Boy With Birds

If I told you the truth about him, the absolute, best-as-I-know-it-truth, he wouldn’t seem believable.  How could there be such a person as John, so much in one man?  How could it be that when I met him he was a singer/songwriter who opened for The Indigo Girls, was featured in Rolling Stone, caused legions of young women to sit in dark clubs one weekend night after another?  He didn’t notice them, the girls. 

We met thirteen years ago.  He was wearing a faded pink t-shirt from the Eno River Festival, and he had round glasses at that time.  We both lived with other people.  The first time we really talked was the 4th of July, eleven years ago, at a party at my house.  We were on the back deck with a man who was so stoned he was crying, and a woman another guest had dubbed Lion-Person Costume.  I think we were the only sober people in attendance.   He played me a song with three different birds in three verses, a chorus as delicate as an eggshell, and one of us asked the other why it is that artists always lead a double life.  I said it was because it takes a double life to understand metaphor, but what I meant was he was the most astonishingly gifted, beautiful man I’d ever met. 

He apprenticed with a potter in Mexico, and became a craftsman of such renown when he has kiln openings people arrive an hour early to buy the most perfect things.  He is also fluent in Spanish.  He’s a master carpenter, and built his house, his studio, and his kiln.

It was John who read the early drafts of the essays in Zippy, and who passed them along to Lawrence Naumoff, who recommended I give the book to Lee Smith, who recommended the right agent, who then sold my first two books.  He has read, edited, and copyedited every book since then.  All of my books are, in some way, the product of his tireless devotion and care and brilliance.  Every word.  When I wanted to write a book about a pool player, he shot pool with me almost every day for eighteen months.  He beat me consistently.

It would be both a cliché and an understatement to say he loves my first two children as though they are his own.  They simply are his own.  There is no distance he wouldn’t travel, no debt he wouldn’t honor, no fire he wouldn’t face for all of us.

When I brought home an above-ground pool for my beloved Obadiah, John patiently explained it was too large to fit anywhere on our property, then proceeded to build a deck that had sections cut out around trees, and the pool fit on it perfectly.  As I understand it, he used something called ‘geometry,’ the same trick he employed for beating me at pool.  He did it for this boy:

He is an amazing chef, he works harder than any man I’ve ever known, he has the voice of an angel, and he never left my side when I was pregnant for Baby Augusten and on bed rest.  He gave me this:


Sweetest of men, Happy Birthday.  I have no way of naming what you are, even after all these years.  But of these things I’m certain:  you are the definition of honor and goodness and integrity.  You are lovely and heroic and an angel of Yes.  Thank you for this family, for my mastiffs, for building me a study in the barn, for telling me every day that you believe it’s your life’s work to protect me.  When we were first friends you wrote, in one of your best songs:


And now I sit

With a bottle of your industry

And a notebook full of starlings

And that’s all the work

I’ve done today,

And I’ve put on

As if from vintage clothing racks

The habits of what we call men

But I’m just trying to slip back

Into a faded photograph


Of a boy with birds

In your scarecrow-haunted garden.


Those aren’t habits anymore – you are that man.  The song is just as gorgeous, but you are better yet.  And while I’ll always adore one of the other songs you first sang to me, I no longer believe that love is a cold and lonesome hallelujah. 

Published in: on October 9, 2008 at 1:54 am  Comments (162)  


  1. Happy Birthday John!!

    Haven, you and John are the definition of EPIC. I hope you will forever use your combined powers for good and not evil.

    I used the song Hallelujah in my wedding…it didn’t really make sense…I just thought it was so intensely beautiful that I couldn’t not use it. And now I think…it was what I was leaving behind.

    Also, do you have deliciously beautiful children or what?

  2. I am always the first to comment. It’s the insomnia.

  3. Haven –

    That is beautiful.

    You are both just beautiful. It is so great to see another woman so totally in love with her husband. I’ve actually been made fun of because I still get goo-goo eyed over my Donny. So it is great to hear and see and feel the joy you have in your love together.

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful gift with us.

    Happy Birthday, John,
    from one of Haven’s Groupies,
    For Art’s Sake,

    PS Have you ever done the “ghost” thing???

  4. Kate Cake –

    I thought, for once, I would be the first commenter!!!

    You got me again!!!

  5. Oh my gosh Sher you asked about GHOST…I am blushing *violently* now.

  6. HA! I’ve never seen GHOST so I only have the vaguest idea what is suggested in the still photographs. However, I did suggest we use clay to cook corn-on-the-cob on the coals of an open fire once. We dipped the corn, still husked, in the clay until it was covered, then placed them on the coals until the clay hardened. If I remember correctly, we made a mess, and some kernels were basically cooked and some were raw. But what ingenuity, huh? (I was in charge of the corn, John was in charge of shrimp he’d been marinating in some lime-cilantro-mysterious sauce. The shrimp were flawless. Again: geometry.)

  7. Well, that’s much less sexy than Ghost. Be glad you haven’t seen it, it’s dumb. Sher just asked you if you and John ever made out while working on a wheel and listening to Unchained Melody as a prelude to hot monkey sex.

    Oh dear…

  8. That sounds like something that would happen in the moving pictures.

  9. exactly…my archetype has changed now for the “wheel” ever since I saw that….

  10. It’s a talkie!

  11. oh…so glad you all are up and wish my wordpress would quit locking up on me

  12. Matt is so phenom . . .

    really, I’m just breathless ’til his next word

  13. ok I’m logging out and logging back in

  14. Anything more recent than a panopticon moves too fast for me. It’s like someone is trying to confuse me.

  15. Sher — Matt will never fail us. You know why? AWESOMENESS.

  16. his AWESOMENESS is shining right through my laptop and just EXPLODED







  19. Wow, the definition of panopticon is NOT what I was expecting.


    BRIGHT . . .



