• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Sky Won’t Snow and the Sun Won’t Shine

Fantastic responses to the HBO movie of the week contest. Thank you. A winner will be announced on Monday. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. An embarrassment of riches.

For tonight, I want to talk about perseverance. I know a lot of people think this is the blog for whiners and moaners, and god knows they are welcome here. I mean anything worth doing is worth bitching and moaning about. But lately, I’ve been deeply moved by some writers I work with who have pushed through rejection, dismissal, critical indifference. I’ve seen people work up to the brink of insolvency, who have reinvented themselves, who spent years developing an idea only to see it scooped and then found something new. They truly inspire me.

What’s the best story you’ve ever heard of someone persevering?

45 Responses

  1. Jesus of Nazareth.

  2. Still working through the bitching and moaning portion. Persevering sounds like a highlight. Do I get paid extra for that?

  3. Millard Kaufman published his debut novel, “Bowl of Cherries”, when he was 90 years old. His agent had passed away when the book was found by McSweeney’s. Bitchin’.

  4. Barbara Arrowsmith Young was born with crippling learning disabilities. After reading about a doctor whose work with brain injured soldiers pioneered early theories of neuroplasticity, Barbara began devising cognitive exercises to heal her own brain. She would do these cognitive exercises-
    Looking at flash cards — for up to twelve hours a day. She began to see progress after months and months of work, and it gave her the hope to go on. She began to develop similar exercises for kids and adults to heal their learning disabilities, and the emotional wounds that often accompany them. She was often (and still is) many people’s last hope.

    Her book just came out “The Woman who Changed Her Brain.” I can only guess that it was ten or more times harder for her to write a book than most of us, and it will change many, many broken lives. That’s perseverance! Thank you Barbara!

    • I can already tell that I’m going to be negatively affected by all these stories of heroic people. Good grief.

      • I am so with you there. I’ve been surrounded by wonderful inspiring people my whole life and while they all should and are joyfully celebrated oye. It gets a little tiresome sometimes. How about celebrating the ordinary plodding most of us do.

  5. Several years ago, I had the honor to spend an afternoon talking with a former Vietnam War-era POW. At the time of his capture, he had a broken arm – the most severe injury after his plane was shot down. He was paraded through the villlage where he was captured, a guard hitting that injured arm as part of the parade ritual. During the years he spent in the Hanoi Hilton, he never received medical treatment for that injury. He also endured almost daily beating as a ploy by the VC to distress the other POWs. This ploy did not work because he would assure his fellow POWs that “it wasn’t so bad this time”. His ability to positively inspire those other POWs, his matter-of-fact acceptance of that abuse and his kindness to me was humbling.

  6. Just heard from an author who had a woman come to her latest reading, raise her hand and let everyone know that she hadn’t enjoyed the book. The author isn’t in jail and the woman with way too much time on her hands if she can attend a reading for someone whose work she didn’t enjoy is still up and about so. That’s gotta be worth some sort of award, methinks.

