Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Letter from E. B. White

I admit this is a pretty pathetic excuse for taking selfish time for joy, but at least I left my desk for 4 minutes and went up on the roof of the JCC and picked some lavender from the rooftop garden, and brought it back to my desk where I could smell it and remember to chill out.

And then I left work at 5 PM on the dot to go to the movie theater closest to my house for a 6 PM screening of Cloud Atlas, but got there at 6:11, and they had started the film 7 minutes earlier. (I guess when the film is almost 3 hours long, they skimp on the trailers.)

And then I took the bus home and used the rest of the night to finish solving all my phone tech problems that have been plaguing me since maybe May. I'm actually writing this while I'm on hold. I've been off and on hold now for 3 hours. (Hey! I'd just be getting out of Cloud Atlas!) Instead, Love Actually is playing on the television, but I'm not watching it. (It's OK, I don't really need to watch it. I pretty much know it by heart. I once used it as a structural model for a multi-story line screenplay.)

Should I just keep typing stream of consciousness as long as I'm in the phone hold cycle?  Because now I've been in the phone hold cycle for 3 1/2 hours. (I got to talk with someone for a while there—I'm not that slow a writer.)

No, I shouldn't. But when I am done with all this and have been tech successful, I will do one more thing, even if it's just something like reading a good short poem, before I head to bed. I will get back on here in the morning and tell you what it was ..............................................................................

Chapter I.
Before Breakfast

   "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."
   "I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.
   "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it."
   "Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"
   Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway.
   Fern pushed her chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the time she caught up with her father.
   "Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."
   Mr. Arable stopped walking.
   "Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself.
   "Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about controlling myself?
    Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.
   "Fern," said Mr. Arable. "I know more about raising a little of pigs than you do> A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"
   "But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"
   Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his daughter with love. "But this is different.  A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another.
   "I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I have ever heard of."
   A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.
   "All right," he said. "You go back to the house and I will bring the runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like a baby. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be." 

When I was young, Charlotte's Web was the first big kid's book I read all by myself, and I finished reading it, sobbing, insisting that I read the final chapter to the rest of the family, in the car on a roadtrip. When I came to the sad sad end, I declared through my sobs, "That is the best book I have ever read in my entire life, and I am never going to read another book again!"

My mother wrote a letter to E. B. White telling him that story, and as was his wont, he wrote her back. She apparently followed up with another about an article he wrote in 1975, to which he also responded. I have his two letters framed, and I just hung them on the wall the other day.

It's a little hard to read. It says:

April 29, 1971

Dear Mrs. Levison:

Many thanks for your letter. It is a treat to get a letter written in longhand from someone who knows how to use a real pen. And it was a pleasure to read your kind remarks. Please give my best to your daughters --- I'm glad the younger one has resumed reading, after my book almost brought the thing to an untimely end.

E.B. White