Oct. 23, 2007

I.D. Photo

by Rachel Hadas

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Poem: "I.D. Photo" by Rachel Hadas, from The River of Forgetfulness. © David Robert Books, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I.D. Photo

Since I can feel my radiant nature shine
Out of my face as unmistakably
As sunlight, it comes as a shock to see
The features that apparently are mine.

Mirrors are not a lot of fun to pass,
And snapshots are much worse. Take the I.D.
Picture taken only yesterday
(Take it-I don't want it): sallow face

Pear-shaped from smiling-lumpy anyway,
Droopy, squinty. General discouragement.
I'd blame the painter, if this were in paint,
But can't avoid acknowledging it's me,

No likeness by an artist I could blame
For being bad at matching in with out.
What I see, alas, is what I get.
Victim and culprit are myself and time—

Having seen which, it's time to turn aside;
Look out from, not in at, an aging face
That happens to be mine. No more disgrace
Lies in having lived then having died.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of memoirist Augusten Burroughs, (books by this author) born Christopher Robison in Pittsburgh (1965). He was 13 when his mother gave him up to be raised by her New Age psychiatrist, a man who believed in solving problems by poking his finger into the Bible at random and seeing what it said. Burroughs spent the next five years living in a pink Victorian mansion with the psychiatrist and his wife, their six children, and a number of live-in mental patients. Burroughs and the other children in the house had no supervision at all: They drank and took drugs, played with the electroshock therapy machine, and Burroughs was sexually abused by one of the psychiatrist's patients. He finally ran away, changed his name, got a high school degree, and became an advertising copywriter. But he said, "I really felt like my childhood, my past and my lack of any education was this extra, deformed leg I was dragging around behind me, trying to keep under my jacket." So he wrote a book about it, called Running with Scissors, which came out in 2002 and became a best-seller in part because Burroughs managed to make his horrific childhood experiences funny. His most recent book is the collection of essays Possible Side Effects, which came out this year (2007).

It's the birthday of Michael Crichton, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1942), who went to medical school at Harvard and began writing paperback adventure novels to pay for his tuition. On top of his schoolwork, he managed to produce 10,000 words a day, ultimately publishing eight novels in three years, including Zero Cool (1969), The Venom Business (1969), and Drug of Choice (1970).

By the time Crichton finished medical school, he had decided to become a writer, though he said, "[It] struck most people like quitting the Supreme Court to become a bail bondsman." He's gone on to write many best-selling novels, including The Andromeda Strain (1969), Jurassic Park (1990), and Next (2006).

It was on this day in 1987 that the United States Senate rejected the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork on a 58-to-42 vote. Bork was one of the leaders of a judicial theory called "original intent," which is the idea that Supreme Court justices can only base their decisions on what the framers of the constitution originally intended. If the constitution doesn't mention a "right to privacy" then there is no such thing as a "right to privacy." This idea was controversial, but Bork decided to enter the debate head on, and he openly discussed his constitutional philosophy with the senators. Democrats portrayed him as a radical, and when the final vote of the full Senate came on this day in 1987, Bork was rejected by 58 to 42. Republicans have since argued that Bork was the target of a smear campaign, and they began using his last name as a verb, saying that they wanted to prevent future nominees from getting "borked." The word "bork" was recently added to Webster's dictionary, defined as, "[Seeking] to obstruct a political appointment or selection, also to attack a political opponent viciously." Robert Bork said, "My name became a verb, and I regard that as one form of immortality."

It's the birthday of British poet Robert Bridges, (books by this author) born in Kent, England (1844), whose collections include The Growth of Love: A Poem in Twenty-Four Sonnets (1876) and The Chivalry of the Sea (1916). He became the Poet Laureate of England in 1913 and during World War I, he was asked to write a series of patriotic poems, including "Wake up, England!" But privately, he said, "The war is awful. I can scarcely hold together. ... Just at present I am far too disturbed to write, the communication with my subconscious mind is broken off." He spent the last years of his life writing a four-volume poem called The Testament of Beauty, published in 1929, just before his 85th birthday.

It's the birthday of the most popular talk show host in American history, Johnny Carson, born in Corning, Iowa (1925), who grew up an extremely shy boy until he started doing magic tricks. He later said that it was the discovery of magic that helped him relate to people. He started writing jokes in college and went on to host a TV game show called "Who Do You Trust?" But his big break came when he took over hosting "The Tonight Show" from Jack Parr in 1962. By the mid-1970s, more than 15 million people were watching "The Tonight Show" every night before they went to bed. After being on the air for 30 years, he retired in 1992 and almost never appeared in public again. He died in 2005.

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