Jul. 26, 2003

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Poem: "Number 8," by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from Pictures of the Gone World (City Lights).

Number 8

It was a face which darkness could kill
                                        in an instant
a face as easily hurt
            by laughter or light
'We think differently at night.'
                          she told me once
lying back languidly
                      And she would quote Cocteau
'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
                                        'whom I am constantly shocking'
Then she would smile and look away
                      light a cigarette for me
                                      sigh and rise
and stretch
                her sweet anatomy
                      let fall a stocking

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Aldous Huxley, born in Surrey, England (1894). He's best known to us today as the author of the novel Brave New World (1932), about a future in which genetically engineered people take drugs to keep them happy, have sex all the time, and never fall in love. Huxley said, "An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex."

It's the birthday of humorist Jean Shepherd, born in Chicago, Illinois (1925). (Some sources say he was born on July 21.) He's remembered for the autobiographical stories he told on the radio about a boy named Ralph Parker growing up in Hohman, Indiana. One of his stories was made into the movie A Christmas Story (1983), which he narrated. It's about a boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas, even though every adult in his life says that he'll shoot his eye out. 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). Jean Shepherd said, "Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man."

It's the birthday of Carl Jung, born in Kesswil, Switzerland (1875). 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. 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 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 thirteen 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. He said, "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you."

It's the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw, born in Dublin, Ireland (1856), one of Britain's greatest playwrights. His most famous play is Pygmalion (1913), about a cockney girl who learns to pass as a lady. It was the basis for the musical My Fair Lady (1956). As a young man, he moved to London from Dublin with his mother, who was a music teacher. She made enough money for the two of them to live on, so Shaw could devote himself to writing. He spent his days reading at the library and writing novels that no one would publish. He got into politics in his twenties as a socialist, fighting for the rights of the working poor, but he was always terrified that public demonstrations would turn violent. Shaw wrote his first play, Widowers' Houses (1892), about the evils of slumlords. The play was viciously attacked by people who opposed his politics, and Shaw figured that he must be a good playwright if he could make people so angry. He revolutionized English theater by writing plays about ideas when everyone else was writing sentimental melodramas. He wrote dozens of plays, including Man and Superman (1905) and Saint Joan (1923). He was an obsessive letter writer and wrote about a quarter of a million letters in his lifetime, averaging nine letters a day, every day, for seventy-five years. 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," and "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children."

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