Oct. 4, 2004

This Shining Moment in the Now

by David Budbill

Monday, 4 OCTOBER, 2004
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Poem: "This Shining Moment in the Now" by David Budbill. Reprinted with permission of the author.


When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall,
getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of
the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
putting up the storm windows, banking the house - all these things,
as preparation for the coming cold...

when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am
physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds,
the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees...

when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is,
when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw,
to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am
all body and no mind...

when I am only here and now and nowhere else - then, and only
then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought,
and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find
this shining moment in the now.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862). He's known as the man who created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and Nancy Drew. He was the son of a tobacconist, and wrote his first story on a piece of packing paper. It was published, and he began a career writing adventure stories for children, and became one of the most successful children's book authors of his day.

After writing about 150 books of his own, he created a company called the Stratemeyer Syndicate with a team of ghostwriters to write books based on his outlines. He swore everyone to secrecy and even invented fictional biographies for the pseudonymous authors. The Stratemeyer Syndicate went on to publish about 700 titles under more than sixty-five pseudonyms.

In 1926, the American Library Association sponsored a survey of juvenile reading preferences, asking 36,000 children in thirty-four different cities about their favorite books; ninety-eight percent of those children responded with a Stratemeyer title. The Stratemeyer Syndicate still sells about 6 million books each year.

It's the birthday of humorist Roy Blount Jr., born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1941). He's the author of many books of humor, including What Men Don't Tell Women (1984) and It Grows on You: A Hair-Raising Survey of Human Plumage (1986). As a young boy, he moved with is parents to Georgia, and that's where he grew up. He fell in love with the spoken voice at an early age, and he especially grew to love Southern accents. His mother taught him to read by reading him Uncle Remus and Mark Twain. Blount's English teacher in high school thought his essays reminded her of New Yorker writers like James Thurber and S.J Perelman, so she introduced him to those writers and they became his idols. But instead of getting a job at the New Yorker after college, he got a job writing about sports for Sports Illustrated. His first book was a humorous account of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team: About Three Bricks Shy of a Load (1974). The book was successful enough that Blount quit his job at Sports Illustrated and has made his living ever since as a freelance writer.

He has contributed profiles, essays, sketches, verse, short stories, and reviews to more than a hundred different publications. He said, "I have written about politics, sports, music, food, drink, gender issues, books, comedians, language, travel, science, animals, economics, anatomy, and family life. Preferably, about all of those things together." His most recent book is the biography of Robert E. Lee that came out last year.

Roy Blount Jr. said, "If there is one thing that [I pride myself] is this: that [I have] done more different things, for money, than any other humorist-novelist-journalist-dramatist-lyricist-lecturer-reviewer-performer-versifier-cruciverbalist-sportswriter-screenwriter-anthologist-columnist-philologist-biographer of sorts...that [I] can think of offhand."

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Rice, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, (1941). Her parents named her Howard Allen O'Brien—Howard after her father—and she so disliked her name that she changed it to Anne when she was in the first grade. Her father was a postal worker who wrote fiction in his spare time, and her mother was a failed Hollywood actress who was interested in the occult. Rice's mother would take her for long walks in old New Orleans neighborhoods and she would tell Anne Rice stories about which of the various old mansions was haunted and which had been used by covens of witches.

Rice began spending her spare time wandering around cemeteries, reading ghost stories, and watching horror movies. She didn't fit in at the Catholic school she attended, since the nuns were suspicious of her interest in the supernatural.

After getting married and having a daughter, she struggled to become a writer. She began writing a short story every day as an exercise, but she couldn't get much published. Then, her five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died.

Rice fell into a deep depression, and only got herself out of it by writing. She wrote constantly, and in five weeks, she had finished her first novel. It was about a vampire who becomes so lonely that he decides to turn a five-year-old girl into a vampire to keep him company. He's horrified when he realizes that she will never age, that she will remain a five-year-old forever. That novel was Interview with a Vampire (1974), one of the first novels ever to portray vampires as something more than just villainous monsters, to give them complex desires and emotions. People didn't know what to make of Interview with a Vampire. It got mixed reviews and didn't sell very well. So Anne Rice decided to stay away from horror and start writing historical novels. She also published a series of erotic novels under pseudonyms. But Interview with the Vampire developed a cult following, and throughout the early 1980's it kept selling copies, slowly becoming one of the most popular vampire novels of all time. Finally Rice returned to writing horror with her novel The Vampire Lestat (1985), and it was an immediate best seller.

Rice sets most of her books in New Orleans. It is now possible for tourists to take a special nighttime vampire tour of New Orleans, visiting all the spots mentioned in her novels. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Rice has gone on to write several more novels in her series, known as the Vampire Chronicles, including The Queen of the Damned (1988) and The Vampire Armand (1998). Her most recent novel is Blood Canticle, which came out last year.

Anne Rice believes that supernatural and horror fiction should be taken seriously as literature. She said, "Realism, which is so respected today, is really just a fad...There's no telling that anybody's going to be reading these little realistic novels 50 years from now, but people are still reading Faust."

She also said, "To write something great, you have to risk making a fool of yourself."

It was on this day in 1957 that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into orbit. It came at a time when Americans were feeling very secure. The economy was expanding. The Korean War was over. The Red Scare had ended. The Vietnam War hadn't started yet. And then on this day in 1957, TV stations interrupted their programs to announce the launch of what was called "a man made moon."

The novelist Stephen King will always remember that day, because he was in a movie theater when he found out about it, watching a movie called Earth Versus the Flying Saucers. In the middle of the movie, the manager of the theater turned off the projector, and turned on the lights, walked out onto the stage, and announced that the Russians had put a space satellite into orbit around the earth.

Stephen King said, "We all sat there...[thinking] the Russians had beaten us. Somewhere over our heads, beeping triumphantly, was an electronic ball which had been launched and constructed behind the Iron Curtain. [No one] had been able to stop it...The manager stood there for a moment longer, looking out at us as if he wished he had something else to say but could not think what it might be. Then he walked off and pretty soon the movie started up again."

The word "sputnik" means "fellow traveler" in Russian, but Americans took no comfort in that name. Most commentators saw the launch as a sign that Russians were ahead in the race to create intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the fear was that soon they would be setting up a military base on the moon.

Sputnik inspired education reforms, based on the idea that American teachers were focused too much on their students' feelings, while Russian teachers were turning their students into little scientists. A book called Why Johnny Can't Read became a best seller. The former Harvard president James Bryant Conant urged parents to tell children, for their own sake and for the sake of the nation, to do their homework. President Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act, which funded laboratories and textbooks in public schools.

But Eisenhower refused to increase the budget for space exploration, because he didn't see it as significant on a practical level. He said, "I'd like to know what's on the other side of the moon, but I won't pay to find out this year."

So the Russians kept beating us. They put the first man in space and the first woman and they took the first spacewalk. They sent the first probe to the moon, and they took the first photographs of the far side of the moon. It wasn't until we put a man on the moon that we became the leaders in space exploration.

Eventually, Americans and Russians became somewhat less competitive in the space race. The Russians launched a space station in 1986 that became a joint laboratory for scientists from the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as other parts of the world. The space station was called "Mir," which is the Russian word for "peace."

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




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