Dec. 31, 2012


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Good-night? ah! no; the hour is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood—
Then it will be—good night.

To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light,
The night is good; because, my love,
They never say good-night.

"Good-Night" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Public domain. (buy now)

Today is New Year's Eve, a time for toasts and resolutions.

T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem "Little Gidding": "For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. [...] And to make an end is to make a beginning." (books by this author)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote: "Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true." (books by this author)

Ben Franklin said, "Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man."

It's the birthday of painter Henri Matisse (1869), born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. As a child and a young man, he had no interest in art. He went to law school in Paris and never visited a single museum while he was there. Had it not been for a case of appendicitis, he might never have become an artist. Bedridden for several weeks during his recovery, he took up painting at the suggestion of a neighbor, as a way to pass the time. It was a revelation. He later said: "From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves."

His later life was full of hardships. During World War II, his ex-wife, Amélie, was imprisoned for six months because of her job as a typist for the Communist underground. His daughter, Marguerite, was active in the French resistance, and she was captured and tortured by the Gestapo. She managed to escape from a train that was taking her to a concentration camp.

Matisse developed severe stomach pains that were eventually diagnosed as intestinal cancer. In 1941, he required a colostomy, and spent most of his time in bed or in a wheelchair. After his surgery, he felt a burst of creativity; he was unable to stand long enough to paint, so he began working in cut-paper collages, a technique he called "painting with scissors." He hired a temporary night nurse, a young student named Monique Bourgeois. The two became close friends, and she sat for him a few times. After she left his employment, she became a nun, and he eventually financed a chapel for her order. His last major project was designing the interior and stained glass windows of the Chapelle du Rosaire.

It's the birthday of best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks (books by this author), born in Omaha, Nebraska (1965). He started writing to pass the time while recovering from a sports injury. After several years and a few false starts, he published The Notebook (1996). Since then, he's made a name and a living writing romantic dramas, many of which go on to be made into movies. His most recent book is The Best of Me (2011).

He said in an interview that his writing has to pass what he calls his "grandmother test": "My grandmother's still alive; she reads me, and if she would get mad at me, then I can't write it."

Today is the birthday of Junot Díaz (books by this author), born in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic (1968). He moved to New Jersey when he was six years old. His most recent book — published this past September — is This is How You Lose Her (2012). It's a collection of linked short stories featuring Yunior, a Dominican-American trying to balance his two cultures; Yunior has been a principal character in all of Díaz's books. "He's certainly a rib pulled from me. [...] He's somebody who's very, very different, and yet, I feel very strongly connected to him. He's like a terrible half-brother in a way," Díaz says.

His first novel — The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) — won the Pulitzer Prize.

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
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  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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