May 23, 2009

Driving West in 1970

by Robert Bly

My dear children, do you remember the morning
When we climbed into the old Plymouth
And drove west straight toward the Pacific?

We were all the people there were.
We followed Dylan's songs all the way west.
It was Seventy; the war was over, almost;

And we were driving to the sea.
We had closed the farm, tucked in
The flap, and we were eating the honey

Of distance and the word "there."
Oh whee, we're gonna fly
Down into the easy chair
. We sang that

Over and over. That's what the early
Seventies were like. We weren't afraid.
And a hole had opened in the world.

We laughed at Las Vegas.
There was enough gaiety
For all of us, and ahead of us was

The ocean. Tomorrow's
The day my bride's gonna come
And the war was over, almost.

"Driving West in 1970" by Robert Bly, from Eating the Honey of Words. © Harper Flamingo, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer, but she had trouble thinking of ideas, so she went into education and got a job researching the way that children use language. She was frustrated by a lot of children's books, which didn't use patterns in their language or point to things that children could touch and see, and instead were often fairy tales or fables that most children couldn't connect to their own lives. So in 1937, she started writing her own books, and she wrote prolifically. She had already published 20 books when, one day, she looked around her house and started writing a poem about all the things in it:

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of —

The cow jumping over the moon.

That, of course, is Goodnight Moon (1947), which is ranked in the top-selling children's books of all time.

It's the birthday of essayist and conservationist Paul Gruchow, (books by this author) born in Montevideo, Minnesota (1947), who wrote books of essays about the farm where he grew up and the landscape of Minnesota, including The Necessity of Empty Places (1988) and Grass Roots: the Universe of Home (1995).

It's the birthday of novelist Ursula Hegi, (books by this author) born in Düsseldorf, Germany (1946). Growing up, her mom read her stories, and at night when they were supposed to be asleep, Ursula would tell the stories to her younger sister. She found out later that her parents would stand outside the door listening to her. She started writing her own stories when she was six, sitting along the Rhine River that ran by her house. And she read everything — classics by Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann, mysteries, religious texts, and the romance novels her housekeeper kept hidden under the ironing board.

She immigrated to the United States when she was 18, wrote two novels that were rejected, but finally got one published, and she went on to write her most famous novel, Stones from the River (1994). It is narrated by Trudi, a dwarf, who tells the story of life in her small German town before and after World War II. It got good reviews, sold pretty well, and then in 1997 it was chosen as an Oprah Book Club novel and became a big best seller.

It's the birthday of Mitch Albom, (books by this author) born in Passaic, New Jersey (1958). He was the lead sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and soon he became one of the most popular sports columnists in the nation.

He wrote a couple of books about sports, both New York Times best sellers. Then he was watching ABC News and he saw one of his old professors, Morrie Schwartz, being interviewed about his experience with ALS, which is also called Lou Gehrig's disease. Mitch Albom had promised to keep in touch with Schwartz, but he hadn't. So he contacted his old professor, and for the last 14 weeks of Schwartz's life, Albom visited him every Tuesday, and Morrie would give Mitch advice on how to lead a good and peaceful life. Morrie Schwartz said things like, "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." And, "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live." So Mitch Albom wrote a book based on these conversations, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), which became a huge best seller, the best-selling nonfiction book of 1998, and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 205 weeks. It has sold more than 14 million copies.

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




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