Oct. 18, 2012


by W.D. Snodgrass

"Fish oils," my doctor snorted, "and oily fish
are actually good for you. What's actually wrong
for anyone your age are all those dishes
with thick sauce that we all pined for so long
as we were young and poor. Now we can afford
to order such things, just not to digest them;
we find what bills we've run up in the stored
plaque and fat cells of our next stress test."

My own last test scored in the top 10 percent
of males in my age bracket. Which defies
all consequences or justice—I've spent
years shackled to my desk, saved from all exercise.
My dentist, next: "Your teeth seem quite good
for someone your age, better than we'd expect
with so few checkups or cleanings. Teeth should
repay you with more grief for such neglect"—

echoing how my mother always nagged,
"Brush a full 100 strokes," and would jam
cod liver oil down our throats till we'd go gagging
off to flu-filled classrooms, crammed
with vegetables and vitamins. By now,
I've outlasted both parents whose plain food
and firm ordinance must have endowed
this heart's tough muscle—weak still in gratitude.

"Lasting" by W. D. Snodgrass, from Not for Specialists. © BOA Editions, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Alaska Day, which commemorates the formal transfer of territory from Russia to the United States in 1867. It's a legal holiday in Alaska; state employees get a paid day of vacation, children get out of school early, many businesses take the day off, and there's a parade. There's also a flag-raising ceremony like the one that took place on this day at Fort Sitka 142 years ago, where in great solemnity the Russian flag was lowered and the U.S. flag hoisted up in its place, with accompanying gun shots fired in salute.

It's the birthday of A.J. Liebling (books by this author), born in New York City (1904), a staff writer for The New Yorker whose favorite subjects were journalism, food, and boxing. But he also wrote about seal trainers at the circus, his nostalgia for speakeasies, Greco-Roman wrestlers, aquariums, hat-check concession stands, cigar stores, coon dogs, and race cars.

Liebling said, "Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience."

It's the birthday of Rick Moody (books by this author), born in New York City (1961). He had a mental breakdown when he was 25 years old, and he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. After he left, it took him six months before he could write again because he was so used to drinking while he wrote. It took him awhile to figure out how to write sober, but once he did, he said that his writing got better.

When he was 31, Moody published Garden State, a novel about lost 20-somethings in suburban New Jersey. He said that his breakdown is visible in the novel: "You can see that like a big fault line running through the book — the before and the after. I think it's a truly dreadful book but it's emotionally accessible and vulnerable and I admire that."

He has written a number of novels and short-story collections since then, including The Ice Storm (1995) and The Diviners (2005), and a memoir, The Black Veil (2002). His most recent book is The Four Fingers of Death (2010), which is more than 700 pages long and deals with — among other things — a failed mission to Mars, a talking chimpanzee, and a severed hand that spreads deadly bacteria. The whole book is supposedly a novelization of a fictional 2025 remake of an actual 1963 B-movie, The Crawling Hand.

It's the birthday of Terry McMillan (books by this author), born in Port Huron, Michigan (1951), who published her first novel, Mama, in 1987. And when the publisher declined to promote the book, McMillan set up her own nationwide reading tour at bookstores and colleges all across the country. She managed to sell out the entire first printing of her book before it was officially published. She's since become one of the best-selling African-American authors in history. Her novel Waiting to Exhale (1992) was one of the first novels to portray affluent African-Americans who don't have to struggle against racism or poverty.

It's the birthday of the playwright Wendy Wasserstein (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1950), who fell in love with theater at a young age, but she didn't consider it a serious career option. She went on to write a lot of successful off-Broadway plays while most of her friends and siblings got married and had children. She began to think a lot about what she'd sacrificed by devoting herself to theater instead of to family life, so she wrote a play about it, and that was The Heidi Chronicles (1988), about a woman who has clung to her all her feminist ideals while all of her friends have given them up. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

On this day in 1896, Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull premiered in St. Petersburg (books by this author). Most of the audience was confused and thought it was going to star a well-known comic actress. But when they realized she wasn't part of the cast, and that the play wasn't very funny, the audience rioted. The actors had only rehearsed a few times, and they kept forgetting their lines. The performance was a total failure, and Chekhov declared he would never write another play. But before the end of the year, he had begun work on Uncle Vanya (1897).

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
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “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
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show