Love…in words

let the olives reign

Let the olives reign

by Neil Waldman

Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf

So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it. However I won’t bore you with any more.
We have re-started, and the train is shaky again. I shall have to write at the stations — which are fortunately many across the Lombard plain. …The waterfalls in Switzerland were frozen into solid iridescent curtains of ice, hanging over the rock; so lovely. And Italy all blanketed in snow.
We’re going to start again. I shall have to wait till Trieste tomorrow morning. Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.”
The following January—a year later—Vita wrote to Virginia:
“My darling, I hoped I should wake up less depressed this morning, but I didn’t. I went to bed last night as black as a sweep. The awful dreariness of Westphalia makes it worse: factory towns, mounds of slag, flat country, and some patches of dirty snow. … Why aren’t you with me? Oh, why? I do want you so frightfully.  I want more than ever to travel with you; it seems to me now the height of my desire, and I get into despair wondering how it can ever be realised. Can it, do you think? Oh my lovely Virginia, it is dreadful how I miss you, and everything that everybody says seems flat and stupid.
I do hope more and more that you won’t go to America, I am sure it would be too tiring for you, and anyway I am sure you wouldn’t like it. …
So we bundle along over Germany, and very dull it is — Surely I haven’t lost my zest for travel? No, it is not that; it is simply that I want to be with you and not with anybody else — But you will get bored if I go on saying this, only it comes back and back till it drips off my pen — Do you realise that I shall have to wait for over a fortnight before I can hear from you? poor me. I hadn’t thought of that before leaving, but now it bulks very large and horrible. What may not happen to you in the course of a fortnight? you may get ill, fall in love, Heaven knows what.
I shall work so hard, partly to please you, partly to please myself, partly to make the time go and have something to show for it. I treasure your sudden discourse on literature yesterday morning, — a send-off to me, rather like Polonius to Laertes. It is quite true that you have had infinitely more influence on me intellectually than anyone, and for this alone I love you.”
Shortly after she received this letter, Virginia Woolf came up with the idea for a new novel, inspired by Vita, who often liked to dress up in men’s clothes. That novel was Orlando: A Biography (1928), about a transgender writer who lives for hundreds of years. Vita’s son Nigel wrote, “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando … in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.” He calls Orlando “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.”
They ended their affair in the late 1920s but stayed friends until Virginia Woolf’s death in 1941. The relationship is chronicled in Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf (1993), written by Suzanne Raitt . Vita and Virginia, a movie based on the book, was released in 2018.

from the Writer’s Almanac Jan 21, 2021

Call of the wild:


Jack London  born in San Francisco (1876).


He went to school through the eighth grade, then spent years working manual labor jobs: he worked in a cannery, pirated for oysters, and a week after his 17th birthday, he signed up as a crew member aboard a seal-hunting expedition to the Bering Sea and Japan. London was thrilled to be out at sea. He enjoyed the work, and he made a point to do more than his share. He said:
“My method was deliberate, and simple, and drastic. In the first place, I resolved to do my work, no matter how hard or dangerous it might be, so well that no man would be called upon to do it for me. Further, I put ginger in my muscles.” His hard work earned him respect from
the veteran sailors, but what really convinced them was when London beat up Red John, a huge Swedish sailor who tried to pick on him. Even Red John was impressed by the feisty teenager. London wrote: “It was my pride that I was taken in as an equal, in spirit as well as in fact. From then on, everything was beautiful, and the voyage promised to be a happy one.” When the ship stopped at ports, London happily drank and danced with his shipmates and sailors from around the world. In the Bering Sea, the sailors hunted seals in small boats that they sailed through ice floes. Clubbing and skinning the seals was brutal work, and the ship was covered in blood and seal hides; years later he used the experience in a novel called The Sea-Wolf (1904).
Off the coast of Japan, the ship hit a typhoon, and all the sailors took turns at the wheel because the effort was so physically exhausting. By the time London was called for his turn, the ship was rocking wildly, he was buffeted by wind and rain and could barely see, and at one point waves crashed over the stern. He wrote:
“At the end of the hour, sweating and played out, I was relieved. But I had done it! With my own hands I had done my trick at the wheel and guided a hundred tons of wood and iron through a few million tons of wind and waves.” A few years before he died, London called that experience at the wheel “possibly the proudest achievement of my life, my moment of highest living.”
The entire trip took less than eight months, and when London docked in San Francisco, he felt like a new man, but his circumstances hadn’t changed all that much. His family was still poor, and he had nothing on the horizon but more grueling manual labor. He headed home to Oakland, gave the money he had earned to his mother, and found a job working long hours in a jute factory.
Two months after London’s return, The San Francisco Call announced a contest for writers under the age of 22. His mother saw the announcement, and since she knew her son was good at telling stories, she figured he could write one, too. She suggested that he write about his recent Pacific adventures. The prize was $25, which seemed like riches compared to the 10 cents an hour he was earning at the jute factory. He wrote all through the night, drinking cups of black coffee that his mother made him, went to work at the factory, and then came home and did it all over again. After three nights he was ready to collapse from exhaustion, but he had a piece: “Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan.” It won first prize, beating out entries written by students at Stanford and Berkeley.
London was so thrilled that he immediately began writing and submitting other essays and stories, but every one was rejected. Over the course of the next few years, he shoveled coal, joined a cross-country march of dissatisfied workers, spent a month in the Erie County Penitentiary for vagrancy, rode the rails, continued his education, and finally made his way to the Klondike for the gold rush. Although he didn’t strike it rich, the Yukon provided the material he needed for his first successful stories. He became famous at the age of 27 when he published The Call of the Wild (1903), a novel about a sled dog in the Yukon. London published more than 50 books before his death at the age of 40. His books include White Fang (1906), South Sea Tales (1911), and John Barleycorn (1913).

from The Writer’s Almanac for Jan 12, 2021

A year of transparency…


what happens inside when you eat my winter food?


  Home Cooking

by Barbara Crooker

Let me stir up a batch of something hot,

beef stew or red bean chili,

something simmering

just below the boil.

You let me know if it needs

more seasoning, more spice.

Let me spread

some butter on your cornbread, darling;

let it soak into all the cracks.

Let me fill

your glass with something red and juicy.

The oven is hot, and all the burners

are glowing. If you can’t take the heat.

then get out of my kitchen. But

if you need to take the chill off, baby,

I might be able to dish a little something up ….

“Home Cooking” by Barbara Crooker, from Some Glad Morning, © 2019.

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, December 28, 2019

%d bloggers like this: