May 18, 2013

All that time

by May Swenson

I saw two trees embracing.
One leaned on the other
as if to throw her down.
But she was the upright one.
Since their twin youth, maybe she
had been pulling him toward her
all that time,

and finally almost uprooted him.
He was the thin, dry, insecure one,
the most wind-warped, you could see.
And where their tops tangled
it looked like he was crying
on her shoulder.
On the other hand, maybe he

had been trying to weaken her,
break her, or at least
make her bend
over backwards for him
just a little bit.
And all that time
she was standing up to him

the best she could.
She was the most stubborn,
the straightest one, that's a fact.
But he had been willing
to change himself—
even if it was for the worse—
all that time.

At the top they looked like one
tree, where they were embracing.
It was plain they'd be
always together.
Too late now to part.
When the wind blew, you could hear
them rubbing on each other.

"All That Time" by May Swenson, from Collected Poems. © Library of America, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It is the birthday of comedy writer-cum-actress Tina Fey (books by this author), born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (1970). Her mother, Jeanne, worked in a brokerage firm and her father, Donald, was a university grant proposal writer. She has one older brother, named Peter.

She was a high school honor student, a member of the drama club, and she performed in a summer theater group. She enrolled at the University of Virginia where she studied playwriting and acting, and after graduation in 1992 she moved to Chicago, where she took night classes at the improv training center The Second City, while working at a YMCA during the day. In 1994, she began performing with The Second City, traveling around the country and doing eight shows a week for two years. Three years later, she was hired as a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live and she quickly rose to head writer.

A while later, producer Lorne Michaels approached Fey to appear on SNL's Weekend Edition alongside comedian Jimmy Fallon. Her performance was well received. A longtime glasses-wearer, she had wanted to wear contacts on camera, but when someone commented on how great her glasses looked during a run-through, she wore them instead. They became part of her signature look — and, as it would happen, enhanced her resemblance to the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. She played Palin in a series of sketches during the run-up to the 2008 election.

She said, "I like to crack jokes now and then, but it's only because I struggle with math."

On the ways in which comedy writing is like giving birth, she said: "Torturous experience with eventual release. Once it's out in the world, there's very little you can do to change it. Eventually it'll want to borrow your car and go out on dates with boys."

In response to people who claim that women are not funny, she said: "My hat goes off to them. It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that because you don't like something, it is empirically not good. I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write articles trying to prove it doesn't exist."

On this day in 1804, the French Senate proclaimed Napoleon Bonaparte emperor of France. History remembers Napoleon as a conqueror and tyrant, but he began his military career as a respected leader and an advocate for French freedom.

Napoleon was born in 1769, educated at military schools, and quickly climbed the ranks of the French army. He brokered several European peace deals as he gained more power in France. Before he conquered much of the rest of the continent, he centralized the French government, created the Bank of France, and introduced some legal reforms.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven admired the French military genius before he was crowned emperor, and when the French ambassador to Austria asked Beethoven if he would write a symphony to honor Napoleon, the composer agreed. So Beethoven drafted a score he called "Bonaparte." But when Napoleon was crowed emperor on this day, Beethoven had a flash of the future. He tore the score in half, proclaiming that Napoleon "would become a greater tyrant than anyone!" The piece — Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Opus 55 "Eroika" — was never associated with Napoleon.

The third-longest-running show in Broadway history closed on this day in 2003, after more than 16 years and 6,680 performances. Les Misérables was based on the 1832 novel by Victor Hugo and composed by the French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg.

The Broadway show began as a French-language concept album that was turned into a stage production and put on at a sports arena for three months in Paris in 1980. But when the booking contract for the arena wasn't renewed, the show ended. However, a French director named Peter Farago never forgot that stage production and, in 1982, he presented the idea of creating an English-language version of Les Misérables to the English producer Cameron Mackintosh, who had recently launched Cats in London. At first, Mackintosh refused, but he eventually changed his mind.

The show was in production for two years and it opened in London on October 8, 1985, at the Barbican Center. Critics hated it, but the public couldn't get enough and the three-month engagement sold out almost immediately. The show opened on Broadway on March 12, 1987 and won seven Tony Awards that season, including Best Musical.

Set in 19th-century France, the story follows the main characters' struggles for human rights, love, revolution, and redemption through a period of 18 years. At first, many English-speaking viewers wrongly thought the musical was about the French Revolution, when in fact it was about a later student insurrection.

The Broadway finale was a spectacular affair that included not only the current troupe of actors, but also featured 300 alumni who had appeared in the show throughout the years. Tours of Les Mis continued after the Broadway finale and a revival production of the show re-opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 9, 2006.

The Tony Award-winning song "I Dreamed a Dream" is sung by the character Fantine as she is dying:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

At 8:32 a.m. this day — a Sunday — in 1980, an earthquake struck Mount St. Helens, causing a massive eruption of molten lava that killed 57 people and countless animals.

The region had experienced earthquakes for two months prior to the eruption, and the volcano had been venting steam. Concerned scientists pressured authorities to close Mount St. Helens to the public, a move that likely saved thousands of lives. The force of the earthquake caused the entire north face of the volcano to slide away, and that caused an explosion of rock and lava so powerful that it overtook the avalanche that was simultaneously occurring on the north face.

The erupting lava rose to 80,000 feet and ash drifted into 11 U.S. states. The heat caused nearby glaciers to melt, which formed large mudslides that spread as far as 50 miles from the volcano.

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




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