Monday

Aug. 11, 2014

Failing and Flying

by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights
that anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe that Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

"Failing and Flying" by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven. © Knopf, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Louise Bogan (books by this author), born in Livermore Falls, Maine (1897). She worked as poetry critic for The New Yorker for 38 years, and when she retired in 1969, she wrote to her friend and editor Ruth Limmer: "After 38 years; and seven years beyond normal retirement age. — I know that you are against such a move; but really, Ruth, I've had it. No more pronouncements on lousy verse. No more hidden competition. No more struggling not to be a square." She died four months later.

Louise Bogan said: "I have no fancy idea about poetry. It's not like embroidery or painting or silk. It doesn't come to you on the wings of a dove. It's something you have to work hard at."

It's the birthday of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, born in Sunnyvale, California in 1950. He always loved electronics. As a kid, he and his neighborhood friends would build all kinds of gadgets, including intercom systems running between their houses. He was working on computer-like projects by the age of 11, and his sixth-grade science project was a machine that played tic-tac-toe. He said: "I didn't ever take a course, didn't ever buy a book on how to do it. I just pieced it together in my own head." He met Steve Jobs in 1970, when a mutual friend introduced them. They formed their own company in 1976 and called it Apple. "You didn't have to have a real specific reason for choosing a name when you were a tiny little company of two people; you choose any name you want," Wozniak said.

The Apple 1 computer came about when Wozniak got the idea to pair a typewriter keyboard with a television. Jobs and Wozniak built it in Jobs' bedroom and, later, when they ran out of room, in his garage. They hoped to sell 50 of them and if it didn't work, Jobs told Wozniak, at least they could tell their grandkids that they'd had their own company for a while. Seven years later, Apple had a stock value of $985 million.

In 2006, Wozniak published his autobiography, titled iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It.

It is the birthday of Alex Haley (books by this author), born in Ithaca, New York (1921). He's best known as the author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which came out in 1976. It was a fictionalized history of seven generations of his family from Africa through slavery in the United States. He spent more than seven years doing research for it. And in order to imagine the slaves' passage across the Atlantic Ocean, he booked a trip on a boat from West Africa and spent every day on the second level of the boat in a cramped bunk bed wearing only his underwear.

He also co-wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) and conducted the first-ever interview for Playboy magazine. He interviewed Miles Davis for the September 1962 issue.

Haley said: "In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it."

The first civilian prisoners began arriving at Alcatraz on this date in 1934. The island, which lies in the San Francisco Bay, had been under the military's control since 1850, when President Millard Fillmore signed an executive order to that effect. A fortress was built on the island, and a lighthouse — the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast. Before the decade was out, the fortress was serving as a military prison. The cold, rough water of the Bay made it virtually impossible for prisoners to escape. During its stint as a military prison, Alcatraz housed Confederate sympathizers, Native Americans, and enemy combatants during the Spanish-American War.

In 1933, the Justice Department took control of Alcatraz to turn it into a federal penitentiary. They wanted a place to lock up dangerous criminals, especially those who might be likely to escape. The prisoners were housed in individual cells, and there was one guard for every three convicts. It was a maximum-security, minimum-privilege prison; cons had very few basic rights, and anything extra had to be earned through good behavior. Conditions weren't bad, though, and many convicts actually requested transfers to Alcatraz just so they could have their own cell.

Alcatraz closed its doors in 1963, mainly for financial reasons. The buildings, subjected to the salt spray and high winds, were in constant need of repair. And because all the food and supplies had to be brought in by boat, day-to-day operations were much more expensive than they were at other prisons. In its 30 years as a federal penitentiary, Alcatraz housed more than 1,500 prisoners, and not one ever managed to escape, although some made it as far as the water, and five of them are "missing and presumed drowned."

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

 









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