Nov. 22, 2009

Head Cheerleader

by Jack Ridl

At halftime, she finds
an open mirror, checks
her makeup, sweat
glistening on her forehead.
She runs her tongue
along her upper lip, pulls
a comb through her long
brown hair, pushes it up
on the sides, adds a new
line of lipstick, smoothes
down her skirt. On the
way out, she turns and
looks over her shoulder.

"Head Cheerleader" by Jack Ridl, from Losing Season. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1857, one of 19th-century Britain's most famous intellectuals, a man revered for his rational thinking, wrote one of his most hopelessly romantic letters ever. Walter Bagehot (books by this author) poured his heart out 152 years ago today to his fiancée, Elizabeth Wilson, whose father was the founder of The Economist magazine, in this letter:

My dearest Eliza,

… I wish indeed I could feel worthy of your affection — my reason, if not my imagination, is getting to believe you when you whisper to me that I have it, but as somebody says in Miss Austen, 'I do not at all mind having what is too good for me'; my delight is at times intense. You must not suppose because I tell you of the wild, burning pain which I have felt, and at times …still feel, that my love for you has ever been mere suffering. Even at the worst there was a wild, delicious excitement which I would not have lost for the world. … the feeling has been too eager not to have a good deal of pain in it, and the tension of mind has really been very great at times, still the time that I have known and loved you is immensely the happiest I have ever known.

Walter Bagehot was once identified as "The Greatest Victorian," though was demoted by later generations in favor of his contemporaries Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. He founded the National Review, and he eventually took over as editor-in-chief of The Economist. Bagehot strengthened the magazine's influence on government policy-making. He helped expand the publication's focus to include coverage of political issues as well as economic ones, and to analyze closely events happening in America (then in its Civil War and Reconstruction era).

It's the birthday of the woman who served as the model for Picasso's Weeping Woman portraits, Dora Maar, born in Tours, France (1907). She was born Théodora Markovitch, and was an artist in her own right, known for her surreal photographs of the reproductive parts of flowers. She was 28 years old when she met Picasso, who was 54. Dora Maar began a photo documentary of Picasso's anti-war painting "Guernica." She was his lover and his muse. For "Guernica," she posed for him as a grief-stricken woman holding a lamp.

Dora Maar kept all the art Picasso had made for her in her apartment on the Left Bank of Paris, where she died in 1997 at age 89, a recluse without any heirs. The paintings and drawings she had hoarded sold at auction for $30 million.

It's the feast day of Saint Cecilia, who was the patron saint of musicians because she sang to God as she died a martyr's death.

It was about 12:30 p.m. on this day in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It was the first successful assassination of an American president since 1901, and the only presidential assassination ever caught on film. Almost every American alive at the time remembers where they were when they heard the news.

The Warren Commission published a report concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the president, a conclusion that less than half of all Americans believe. Don DeLillo wrote the novel Libra (1988) about the Kennedy assassination, and he wrote in an essay: "What has become unraveled since that afternoon in Dallas is … the sense of a coherent reality most of us shared. We seem from that moment to have entered a world of randomness and ambiguity."

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans (books by this author) in Warwickshire, England (1819). Her first full-length novel, Adam Bede (1859), was about carpenter who is betrayed by his love, Hetty Sorrel. It was an immediate success. People across Europe, including Leo Tolstoy in Russia, called it a work of genius, and everyone wondered who this George Eliot was. Mary Evans decided to reveal her identity, and she went on to become one of the most renowned writers of her lifetime.

Her masterpiece was Middlemarch (1871), the story of Dorothea Brooke, an idealistic, intelligent young woman who hopes to become a social reformer. She marries the scholar Edward Casaubon, hoping to share his intellectual life, only to realize that the marriage is a disaster and her husband is a stuffy, old-fashioned snob, and the man she really loves is her husband's younger cousin.

Middlemarch made Eliot rich and famous. In the last years of her life, thousands of women wrote letters to her saying that she had described their lives, and asking for her advice on their marriages and careers.

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




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