Tuesday

Nov. 10, 2009

Dancing

by Margaret Atwood

It was my father taught my mother
how to dance.
I never knew that.
I thought it was the other way.
Ballroom was their style,
a graceful twirling,
curved arms and fancy footwork,
a green-eyed radio.

There is always more than you know.
There are always boxes
put away in the cellar,
worn shoes and cherished pictures,
notes you find later,
sheet music you can't play.

A woman came on Wednesdays
with tapes of waltzes.
She tried to make him shuffle
around the floor with her.
She said it would be good for him.
He didn't want to.

"Dancing" by Margaret Atwood, from Morning in the Burned House. Houghton Mifflin, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street — on this day in 1969, the beloved kids' show debuted on public television. It was the first children's TV show to seriously research how children learn and their developmental stages, and use that research to teach kids how to read and count. Today, for its 40th anniversary segment, Michelle Obama is scheduled to appear on the show and teach kids about healthful eating and how to plant a garden.

It's the birthday of theologian Martin Luther, (books by this author) born on this day in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483. He was a devout monk who frequently punished himself to atone for his sins, whipping himself or lying in the snow all night long. But he became disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. He finally decided that the answer was in the Bible itself, which said that salvation came from personal faith, not from participating in the Church and paying for indulgences. So he wrote up his attack of the Church and published his 95 Theses, and since the printing press had recently been invented, his theses were reproduced and read all over Europe.

Luther's ideas and his writing led to the Protestant Reformation. But toward the end of his life, he was so overwhelmed by the scope of the revolution he had caused that he stayed out of the limelight, at home in Germany, raising a family, gardening, and playing music.

On this day in 1973, school officials in Drake, North Dakota, burned copies of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author) had served in WWII, and he was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner in Dresden when the Allies bombed the city. For years, he tried to find a way to tell his story. Meanwhile, he went to graduate school in anthropology, worked at General Electric, got married and had three kids and adopted three more, and struggled to find his voice as a writer. His stories kept falling flat — too serious and straightforward. But finally he wrote his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, which was published in 1969. It was extremely popular and for the most part it got great reviews, but it has been banned many times, for being obscene, violent, and for its unpatriotic description of the war.

In 1973, a 26-year-old high school English teacher assigned Slaughterhouse-Five to his students, and most of them loved it, thought it was the best book they had read in a long time. But one student complained to her mom about the obscene language, and that mom took it to the principal, and the school board voted that it should be not only confiscated from the students (who were only a third of their way through the book), but also burned. Many of the students didn't want to give up their books, so the school searched all their lockers and took them, and then threw the books into the school's burner. While the school board was at it, they decided to burn Deliverance by James Dickey and a short-story anthology.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to one of the members of the school board, and he said:
Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school. […]

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. […]

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books — books you hadn't even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

In recent years, several churches across the United States have organized public burnings of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

It's the birthday of best-selling graphic novelist and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman, (books by this author) born in Portchester, England (1960). As a kid, he was reading comics and one of the characters was Thor, and he liked Thor a lot so he went out and got a book about Norse mythology, which he read over and over. After that, he started reading mythology from all over the world.

He went on to write comics, novels, and screenplays, and he filled them with mythic elements. His first big success was The Sandman, a comic that is more than 2,000 pages long, which he wrote and published in installments between 1989 and 1996.

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

 









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