Feb. 8, 2012
We couldn't have been more than twelve
or thirteen, sitting on that green bench in the late
sixties or early seventies, me and Michael Zucker
who was much more savvy and world-weary
than I, when I asked him to please explain
the meaning of the words to a song by Carly
Simon, who was simply gorgeous—that much was
plain—after we'd resolved the essential question
of whether or not she was wearing a bra
in that photo of her with the blue top and thick
lips on her album cover. "I don't get it," I said.
"'You're so vain. You probably think this song is about you.'
But the song IS about him, isn't it?" I asked Zucker,
holding my palm up in the air like one who is
trying to ascertain the truth about whether or not
it has started to rain. Zucker looked away then,
gingerly fingering the green slats, as though he were
reading the carved names of the lovers and obscenities
tactually. Then he took a deep breath and exhaled
miserably, took the album cover out of my hands
and gazed awhile at Carly Simon who was gorgeous,
famous, braless, and older than me and Zucker put together.
"That's the point," he said. "She's in love with him."
It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop (books by this author), born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1911). She went to Vassar, where she really began her career as a poet. Her mentor was the poet Marianne Moore, who taught Bishop that she could write poems that weren't about big ideas like love or death, but just about the observation of ordinary things.
Elizabeth Bishop was a slow, meticulous writer — she published just 101 poems during her lifetime.
It's the birthday of the best-selling novelist John Grisham (books by this author), born in Jonesboro, Arkansas (1955). He became a successful lawyer and then decided to write a novel based on one of his court cases. He spent three years writing A Time to Kill (1989), but only a few thousand copies were printed, and it didn't sell out on the first run. So he read Writer's Digest magazine and found an article about the rules of suspense, and he used that formula to write a thriller about a law student who realizes that the firm he works for is connected to the mafia. That was The Firm (1991). It was a huge best-seller, and John Grisham went on to write The Pelican Brief (1992), The Rainmaker (1995), and many more best-sellers.
It's the birthday of Kate Chopin (books by this author), born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850. She came from a wealthy family — her father was a successful businessman and her mother was a beautiful socialite from one of the city's oldest Creole families. Kate was a Southern belle, a devoted wife, and the mother of six children.
But then her husband died, and soon after that her mother died. Chopin was depressed. Her family doctor thought she was a very good letter-writer, so he encouraged her to try writing fiction as a way to stay occupied. Over the next 15 years, Kate Chopin wrote almost 100 short stories and sketches, and two novels, At Fault (1890) and The Awakening (1899). The Awakening is the story of Edna Pontellier, who gives up her roles as wife and mother, has an affair, and eventually walks into the sea, perhaps committing suicide. And when it was published, Kate Chopin was censored and criticized. But now she is considered an important early feminist author, and The Awakening is considered a classic of American fiction.
It's the birthday of Neal Cassady (books by this author), born in 1926 in Salt Lake City. He was a con man, in and out of jail, and finally moved to New York City, where he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
The Beats idolized Cassady. He embodied everything they embraced in theory — he was a self-made man, he had been educated on the streets by bums and crooks, he was smart and free and charming.
Neal Cassady appears in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. In "Howl," Allen Ginsberg refers to him as "N.C., secret hero of these poems." But Neal Cassady is most famous as the inspiration for Dean Moriarty, the hero of Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®