Friday

Nov. 3, 2006

How to Live

by Charles Harper Webb

FRIDAY, 3 NOVEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "How to Live" by Charles Harper Webb, from Amplified Dog. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

How to Live

           "I don't know how to live."
                                                  –Sharon Olds

Eat lots of steak and salmon and Thai curry and mu shu
pork and fresh green beans and baked potatoes
and fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream.
Kick-box three days a week. Stay strong and lean.
Go fly-fishing every chance you get, with friends

who'll teach you secrets of the stream. Play guitar
in a rock band. Read Dostoyevsky, Whitman, Kafka,
Shakespeare, Twain. Collect Uncle Scrooge comics.
See Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, and everything Monty Python made.
Love freely. Treat ex-partners as kindly

as you can. Wish them as well as you're able.
Snorkel with moray eels and yellow tangs. Watch
spinner dolphins earn their name as your panga slam-
bams over glittering seas. Try not to lie; it sours
the soul. But being a patsy sours it too. If you cause

a car wreck, and aren't hurt, but someone is, apologize
silently. Learn from your mistake. Walk gratefully
away. Let your insurance handle it. Never drive drunk.
Don't be a drunk, or any kind of "aholic." It's bad
English, and bad news. Don't berate yourself. If you lose

a game or prize you've earned, remember the winners
history forgets. Remember them if you do win. Enjoy
success. Have kids if you want and can afford them,
but don't make them your reason-to-be. Spare them that
misery. Take them to the beach. Mail order sea

monkeys once in your life. Give someone the full-on
ass-kicking he (or she) has earned. Keep a box turtle
in good heath for twenty years. If you get sick, don't thrive
on suffering. There's nothing noble about pain. Die
if you need to, the best way you can. (You define best.)

Go to church if it helps you. Grow tomatoes to put store-
bought
in perspective. Listen to Elvis and Bach. Unless
you're tone deaf, own Perlman's "Meditation from Thais."
Don't look for hidden meanings in a cardinal's song.
Don't think TV characters talk to you; that's crazy.

Don't be too sane. Work hard. Loaf easily. Have good
friends, and be good to them. Be immoderate
in moderation. Spend little time anesthetized. Dive
the Great Barrier Reef. Don't touch the coral. Watch
for sea snakes. Smile for the camera. Don't say "Cheese."


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the photographer Walker Evans, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1903). He dropped out of college after one year and went off to Paris to become a writer. He spent a lot of his time at Sylvia Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and one day he saw James Joyce there, but he was too shy to introduce himself. He didn't meet any other important writers, and his own writing didn't amount to much. He said, "I wanted so much to write that I couldn't write a word."

He went back to the United States, feeling like a failure. And then one day he picked up a camera and started taking pictures. One of the first pictures was of the parade honoring Lindbergh's flight in 1927. Instead of focusing on the parade itself, he focused on the street the parade had just passed through, littered with crumpled handbills and confetti.

He had felt so reverential toward literature that it blocked him up, but with a camera he could point and capture anything he wanted. The popular photography of the day was highly stylized, so Evans decided to go in the opposite direction, to take pictures of ordinary, unpretentious things. He photographed storefronts and signs with marquee lights, blurred views from speeding trains, old office furniture, and common tools. He took pictures of people in the New York City subways with a camera hidden in his winter coat.

Evans especially loved photographing bedrooms: farmers' bedrooms, bohemian bedrooms, middle-class bedrooms. He'd photograph what people had on their mantles, on their dressers, and in their dresser drawers. By the early 1930s, he was one of the most celebrated photographers in the United States. In 1933, was given the first one-man photographic exhibition by the new Museum of Modern Art.

He's perhaps best known for his photographs that accompany James Agee's text in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).


It's the birthday of the humorist and cultural critic Joe Queenan, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1950). He's a journalist and critic who's become known for ridiculing almost every aspect of popular culture in his writing. His working-class background inspired him to become a critic, because he said, "Blue collar people like me have zero tolerance level for the problems of celebrities."


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

 









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