    LIKE: PANdemic, for instance.

    ooooowww, they make me shiver and go “Mooffasssaaaa!” like whoopie goldberg in the lion king . . . you know?

  22. SHER. We need pictures.

    Um, I prayed while I folded laundry.

  23. I do know. But I bet Haven doesn’t! That movie is super stressful. My kids love it.

  24. my son (now 16) saw lion king, no less, than 18 times before he was two, my folksies would travel from IL to Atlanta to take that child to see it, so they could watch HIM watch it – it was great!

    all that familial licking and grooming

  25. re flag – yes, I took pics, will post them after I upload them . . . have an issue with those pics and the 200 I took of the birthday party on Sunday . . . so much for the expensive camera . . .

  26. I put up the flag and meditated/prayed(?) early because 3 pm here is HELL ON EARTH with buses, practices, food, it is like the WORST time for Oprah to be on, but QUE SERA SERA . . . it all worked out fine and came out in the wash . . .

  27. Wow. I know something about loving one’s spouse, too, and that was quite a tribute. I’m a first-time visitor to your blog, Ms Kimmel, and am bowled over. (I love that your husband opened for Indigo Girls! I interviewed the very gracious Amy Ray during the Come on Now Social tour…) I haven’t read your books, but you’ve been on my radar since a fellow bookseller whose taste is impeccable once recommended The Solace of Leaving Early (“a friggin masterpiece…”) to me without me prompting her for a recommendation, and I find myself curious now as to whether you’d be interested in participating in something I’ve put together called Searching for God Knows What. Too much to go into in so brief a space, but I suspect you’d be interested (there are 51 of us at present, including graduate students, professors, novelists, booksellers, retirees, nurses, ministers, journalists, etc – we’ve just wrapped William Styron and are diving into Marilynne Robinson). If curious, let me know you’re curious at, and I’ll fill you in on what we, as a group, are looking to do. But whether I hear from you or not, I look forward to following your blog and reading your novels. All the best to you, and happiest birthday wishes to your husband.

  28. well that sounds interesting….last year at cheekwood they had an exhibition “100 artists see God” – it was really diverse and interesint. I’m almost (as an artist) ashamed to say that I enjoyed reading the artists’ statements better than viewing the artwork….don’t tell anybody I said that…really….really.

  29. here is a tidbit,

    there are some amazing articles/photos of various writer’s studios in the most recent “O At Home” magazine. Faulkner’s, of course, and many, many others. The photos are magical and I’m thinking of doing tear outs and framing them . . . but the whole issue is about BOOKS – who to store them, display them, create them . . . gorgeous and they are my main element for all my decorating (by necessity).

  30. ok – i’m officially abandoned and will officially try to sleep for 3 hours (ha) – I’ll read and while and check in later . . . sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite (which they DID the last time I was in New Orleans), obviously I was at the wrong B&B! when are we going, I need to ink it in to the calendar…maybe John M and I can curate a show down there at the same time, hum??? sounds good to me. we will need a year to pull that off . . .nashville is open any time . . . I have 4 bathrooms and 5 bed, plus a rec room and basement . . . Kate Cake – I’m not white trash anymore!!!! 🙂

  31. Sher, I must see pictures. I do understand about cameras, though.

    Not really.

  32. Jason, how nice to meet you. I’ll e-mail you and you can tell me about your God Thing. Welcome.

  33. Sher, I need to send at least one of my children to you. My house is far too small.

  34. Sher, neither am I.

    Ok, that was a lie. I am still a little bit WT. But I’m moving on up to that great big apartment in the sky, or whatever.

  35. All that and a thank-you note from the gene pool is on the way, too.
    Happy Birthday.

  36. Geez o’ Pete! Do you people sleep during the day in order to stay up all night? You all have been bloggin’ BUSY!
    Haven, that is such a beautiful tribute to John, and I appreciate it! It reminds me of the tribute you wrote about your eldest child. I’d share the tribute with my own dear husband (your former classmate) but I am afraid it would be mostly over his head. He’s a farmer and likes to keep things simple, although he always appreciates loving thoughts…
    I am the Martha who met you at Ball State a few weeks ago, publisher of Life in the Midwest online magazine, so I’ll be emailing you soon (when the dust settles here in Indiana!) to “interview” you.
    Have a nice sleep, all of you night owls!

  37. Happy Birthday, John. Haven has conjured someone magical in you.

    “We are lured toward truth, beauty, and goodness … the lure is pulling at our hearts like some lucid joy inside every actual occasion and all we have to do is … Say yes.”


  38. Happy Birthday John…
    From what I hear…you are a saint! From what I have read, it is confirmed.

  39. Happy Birthday, John!

    What a wonderful tribute and love story, Haven. You are all the most gorgeous people I have ever seen- you and John, Kat, Obadiah (those eyes!), and Baby Augusten. Oh my. That you are married to a musician who is also a potter makes me so jealous. And he opened for the awesome Indigo Girls! A friend of mine, who also is my daughter’s guitar and mandolin teacher and the most amazing musician I know personally, played with the girls years ago. My friend is Melissa DuPuy. Perhaps John has met her?

    This post made my heart swell up. I have been having trouble with my marriage. I know early in sobriety that can happen, but reading this makes me realize that what I have been feeling in my heart about what is missing in my life is a real thing that does exist out there. I have miles and miles to go before I sleep on this issue, if indeed i ever do, but what you and John have is such pure sweet love that it makes me happy.

  40. Hi Haven! I am so happy on the mornings I get to work and see a new blog from you. I adore you (& your books) and all of your wonderfully bright bloggers. I don’t feel worthy of taking your time and space, but just know that I LOVE all of you who write in regularly; you are so bright!

