Monday

Nov. 19, 2012

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

"Advice to Myself" by Louise Erdrich from Original Fire. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Sharon Olds (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1942), who didn't publish her first book of poems, Satan Says (1980), until she was 37 years old. She said, "It took me a long time for the poems that I was writing to feel like me, rather than feel like the people I admired and was learning from."

Her most recent collection, Stag's Leap (2012), came out in September.

Her advice to other writers is to be daring and take chances. She said: "I think that whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one's own strange self on the page."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist (John Orley) Allen Tate (books by this author), born in Winchester, Kentucky (1899). After Tate got fired from a true stories magazine for correcting his boss's grammar, he rented a farmhouse in upstate New York and wrote his best-known poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead" (1928), about standing at the gate of a cemetery and feeling cut off from the past. He went on to write the biographies Stonewall Jackson (1928) and Jefferson Davis (1929), and his novel The Fathers (1938). His Collected Poems came out in 1977.

It's the birthday of trombonist and bandleader Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania (1905). He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing."

It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and delivered the Gettysburg Address.

It was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. At that time, a two-hour speech was quite normal. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the president, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most important speeches in American history.

The Gettysburg Address begins:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

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

 









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