Jan. 19, 2009

Everyone is Afraid of Something

by Dannye Romine Powell

Once I was afraid of ghosts, of the dark,
of climbing down from the highest
limb of the backyard oak. Now I'm afraid

my son will die alone in his apartment.
I'm afraid when I break down the door,
I'll find him among the empties-bloated,
discolored, his face a stranger's face.

My granddaughter is afraid of blood
and spider webs and of messing up.
Also bees. Especially bees. Everyone,
she says, is afraid of something.

Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me
to tell this child her father is dead.

Perhaps I should begin today stringing
her a necklace of bees. When they sting
and welts quilt her face, when her lips
whiten and swell, I'll take her
by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.
One day, you'll see. These stings
Are nothing. Nothing at all.

"Everyone Is Afraid of Something" by Dannye Romine Powell, from A Necklace of Bees. © University of Arkansas Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1809). He became a writer, but nobody paid much attention to him until his poem "The Raven" appeared in the New York Evening Mirror in 1845, and he suddenly became a celebrity. Children followed him down the street chanting, "Nevermore, nevermore!" And he was asked to recite the poem at all sorts of gatherings.

It's the birthday of novelist Julian Barnes, (books by this author) born in Leicester, England (1946). His parents were French teachers. He had already published two novels when he happened to visit two museums devoted to the novelist Gustave Flaubert. At the first museum, Barnes saw the stuffed green parrot that Flaubert had kept on his writing desk. Then, at the second museum, Barnes saw another stuffed parrot, which was supposedly the same parrot. It gave him an idea for a short story about a man obsessed with Flaubert, and it grew into his novel Flaubert's Parrot (1984), which became his first big success. His most recent book is a memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of (2008).

Julian Barnes said, "The secret of happiness is to be happy already."

It's the birthday of the man who coined the term "altruism" and who helped found the field of sociology: philosopher Auguste Comte, (books by this author) born in Montpellier, France (1798).

He made friends with a social philosopher who insisted that the goal of philosophy should be improved social welfare, and Comte used this as a guiding principle for the rest of his life's work. His most famous work was Système de Politique Positive, published in four volumes between 1851 and 1854. It established a basis for sociology.

And then, Comte's life began to fall apart. He had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. He suffered from serious depression and tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in the Seine River. He was imprisoned, his wife left him, and he lost his job. By the end of his life, he had alienated most of his friends, and he died sad, lonely, and impoverished.

He said, "Everything is relative, and only that is absolute."

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




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