Jul. 26, 2007
Poem: "Handyman" by Barton Sutter, from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey. © BOA Editions, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
The morning brought such a lashing rain
I decided I might as well stay inside
And tackle those jobs that had multiplied
Like an old man's minor aches and pains.
I found a screw for the strikerplate,
Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,
Cleared the drain in the basement floor,
And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.
Each task had been a nagging distraction,
An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;
Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,
I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.
Then I heard a great crash in the yard.
The maple had fallen and smashed our car.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of humorist Jean Shepherd (books by this author), born in Chicago, Illinois (1925). He's remembered for the autobiographical stories he told on the radio about a boy named Ralph Parker growing up in Hohman, Indiana. The stories he told on-air were always improvised, but he later wrote them down and published them in collections like In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (1967) and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters (1972).
In one of his stories, he remembered walking to school with a group of children in the winter. He said, "Kids plodded ... through forty-five-mile-an-hour gales, tilting forward like tiny furred radiator ornaments, moving stiffly over the barren clattering ground with only the faint glint of two eyes peering out of a mound of moving clothing. ... All were painfully plodding toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra [so they could learn] geography lessons involving the exports of Peru."
It's the birthday of Carl Jung (books by this author), born in Kesswil, Switzerland (1875). His father was a pastor, and as a boy Jung was shocked to find out that his father was losing his faith. He decided to become a scientist instead of a minister so that he could scientifically prove that religion was important. He was the founder of analytic psychology. He noticed that myths and fairytales from all kinds of different cultures have certain similarities. He called these similarities archetypes, and he believed that archetypes come from a collective unconscious that all humans share. He said that if people get in touch with these archetypes in their own lives, they will be happier and healthier.
He became a psychologist at a time when Sigmund Freud was the most important psychologist in the world. When the two men met for the first time, they talked for 13 hours straight. They collaborated for a few years, but finally decided that they disagreed with each other's ideas. Jung thought Freud was too obsessed with sex, and Freud thought Jung was too obsessed with God.
It's the birthday of writer Aldous Huxley (books by this author), born in Surrey, England (1894). Huxley wanted to be a scientist like his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley. But when he was 17 years old, he came down with a disease of the eyes, which rendered him almost blind. So Huxley decided to become a writer. His first successful novel was Point Counter Point (1928), which was an extremely ambitious book, with numerous characters and a complex interweaving structure. So Huxley decided that his next book would be something light. He had been reading some H.G. Wells and thought it would be interesting to try to write something about what the future might be like. But once he got started, he got caught up in the excitement of his own ideas. He wound up writing a much more serious book than he'd intended.
The result was Brave New World (1932), about a future in which most human beings are born in test-tube factories, genetically engineered to belong in one of five castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. There are no families; people have sex all the time and never fall in love, and they keep themselves happy by taking a drug called "soma."
Brave New World was one of the first novels to predict the future existence of genetic engineering, test-tube babies, anti-depression medication, and virtual reality. When George Orwell's 1984 came out a few years later, many critics compared the two novels, trying to decide which one was more likely to come true. Huxley argued that his imagined future was more likely, because it would be easier to control people by keeping them happy than it would be by threatening them with violence.
It's the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw (books by this author), born in Dublin, Ireland (1856). He wrote dozens of plays, including Man and Superman (1905) and Saint Joan (1923). But he's best known for his play Pygmalion (1912), about what happens when a phonetician named Henry Higgins teaches a cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle to pass as a lady.
He had an opinion about everything, and eventually became famous more for his personality than for his writing. He said, "Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." He was a vegetarian and a pacifist, he didn't drink, and he believed Christmas should be abolished. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died 25 years later in 1950 at the age of 94.
He is now one of the most widely quoted writers in the English language.
He said, "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." And he said, "All great truths begin as blasphemies." And he said, "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®