Jan. 9, 2009

Asking for Directions

by Linda Gregg

We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.
We didn't say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.

"Asking for Directions" by Linda Gregg, from Chosen by the Lion. © Graywolf Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the book critic Michiko Kakutani, (books by this author) born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1955. She's known as a critic who's unafraid to be critical. She got a job as a reporter for The New York Times and became a literary critic there in 1983. As the newspaper's lead fiction critic, she is considered one of the most powerful book reviewers in the world. She doesn't go to literary functions, she doesn't let people take her picture, and she won't give interviews. In 1998, she won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

It's the birthday of the writer Judith Krantz, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1928. She worked as a fashion editor for Good Housekeeping. She was almost 50 years old when she wrote her first novel, Scruples (1978). It became a best-seller, and she went on to write nine more novels. Her most recent book is an autobiography, Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl (2000).

It's the birthday of the Czech writer Karel Capek, (books by this author) born in a village in Bohemia in 1890. He wrote novels, travel books, fairy tales, political memoirs, romances, and plays. He introduced the word "robot" in his play R.U.R. (1921). "Robot" comes from the Czech word for serf labor.

It's the birthday of Simone de Beauvoir, (books by this author) born in Paris in 1908. Her father encouraged her to be a scholar. She went to the Sorbonne, and at age 21 she became the youngest person ever to graduate with top honors in philosophy. She wrote The Second Sex (1949), and argued that gender is a result of culture, not nature. She wrote, "One is not born a woman, one becomes one."

It's the birthday of the folk singer and activist Joan Baez, born on Staten Island in 1941. Her mother was from Scotland, and her father was a physicist from Mexico. She grew up in California, playing rock and roll on the guitar. When Joan was a teenager, the Baez family moved to Boston, and she started hanging out with folk singers and learning their ballads. She was 18 years old when she performed at the Newport Folk Festival for an audience of 13,000.

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




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