Time, There Was You (2011).She's dreaming of retiring to a hobby farm, and longs to have a chicken.

Today is the birthday of author and satirist George Saunders (1958) (books by this author). He was born in Amarillo, Texas, and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He always wanted to be a writer, but he viewed college as a place to learn a trade, so he majored in geophysical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. His engineering background gave him a taste for functionality and efficiency in prose as well. "I really like lean prose," he said, "stuff that just does what it's supposed to and gets out of there." He's written several short stories and novellas, and his most recent book, The Braindead Megaphone (2007) is a collection of essays.

He teaches creative writing at Syracuse University, where he gives his students advice like, "Any monkey in a story had better be a dead monkey," and "Aunts and uncles are best construed as heliological small-scale weather systems," and "The number of rooms in a fictional house should be inversely proportional to the years during which the couple living in that house enjoyed true happiness."

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




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