  7. Okay, here’s a perseverance story that has stuck with me. The story’s relevance may have to do with me being 58 years old and being raised in the cold war era. Hiroshima was required reading at least three times in grades one through twelve. Also, I was born and raised in Detroit and watched the flame and smoke of the 1967 Detroit riots from my front porch and reading Hersey’s account of the riots (The Algiers Motel Incident) resonated with me a special way. Hersey may be the first “serious” writer I read as a child. The story was recounted by Daniel Mueller in an early issue of a literary journal I used to edit. Here it is: “The best advice I ever received from a writer came from John Hersey, who told me that a day spent writing must be, ipso facto, a good one. I served as a kind of personal assistant to him and his wife Barbara on Martha’s Vineyard during the last summer of his life. This entailed light housekeeping, meal preparation (including small dinner parties), and piloting the boat he used for bluefish fishing two or three afternoons a week. I had always admired John Hersey for his writing, of which Hiroshima, A Bell for Adano, The Wall, and Antonietta rank among my all-time favorite books, but it was while fishing with him that he had his profoundest effect on me. At the time I knew him, he was in his seventies and ill. His cancer had only recently, and temporarily, gone into remission, and the left side of his body was paralyzed from a stroke he had suffered over the winter. To accomplish even the rudimentary actions required of fishing—i.e., letting out and reeling in line—an electric reel, powered by a battery pack strapped to his waist, was fitted to his fishing rod, and a special rod holder was added to his fish- fighting chair. As we trolled through schools of blue-fish, which drew the attention of attacking gulls and marked the surface of the ocean with oily sheens, I saw that as complicated as this simple pastime had become for him, he refused to give up on it, just as he refused to give up on writing, working at his computer every morning as routinely as he had, I supposed, when he was healthy. When I passed his office with my vacuum cleaner or mop bucket, I’d hear the keys being tapped inside and imagine John writing with his one good hand, though at sea an amazing thing happened again and again: whenever a fish struck his line, his bad hand would suddenly become fully operative and he’d play the fish to the net I held as if nothing were wrong with him at all. Only after he died did I realize that the sound from his office could not have been the pecking of five lone fingers, but could only have come from ten working in concert. I believe that for him writing and fishing were equal loves, and that performing each restored him that final summer of his life. The example he set of a writer writing has guided me through the darkest moments of my writing life.”

    • That’s really inspiring. Thank you. One of my favorite books is Hersey’s Life Sketches. The copy I own now is the one I gave my mother in 1989. She died in 2002. The book is a good memory for me. It’s nice to have this story to go with it.

  8. Herman Melville

  9. Read King’s ON WRITING. If his life-story doesn’t inspire you nothing will. That a kid with his beginning could become so successful, (and then the whole van incident and his comeback), makes my efforts look down-right paltry. And I’ve been at this forty years.

    • My cousin. He communicates by controling electodes attached to his eyelids. (ALS for over thirty years). He loves life. Whenever my petty wants and dreams send me into a tailspin I think of my cousin. His existance has taught me to love life too, no matter how deep in the stink-plle i think I am.

  10. Theodore Geisel’s first children’s book was rejected twenty-seven times. But finally, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.was accepted by a publisher.

    Cats in hats followed soon after.

  11. Persevering with rejected/ignored writing is easy compared with the serious illnesses & disabilities I witness in people each day.

    I once had a story published in Braille. When I get bummed out, I bring out my copy and run my fingers over the bumps and thank God I can read words with my eyes. Then I’m reminded how that story is probably the most important writing I’ll ever do.

  12. John Grisham’s tale has to be in this mix somewhere. He sold “A Time to Kill,” his first book, out of the trunk of his car. The challenges faced by those mentioned above are more severe, but the height to which Grisham rose from trunk selling is remarkable. This raises another question: What is success? Persevere? To what end? A homeless man who becomes an internationally known author is a genius. And the homeless man who dies unknown and homeless, having only written. Is he the fool we all fear we will be in the end?

  13. My father, struck down by polio with three kids under the age of five. Determined to transfer himself to the toilet so they’d let him go home. Ended up being invited to swim at the White House pool for exercise.

    My father.

  14. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, rejected 60 times.

    I heard a story about Heller’s Catch 22. The original title was Catch 18 but because Uris’s Mila 18 was out the editors did not want any confusion so they asked Heller to change the title. He changed it to Catch 22 because it had been rejected 22 times.

    I really need this post today. Woke up to another, thanks but no thanks, to the novel I love. I’m about half-way through Stockett’s efforts. Whine…bitch…moan, go to work and smile at the customers; just another eight hours in paradise.

    Have a ‘fucking’ nice day 😦

    • Hey, I didn’t mean to use that stupid frown-face. I was doing : ( and my computer made it into that little yellow son of a bitch. God-damn laptop. I’m too old for little yellow sons-of a bitches.

      • yes – i am also working up to half way through Stockett’s number of rejections, and everytime I start to get really down about it I re-read an article i found where she talks about the process. Misery loves company i guess!

