Jul. 7, 2009

Lonely Lake

by Joyce Kennedy

It was the name given it on our hiking map. Intrigued,
we followed a narrow, rising trail flecked with autumn,
aspen leaves beneath our feet, young trees leaning across
as if to guard the integrity of loneliness. At the end,
we found the lake, small jewel shining in space, not
obviously frequented, although there was a rickety
dock and on it, a battered rowboat and dented canoe.
No paddles. We sat, one in rowboat, one in canoe,
the loneliness of the lake pared down to bare essentials—
shore lined with thick, dark pine, intense and cloudless sky,
sun flaring on water's changing surface. A hawk dipped
down to startle the peace while two ducks rode the ripples
unperturbed. Stunned by beauty, we reached across—
boat to canoe, canoe to boat—to touch hands,
our own lonely selves connecting as lightly and effortlessly
as the dragonfly wing that earlier brushed against my face.

"Lonely Lake" by Joyce Kennedy, from Ghost Lamp. © Laurel Poetry Collective, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of painter Marc Chagall, born in Vitebsk, Russia (1887), the eldest of nine children in a poor Jewish family. His father worked at a salt herring factory. He wanted to be an artist, and he moved to St. Petersburg, where he failed his first entrance exams but eventually got accepted to art school. He went on to become a famous painter, known for his bright, dreamlike scenes.
He said, "I work in whatever medium likes me at the moment."

It was on this day in 1981 that President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court.

It's the birthday of historian and biographer David McCullough, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1933). He wanted to be an artist, but while he was a student at Yale, he met Thornton Wilder, who was a professor there, and who became his mentor. They often ate lunch together, and Wilder inspired McCullough to become a writer. Wilder told McCullough how he chose a subject for his plays or novels: He would find something he wanted to learn more about, go out and see what was written about it, and if there wasn't much or it wasn't good, he would write it himself.

McCullough got a job as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, then for the United States Information Agency, and then for American Heritage. He was doing research for an article at the Library of Congress when he found some photographs of the flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. McCullough had grown up in Pennsylvania, and he had heard of the flood, but he didn't realize how serious it had been. He wanted to read more about it, so he checked out some books, but they were all really boring. Then he remembered Thornton Wilder's advice, and he decided to try writing about it himself.

He worked all day at American Heritage, came home and had dinner and put his kids to bed, and then researched and wrote at night. Three years later, he published The Johnstown Flood (1968), and it was so successful that he was able to quit his job and write full time. He went on to write six more books of history and biography, including The Great Bridge, about the Brooklyn Bridge;Truman (1992) and John Adams (2001), both of which won Pulitzer Prizes; and 1776 (2005), about the American Revolution. To research Truman and Adams, he not only read their letters and visited their homes, but he imitated their daily rituals, read the same books they read, and reenacted pivotal events in their lives.

It's the birthday of writer and newspaper editor Abraham Cahan, (books by this author) born near Vilna, Lithuania (1860). He was a socialist, excited by the idea of a Russian peasant revolt, but when Czar Alexander II was assassinated, there was a huge government crackdown on revolutionaries, and Cahan fled to America. He settled in the Lower East Side of New York City, and every night he sat down with a dictionary and a stack of newspapers, and he taught himself English so well and so fast that he got hired at a night school to teach English to other immigrants. He was a union organizer, and he started writing for and editing socialist newspapers. He also wrote fiction — short stories and novels, including Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896) and The Rise of David Levinsky (1917).

But he is best known as the founder and editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a socialist New York daily paper, written in Yiddish. By the 1920s, it was the most successful non-English-language newspaper in the country, with more than a quarter of a million readers. Cahan ran the paper from 1903 until 1946.

It's the birthday of "the dean of science fiction writers," Robert Heinlein, (books by this author) born in Butler, Missouri, in 1907. He served in the Navy, but when he got sick and was discharged, he was too weak to get a normal job. So when he saw an ad in a pulp fiction magazine offering $50 for the best story by an unpublished author, he decided to give writing a try. In four days, he had finished a story about a machine that could predict a person's death. It was published in 1939, and he went on to write almost 100 novels and short stories, including his famous novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). He said, "I took up writing because I needed money. And I continued to write because it's safer than stealing and easier than working."

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




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