Sep. 4, 2013

The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July

by David Budbill

There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
everywhere around these parts right now. Common.
Ordinary. It grows in everybody's dooryard—abandoned
or lived in—along the side of the road, in front of stone walls,
at gas stations and garages, at the entrance to driveways,
anywhere it takes a mind to sprout. You always see them
in clusters, bunches, never by themselves. They propagate
by rhizomes, which is why they are so resilient, and why
you see them in bunches.

There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
ubiquitous right now. The roadside mowers mow a lot
of them, but they don't get them all.

These are not the rare and delicate lemon yellow day lilies
or the other kinds people have around their places. This one
is coarse and ordinary, almost harsh in its weathered beauty,
like an older woman with a tough, worldly-wise and wrinkled
face. There is nothing nubile, smooth or perky about this flower.
It's not fresh. It's been around awhile and everybody knows it.

As I said, it's coarse and ordinary and it's beautiful because
it's ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.

"The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July" by David Budbill. © David Budbill. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1998 that Google was first incorporated as a company. Google was the brainchild of two Ph.D. students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They designed a search engine with one important difference from all the others: Instead of giving you results based on how many times your search term appeared on a Web page, they created software that would figure out how many times each relevant website was linked to from other relevant websites and sorted those and then laid them out for you, all on a clear, simple screen. Google is now an incredibly powerful and profitable company. In June of 2006, "Google" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb.

It was on this day in 1888, in Rochester, New York, that George Eastman received a patent for his new, easy-to-use camera, the Kodak. Eastman began to study photography in 1877 while working in a Rochester bank. In 1880, he perfected a process for making "dry plates" and took his first photograph: a view of the Charles P. Ham building, across the street from his window.

He left the bank and founded the Eastman Dry Plate Company. Four years later, he devised a paper-backed film, which he marketed in roll form. In 1888, he introduced an inexpensive, simple camera he named, for no reason except it was easy to remember, the Kodak. "You push the button," the ads promised. "We do the rest."

It's the birthday of novelist Mary Renault (books by this author), born Mary Challans, in London, England (1905). She worked as a nurse during World War II, then settled in South Africa, where she began to write her highly successful series of historical novels set in ancient Greece. The novels were The Last of the Wine (1956), The King Must Die (1958), and The Bull from the Sea (1962). In The Last of the Wine, she wrote: "Madness is sacred to the gods. They give it us at the proper season to purge our souls, as they give us strong herbs to clean out our bodies."

It's the birthday of Richard Wright (books by this author), born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi (1908). He's the author of Uncle Tom's Children (1938), Black Boy (1945), as well as a number of short stories and a volume of haiku, but he's best known for his novel Native Son (1940).

He grew up in Jim Crow's South, the son of a sharecropper and a schoolteacher. His grandparents had been slaves. His father abandoned the family when Richard was five years old, and he moved with his mother to Memphis where he taught himself to read by secretly borrowing books from the whites-only library. He said, "My days and nights were one long, quiet, continuously contained dream of terror, tension, and anxiety."

When he was 19, he followed the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban centers in the North, winding up in Chicago. He found a city where blacks and whites sat on streetcars next to each other, bought newspapers at the same newsstands, ate at the same restaurants. He'd always known the rules in the segregated South, but in Chicago, he suddenly had no idea how he was supposed to act. At his first job as a dishwasher, he was shocked when a white waitress asked him to help tie her apron. He did so, and later wrote, "I continued my work, filled with all the possible meanings that tiny, simple, human event could have meant to any Negro in the South where I had spent my hungry days."

He spent 10 years in Chicago, working as a ditchdigger, hospital worker, and a postal clerk before he published his masterpiece Native Son (1940), the story of a black man named "Bigger Thomas" who gets a job as a driver for a beautiful, young white woman and then accidentally kills her. Native Son sold 215,000 copies in three weeks and went on to become the first best-selling novel by an African-American writer. Soon afterward, it was made into a Broadway musical. It's now required reading at many high schools across the country.

Richard Wright said, "I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all."

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




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