May 24, 2009
Among the Things He Does Not Deserve
Greek olives in oil, fine beer, the respect of colleagues,
the rapt attention of an audience, pressed white shirts,
just one last-second victory, sympathy, buttons made
to resemble pearls, a pale daughter, living wages, a father
with Italian blood, pity, the miraculous reversal of time,
a benevolent god, good health, another dog, nothing
cruel and unusual, spring, forgiveness, the benefit
of the doubt, the next line, cold fingers against his chest,
rich bass notes from walnut speakers, inebriation, more ink,
a hanging curve, great art, steady rain on Sunday, the purr
of a young cat, the crab cakes at their favorite little place,
the dull pain in his head, the soft gift of her parted lips.
It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer William Trevor, (books by this author) born in Mitchelstown, Ireland (1928). He taught in Northern Ireland until the school went bankrupt, he created sculptures for churches, and he worked at an ad agency in London, which he hated. He had written some short stories, and he finally became so desperate for money that he decided to try writing a novel, so he wrote a satire of the school system called A Standard of Behaviour (1958). He didn't think it was very good, but it was successful and won a major award, and so he continued to write. His novels include The Boarding House (1965) and The Story of Lucy Gault (2002), and his books of short stories include The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1967) and Beyond the Pale (1981). He said, "The Irish delight in stories, of whatever kind, because their telling and their reception are by now instinctive."
It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Chabon, (books by this author) who was born in Washington, D.C. (1963), and grew up with his mom in Columbia, Maryland, a planned suburban community with utopian ideals. He was in his mid-20s, a graduate student in creative writing at the University of California Irvine, when he submitted his master's thesis, a novel about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. His professor was so impressed that he sent the manuscript off to an agent as soon as he finished reading it, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988) was published to rave reviews.
Then Chabon spent five years working on an enormous manuscript, trying to pack everything that interested him into one novel. But it wasn't coming together, and one night an entirely new plot came into his head, and he wrote 15 pages of this new story in one sitting. He saved the file under the name "X," and didn't tell his editor, agent, or even his wife that he had started a new project. He said, "I didn't stop to think about what I was doing … or what the critics would think of it, and sweetest of all, I didn't give a single thought to what I was trying to say. I just wrote." Almost two months later, he gave his wife more than 100 pages to read, and she started laughing out loud while she was reading, so he knew that it was good. He finished it in seven months, and it was The Wonder Boys (1995). He went on to write The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000),which won the Pulitzer Prize, the story of two friends who create a famous superhero during the Golden Age of comics in 1940s New York. His most recent novel is The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007), which tells the story of Meyer Landsman, a Jewish homicide detective living in an alternate history in which the bulk of Jews persecuted during WWII settle not in Israel but in Sitka, Alaska.
It's the birthday of poet Joseph Brodsky, (books by this author) born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1940). His father was a naval officer who got kicked out of the service for being Jewish, so the family lived in poverty. Joseph started writing poetry when he was 15, but in 1963 — when he was 23 — a Russian newspaper declared that his poetry was "pornographic and anti-Soviet." The authorities were worried because he was becoming so popular and his readings were attracting large, enthusiastic crowds. He was interrogated, he was put in a mental institution, and then he was arrested. He was sentenced to five years in a labor camp in Siberia, but there was so much protest that his sentence was commuted after a year and a half. For the next few years, he continued to write, but he was harassed and finally expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972.
He went to Austria, where the poet W.H. Auden took Brodsky under his wing and helped set him up with a teaching position at the University of Michigan. From there, he went on to teach at Queens College and Mount Holyoke.
He published poems, plays, and essays, including A Part of Speech (1977), Less Than One (1986), and To Urania (1988). In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature — his response was, "A big step for me, a small step for mankind." Four years later, he became the poet laureate of the United States. He died in 1996 at age 55.
He said, "After all, it is hard to master both life and work equally well. So if you are bound to fake one of them, it had better be life."
It's the birthday of the man who just released his 33rd studio album, Together Through Life: Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (1941). He grew up in the declining mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. He was a quiet kid, raised by Jewish parents, who loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry. But after he heard Little Richard on the radio, he wanted to play rock and roll, so his dad bought him an electric guitar and he formed a rock band at his high school, The Golden Chords. Then he went to the University of Minnesota, and as soon as he got to Minneapolis and heard a record by the folk singer Odetta, he went and traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic one.
He said, "A person is a success if they get up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®