100 Candles for Cleary

Beverly Cleary celebrated a centennial today.

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

If, like me, you grew up devouring her books and secretly believing you were one of her more misunderstood characters, then I suggest you read this tribute; but first prepare to pine for your lost youth. (The very next thing I wanted to do was track down a complete volume of Beverly Cleary classics and let good ol’ Beezus and Ramona put me to sleep for the rest of the week.)

Cleary is, of course, known best for her tender, amusing and true-to-life children’s books. But reading a bit more about her, I was pleased to discover that she also wrote two memoirs, which will soon be added to the stack of books that looms precariously on my nightstand, threatening to bury me in my own bed of neglected commitments.

Still, I’m particularly interested in her autobiographical study of the forgotten art of laissez-faire parenting, of which it appears both Cleary and her father came out on the other side smiling.

…her father, laissez-faire parented to the extreme, was sent to the butcher shop for beefsteak at age fifteen. “Instead of buying the meat, he continued, by what means I do not know, to eastern Oregon, where he worked on ranches all summer,” she writes. When Cleary asked her grandmother if she had worried about his disappearance, she said, “Oh, my, no.” They knew he’d be back, and he was, three months later. “All his father said was, ‘Did you bring the beefsteak?’ ”

Lately I can’t help but think, God forbid I raise a kid without guts like this

So, after 100 years, I have one thing to say to Beverly Cleary: Go get ’em, kid.


Original art: by Louis Darling.

Excerpt above: from Sarah Larson’s Beverly Cleary, Age 100 in The New Yorker.


The Art of Jim


Jim Harrison, photographed by Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson Photography

The great loss of Jim Harrison this past Saturday has had me rooting for words. I dug through his old interviews and pored over passages from The Raw and the Cooked and The Beast God Forgot to Invent, whetting my appetite to write often and write well.

But more than that, reading Jim aroused in me what lately feels like my most primal need — to find fulfillment in a good day’s labor. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a manager, producer, coordinator for the corporate machine, some days it seems impossible to find meaning.

Not for Jim. He wrote every word, performed every task with pure purpose. You can’t mistake the career goals of a fisherman, a well-digger or a slow-cooked goose cassoulet, is all I’m saying.

This interview from The Paris Review in 1986 had me transfixed. Captured over five intoxicating days at Jim’s lush farm in Leelanau County, Michigan, the lengthy exchange touches playfully yet purposefully on Jim’s technique, philosophy and history.

It’s a long but worthwhile read. If you can’t sit down to the whole thing, here are a few choice bits that spoke to me. Continue reading

How to Tell if You’re in Love

If you’re a writer and you think you could be in love, E.B. White has a test that might help you find out for certain.

“Let us say you have sat down to write a letter to your lady. There has been a normal amount of preparation for the ordeal, such as clearing a space on the desk … and the normal amount of false alarms, such as sitting down and discovering that you have no cigarettes. (Note: if you think you can write the letter without cigarettes, it is not love, it is passion.) Finally you get settled and you write the words; “Anne darling.” If you like commas, you put a comma after “darling”; if you like colons, a colon; if dashes, a dash. If you don’t care what punctuation mark you put after “darling,” the chances are you are in love — although you may just be uneducated, who knows?”

via: How to Tell Love From Lust on Brain Pickings


I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


Beautiful punctuation posters by Adam J. Calhoun. I love looking at Faulkner this way, as though he left us a code to unlocking his characters’ consciousness.

Punctuation in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and in Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (right). By Adam J. Calhoun

Punctuation in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and in Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (right).  By Adam J. Calhoun.

via: Punctuation in novels on Medium.

The Armless, Legless Man

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Via Bill Cotter’s 10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing


As a young child Audrey Carsons wanted to be writers because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.

— William S. Burroughs, The Lemon Kid