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Friday, June 15, 2012

The Writer's Almanac for June 15, 2012


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Friday

Jun. 15, 2012

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

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Sitting Alone in the Middle of the Night

by Stanley Plumly

Maybe it was summer and I was back home for a while
working to pay off debts from school, painting white
barns and long field fences and on off-days baling hay.
It was hot then in Ohio and sometimes so dry the corn
or the soybeans would fail. I'd get up at two or three
in the morning to find my way to the kitchen for water
and he'd be sitting there in a kind of outline,
smoking and staring at something far, his eyes by now
long adjusted to the dark. Mine were just now opening.
Nothing would be said, since there was nothing to say.
He was dying, he was turning into stone. The little
I could see I could see already how much heavier
he made the air, heavy enough over the days that
      summer
you could feel in the house the pull of the earth.

"Sitting Alone in the Middle of the Night" by Stanley Plumly, from Orphan Hours. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of advertising exec-turned-writer Ilene Beckerman (books by this author), born in Manhattan (1935). She didn't begin her writing career until the age of 60, and even then, she became a published author almost by accident. She had written and illustrated a book for her five children, something to remember her by. She said: "My purpose was to say things to my children one doesn't have the time to say. I wanted them to know I wasn't always their mother. I was a girl, I had best friends, we did stupid things together. I was on a bus with my friend once eating dog bones so people would look at us. I wanted them to know."

She took the book she'd written down to the ad agency she owned, to use the machines there to make a dozen photocopies. She put them in big red binders, with the illustrations she had sketched in plastic sheet protectors, and handed them out to her children and a few close friends. She was done, or thought she was. Then, the cousin of a friend got a hold of one of the binders and sent it over to Algonquin Books. Pretty soon, the publisher was calling her about publishing her book. Beckerman said that they offered her "an advance that had a comma in it. I think I fainted."

The book came out in 1995, and was called Love, Loss, and What I Wore. It's the story of her life growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, accompanied by drawings of the clothes that she was wearing during that time. She insists that clothing plays an integral part in many women's memories, that they can recall important events or distinct spans of their lives by what they were wearing at the time. When the book came out, bookstores were not sure whether to market it as memoir or fashion. It has now sold more than 100,000 copies.

Beckerman insists that clothes are the least important part of her book, which she considered a memoir. The book contains advice and aphorisms from her grandmother, who raised her, such as, "If you have to stand on your head to make somebody happy, all you can expect is a big headache."

It's the birthday of psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (books by this author), born in Frankfurt, Germany (1902). He argued that the human life cycle could be understood as a series of eight developmental stages. He said each stage has its own "crisis" that must be overcome before moving on to the next stage. For adolescents, the crisis is figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life — and that's where the term "identity crisis" comes from.

It's the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa (books by this author), born in Kashiwabara, Japan (1763). He's one of the masters of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku, which uses 17 Japanese characters broken into three distinct units. He spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku celebrating the small wonders of everyday life.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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77 Love Sonnets
by Garrison Keillor

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