Feb. 2, 2006


by Louis Jenkins

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Poem: "Change" by Louis Jenkins from The Winter Road. © Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted with permission.


All those things that have gone from your life, moon boots, TV
trays, and the Soviet Union, that seem to have vanished, are
really only changed, dinosaurs did not disappear from the earth
but evolved into birds and crock pots became bread makers.
Everything around you changes. It seems at times (only for a
moment) that your wife, the woman you love, might actually be
your first wife in another form. It's a thought not to be pursued.
... Nothing is the same as it used to be. Except you, of course,
You haven't changed ... well, slowed down a bit, perhaps. It's
more difficult nowadays to deal with the speed of change, dis-
turbing to suddenly find yourself brushing your teeth with what
appears to be a flashlight. But essentially you are the same as
ever, constant in your instability.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Groundhog Day, the day on which the groundhog comes out of his hole. According to tradition, if the sun is shining and he sees his shadow, he returns to his hole and there will be six more weeks of winter. But if the sky is cloudy and he sees no shadow he will stick around and spring will soon arrive.

It is the birthday of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia (1905). In 1917, she witnessed the first shots of the Russian Revolution from her balcony. She came to this country where she became a writer. Her first important novel was The Fountainhead (1943), about a brilliant architect named Howard Roark who blows up a housing project he built because his design was corrupted by the influence others. She went on to write Atlas Shrugged (1957).

It's the birthday of James Joyce, born in Rathgar, Ireland, just outside Dublin (1882). He made up his mind to leave Ireland in the summer of 1904 after he fell in love with a beautiful redheaded chambermaid named Nora Barnacle. He'd only known her for a few months when he asked her to leave the country with him and she agreed. In a letter to her the next day he wrote, "Last night ... it seemed to me that I was fighting a battle with every religious and social force in Ireland for you and that I had nothing to rely on but myself. ... The fact that you can choose to stand beside me in this way in my hazardous life fills me with great pride and joy."

He wrote to an English school in Zurich, secured a job, and they set off. Joyce expected that his job teaching English would be boring but easy, and that it would leave him a lot of time for writing, but when he showed up at the school to announce his arrival, they'd never heard of him. The job he thought he had secured by mail did not exist.

They'd used up all their money traveling, so Joyce had to scramble to find some work. He had a genius for talking people into giving him money, and he got a few students to hire him as a private language tutor, but he could still barely pay the rent. He wrote to his brother, "My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions."

He found himself thinking about his homeland more and more every day and he began to ask his Aunt Josephine to send him copies of anything to do with Ireland: newspapers, magazines, history books, guidebooks, maps, and photographs. He eventually got an idea, an epic novel about a single day in the city of Dublin. He chose for that day the date of June 16, 1904, the date on which he had fallen in love with Nora. He called that date "Bloomsday" after the main character of the book: Leopold Bloom.

Joyce started writing Ulysses in 1914, and it took him more than seven years to finish. The first printing of Ulysses of one thousand copies came out on this day, Joyce's birthday, in 1922. It was hailed as a masterpiece by writers in Europe and America, and Joyce was finally able to support his family comfortably for the rest of his life.

On June 16, 1924, the 20th anniversary of Bloomsday, Joyce wrote in his notebook, "Twenty years after. Will anyone remember this date?" Today, June 16th is a holiday in Ireland that rivals St. Patrick's Day. It's one of the only national holidays in the world that's based not on anyone's birthday or on a religious or a historical event, but merely upon a date in a work of fiction.

A year before his death, Nora told him, "Well, Jim, I haven't read any of your books but I'll have to someday because they must be good considering how well they sell."

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




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