Jun. 19, 2007
What I Like and Don't Like
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Poem: "What I Like and Don't Like" by Philip Schultz, from Failure: Poems. © Harcourt, Inc., 2007. Reprinted with permission.
What I Like and Don't Like
I like to say hello and goodbye.
I like to hug but not shake hands.
I prefer to wave or nod. I enjoy
the company of strangers pushed
together in elevators or subways.
I like talking to cab drivers
but not receptionists. I like
not knowing what to say.
I like talking to people I know
but care nothing about. I like
inviting anyone anywhere.
I like hearing my opinions
tumble out of my mouth
like toddlers tied together
while crossing the street,
trusting they won't be squashed
by fate. I like greeting-card clichés
but not dressing up or down.
I like being appropriate
but not all the time.
I could continue with more examples
but I'd rather give too few
than too many. The thought
of no one listening anymore
I like that least of all.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal, born in Clermont, France (1623). He wrote a lot about religion, and attempted to convert skeptics to Christianity. But he also said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
It's the birthday of film critic Pauline Kael, born in Petaluma, California (1919). She said, "You have to be open to the idea of getting drunk on movies."
It's the birthday of the journalist and music critic Greil Marcus, born in San Francisco (1945). He started out as a music critic for various magazines, and he has gone on to write many books of criticism, including Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (1975) and Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989).
It was on this day in 1964 that the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act after a long battle in the Senate. Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law 13 days later. It was this piece of legislation that outlawed all segregation on the basis of race in the United States. The text of the law was extremely specific, listing all the places of public accommodation where segregation was forbidden, including any inn, hotel, motel, restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, gasoline station, motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment.
It's the birthday of the novelist Salman Rushdie, (books by this author) born in Bombay, India (1947). His parents sent him to school in England, where he didn't get along with his classmates, and he missed India terribly. And then, while he was in school, his parents were forced to leave Bombay and move to Pakistan because they were Muslims. Rushdie was crushed. He didn't want to stay in England, but now he no longer had a home in India. So he enrolled at Cambridge and then got a job writing copy for an advertising company.
Working at the advertising company just two days a week, he took five years to produce Midnight's Children (1981), about the India that he missed so much. It's the story of a group of 1,001 children all born in the hour after midnight on the day that India gained independence. In the novel, each of those children gains magical powers. The novel is told from the point of view of a boy who receives the power to read minds, and who attempts to draw together all the other midnight's children, even as India and Pakistan are sliding toward war.
The book won the Booker Prize and became a huge success, among both Westerners and Indians. Only Rushdie's family hated the book, because he had incorporated a lot of family secrets into the storyline.
Rushdie published his third novel, Shame, in 1983, and then in 1987, he came out with a book called The Satanic Verses, which got mixed reviews. Most Western critics didn't notice that it would be offensive to Muslims. But turned out that Rushdie had made a lot of obscure jokes about the Islamic religion in the book, and one section of The Satanic Verses seemed to suggest that the Quran is not the direct word of God. A month after the book came out, it was banned in India and book burnings throughout the Muslim world followed. The Ayatollah Khomeini eventually announced that Rushdie should be sentenced to death for blasphemy, and he placed a $1.5 million bounty on Rushdie's head.
Rushdie had to go into hiding. His Italian translator was threatened and stabbed. His Japanese translator was murdered. His Norwegian publisher was attacked and left for dead. Rushdie spent the next nine years moving from place to place. He lived in more than 30 houses. He found it difficult to write, so he helped set up an international organization for the protection of persecuted writers. The death sentence was finally lifted in 1998.
Rushdie later said, "The experience taught me ... a lot about the human capacity for hatred. But it also taught me the opposite: the capacity for solidarity and friendship. ... My Norwegian publisher was shot three times in the back and ... his first reaction, upon recovering from the bullet wounds, was to reprint the book. That's courage."
Back when he was still in hiding, a group of writers and literary critics distributed a series of buttons that said, "I am Salman Rushdie," to express their solidarity with him. Rushdie has since acquired a few of those buttons, and he said, "I still wear them sometimes, because, after all, I am Salman Rushdie."
Salman Rushdie said, "A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep."
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