Oct. 26, 2012

The Truth

by Ronald Wallace

            for Amy

Her breast cancer, she said,
had metastasized to her liver;
she was going to die, and
soon. She said it made her
sad. I didn't know her well.
We were co-workers and
I liked her, but
what do you say when someone
actually answers the question
how are you?
with the unvarnished truth:
Not well, she said. I haven't
long to live
. And should I
have said Oh you will! Should I
have smoothed it over
with the syrup of nervousness,
or done what I did
which was to
talk about terror and anger,
the unfairness and the lie,
to take the truth at face value?
No, she was just sad, she said.
She had her faith, she said,
and started to cry. And only then
did I see what she needed from me
was miracle, a simple belief
in miracle, and if that was varnish,
well, it would bring the grain
of the truth out, would save it
from wear and weather.
It would make the truth
almost shine.

"The Truth" by Ronald Wallace, from Long for this World. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Scott Russell Sanders (books by this author), born in Memphis, Tennessee (1945). He loved science, and he went off to college to study physics. But once he got there, he said, "I became preoccupied with questions that science could not address." He read novels by Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and James Joyce, and he decided that literature had the answer to some of those questions that interested him.

He married a woman named Ruth — he had fallen in love with her when they were both teenagers at science camp. She was from Indiana, so when he finished graduate school and got job offers all over the country, he chose to teach there. He writes about life in the Midwest, specifically in the woods and hills of Indiana. He said, "I feel at home in this sprawling, low-lying, often neglected heartland."

He has written 20 books — novels, essays, and short stories. His books include Staying Put (1993), Hunting for Hope (1998), A Private History of Awe (2006), and A Conservationist Manifesto (2009).

As advice for young writers, he said: "Keep a journal — not a diary, unless you want to keep a record of your daily doings, but a journal, a place where you record images, ideas, favorite passages from your reading, insights, overheard bits of conversation, drafts and random notes. The journal is your practice room and root cellar."

It's the birthday of the early American self-help writer Napoleon Hill (books by this author), born in a one-room cabin in rural Wise County, Virginia (1883). His mother died when he was young, and his father wasn't sure how to take care of his son, so Hill he became a little terror, idolizing Jesse James and running around the county with a gun. But his father remarried and his new stepmother convinced Hill that he would be a good writer; she offered to buy him a typewriter in exchange for the gun. He agreed, and when he was 13 years old, he started going around to local newspapers and offering to be their "mountain reporter."

Hill was able to make his living as a reporter, and when he was in his mid-20s, he was assigned to interview Andrew Carnegie, who grew up poor in Scotland and worked his way up in the American steel industry to become one of the richest men in the world. Carnegie told Hill that in his opinion, there was a formula for success, and anyone could achieve it. He was in his 70s and didn't have the energy for this new project, but he liked the young man and asked him if he would consider writing a book about this idea. So Hill went around interviewing hundreds of successful people. 19 years after he had first sat down to interview Andrew Carnegie, Hill published Think and Grow Rich (1937), refining his early ideas into an accessible self-help book. It was enormously successful, and still is — Think and Grow Rich has sold more than 70 million copies.

In Think and Grow Rich, he wrote: "Do not wait: the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along."

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
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  • “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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  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
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  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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