Wednesday

Jan. 2, 2002

thoughts on being 71

by Charles Bukowski

WEDNESDAY, 2 JANUARY 2002
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Poem: "thoughts on being 71," by Charles Bukowski from Open All Night: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press).

thoughts on being 71

having worn life like a red
flower,
I have reached here,
sitting in slippers and shorts while
listening to
Ravel.
time for a good cigar.
I note the wedding ring on one of
my fingers as I light
up.

also,
it's better now, death is closer,
I no longer have to look for it,
no longer have to challenge
it, taunt it, play with it.
it's right here with me
like a pet cat or a wall
calendar.

I've had a good run.
I can toss it in without regret.

odd, though, I feel no different
than I did at 35 or 47 or 62:
I am only truly conscious of my
age when I look into a
mirror:
ridiculous
baleful eyes, grinning
stupid mouth.

it's nice, my friend, the
lightning flashes about
me,
I've washed up on the golden
shore.
everything here is miracle,
a hard miracle,
as was what
preceded
this.

but there's nothing worse than
some old guy
talking about what he
did.

well, yes, there is:
a bunch of old guys talking about
it.

I stay away from them.
and you stay away from me.

that space is all we'll ever really
need.
any of
us.

It was on this day in 1859 that Erastus Beadle published "The Dime Book of Practical Etiquette." The Beadle name is famous for the Beadle Dime Book business, which Erastus's brother Irwin started with his partner, Robert Adams, that same year. The two men began by publishing booklets of popular songs and tips on recipes and cooking, gardening, public speaking, baseball, and the like, but then went on to publish short novels, mostly adventure stories about the pioneers, pirates, trappers, and fighters in the Revolutionary War. Dime and nickel books were very popular in America in the mid 1800s; they were cheap and easy to get, and their popular topics resonated with average working Americans. Some of the Beadle novels sold several hundred thousand copies in their first year in print—and when their circulation dropped among the public during the Civil War, the Beadles made up for it by selling the books to union soldiers.

It's the birthday of Isaac Asimov, born in Petrovichi, Russia, in 1920. He emigrated to the U. S. when he was three, and his family settled in Brooklyn. He graduated high school when he was 15, and earned degrees in chemistry and biochemistry at Columbia University, where he later taught. His first short story was published in 1939 while he was an undergraduate, and he wrote prolifically from then on, beginning with stories in science fiction magazines until he published his first novel, Pebble in the Sky, in 1950. It took him 20 years to write his first 100 books, and only 10 years more to write the second hundred—which amounted to about ten books per year. He'd written more than 500 books by the time he'd died. Asimov often said that the greatest contribution he'd ever made to science fiction writing were the three Laws of Robotics, which he introduced in I Robot, published in 1950, and which have been generally followed by science fiction writers ever since. He wrote,

"Let's start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics.... We have: one, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. And three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws."

It's the birthday of American poet Philip Freneau, born in New York in 1752, a chronicler of the American Revolution. He studied ministry at Princeton, where he shared a room with James Madison, learning before too long that his true love and calling was in literature, not in the clergy. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, Freneau and Madison joined some friends to form the American Whig Society, and Freneau was persuaded to found a newspaper in Philadelphia, the National Gazette, in the 1790s.

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

 









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