    This morning I was struck by the pic with John at the wheel. My husband is also a potter and it looks like they do very similar work, or at least shapes. How could we get more info on his work & openings? Does he have a website?(We’re just down the road in Salisbury.)

    And, I get asked that Ghost question all the time. When will the memory of that movie die?

  41. Happy birthday, John — and mega-congratulations to both of you for finding your heartsease.

    (You do write such lovely tribute posts, Haven.)

  42. I want to thank my wonderful wife, Haven, for this birthday post, even though much of what she writes is exaggerated. (It’s true about the corn, though. It was a disaster).

    And while I’m here, let me say hello to the rest of you, who have brought such pleasure to Haven’s life. Thank you for your concern and your kindness towards her.

    Haven writes of my devotion to her children, Kat and Obadiah, and to our son, Gus, but she does not mention the great generosity–and nearly Palinesque tolerance–she has shown in welcoming and caring for my first child, the product of an ill-advised–I might even say dangerous–indiscretion on my part. She has even provided a forum for C.’s budding acting and modeling aspirations. For pictures, I refer you to the post of July 23.


  43. i’ll never forget the first time John answered the phone at their house. his voice is velvet on marble curves of Roman statues. within ten seconds, he made me feel at peace. that’s a miracle, that voice. the man behind the voice is true to his center, and capable of a level of unselfishness that does not exist in california. i sing BOY WITH BIRDS in my car. the verse you chose, haven, is my favorite. he’s a beautiful man, inside and out. i thank god every time Haven works herself to a frazzle, because i know John is there. praise the baby jesus for inventing John and sending him to our treasure, Haven. he is the only man good enough for her. baby gus is a miniature John, and some day his girlfriend will rise up and call him blessed. John, I am delighted you were born. you are worthy of my secret girlfriend of the heartland, and that’s saying a lot. you care deeply for children born of another man’s seed: another miracle. i love you for that.

    men llike John dont grow thiock n the ground anymore. but imagine whenm they me, John and haven, and the words that went through their heads: “I found you.”

  44. Another beautiful tribute to your family. It’s really so refreshing to hear about your great love. John sounds like a truly good man and nothing is more perfect (or attractive) than a devoted father.

    Both you and John are very lucky–thanks for sharing this with us.

    p.s. I’m another huge Indigo Girls fan in Atlanta. Not to be missed–their SONG “Ghost”–haunting lyrics that will stick with you forever.

  45. “I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand than an eternity without it. One.”
    ~Seth, from City of Angels

    john, this is the most romantic quote i know. i give it to you on your birthday, in honor of your love for haven, which i know is infinite.

  46. again. all i can say is wow. i like best what Kate said… that you and he are the definition of EPIC.

    happy birthday to john. you are both lucky, lucky people it seems.

    and, having recently found my own love, i must say that this post makes me need him and appreciate him more, if that is possible.


  47. Happy BIRTHDAY, John! We thank you for being a driving force in getting Haven’s books out to the world AND we thank you for taking such good care of her.

    Haven – Send Obadiah and/or Little Augusten this way. My nieces and nephews are HOURS away and I don’t get to see them often. Dear Angie’s son, Elliot, payed the greatest compliment to both me and Erik. When Angie and her husband asked him who he would want to live with if something ever happened to them he said us.

    P.S. Opened for the Indigo Girls? Get out – that rocks! Power of Two. Simply beautiful. Any recordings of John around?

  48. happy birthday john! haven, the love you have for him is clear. it is so incredible to find that connection with someone. reading your post made me teary, i too have a john–it really is his name-and you put into words just how much i love him.

    and seriously, could your children be any more beautiful? i am thrilled you have found such a wonderful and dynamic man with passion. i was trying to figure out what i looked for in a good friend or lover, and what i come up with every time is passion. passion for anything, something. that and empathy. if i can help guide my son to have a passion for whatever it his he does and the ability to empathize with others, i will consider my role as mother successful.

    thank you for that beautiful post. you are truly blessed. i hope you have a great celebration!

  49. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
    Lao Tzu

  50. Happy Birthday John!

    This is a beautiful tribute, and all True.

    John and I were born two months apart in the same city, but only met a few years ago. He struck me immediately as vastly intelligent, genuine, honest, patient, and above all, calm. Entropy retreats in his presence. He is a benevolent force for order and goodness.

  51. dear john

    throw some pots
    write a song
    create a new way for cassoulet

    “A man of genius has a right to any mode of expression.”


  52. I’m going to go lie down — I’m getting a huge sugar-buzz from all these messages. Maybe the next blog could be a short one, about things John CAN’T do …?

  53. I agree with Vanessa – Thanks, Haven, for sharing your wonderful husband with us! It sounds like he’s your soul mate – what a great match for you!

  54. i’m afraid – literally – that there is nothing John can’t do.

    i am so sorry.

    ps to John: i got an A in geometry. when i come, we will do Proofs together, to te sound of Pablo Cassal

  55. Happy birthday, John! Thanks for being such a wonderful person to a dear, dear friend.

    Haven: Isn’t it wonderful when love’s true form is finally revealed to us?

    And, cryptically he asks, how do you feel about commas?

  56. I am humbled. I am grateful for the two of you and for the love you share. I am remembering that song on that day.

    And a day years later, when I was making love with my husband, hearing hallelujah in Cohen’s voice in my head over and over, with tears running down my cheeks, Lara having just been diagnosed. Slowly slowly slowly I’ve come to understand that to love you will suffer, but that love breaks from from suffering. It shakes out its delicate powerful wings and pulls you up to a place where you can see with clearer perspective. And lands you back down again, hearing a new voice in your head, knowing you’ve grown and are changed, wishing you knew then what you know now. But there is the paradox, and still, love resides. Hallelujah.

