Mar. 30, 2012


by Joyce Sutphen

My father will not
climb into the trees

He is eighty-four
and tells me
that he was never

fond of heights,
that he hated
putting up the pipes

to fill the silo,
that he did not enjoy
climbing to the top

of the barn
to fix the pulley
on the hay-sling.

I have no desire
to be in the air,
he says.

And I always thought
he loved walking
the rim of the silo,

waving his hat
in circles overhead,
shouting down to
where we stood
grounded and gazing
up at him.

"Grounded" by Joyce Sutphen, from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the French poet Paul Verlaine (books by this author), born in Metz, in the northeast of France, in 1844. He began writing as young as 14, when he sent his poem "La Mort" to Victor Hugo. He published his first volume of poetry when he was 22.

Verlaine wrote:
You must let your poems ride their luck
On the back of the sharp morning air
Touched with the fragrance of mint and thyme ...
And everything else is Literature.

It's the birthday of Vincent van Gogh, born in Zundert, Holland (1853), a painter and also great letter-writer. He wrote about art, of course, but also friendship, religion, prostitutes, interior decorating, and his love affairs. His letters are often lively, engaging, and passionate; they also frequently reflect his struggles with bipolar disorder. He wrote: "I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars." And he wrote: "What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart."

He wrote thousands of letters to his brother Theo over the course of his life. Theo's widow, Joanna, published the first complete edition of van Gogh's letters to her husband in 1913.

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler (books by this author), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1933). He worked for a teacher for 20 years before he became serious about writing, and his first novel, Staggerford (1977), was published when he was 42. He said he learned his craft at the Red Owl Grocery Store in Plainview, Minnesota where he started working when he was 11. "[I]t was there that I acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist, namely ... the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him." In 1994, he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative condition similar to Parkinson's disease. He died of the disease in 2008 and was still writing just days before his death.

It's the birthday of the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey (books by this author), born John Casey in Dublin (1880). Though he was born into a middle-class family, he was the first Irish playwright to feature the lives of the working class. He wrote three classic plays about lower-class Dublin families during times of revolution and violence in Ireland: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

It's the birthday of Ray Magliozzi, one of the "Tappet Brothers," co-host, with his brother Tom, of the popular NPR series Car Talk. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1949, and went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Humanities and Science. In 1973, he and Tom opened Hacker's Heaven, a do-it-yourself garage space where people could come and work on their own cars. As it turned out, a lot of the do-it-yourself grease monkeys that visited the garage didn't know what they were doing, and the Magliozzi brothers ended up doing most of the repairs themselves for $2.50 an hour, which is what they were charging people to rent a parking space. They eventually converted Hacker's Heaven to a more conventional car repair shop, which they called the Good News Garage. Ray still runs the garage, in addition to his Car Talk duties.

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
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  • “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
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  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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