Nov. 27, 2001


by Robert Lax

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Poem: "Therapist," by Robert Lax from Fables (Pendo).


a man came to me with the
following problem:

<<my mother-in-law, he said, <<despises me;
my creditors, once friendly, are now all over
me; my wife threatens to leave me tomorrow
unless i put the children in a better school;
my employers criticize the tone of my work
for what they call a failure of nerve. what do
you suggest i do?>>

i turned a somersault for him & he felt

It's the birthday of Fanny Kemble, born in London in 1809 to a stage family. She made her debut at the age of 20 in the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at London's Covent Garden Theatre. In 1832 she toured the United States and Canada with her father—at the time, Shakespeare was newly popular in American theater. She wowed her audiences, including Walt Whitman, though she never liked acting. She once wrote about it: "I never presented myself before an audience without a shrinking feeling of reluctance, or withdrew from their presence without thinking the excitement I had undergone was unhealthy, and the personal exhibition odious." She was married in 1834 to a conservative southern planter and stopped acting. The marriage was troubled from the beginning, partly because her abolitionist beliefs clashed with his—he owned slaves and she abhorred how he treated them—and partly because he disapproved of her having a public career. She began to write, concentrating first on a memoir about her experiences in America called Journal of Frances Anne Butler, and though her husband offered the publisher a bribe to not print the book, it was published anyway. She divorced her husband in 1848 and moved back to England in 1877 where she continued writing autobiographical journals and the novel Far Away and Long Ago.

It's the birthday of writer and journalist Gail Sheey, born in 1937 in Mamaroneck, New York. She is best known for her "Passages" series of self-help books on life's stages, including Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, The Silent Passage: Menopause, and New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time. Gail Sheehy, who wrote, "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another."

It's the birthday of Charles Austin Beard, born near Knightstown, Indiana, in 1974. A historian and political scientist, he's best known for his controversial work An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, in which he argued that the Founding Fathers were guided as much by their own economic interests as by political ones when they drafted the Constitution. Beard taught political science at Columbia University from 1904 until 1917, when several faculty members were fired for subversion—they'd criticized the government's war policy. With his wife Mary, he co-authored a four-volume history of the United States, the first two called The Rise of the American Civilization and the others titled America in Midpassage and The American Spirit.

It's the birthday of James Agee, born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1909. He is best known for his novel A Death in the Family, which is about his father's death in a car crash when Agee was six years old. He spent almost 20 years writing it, off and on, and it was only published after his death and won the Pulitzer Prize. Agee also worked with photographer Walker Evans on a book called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, about the sharecroppers in the South. The book only sold 600 copies when it was first published, but it went on to become more popular after Agee's death. By the mid 1940s, Agee had been married three times, and was addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and Benzedrine. His health failed, but even so, he kept writing, focusing mostly on television and movie scripts. His most notable films were The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter. Agee died in 1959 of heart failure in the back of a New York City taxi cab. He left no will, had no insurance, and had only $450 to his name.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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