Jul. 9, 2014

Marrying Late

by Katrina Vandenberg

When I think of what it means not to marry
the high school sweetheart, but to find each other
as we did at ages thirty and forty, I think
of John and I singing along to an old cassette
of Jackson Browne on car trips, and how, as we sing,
a part of me is hearing the song for the first time
in Detroit, on WRIF with my first boyfriend
in his truck as he took curves, shifting hard and fast.
And probably John is making love with a black-haired girl
in the carpeted back of his van in 1979, out west,
the cassette new and popular, draining the battery.
How unlikely that we ended up traveling together
singing a song we each learned with someone else.
Neither of us minds that, the way we might have then.

"Marrying Late" from The Alphabet Not Unlike the World by Katrina Vandenberg (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by Katrina Vandenberg. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. (buy now)

The Declaration of Independence was read to Washington's troops on this day in 1776. The newly penned and long-awaited document had been delivered to Washington on July 6, included in a letter from John Hancock, who was President of the Continental Congress. Washington needed to inspire his troops to fight the British, so this was good timing: he could now rouse them to defend their fledgling nation. He gave the written order to assemble nearly 30,000 soldiers and sailors at the parade grounds in New York City at six o'clock. He closed by writing: "The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms."

At the assembly, each commander received a copy of the declaration to read to his regiment. Many locals were also on hand, and after the declaration was read, soldiers and civilians alike were celebrating in the streets. The celebration turned to a riot: a group of patriots, led by Isaac Sears, stormed down Broadway to Bowling Green. There, they toppled a 4,000-pound equestrian statue of King George III and smashed it to pieces. The perpetrators put the head aside, intending to place it on a pike, but British partisans stole it and shipped it back to England. The rest of the statue was shipped to Connecticut, to the farm of General Oliver Wolcott, where it was melted down. Eventually, much of the statue was returned to the British in the form of 42,000 lead bullets, fired from Colonial muskets.

It's the birthday of Dean Koontz (books by this author), born in Everett, Pennsylvania (1945). He grew up in an impoverished and violent home, and after he went away to college, he converted to Catholicism, he said, because it helped him make sense of the chaos of his childhood and to appreciate mysteries in life.

He published his first book, a science fiction novel called Star Quest, in 1968. Over the next 18 years, Koontz wrote 54 novels, none of which was a best-seller, books with titles like Demon Child (1971) and The Flesh in the Furnace (1972). He used 10 different pseudonyms because he was publishing several different books each year. He finally made the hardcover best-seller list with his novel Strangers (1986). His books have now sold more than 400 million copies, in 38 languages.

It's the birthday of anthropologist Franz Boas (books by this author), born in Minden, Westphalia, Germany (1858). Boaz stressed the need to study four fields — ethnology, linguistics, physical anthropology, and archaeology — before making any generalizations about any one culture. He trained the first generation of American anthropologists, including Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. He established the first Department of Anthropology in 1896, at Columbia University.

It's the birthday of the novelist Larry Brown (books by this author), in Oxford, Mississippi (1951). He liked school when he was a kid, but read mostly hunting stories and fishing stories and cowboy stories — nothing that qualified as literature. He failed English his senior year in high school.

He enlisted in the Marines and was stationed at a barracks in Philadelphia. He spent a lot of time listening to the stories of veterans who'd come back from Vietnam. He went back to Mississippi and joined the Oxford Fire Department in 1973 and loved the job. It didn't pay well, though. He had been reading best-selling novels by Stephen King and Louis L'Amour and thought maybe he could do that too. He wrote a novel about a man-eating bear in Yellowstone Park. It got turned down by everybody. So he went to the library and checked out every how-to book about writing that he could find. He started writing short stories and started reading Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner and Raymond Carver. His first book of stories, Facing the Music, came out in 1988; and the year after, his first novel, Dirty Work, which was based on the stories he had heard from veterans back in the Marines. The book got great reviews. And he went on to become a renowned Southern fiction writer and published three more novels before he died of a heart attack at the age of 53.

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