    I tip my best hat to you, Haven, the miracle woman who has always seen more clearly than me. John is the lucky one. And I wish you both every best moment and all love for all time.

  57. Um, and that little Gus? Has there ever been a cuter baby?! omg

  58. Hi Haven and Happy Birthday to your husband, John.

    Stanette and I met you Monday on the plane from New Orleans to Atlanta, and had a wonderful conversation. I look forward to checking out your blog and your writing.

    Greetings from Bozeman!

    – Joe from the plane

  59. John S- I just looked at the July 23 thread and all I can say is that you are a nut. LOL July 23 is MY birthday by the way. And your little monkey child is just precious.

  60. Hooray! One of Haven’s “plane” friends has joined the party . . . cha . . . cha . . cha!

    My hubby and I became very close to a family on our flight back from Italy last year – especially when the “toilet” backed up into the plane – we were literally traveling in a flying outhouse, we all hid under a blankie together . . . it was very bonding!

  61. I echo ALL of the above ‘elevated’ sentiments and say:
    Am I the only one who really appreciated the wet t-shirt picture? Happy Birthday John! (and a beautiful profile, too!!)

  62. WOW, you are both so lucky, and the pictures of that beautiful blond baby boy. I am speachless. John, enjoy your day, Haven enjoy your family.
    Susan g

  63. What a glorious post today. I am smiling from earring to earring with happiness for Haven and John and glowing with boundless love for my own partner thanks to this sweet reminder of what love is. Thanks so much for sharing about your John with us, Haven, and thanks to John for giving us a howdy. And Brenda, I too was all over that wet shirt picture.

  64. Good Lord that was beautiful!

  65. Found my way to you yesterday and feel as though I stumbled into my secret home.

    Knocked over by your reference to John as an “angel of Yes,” and stunned by this in the comments:

    “We are lured toward truth, beauty, and goodness … the lure is pulling at our hearts like some lucid joy inside every actual occasion and all we have to do is … Say yes.”

    Bullseye. A dart blow to my heart.

    Happy Birthday to John. And thank you.

  66. Now I’m the one in tears. Thank you all for joining me in honoring such a worthy man.

    Katherine, I love you and miss you and you are in my heart every day. I hope you feel it. And yes, you were there all along.

  67. Joe from the plane! Do you see, people? I made so many friends on airplanes I didn’t even get to the trip home. It seemed to stretch credibility, that I had also met Joe and Stanette from Bozeman. But I did and they were great. Stay in touch, you two, and Joe, thanks for writing. I tried to google Stanette but spelled her name wrong and thought I’d misplaced the two of you forever.

  68. Our dear George is at the beach and has no Internet today, but TODAY IS ALSO HIS BIRTHDAY! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE! If I had thirteen years worth of photographs of you, I’d write an entire post in your honor. As it is, all I can say is we all treasure you and couldn’t be happier that you were born.

  69. Linda, I can’t speak to your own situation, but as my close friends here — Jim Shue, JohnM, Katherine, Suzanne, Matt In Nebraska — can tell you, J. and I had years of struggle, not so much with each other but with our situation. Other relationships had to end, innocent people were hurt, my children (and Cletus!) were involved. What we had and what saved us was, as many of you have pointed out, an epic passion combined with infinite mutual respect and awe. Kurt Vonnegut said, in Fates Worse Than Death, that when he and his wife fought she would often reach the point of saying, “I don’t love you anymore,” to which he would reply, “Oh who cares, you’ll love me again tomorrow. When you don’t respect me anymore I’ll know it’s over.” That seems very true to me, after all these years.

  70. i think every true love has to fight some very rough battles to get to that epic passion. and i am with you on the respect. it must go both ways. i try to be a good listener, too, which isn’t always easy for me. my husband is amazing as a listener. it’s the growing and the understanding and the intimacy (not just sex, but that ain’t bad) that develops together, although not always perfectly symmetrically. at the end of the day, i still thank god for just how very full and happy my life is. it sounds like you have a a wonderful life, too. i sometimes feel like it isn’t fair that i am so happy when others are not, but man, i love life!

  71. one more thing, there were definitely some shit storms to be weathered. all worth it.

  72. Yes…it’s worth it…My husband and I have been together for 37 years (OMG!!) and, (homage to Steph of the hearty laugh), what it boils down to for us is that we still are each other’s best friend, and we still can make each other laugh spontaneously, more than once a day!

  73. Also, in his comment, John says I have exaggerated? OH NAY NAY, PEANUTHEAD. I exaggerated not a thing. I could have said more, like our encounter with the playwright from Spain, but did I? Did I mention how you run the mastiffs for miles so I don’t have to walk them, while also pushing the jogging stroller? No, I did not. Did I point out that you not only support my taxidermy habit, you built a special shelf in the barn to separate the various weasel species so they don’t fight? Don’t get me started, even if it is your birthday.

  74. All hail Brenda D. in Arizona. Thirty-seven years: THAT is epic.

  75. Hi Martha — give my best to Benny. It’s good to be a farmer.

    And love love to Aunt Julie, who checks in above.

  76. Other relationships had to end and innocent people were hurt…unfort, shit happens. Your children being involved is much more serious. But poor innocent little Cletus? Goddam it, now you’ve gone too far!

  77. Fortunately, Cletus takes after John. He is thoroughly sanguine.

  78. Before I forget, HAPPY BIRTHDAY GEORGE. I hope you are having a wonderful day at the beach. I didn’t feel comfortable on this blog until your silly poem. Keep being yourself.