  15. Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before. It involves a little girl who, when her mother discovered she was pregnant with her, threw herself down the stairs, hoping to extinguish the new life inside her. This cold hearted woman’s only desire was to keep her perfect physique in tact. The child, however, lived and despite being blamed every day for it, managed to grow and spread love wherever she could. Her strength and determination to find goodness in an evil world is mind blowing. She is buried under a tombstone that reads, “The Best Mommy Ever” and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not awed by her. RIP, mom. I miss you.

  16. Temple Grandin – despite being ridiculed and misunderstood while growing up in 50’s with high functioning autism, she’s had a lifetime of achievement – not only getting her doctorate in animal science, but publishing several books and papers.

  17. Isn’t dragging your arse out of bed each morning, perseverance? Fuck you world. Here I come.

  18. There was this frog who desperately needed a loan to put an addition on his pad. Poor frog was turned down everywhere he went. Finally he walked into the last bank in town and hopped up onto the desk of Ms. Patricia Whack. He told Ms. Whack of his predicament and said that he didn’t have anything for collateral, but that his father was Mick Jagger. Ms. Whack reluctantly agreed to speak with the bank president and just before she left, the frog handed her a ceramic figurine to give to the bank president. Patricia Whack told the bank president the frog’s story and said, “Oh, the frog also asked me to give you this,” she said, holding out the figurine. “I don’t even know what it is.”

    The bank president took it in his hand, smiled and said, “Why, it’s a knick knack, Patty Whack; give that frog a loan, his old man’s a Rolling Stone.”

    The frog got his loan, made the addition his office and wrote a best selling cookbook with recipes that substituted tofu for frog’s legs.

  19. Piero Ribelli is an Italian photographer who came to America in his twenties. He wanted to visit all 50 states before he turned 50, and he did. His MO was to find a 50 Main Street in each state, visit the people at that address, take their pictures and tell their story. This project developed into an idea for a book, 50 Main Street, The Face of America. Piero started working on this project over 7 years ago, and as he developed the idea for the book, he approached a number of publishing houses with the idea, all of whom turned him down. Last March, he met with an agent to discuss the likelihood of finding a publisher. At BEA the agent found a publisher, and this July 4th, 50 Main Street will be published by Cameron+Co with a foreword by none other than Douglas Brinkley.

  20. I loved all these stories. I can add Frederic Chopin who watched his young sister die of TB and knew he too would succumb to the disease. And yet before this happened he wrote the most selfless and soulful music. Sometimes I see him in my dreams.

    • My latest attempt at self-taught piano playing has focused on his “Fantaisie Impromptu” :a lovely melody (that deserves better than my marginal talent) which could be the perfect musical compliment to many of these posts.

  21. At 43, a man was diagnosed with lung cancer, late in the game. He took the treatments, and went from a rubust 165 pound 6 footer to a stooped and bald 118 pounds. Through it, he laughed and swore, and worked, even when he had to be helped in and out of his truck.

    He is my brother, and I wrote his eulogy.

  22. Frank, I am so very sorry for your loss.
    To write a eulogy is to honor love. It can be very difficult but when I spoke to the nobility of the life of someone I truly adored the words just seemed to pour onto the page. Not everyone gets to say what is written on their heart, you are a lucky man to have been given the chance. I don’t know you Frank but if you wrote about your brother like you write about being on the water you did your brother proud.
    Those who suffer, and continue to live their time left with a smile and an atitude like it’s just another day, astounds me. I think sometimes it’s harder for those watching. And so sad for the ones who remain behind.

  23. Everyone knows a story about a wounded vet or a young mother with cancer or a special needs child or a daughter who goes off the rails and finds her way back and is now better than the average bear. The old saw applies to anybody’s case – or so I strongly believe- any person would never trade his bag of troubles for another guy’s were he given the choice. I never would and mine is very full and heavy but made of the strongest stuff. And I know how to carry it.

  24. Mind Blowing awesome .!

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