Jan. 17, 2014

New Year's

by Dana Gioia

Let other mornings honor the miraculous.
Eternity has festivals enough.
This is the feast of our mortality,
The most mundane and human holiday.

On other days we misinterpret time,
Pretending that we live the present moment.
But can this blur, this smudgy in-between,
This tiny fissure where the future drips

Into the past, this flyspeck we call now
Be our true habitat? The present is
The leaky palm of water that we skim
From the swift, silent river slipping by.

The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along—to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.

"New Year's" by Dana Gioia, from Interrogations at Noon. © Graywolf Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the youngest of the Brontë sisters: Anne Brontë (books by this author) was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, in 1820 (books by this author). We don't know as much about her as we do about her sisters, Charlotte and Emily. She was sensitive, passionate, and spiritual, but also a bit meek and timid. She was especially close to Emily, and they would make up fanciful stories about an imaginary country called "Gondal." When she was 19, she took a position as a governess, because she wanted to contribute to the support of the household. Six years later, she returned home and began writing. The three sisters hatched a plan to publish a book of poetry under three male pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The book got a couple of good reviews and sold all of two copies. But Anne continued to write, and she sold a couple of poems to regional periodicals. She also wrote two novels: the first, Agnes Grey (1847) sold pretty well, and her second, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was a smash hit. It sold out the first printing in six weeks.

It was also in 1848 that Charlotte and Anne went to London to reveal the fact that the Bell brothers were really the Brontë sisters. Anne in particular had gotten frustrated over the speculation about the sex of the authors, and whether it was appropriate for women to write novels. She wrote: "I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

Within the next year, three of the four Brontë siblings — Emily, Anne, and their brother Branwell — died of tuberculosis. Anne was the last to die, and before she died, leaving Charlotte alone, Anne whispered, "Take courage."

Today is the birthday of poet William Edgar Stafford (books by this author), born in Hutchinson, Kansas (1914). Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987).

During the Second World War, he was a conscientious objector. He refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army. From 1940 to 1944, he was interned as a pacifist in civilian public service camps in Arkansas and California where he fought fires and built roads. He wrote about the experience in the 94-page prose memoir Down In My Heart (1947), which opens with the question, "When are men dangerous?"

Today is the birthday of First Lady Michelle Obama (books by this author), born Michelle Robinson in Chicago (1964). She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who worked for the city water plant and was active in local politics. She skipped the second grade, went to Chicago's first magnet high school, ranked second in her graduating class, went off to college at Princeton, and then to law school at Harvard. She met Barack Obama at the law firm in Chicago where they both worked. For their first date, they went to a Spike Lee movie called Do the Right Thing. In 1992, the two married.

Today is the birthday of Benjamin Franklin (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1706. He only had a couple of years of formal schooling, but he read continuously, and early on, he thought he might become a poet. He didn't have the knack for it so, later, inspired by the essays of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, he turned to prose. He recalled in his Autobiography (1794) that writing well became "of great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement." He wrote under a variety of pseudonyms and, as "Richard Saunders," published Poor Richard's Almanack every year from 1732 to 1758. It contained weather predictions, household hints, poetry, essays, and adages such as "Marry'd in haste, we oft repent at Leisure"; and "Where there's Marriage without Love, there will be Love without Marriage."

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
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  • “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
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