Mar. 14, 2014
Why You Travel
You don't want the children to know how afraid
you are. You want to be sure their hold on life
is steady, sturdy. Were mothers and fathers
always this anxious, holding the ringing
receiver close to the ear: Why don't they answer
where could they be? There's a conspiracy
to protect the young, so they'll be fearless,
it's why you travel—it's a way of trying
to let go, of lying. You don't sit
in a stiff chair and worry, you keep moving.
Postcards from the Alamo, the Alhambra.
Photos of you in Barcelona, Gaudi's park
swirling behind you. There you are in the Garden
of the Master of the Fishing Nets, one red
tree against a white wall, koi swarming
over each other in the thick demoralized pond.
You, fainting at the Buddhist caves.
Climbing with thousands on the Great Wall,
wearing a straw cap, a backpack, a year
before the students at Tiananmen Square.
Having the time of your life, blistered and smiling.
The acid of your fear could eat the world.
Today is Albert Einstein's birthday (books by this author). He was born in Ulm, Germany (1879), and his pre-kindergarten fascination with a compass needle left an impression on him that lasted a lifetime. He liked math but hated school, dropped out, and taught himself calculus in the meantime. Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where his job was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices and determine whether the inventions described would actually work. The job wasn't particularly demanding, and at night he would come home and pursue scientific investigations and theories.
In 1905, he wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer. That same year, he published three more papers, each of which was just as revolutionary as the first, among them the paper that included his most famous equation: E = mc². E is energy, m is mass, and c stands for the velocity of light.
Einstein received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He said, "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
It's the birthday of Sylvia Beach, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887). She founded an English-language bookstore and lending library called Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank of Paris. It opened just as the "lost generation" was discovering that city, and it became a central feature of the Parisian literary scene of the 1920s. Beach also published books, including the first — blue and white — edition of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).
It's the birthday of the humorist Max Shulman (books by this author), born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1919). He wrote several books, including Anyone Got a Match? (1964) and Potatoes Are Cheaper (1971). He grew up during the Great Depression, and he said he became a humorist because "I turned early to humor as my branch of writing ... [because] life was bitter and I was not."
It's the birthday of the photographer Diane Arbus, born Diane Nemerov in New York City (1923). She took portraits of transvestites, giants and dwarfs, twins, triplets, carnival performers, and sometimes ordinary people with troubling expressions or postures. She said: "I work from awkwardness. By that I mean if I stand in front of something instead of arranging it, I arrange myself."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®