Aug. 17, 2004

Misery Loves Company

by Hal Sirowitz

The Benefits of Ignorance

by Hal Sirowitz

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Poem: "Misery Loves Company" and "The Benefits of Ignorance" by Hal Sirowitz from Father Said © Soft Skull Press. Reprinted with permission.

Misery Loves Company

Sometimes I feel miserable,
Father said, but unlike you I don't
make a big deal of it. I just see it
as the price you pay for being human—
getting my share of the unhappiness.
Whereas, you go to a doctor to talk
about your problems, blowing them up
until they're out of proportion. I
don't blame your doctor for having
a keen eye for business—the longer
you see him the more money
he gets. I just hope he's not planning
on making you his permanent customer.

The Benefits of Ignorance

If ignorance is bliss, Father said,
shouldn't you be looking blissful?
You should check to see if you have
the right kind of ignorance. If you're
not getting the benefits that most people
get from acting stupid, then you should
go back to what you always were—
being too smart for your own good.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Davy Crockett (1786), U. S. frontiersman, soldier and backwoods statesman, born in a small cabin on the banks of the Nolichucky River near the mouth of Limestone Creek near Limestone, Tennessee. His father built and operated a log cabin tavern where young Crockett grew up listening to the stories of westbound travelers. He had spent only four days in school when he got into a fight with a boy there. To escape punishment from his father he left home and got a job driving cattle to Virginia. After two and a half years, when he was fifteen, he returned home where he went to work to pay off a debt his father owed.

Crockett returned to school for six months more and bought himself a horse and a rifle with the money he'd earned working. He became an expert marksman and named his rifle "Betsy." He was commander of a battalion in the Creek Indian War of 1813. He went on to serve in the Tennessee legislature and three terms in the U. S. Congress. His motto was, "Be always sure you are right, then go ahead." In March of 1836, Davy Crockett was killed at the Alamo, helping Texas win independence from Mexico.

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West, born in Brooklyn, NY, (1892).

She appeared on the vaudeville stage when she was 5, then went on to burlesque and later became an American stage and movie comedienne. In 1926 she wrote and directed the Broadway show, Sex. She was arrested for obscenity. She signed with Paramount six years later and broke box office records with She Done Him Wrong (1933). Her autobiography is titled, Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It (1959).

Mae West said, "It's better to be looked over than overlooked."

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Franzen, born in Western Springs, Illinois (1959). He spent years working on a novel while his marriage ended, his father died, and he quit smoking. After five years he had written hundreds of pages, but he still didn't know what story he was telling. Then a good friend, David Foster Wallace, published a book (Infinite Jest) to great acclaim. It was the jolt Franzen needed. He threw away everything but a chapter about a cruise ship and started over. He wrote the rest of the book in less than a year.

The Corrections was published in 2001. It's about a family falling apart and was a big success. His most recent book is a collection of essays: How to Be Alone (2002).

It's the birthday of novelist and photographer Gene Stratton Porter (1863), born the twelfth of twelve children on a farm in Wabash County, Indiana. Her first successful novel was Freckles (1904) about an orphan with one hand who gets a job as a timber guard in Limberlost. The book was made into a film 31 years later. During World War I, she moved to California where she founded the Gene Stratton Porter film company. She died in 1924 on a December day in Los Angeles. Her limo had been hit by a trolley car and she was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in California.

Gene Stratton Porter said, "Nature can be trusted to work her own miracle in the heart of any man whose daily task keeps him alone among her sights, sounds, and silences."

It's the birthday of poet Ted Hughes, born in West Yorkshire, England (1930). He grew up in the country, surrounded by empty, desolate moors under the shadow of a cliff called "Scout Rock." He said, "All that I imagined happening elsewhere, out in the world, the rock sealed from me."

He started out studying literature in college, but switched to anthropology and archaeology, and the folklore he read influenced the poetry he would write for the rest of his life. When other poets were writing about domestic life and politics, he was writing violent poems based on ancient mythology. He would later translate twenty-four stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses, published as Tales from Ovid (1997).

At forty, he wrote perhaps his most famous work, Crow (1970). It's a series of story poems about a mythical bird-human who survives great pain and hardship. For his many books of poetry, drama, literary criticism and plays and short stories for children, he received all the major literary awards in Europe, but not the Nobel Prize.

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