Oct. 9, 2011
Jane, the old woman across the street,
is lugging big black trash bags to the curb.
It's snowing hard, and the bags are turning white,
gradually disappearing in the storm.
Jane is getting ready to put her house on the market
and move into a home of some sort. A facility.
She's just too old to keep the place going anymore,
and as we chat about this on the sidewalk
I'm thinking, I'm so glad this isn't going to happen to me.
It seems like a terrible fate, to drag out your trash bags
and then head for a facility somewhere.
And all the worse to be old in a facility. But then,
that's the whole reason you go there in the first place.
But the great thing about being me, I'm thinking,
as I continue my morning walk around the block,
is that I'm not going to a facility of any sort.
That's for other people. I intend to go on
pretty much as I always have, enjoying life,
taking my morning walk, then coffee
and the newspaper, music and a good book.
Europe vaguely in the summers.
Then another year just like this one, on and on,
Why change this? I have no intention of doing so.
What Jane is doing—growing old,
taking out her ominous black trash bags
to vanish terribly in the snow, getting ready
for someone to drive her to the facility—
that may be her idea of the future (which I totally respect),
but it certainly isn't mine.
Today is the birthday of Belva Plain (1915) (books by this author), born Belva Offenberg in New York City. She graduated from Barnard College in 1939 with a degree in history. She wrote multigenerational family sagas of Jewish immigrants, and though critics were not always kind — one called her books "easy, consoling works of generous spirit, fat with plot and sentiment, thin in nearly every other way and almost invisible in character development" — readers loved them, and they were all best-sellers. Her first book, Evergreen, was published in 1978, by which time she was a grandmother in her 60s. It spent a total of 61 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and was made into a miniseries in 1985. She wrote longhand in spiral notebooks, and produced a novel about every year or so.
It's the birthday of John Lennon. He was born in Liverpool, England, in 1940, during a German air raid, or so the legend goes. The nurses put him under his mother's hospital bed to protect him. John's mother, Julia Stanley, was one of five sisters, all of them fierce in their own way; she was the free spirit, and married Freddy Lennon on a whim in 1938. Freddy was away with the Merchant Marine when his son was born and, not really ready for family life, managed to find a ship to be away on for most of the boy's first five years. Julia, with an absent husband, decided she might as well live the single life, so she gave John to her sister Mimi to raise. In 1945, Freddy returned and invited the five-year-old boy on an outing to the seaside, intending take him to New Zealand, but Julia found them, and the parents decided to make their son choose between them. Since Freddy had been more like a playmate than a parent, John chose him at first, but when Julia walked away, crying, John ran sobbing after her. Their reunion was short-lived, however, because Julia brought him back to Aunt Mimi's, and that's where he grew up.
He didn't show any musical inclination as a child, but he did love drawing and reading, especially Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and the Just William stories by Richard Crompton. He had a knack for puns and wordplay at an early age, as well as a fondness for absurd humor. He was bright, but often in trouble in school; he had an angry streak that expressed itself through insolence, petty crimes, and tough talk. When Elvis Presley came on the scene in 1956 with his single Heartbreak Hotel, Lennon had a new focus: rock and roll. "Nothing really affected me until Elvis," he later said. Liverpool kids were among the first in Britain to hear the records coming over from America; they got them from American sailors who docked in the port city. Soon Lennon was listening to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. A year later, he'd formed his own band, the Quarrymen, with some school friends, and soon after that, Paul McCartney and George Harrison joined the band. By 1960, they were calling themselves the Beatles.
Even when caught up in the riptide of Beatlemania, Lennon never lost his love of wordplay. In 1964, he published a slim volume of line drawings and nonsensical short stories called In His Own Write. A Spaniard in the Works (1965) followed a year later. Critics believed he had been influenced by James Joyce, though in a 1968 interview on BBC-2, Lennon said he'd never read Joyce. "So the first thing I do is buy Finnegans Wake and read a chapter. And it's great, you know, and I dug it, and I felt as though he's an old friend. But I couldn't make it right through the book, and so I read a chapter of Finnegans Wake and that was the end of it. So now I know what they're talking about. But I mean, he just went ... he just didn't stop, you know."
In the psychedelic era, his childhood favorite, Lewis Carroll, inspired his surreal lyrics at least as much as LSD did. His song "I am the Walrus" (1967) was inspired by Carroll's poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." "To me, it was a beautiful poem," Lennon later said. "It never occurred to me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what it really meant, like people are doing with Beatles work. Later I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy."
One of his most poetic songs, Across the Universe, was written in response to an argument with his first wife, Cynthia. He went downstairs after she fell asleep and wrote the lyrics, which include, "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup ..." and "thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox." In a 1970 interview, he said, "It's one of the best lyrics I've written ... the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody." In 2008, NASA transmitted the song as part of an interstellar message to the star Polaris, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song's release, the 45th anniversary of the Deep Space Network, and the 50th anniversary of NASA itself. It was the first time a song was deliberately transmitted to deep space.
Today is the birthday of Irish poet Ciaran Carson (1948) (books by this author). He was born in Belfast, where he lives today, and has always lived. His parents, who met in an Irish language class, made the political decision to only speak Irish at home. The five Carson children learned English while playing in the streets. "I think as a result of that I was always aware of language, how it operates. How if you say it in one language it's not the same as saying it in another," he told The Guardian. He's published 27 books: poetry, prose, and translations, including Belfast Confetti (1990), The Star Factory (1997), and Shamrock Tea (2001). His latest book is a collection of poetry, Until Before After (2010).
He said, "There's a whole language out there, and one's role as a writer is to stumble around in it."
It's the birthday of director, screenwriter, and author Guillermo del Toro (1964) (books by this author), born in Guadalajara, Mexico. As a boy, he was something of a misfit, and more than a little bit morbid. His first toy was a plush werewolf that he helped his great-aunt make. When he was five, he asked for mandrake root so he could perform dark magic. When he was seven, he came upon a copy of a cult magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, in a supermarket, and he was hooked. He learned English just so he could understand the magazine's puns. He'd make fake scars out of theatrical makeup to scare his nanny. He started making movies in high school, went on to film school, and wrote a book-length essay on Hitchcock when he was 19.
He's since developed a reputation for making smart, arty horror films like Pan's Labyrinth (2006), but he resists being pigeonholed. "There is a part of me that will always be pulp," he told The New Yorker. He's been trying for years to make a movie of H.P. Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness (1931).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®