Oct. 18, 2009

Autumn Waiting

by Tom Hennen

Cold wind.
The day is waiting for winter
Without a sound.
Everything is waiting—
Broken-down cars in the dead weeds.
The weeds themselves.
Even sunlight
Is in no hurry and stays
For a long time
On each cornstalk.
Blackbirds are silent
And sit in piles.
From a distance
They look like
Spilled on the road.

"Autumn Waiting" by Tom Hennen, from Looking into the Weather. © Westerheim Press, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of one of the great American journalists of the 20th century, A.J. [Abbott Joseph] Liebling, (books by this author) born in New York City (1904), a staff writer for The New Yorker who first made his name covering World War II. He ignored politics and combat strategy and just wrote about day-to-day life among the soldiers and the civilians. He later wrote of the war years: "The times were full of certainties: we could be certain we were right — and we were — and that certainty made us certain that anything we did was right, too. I have seldom been sure I was right since. … I know that it is socially acceptable to write about war as an unmitigated horror, but subjectively at least, it was not true, and you can feel its pull on men's memories at the maudlin reunions of war divisions. They mourn for their dead, but also for war."

Libeling went on to write about all kinds of things, but his three favorite subjects were food, journalism, and boxing. His co-workers said that they heard him laughing every day as he read over drafts of his own articles. He was known to stay up all night at the office, pounding away at the typewriter, and in the morning he'd give himself a half-shower in the office bathroom sink.

Many Liebling fans consider his masterpiece to be his book Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (1959). A.J. Liebling said, "Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience."

It's the birthday of Terry McMillan, (books by this author) born in Port Huron, Michigan (1951), who published her first novel, Mama, in 1987. And when the publisher declined to promote the book, McMillan set up her own nationwide reading tour at bookstores and colleges all across the country. She managed to sell out the entire first printing of her book before it was officially published. She's since become one of the best-selling African-American authors in history. Her novel Waiting to Exhale (1992) was one of the first novels to portray affluent African-Americans who don't have to struggle against racism or poverty. When asked why she's so successful, McMillan said: "I don't write about victims. They just bore me to death. I prefer to write about somebody who can pick themselves back up and get on with their lives."

It's the birthday of the playwright Wendy Wasserstein, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1950), who fell in love with theater at a young age, but she didn't consider it a serious career option. She went on to write a lot of successful off-Broadway plays while most of her friends and siblings got married and had children. She began to think a lot about what she'd sacrificed by devoting herself to theater instead of to family life, so she wrote a play about it, and that was The Heidi Chronicles (1988), about a woman who has clung to her all her feminist ideals while all of her friends have given them up. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Today is Alaska Day, which commemorates the formal transfer of territory from Russia to the United States in 1867. It's a legal holiday in Alaska; state employees get a paid day of vacation, children get out of school early, many businesses take the day off, and there's a parade. There's also a flag-raising ceremony like the one that took place on this day at Fort Sitka 142 years ago, where in great solemnity the Russian flag was lowered and the U.S. flag hoisted up in its place, with accompanying gun shots fired in salute.

Gold was discovered in Alaska in the 1890s. Alaska became the 49th state to join the Union, admitted in 1959. It's the largest state in the U.S. (consisting of 663,268 square miles) and it's also the least densely populated state. Its median household income ranks fourth in the nation (after Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut). In 1968, oil was discovered at the far northern part of the state, at Prudhoe Bay. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was completed and began to pump oil in 1977. The area near Prudhoe Bay has since become the largest oil field in the U.S.

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




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