  79. Happy Birthday, John! We’ll raise a glass whilst facing east, towards you, this evening!! Thanks so much for sharing Miss H with us last weekend. Only wished you could’ve been with us!

  80. “That was the strangest thing about weddings, from Amos’s point of view, that they pretended to be sacred occasions but in fact had no meaning. Because a marriage isn’t a marriage until it’s over, he thought, until the couple looked back, years later, at the moment they wed and said, “Oh, that’s what really happened that day.”

    Haven, the musicality, the crescendo, the building tension of all the fugal lines in the double wedding/murder at the end of Part One in SOLACE … it’s Beethoven Six — the Pastoral (Pastor-al) Symphony, ironically — in prose. Reading it is the chilling realization of an oncoming, monstrous thunderstorm — the crashing green flashes, the darkness and deluge, the torrential terror wrenching loose the earth’s foundation — that then recedes with a final shudder, a last shaking of the ground as the sun slowly and timidly emerges, and the world commences its horrific, sublime cycle.

    It’s sheer genius. I love your work.

  81. Jodi, you rock!!! I love that observation. Thanks for sharing.

  82. Jodi, you will understand very well, then: during the writing of that scene at the end of Part One my legs were bouncing up and down frantically. I tried to stop them but eventually just gave up. Later I told my editor that my nerves were literally humming with fear that I would get the scene wrong, and thus everything that followed. I’m surprised I didn’t begin licking lightbulbs and rocking in a corner when that novel was finished.

  83. Nice, Jodi! And you could associate the musical fugue with the psychological fugue state here as well.

    Here’s another wedding quote:

    Doctor Word fluttered the pages of his book and began to speak quickly, his words shot through with champagne and tremblings and the harmonium’s unceasing melody; it sounded like “Do you Barble take this Daily Alice to be your awful wedded life for bed or for worse insidious in stealth for which or for poor or to have unto whole until death do you part?”
    And he looked up inquiringly.
    “I do,” Smoky said.
    “I do too,” Daily Alice said.
    “Wring,” Doctor Word said. “And now you pounce you, man on wife.”
    Aaaah, said all the wedding guests, who then began to drify away, talking in low voices.

    John Crowley – Little, Big

  84. Are you saying you wrote that IN ONE SITTING? How long were you sitting?, because that scene is a miracle. In fact, there are several miracles of writing in SOLACE that, while they don’t merit a lifetime of licking and rocking, had me closing the book to contemplate and savor, opening it and re-reading, then shaking my head in wonder. When you’re feeling well again, it would be a privilege to read and discuss SOLACE online with the book club.

  85. apropo of nothing being discussed, i do have a question about Kaline Klattermaster. am i significantly more out of touch than i realized or did that book get released very… QUIETLY? JohnM sent a copy to me in the mail and it shocked me utterly. i believe it to be pure genius and am still surprised that i did not and do not hear very much about it.

    just curious.

    (almostclouds: formerly amanda)

  86. I wrote the entire novel in TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS. I sat down and basically didn’t get up until it was finished. I was driven by sheer panic — afraid I’d lose the thread, that I’d forget to weave something in thematically. I’d never written a novel before.

    We need to devise a plan: IODINE questions first? OWEN MEANY? What? How should things go?

  87. Amanda, thank you, truly. I love that little book and I worked on it as hard as (if not harder) than anything I’ve written for adults. It seems that all of my books have been released quietly, but I believe that’s about to change. I think when both Outlaw Quaker Girl and The Farm are released, you’ll know it. Just an intuition.

  88. Happy Birthday George!! I am going to see two more Texas musicians tonight so I will enjoy them in your honor. (Wade Bowen and Roger Creager for those who are wondering and/or might care – ha ha!)

  89. Did Sine_30 leave us forever?

  90. my two cents: since we have the author here (!!!) Iodine would be an EXCELLENT starting point. plus Owen is a lot longer.

  91. Twenty-eight days? You wrote that entire novel in twenty-eight days?

    I’m surprised there was a lightbulb left within five counties. I’d think the glass would have been licked clean off every single one.

    In what was otherwise a glowing recommendation to get me into a writing program, a beloved teacher once wrote that stability was not my strong point. She was right–I’d have been chewing glass after a novel in 28 days.

  92. I was putting off the IODINE discussion until a few people had finished it, but we can do it whenever. I’m a tad lost without George. I’ll tell you what: sometime tonight I’ll put up a post that’s essentially an open thread, and we can go from there. How does that sound?

  93. Jerri, HA! I’ve never met a stable novelist. I write as if I’m running, and I run as if the Devil is nippin’ at my tailbone. That’s because HE IS.

  94. re: Iodine – YES! That sounds great!

  95. Okay, will do.

  96. Haven,

    Having the rare opportunity to blog here with my most esteemed author, I’d like to discuss YOUR books with you and other readers.

    I’m very familiar with the trilogy of books you wrote after Zippy and Couch, and while I’ve read IODINE several times, it confounds me in ways the others didn’t. Exploring the layers of your novels and hearing your thoughts about what you wrote would be a flourless, molten-chocolate cake with red raspberries and mounds of whipped heavy cream.

    Owen Meany’s okay, but jeeze, I’ve got Amos and Langston and Hazel and Taos (what’s HIS whole story, anyway?)and Lu the waitress and Robbie Ballenger standing right in front of me. Seems a waste, a downright shame not to welcome my beloveds with open arms.

    (Subtlety never was my strong suit.)

  97. The Devil is nippin’ at ALL our tailbones. Most of us just don’t acknowledge him. And almost none of us write novels in 28 days.

    I’ve spent a lifetime trying to keep a cap on the crazy. But crazy’s the very thing that shows me the stories waiting beneath the surfaces. It’s the flashlight I was given to shine into corners. I’m going to bring it out to play and see what happens.

