Tuesday

Mar. 25, 2014

On the Sale of My Farm

by Robert Frost

Well-away and be it so,
To the stranger let them go.
Even cheerfully I yield
Pasture, orchard, mowing-field,
Yea and wish him all the gain
I required of them in vain.
Yea and I can yield him house,
Barn, and shed, with rat and mouse
To dispute possession of.
These I can unlearn to love.
Since I cannot help it? Good!
Only be it understood,
It shall be no trespassing
If I come again some spring
In the grey disguise of years,
Seeking ache of memory here.

"On the Sale of My Farm" by Robert Frost from Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays. © The Library of America, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the feminist writer and activist who said, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle": Gloria Steinem (books by this author), born in Toledo, Ohio (1934). Her father was an antique dealer and a summer resort operator who traveled all over the country in a trailer, looking for new business ventures. Steinem said, "He was always going to make a movie, or cut a record, or start a new hotel, or come up with a new orange drink." She traveled around the country with her father, never attending school, until her parents separated, and she moved in with her mother, who suffered a mental break down. Steinem said, "[My mother was] an invalid who lay in bed with eyes closed and lips moving in occasional response to voices only she could hear; a woman to whom I brought an endless stream of toast and coffee, bologna sandwiches, and dime pies."

Steinem had poor grades in school, but she managed to get into Smith based entirely on her entrance examinations. After college, she went to work as a journalist and made her name with a piece called "I was a Playboy Bunny" (1963), about working undercover at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club in midtown Manhattan. She went on to found Ms. magazine, devoted to women's issues, in 1972. It sold out its first print run of 300,000 copies in eight days.

Steinem has written several books about the inequities women face in the modern world, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) and Revolution from Within (1992).

Gloria Steinem said, "Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."

It's the birthday of a writer who said that her subject was "the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." That's Flannery O'Connor (books by this author), born in Savannah, Georgia (1925). She was raised a devout Roman Catholic. She said: "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both." When her father was diagnosed with lupus, they moved to the town of Milledgeville, Georgia, to be near extended family. Her father died when she was a teenager.

O'Connor went off to a state college in Georgia, and then to the University of Iowa to study journalism. She didn't like journalism much, so she went to see Paul Engle, the director of the creative writing program. He called her into his office, and at first she was too shy to speak. When she did, Engle couldn't understand her Georgia accent, so he gave her a pad of paper to write down what she was saying. She wrote: "My name is Flannery O'Connor. I am not a journalist. Can I come to the Writers' Workshop?" Engle agreed.

O'Connor was homesick in Iowa City. She wrote a letter to her mother every day, and she went daily to St. Mary's Catholic Church, two blocks from campus. She got along fine with her roommates, but they loved loud music, and she preferred solitude. When her roommates left for the weekend, as they often did, she pulled down the shades, got out a stack of yellow paper, and went to work at her typewriter.

While O'Connor was a student in Iowa, at the age of 20, she began a journal of prayers, addressed to God. In it, she wrote: "I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You." She kept her prayer journal for two years. She wrote just 24 entries, and filled less than 50 pages. Her first prayer began: "Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon." In another entry, she wrote: "Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me." In the second-to-last entry, she wrote: "Oh, Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. [...] My soul [...] it's a moth who would be king, a stupid slothful thing, a foolish thing, who wants God, who made the earth, to be its Lover. Immediately." But the next day, she wrote: "My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don't want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton — for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me." That was the end of the prayer journal.

When O'Connor was 26, she was diagnosed with lupus, the disease that had killed her father. She went home to Milledgeville, to live with her mother at Andalusia, the family dairy farm. She wrote every morning, at a desk that faced the back of a dresser so she would have no distractions. She went into Milledgeville for lunch, and for the rest of the day she wrote letters, painted, read, went to Mass, or cared for her peacocks, chickens, ducks, and other birds. She wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and 32 short stories, collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). She died in 1964, at the age of 39.

On this day in 1960, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the unabridged version of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (books by this author) was not obscene and could be sent through the U.S. mail. The ruling was unanimous. One judge asked, "Should a mature and sophisticated reading public be kept in blinders because a government official thinks reading certain works of power and literary value are not good for him?" A British court issued a similar verdict shortly afterward. During the wave of publicity that accompanied the litigation in 1959 to 1960, more than 6 million copies of the book were sold.

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