Dec. 29, 2013
Once during that year
when all I wanted
was to be anything other
than what I was,
the dog took my wrist
in her jaws. Not to hurt
or startle, but the way
a wolf might, closing her mouth
over the leg of another
from her pack. Claiming me
like anything else: the round luck
of her supper dish or the bliss
of rabbits, their infinite
grassy cities. Her lips
and teeth circled
and pressed, tireless
pressure of the world
that pushes against you
to see if you're there,
and I could feel myself
inside myself again, muscle
to bone to the slippery
core where I knew
next to nothing
about love. She wrapped
my arm as a woman might wrap
her hand through the loop
of a leash—as if she
were the one holding me
at the edge of a busy street,
instructing me to stay.
Today is the birthday of playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (books by this author), born in Piscataway Township, New Jersey (1957). He finds that being from New Jersey is a useful excuse for a host of social missteps: "Whenever I stumble over my own feet, or blurt out a thought that makes no sense at all, or leave the house wearing one pattern too many, I always think, It's okay, I'm from New Jersey. I love New Jersey, because it's not just an all-purpose punch line, but probably a handy legal defense, as in, 'Yes, I shot my wife because I thought she was Bigfoot, but I'm from New Jersey.'"
His plays include I Hate Hamlet (1991), Jeffrey (1995), and The New Century (2008).
It's the birthday of comedian Paula Poundstone (books by this author), born in Huntsville, Alabama (1959). She said: "The summary letter written by my kindergarten teacher in May of 1965, I believe it was, says, 'I have enjoyed many of Paula's humorous comments about our activities.' I just like that a lot." She went to high school, but she said, "I didn't actually graduate because there was a parking lot that needed hung-out in and I didn't want the brainy kids to have to take an extra shift." Instead, she started trying to make it as a stand-up comedian, first in Boston, then in San Francisco. She said: "The art — and that may be too highfalutin a term for what I do — but, you know, the quote-unquote art of stand-up comedy was wildly popular in the '80s. Just to keep it all in perspective, our grass was kind of cut by karaoke. So, you know, nothing to brag about there." She became famous for incorporating so much improvisation into her routines, and she moved from comedy clubs to theaters, colleges, and corporate events.
In 2006, she wrote a memoir that's also a biography of various historical figures. It's called There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. Her most recent recording is I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Boston (2013).
She said, "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up 'cause they're looking for ideas."
It was on this day in 1916 that James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in New York City (books by this author). Back in 1904, Joyce wrote a short piece called "A Portrait of the Artist" about the challenges of developing as an artist in Irish society. He submitted it to the Irish magazine Dana, but it was rejected — the editor explained: "I can't print what I can't understand." Joyce decided to take his piece in a totally different direction, and on his 22nd birthday, he began to turn it into a novel, which he titled Stephen Hero. In a letter to a friend a couple of years later, he said that he had written 914 pages and that the novel was half finished. It was a fairly conventional novel, written in a traditional form.
Several years after beginning work on Stephen Hero, Joyce decided to rewrite once again. This time, he still wanted to write a novel, but much shorter and in a less traditional style. This became A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce's first published novel. He was still writing it in January 1914 when he sent the first chapter to Ezra Pound. Pound loved it and forwarded the chapter to the modernist magazine The Egoist in London, which was equally enthusiastic. They began printing the novel the following month, and suddenly Joyce was on a tight deadline, writing frantically to get each section done in time for the next issue of the magazine. The novel was serialized in 25 installments from February to September 1916.
Harriet Weaver, the editor of The Egoist, wanted to see it published as a book, but she couldn't find anyone in England who was interested — 12 different publishers declined because of offensive passages. Pound suggested they have it printed with blank spots for the offending passages, and then fill those in with a typewriter, but Weaver thought that was ridiculous. Finally, they decided to look for an American publisher and import American copies back to Britain. They turned to New York-based B.W. Huebsch, who had a reputation for publishing excellent but controversial writers whose work other publishers wouldn't touch. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published on this day in 1916.
It's the feast day of martyred St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his own cathedral on this day in 1170 by four knights of King Henry II. Henry II and Thomas Becket had been close friends when Henry made Becket Archbishop. Becket told him, "You will soon hate me as much as you love me now, for you assume an authority in the affairs of the church to which I shall never assent." When Henry said, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome cleric?" the knights believed it was Henry's wish that Becket should die.
It's the anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, in South Dakota, two weeks after the killing of Chief Sitting Bull. White authorities, made anxious by the spread of the new "Ghost Dance" religious fervor that had swept western Indian reservations during the previous year, had decided on a crackdown. The Ghost Dance called for the arrival of a messianic figure who would restore the buffalo to the plains, make the white men disappear, and bring back the old Native American way of life. When Sitting Bull was killed, Chief Big Foot led his band of Lakota Sioux toward the Pine Ridge Agency, where they were surrounded by the 7th Cavalry. Two hundred of Big Foot's people, including women and children, were killed.
It's the birthday of cellist and conductor Pablo Casals, born in 1876 in Vendrell, Spain. He made his career as a cellist in Spain in the early 20th century but was forced to move to France in 1936 because he was opposed to fascism. He returned to Spain after the Civil War of 1936-39, but he retired in 1946 as a protest against Franco's regime in Spain. While he returned to recording and conducting in 1950, he remained an active campaigner for peace all his life.
Casals said: "Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®