  98. All right, Ms. Jodi. I’m happy to oblige.

    And Jerri, yesterday my mentalist wanted to talk about the suicide of David Foster Wallace and how it affected me. As it happened, I walked in reading A. Alvarez’s THE SAVAGE GOD, A Study of Suicide. Whoops! There was a reason I was rereading it and it wasn’t actually Wallace but Plath. That’s not the point. The point is I told him I’m never really surprised when a writer — especially a great one — commits suicide, because it’s dark dark work, sitting alone hour after hour, day in and day out, in a sensory deprivation chamber. And besides that, our job is to haul up the Unconsciousness and give it contours and a story and a name. OH THAT’S PLEASANT. I don’t think this is what he wanted to hear, but I’m not cagey. I told him I was sorry I couldn’t tell him that I thought writers should just LIVE and BE HAPPY, but that I had managed to leave my knife in the car. When he found out I carry a German knife in my pocket, and have had it there in his office every time I’ve seen him for months, he said, calmly, “I really prefer it if there are no weapons in the office.” I said, “Weapons? It’s not an AK-47, but okay. If we’re set upon by hyenas or you need a package opened really quickly, don’t blame me.”

  99. Does he have a brother?

  100. Thank you, Haven. Please take it easy and don’t over-do while you’re recovering. As you pointed out, “writers should just LIVE and BE HAPPY.”

  101. Your story made me laugh to tears, Haven. To. Tears.

    Tell him the knife isn’t a weapon, but a tool. Then promise not to bring hammers to his office either.

  102. Susan, he has a brother who is often referred to as ‘an Adonis.’ No kidding.

  103. Jerri, HELLO? Who walks around without a knife? It’s like all that medical educifying made him unaware of the truth of the world. What if he needed immediate surgery and couldn’t perform it himself? What if an evil false Santa burst through his office door? Where would he be if one of his feet got the all of a sudden gangrene and there was no one to cut off his shoe? Sorry, is where he’d be. I’d just have to shrug and say, “Here’s your co-pay. I’ll be heading out to my car now, where my knife is.”

  104. Jodi, what you did there? That’s top-shelf journalism.

  105. You really think so? Wow, thanks. What I did was Love Your Writing. =0) The thanks go to you. But I delight in your compliment, Haven.

  106. Angel girl, this was a gorgeous tribute. Thanks for sharing it, I feel privileged.

    BUT — if I may correct your memory on one fine point: when he designed that pool for Obadiah, John used not geometry, but calculus. You are excused from knowing the difference because you are a wild-haired poet and wearer of VIctorian nightgowns, but trust me and my Y chromosomes, calculus is an exponentially higher order of endeavor.

    I remember you telling me about it at the time, and the awe I felt then has lingered ever since.

    Wish John happy birthday from me, too, please.

  107. Actually, having seen the pool, it occurs to me that John must have used both geometry AND calculus for that particular project, and now I have to go lie down a while.

  108. A man who’s sanguine (under even the most terrifying of circumstances, as I recall), honorable and rock-solid reliable, an accomplished artist in countless media, can cook, sing, and build (a HOUSE!!?? he built a HOUSE??), a talented parent, and you have not even told the best-as-you-know-it truth about him? Happy Birthday, John. What great good fortune there are people like you on this earth.

  109. And a very happy birthday also to our George!

  110. I’m asking for a knife for Christmas.

  111. So, so, so happy for both you and John. It’s a wonderful life — full of hope and enchantment!

  112. Robert, my love! You are so right. Remember, there were symbols and things, and terrifying bits in a notebook, and a 3-dimensional thing floating about on the Internet? And I was like I SEE DARK MAGIC. Then boards were cut at impossible angles and what appeared wasn’t a hexagon but some variation on it? And dadgummit but that pool has gone up every year. Helluva deck.

    And Carrie? Cleared the land, cut down the trees, planed them, used them as raw beams, put in a heating system that employed hot-water pipes in the floor, used the salvaged hardwood floor from an old church in the living room. ETCETERA.

  113. Wow! And Robbie was impressed that I just unclogged the sink/garbage disposal by removing the trap under the sink. No wonder you were so angry when THAT “b” woman put the moves on John after you were so hospitable to her.

  114. Haven, you are hysterical… “If we’re set upon by hyenas or you need a package opened really quickly, don’t blame me.” I love it.
    …And precious. I find your tribute to your husband so uplifting and the story of your love, your perfectly woven words intoxicating. Really. Wow.

    Happy Birthday John! And Happy Birthday Mr Stuteville!

  115. Lord above, Jim Shue, I don’t even remember which woman that was. But it sounds right. And yay for you, unclogging a disposal. I couldn’t abide doing that myself; it would trigger my gag reflex, and my then my serial killer instinct.

  116. Happy Birthday John! And Happy Birthday Mr Stuteville!

    Haven you are hysterical…”If we’re set upon by hyenas or you need a package opened really quickly, don’t blame me.”
    …And precious. I find your tribute to your husband so uplifting and the story of your love, your perfectly woven words, intoxicating. Really. Wow.

  117. My new friend from Bozeman, Stanette? She was set upon by wolverines while hiking in Yellowstone. True story.

  118. It was either try and unclog it, or have water drain back through the dishwasher and flood the kitchen – which to me would have been more foul. I still don’t know how he managed to get that much penne pasta through the disposal in whole pieces!

    And if you and Robbie were to travel together… there wouldn’t be a person left on this planet that didn’t somehow know the two of you. Never thought I’d see another person with your ability, but he has it. Drunks on the CTA really liked talking with him.

