Monday

Jun. 15, 2009

Flannery's Angel

by Charles Wright

Lead us to those we are waiting for,
Those who are waiting for us.
May your wings protect us,
                      may we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.

Remember us who are weak,
You who are strong in your country which lies beyond the thunder,
Raphael, angel of happy meeting,
                                                 resplendent, hawk of the light.

"Flannery's Angel" by Charles Wright, from Sestets: Poems. © Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 74th birthday of advertising exec-turned-writer Ilene Beckerman, (books by this author) born in Manhattan (1935). She didn't begin her writing career until the age of 60, and even then, she became a published author almost by accident. She had written and illustrated a book for her five children, something to remember her by. She said: "My purpose was to say things to my children one doesn't have the time to say. I wanted them to know I wasn't always their mother. I was a girl, I had best friends, we did stupid things together. I was on a bus with my friend once eating dog bones so people would look at us. I wanted them to know."

She took the book she'd written down to the ad agency she owned, to use the machines there to make a dozen photocopies. She put them in big red binders, with the illustrations she'd sketched in plastic sheet protectors, and handed them out to her children and a few close friends. She was done. Then, the cousin of a friend got a hold of one of the binders and sent it over to Algonquin Books. Pretty soon, the publisher was calling her about publishing her book. Beckerman said that they offered her "an advance that had a comma in it. I think I fainted."

The book was Love, Loss, and What I Wore, published in 1995. It's the story of her life growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, and it's accompanied by drawings of the clothes that she was wearing during that time. She insists that clothing plays an integral part in many women's memories, that they can recall important events or distinct spans of their lives by what they were wearing at the time. When the book came out, bookstores were not sure whether to market it as memoir or fashion. It has now sold more than 100,000 copies.

Beckerman insists that clothes are the least important part of her book, which she considers a memoir. The book contains advice and aphorisms from her grandmother, who raised her, such as, "If you have to stand on your head to make somebody happy, all you can expect is a big headache." And, "It's better to be alone than with someone who makes you feel lonely." And, "You never know what goes on behind closed doors, even Miss America can have hemorrhoids." And, "If beauty brought happiness, Elizabeth Taylor wouldn't have needed so many husbands."

Since then, she has written and illustrated What We Do for Love (1997), Makeovers at the Beauty Counter of Happiness (2005) — containing unsent letters to Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, and her own 11-year-old granddaughter — and Mother of the Bride (2000), about planning her daughter's wedding. She said, "Childbirth was a lot easier than being the mother of the bride."

It's the birthday of Norwegian composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg, born in Bergen, Norway (1843). Grieg lived a busy life as a composer, conductor, and piano soloist throughout Europe. Early in his career, he was taken under the wing of the great Norwegian violin virtuoso Ole Bull, who shared with Grieg his love of Norwegian folk melodies. That love later inspired many of Grieg's best-known pieces, including the incidental music for Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the Lyric Pieces, and the Norwegian Dances.

It's the birthday of psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, born in Frankfurt, Germany (1902). He argued that the human life cycle could be understood as a series of eight developmental stages. He said each stage has its own "crisis" that must be overcome before moving on to the next stage. For adolescents, the crisis is figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life — and that's where the term "identity crisis" comes from.

And he said: "Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained, hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired."

It's the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, (books by this author) born in Kashiwabara, Japan (1763). He's one of the masters of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku, which uses 17 Japanese characters broken into three distinct units. He spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku celebrating the small wonders of everyday life.

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

 









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