Wednesday

Mar. 8, 2006

Bedside Manners

by Christopher Wiseman

WEDNESDAY, 8 MARCH, 2006
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Poem: "Bedside Manners" by Christopher Wiseman from In John Updike's Room. © The Porcupine's Quill. Reprinted with permission.

Bedside Manners

How little the dying seem to need—
A drink perhaps, a little food,
A smile, a hand to hold, medication,
A change of clothes, an unspoken
Understanding about what's happening.
You think it would be more, much more,
Something more difficult for us
To help with in this great disruption,
But perhaps it's because as the huge shape
Rears up higher and darker each hour
They are anxious that we should see it too
And try to show us with a hand-squeeze.

We panic to do more for them,
And especially when it's your father,
And his eyes are far away, and your tears
Are all down your face and clothes,
And he doesn't see them now, but smiles
Perhaps, just perhaps because you're there.
How little he needs. Just love. More Love.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Kenneth Grahame, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859), known today for his book The Wind in the Willows (1908). He began writing essays and stories on the side, and in 1895 he published two books of stories about children: The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), which were very popular in England and the United States. But when he wrote The Wind in the Willows, many publishers turned it down because the idea of talking animals was too fantastic. At the time, Victorian educators and child welfare experts believed that children should be discouraged as soon as possible from pretending and daydreaming, that letting children believe in fairy tales and myths was detrimental to their development. Grahame believed the opposite: that because of their imaginations, children were the only really living people.

It was finally Teddy Roosevelt, a huge fan of Grahame's early work, who convinced a publisher to take on The Wind in the Willows. It became such a success that Grahame was able to retire from the Bank of England and move to the country. He lived for another twenty-five years, but he never wrote another book.


It was on this day in 1884 that Susan B. Anthony addressed the United States Congress, arguing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. She said, "We appear before you this morning ... to ask that you will, at your earliest convenience, report to the House in favor of the submission of a Sixteenth Amendment to the Legislatures of the several states, that shall prohibit the disfranchisement of citizens of the United States on account of sex."

She had been petitioning Congress in writing for sixteen years, but this was the first time that she managed to persuade Congress to vote on the amendment. It failed.

But even though the constitutional amendment failed that year, it was only six years later, in 1890, that Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote. Colorado adopted women's suffrage in 1893. Fifteen states in all gave women the right to vote in the next thirty years.

Susan B. Anthony died in 1906. The amendment she asked for on this day in 1884 didn't become law until almost fifteen years after her death, on August 26, 1920.


It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931) and considered one of the greatest living literary journalists. He is known for the huge range of his subjects. He has written about canoes, geology, tennis, nuclear energy, and the Swiss army. He once researched his own family tree and traced it back to a Scotsman who moved to Ohio to become a coal miner. He said, "[That coal miner] has about a hundred and thirty descendants who have sprayed out into the American milieu, and they have included railroad engineers, railroad conductors, brakemen, firemen, steelworkers, teachers, football coaches, a chemist, a chemical engineer, a policeman, a grocer and salesmen."

In his book Oranges (1967), about the orange-growing business, he wrote, "An orange grown in Florida usually has a thin and tightly fitting skin, and it is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first. California oranges are light in weight and have thick skins that break easily and come off in hunks. The flesh inside is marvelously sweet, and the segments almost separate themselves. In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement."


It's the birthday of the literary critic Leslie Fielder, born in Newark, New Jersey (1917). He's best known for his book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). He was one of the first American critics to argue in favor of popular culture. He loved comic books and horror movies and soap operas, and he once said that the only writer of the late 20th century who would be remembered was Stephen King. He believed that the great theme of American literature was the search for identity. He said, "Americans have no real identity. We're all ... uprooted people who come from elsewhere."


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