  119. The first time Beth and I went to New Orleans together she said, “In 24 hours you’ll know every person in this city.” The next day I ran into Trent Reznor on Bourbon Street and ended up talking to him for quite awhile. I think that nearly covers ‘everyone.’

  120. Didn’t you also “run into” Paul Stanley there when you lived in Biloxi?

  121. DUDE, NO. Jim Shue, step away from the bourbon, friend. I ran into BRIAN MAY OF QUEEN. That’s a whole different category of awesome. Oh, don’t get me started.

  122. LOL! Sorry, my mistake… I think that summer of “WHITE RUSSIANS” probably has altered a lot of brain cells!

  123. Indeed, I remember that summer.

    Ha! No, I don’t.

  124. The deck is indeed a subtle, rare variation on the hexagon involving 8 equal sides and angles. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Gus stories. We were out playing in the puddles after a rain storm with Gus’s friend Jonah, who is roughly the same age but more linguistically advanced. Gus pointed up at a stop sign and said “da!” which is all he said until very recently. “Jonah,” I said, “can you tell Gus what that is?” to which Jonah replied, “that’s a octagon!” As is the deck.

    Robert, the only calculus I’ve ever known was a small but painful stone in my kidney some years ago.

    Thank you all for the birthday wishes. You’ve made my day.

  125. The other thing about John? HUMBLE.

  126. I just love that John built you separate shelves to keep the weasels from fighting. Pure gold.

  127. Shitbags, excuse the double posts. I was having problems with wordpress accepting my comment, so I jumbled it around and now I’ve realised that it printed both. aagh.

  128. Haven, you have an awesome family. Your blog is like reality TV but with hope and inspiration and all the good things that reality TV is not.

    And Brandon, the exact wording of Elliot’s comment was something like this: “Why can’t I just go live with Erik and Brandon now? I could still come see you on the weekends.” I think he was six or seven at the time. You guys are great. Either that or we are the worst parents ever.

  129. Suzanne was right. I do not believe there is anything John S. cannot do. Has to be just like living inside art. Art with warm floors. Astounding he.

  130. Ok, this is how gullible I am. I was very concerned about this offspring of John’s that he was lauding Haven’s patience for, and I was not sure what I was going to find in the archives.


  131. yes, haven, your John is capable of many thing my Jon is capable of. my Jon can design, fix or build anything imaginible, and he delights in using wood from something that has fallen apart to build something new. it’s truly a god-=given talent and lord knows how we lucked into these genuises of carpentry, art and humor and humble generosity. Jon once carefully packed and shipped 24 horseshoe crabs from Nantucket to my son’s third-grade class, so each child would have one, and he packed a giant horshoe crab in ice and DROVE IT BACK accross country to give to Pablo when he came back. and when i was too ill to move after surgery, Jon carefully spooned soup into my mouth,holding the back of my head gently so none would spill. he gave me a little brass bell to ring in case i needed him during the night.i once had a terrible wee-hour dream and Jon drove 30 miles to my house at 5 AM to sit with me and talk it through in the low, dulcet tones of a visiting saint. he hung upside down for eight hours a day for 3 days on my back deck, to drive steel girders into the ceiling of my downstairs, so that the catwalk on the back deck would hold no matter what. when i was at work, he noticed one of our cats had mites and took him to the vet that very day, carefully explaining to me what the vet said, when i got home from the city. i’ve explained to Jon that although we will probably never marry, he belongs to me forever, and he agreed that yes,he did. he praises and reads everything i write and quotes shakespeare sonnets , although he was too poor to attend college and went into the army to get medical benefits for his first wife’s pregnancy. he’s taught Pablo to use a nail gun,blunt a nail, and fix the toilet apparatus that i cant bear to even look at. he’s lifted my toilet out twice from its base, resealed the base, and set it back again, whole. he painted a lovely, giant orange canvas of a french rooster,using HOUSE PAINT, that adorns my dining area: another surprise, for no holiday,birthday, or apparent reason. i cannot live without my Jon, but if i have to, i will live knowing that truly good men exist and are not a figment of anyone’s imagination. your John reinforces that happy, revised belief i now own. there is no greater gift than to be loved just for yourself, and to be cared for with exquisite detail, for no reason. when we first met, Jon told me: “Love is action.” i now know this through and through. i had no idea before. none.

  132. ps to see my Jon’s mosaic art, and his pro-bono guerilla city beautification art and his priceless finnamore-home handiwork — and to also see his own fine self, go to my finnablog at i laud him there as well. his face and countenance have some of haven’s John’s quiet strength. i think they came from the same place, where the good men are sequestered in baby-soul quarantine until they’re released into this odd little broken world of ours.

  133. Sorry, John, your lovely wife misled me with her original attribution. I should have know that an untethered earth spirit such as herself couldn’t tell the difference between particle physics and origami. Still, when I saw that pool with my actual human eyes, I remember thinking, like a medieval Frenchman looking at Chartres cathedral, “Why doesn’t it all just fly apart?” … And then I remembered, “Ah yes, CALCULUS!” Well, whatever it was, it was genius.

    And Haven? … IODINE is genius too, so don’t be jealous. In fact I have enough slack-jawed awe to spread around to each and every member of your family. Just to tell you.

  134. What a gift today was…

    an outpouring of such love and vulnerability and laughter and hope and sweetness.

    oh…thank you all for your kind wishes on my birthday. I woke up this morning, read Haven’s post in my Blackberry and I cannot describe to you how overjoyed I felt in sharing a birthday with her John! One of these days I am going to meet you guys in person when I happen to be in Durham. One of these days, I hope to meet all you guys on this blog in person when I am in Australia, California, Michigan, Connecticut, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Montana, Louisiana…

    I’m gonna meet you,

    But I already know you!

