Sep. 7, 2014
Just when you'd begun to feel
You could rely on the summer,
That each morning would deliver
The same mourning dove singing
From his station on the phone pole,
The same smell of bacon frying
Somewhere in the neighborhood,
The same sun burning off
The coastal fog by noon,
When you could reward yourself
For a good morning's work
With lunch at the same little seaside cafe
With its shaded deck and iced tea,
The day's routine finally down
Like an old song with minor variations,
There comes that morning when the light
Tilts ever so slightly on its track,
A cool gust out of nowhere
Whirlwinds a litter of dead grass
Across the sidewalk, the swimsuits
Are piled on the sale table,
And the back of your hand,
Which you thought you knew,
Has begun to look like an old leaf.
Or the back of someone else's hand.
It's the birthday of the brilliant and unfortunate William Friese-Greene, born in Bristol, England (1855). Between 1885 and 1890, he built a series of four prototype motion-picture cameras and was granted a patent for a camera to record movement. He went bankrupt in the process and sold the rights to the patent for 500 pounds. During his lifetime, he took out more than 70 patents for other inventions, including X-ray and light printing on paper fabrics, ink-less printing, and electrical transmission of images, but he earned little money from them and was on the verge of bankruptcy most of his life.
It's the birthday of poet Edith Sitwell (books by this author), born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England (1887), raised by eccentric parents, and who became known for dressing in elaborate baroque costumes and publicizing herself and her poetry. She came into her own as a poet during WWII, with her collections Street Songs (1942), Green Song (1944), and Song of the Cold (1945). She was friends with Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, and was an early supporter of Dylan Thomas. She became a popular television personality in England and, on her 75th birthday, was given a public celebration in the Albert Hall. Her autobiography, Taken Care Of, was published posthumously in 1965.
Sitwell said: "I am not an eccentric. It's just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel in a pool of catfish."
It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holly, born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1936. By the age of 13, Holly was playing what he called "Western Bop" at local clubs. He was 19 when an agent discovered him and signed him to a contract with Decca records. The following year, Holly returned to Lubbock and, with three friends, formed The Crickets, who then released "That'll Be the Day," which sold more than a million copies. Buddy Holly's career was short: He died in February of 1959 in a plane crash in northern Iowa. Soon after, an English band that admired The Crickets decided to call themselves The Beatles.
It's the birthday of director and author Elia Kazan, born in Istanbul, Turkey (1909), to Greek parents who moved to America when Kazan was four. Kazan became an actor in the Group Theatre in New York, and joined the Communist Party, which he quit shortly thereafter. Kazan became an acclaimed Broadway director in the 1940s for such productions as Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and around that time began his distinguished film career, directing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gentleman's Agreement, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden (1955). In his 1988 autobiography, A Life, he told how, in 1952, he chose to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming at least eight of his friends as Communists — thus getting them blacklisted and making it virtually impossible for them to get work. Kazan said, "I thought I would be doing a terrible thing to pretend ignorance." On the other hand, he said: "Maybe I did wrong — probably did. Anyone who informs on other people is doing something disturbing and even disgusting. It doesn't sit well on the anyone's conscience."
Today is the birthday of Jennifer Egan (books by this author), born in Chicago in 1962. She grew up in San Francisco and worked in a candy store the Haight-Ashbury district. When she was 18, she went on a trip to Europe, and while she was there, she began suffering panic attacks. She never knew when they would strike, and spent her time in fearful anticipation. But she found a way through the attacks in writing about them. "It couldn't solve the terror, but somehow narrating it made it feel like I was somehow ultimately in control of it rather than the other way around," she recalled.
When Egan was in college, she met a tech geek at a dinner party in Silicon Valley. They were smitten with each other, and even though she was going to school all the way across the country at the University of Pennsylvania, they kept up a long-distance relationship. One evening, her boyfriend showed up at her door with a brand new Macintosh computer, which he installed himself. His name was Steve Jobs.
Egan's novels often reflect the zeitgeist, or spirit of the time. Sometimes she does this on purpose — like her 2012 novel Black Box, which is a futuristic spy thriller told as a series of 140-character tweets on Twitter. But sometimes, her work is unintentionally prophetic. Look at Me (2001) is about reality TV before such a thing had caught on, and one character is a would-be terrorist who is plotting to take down the United States. The book hit the shelves the week of the 9/11 attacks.
Egan's other books include The Keep (2006) and The Invisible Circus (1995), which was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®