    Today was a pelican day for me as they shot along the surf, inches above the waves, seeing below the surface, on each other’s wing, riding each other’s air, pulling up and turning as one thing, wild, their own being.

    I loved Haven and John’s outpouring of love for each other. I loved reading your own expressions of love for your spouses and children.

    Today was not only my birthday,

    But my 14th wedding anniversary, too.

    I cannot say here everything I said to my wife, but I can say this and I did:

    “Today was a simple day in a life we have made from love. Today is the day I dream of, time for you, time to realize the beauty all around us, time for others, time for the dogs, time to be who we really are and not misshapen and batter by the dings of schedule. We only get time because we hang in there, dreamingof it, knowing it is there if we wait through ust one more day. My wife…I would not have done hardly anything by myself, alone, than what we have done together.”

    Today, folks, we had it together.

    And thanks

  135. So I’m a little late but here is a great big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my FAVORITE (and only) uncle. And if Kalia were awake she would tell me to tell you Happy Birthday too and that she needs to know where the party is because ALL birthdays must have parties.

  136. …I forgot to add that the freakin’ car appears to have broken down. There are worse things than being stranded at the beach and I will remind myself of this.

  137. George! How lovely to be married on your birthday!!

  138. George, let me know when you’ll be in Indy again. I’ll buy you a pint for a belated birthday celebration.

  139. Sorry, George… Sock is my nickname bestowed upon me by Haven.

  140. Suzanne — where, please is the mosaic art (which link on

  141. George, a very Happy Anniversary too! Sounds like it was lovely, right down to where you’re stranded…

  142. George, Happy Anniversary! This was a banner day.

    One of my favorite family members has a theory that pelicans always appear in odd numbers.

  143. Robert, I miss you, angel wings.

  144. After the gorgeous lyric up top, I looked for sound files and you know what there was? — a video clip, of a man who looks a lot like John, at The Cave last year, just ripping up the stage with a song sounded like “I Just Needed a Name” — what a voice. What a sound. Is this your John? Are there more (sound files)? Wasn’t there a joint venture (with Kat) alluded to in a past post?

    I’m not going to be able to get that song out of my head now.

  145. i’m glad to see a blog where john svara is the topic, well the orignal one anyway. john is a long time friend. i’ve never ever seen anyone so dedicated to his wife and children. i can only aspire to have that kind of loyalty somewhere in my life. Happy Day, my friend. Love to the family. Haven, thanks for sharing him with everyone.

  146. Happy Anniversary yesterday, George and Mrs. George. I hope your day was full of love (yeah, that kind too), laughter, good food, and the peaceful quiet of the sea and the knowledge that you are both very blessed.

  147. Carrie – can you provide a link??? What excellent detective work! 🙂

  148. I don’t want to look at the Iodine thread – I still don’t have the book – but I notice it has nearly 300 comments already! Holy Moly!

  149. Hey, we miss all of you who haven’t joined the IODINE discussion. And I don’t get paid by the page views! It’s all FREE!

  150. My thoughts exactly, particleofspirit – I don’t want to ruin any surprises within the book, but at the same time, I feel like I am getting way behind – 300 comments – yikes!

  151. Same here! I don’t dare read the “Iodine” thread for fear of ruining the experience (which I’m sure will be exquisite)of reading the book! Over 300 comments! In less than 24 hours?!?!?!?! Oh my!

  152. Carrie, do you have a link? Right here on my desktop I’ve got four demo recordings from New Orleans but I have no idea what to do with them. I’ll ask Augusten.

  153. Haven, you can upload them to at make a widget for your blog them we can all listen. 🙂

  154. I am jumping in my seat! Do you mean an email? You can send them to, and I’ll upload them to a public page if you like.

  155. Ok, first of all, nice scoring a hottie who is also creative, talented, and loves you. I just keep getting more jealous of you every day (But in a good way!) I’m loving your blog and I am amazed to see so many interesting and beautifully written posts by you. You just rock Haven!

  156. ARGHHHH it’s not on my blog….jon’s art is on my FACEBOOK. go there. it’s worth it.


    once you register at facebook, which is free and easy and you dont have to HAVE a FACEBOOK to look at other’s…? then you go suzanne finnamore, then to my picture album (link below) theres augusten and haven amd pablo and me and JON’S GUERRILLA STREET ART.

  158. What a stunningly beautiful tribute — among the most moving things I’ve ever read. Happy Birthday, John. Thank you for being all that you are.

    This brought me to tears for so many reasons… Besides the sheer beauty and poetry of it all, I’ve been going through a pretty difficult guy-situation for a while now, and reading this made me realize that it IS possible to have a love that redefines what you thought love was to begin with. And you know what? I am worthy of a love like that. Admitting that is a big step for me. Really. So thank you. Thank you both for being such rare and beautiful souls, for finding and treasuring each other, and for reminding us of the possibilities that this world has to offer.

    Happy Birthday and anniversary, too, to our George!

    I am DYING to go check out the Iodine discussion, but I am purposefully waiting until my show is over (three down, two to go!), because I can’t remember being more exhausted and brain-dead. And seeing as this is a conversation in which I will definitely need my wits about me, I will save my words until after Sunday. Not that you incredible people are lacking without my input — I’m sure the insights are astounding. I seriously can’t wait.

    One last note — you writing Solace in twenty-eight days… I won’t even try to describe the awe and envy I feel.

  159. Kimberly, what show?

  160. I’m in a musical here at school — Bat Boy. We opened Thursday and close Sunday. SUCH fun.

  161. One of my favorite beautiful HK quotes:

    “My husband is my best friend.
    We have the rarest of affinities.”

    — HK, Rambler Magazine, March/April, 2006

  162. That is so beautiful. 🙂

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