Jun. 16, 2006

Spy Girls

by Jeannine Hall Gailey

FRIDAY, 16 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "Spy Girls" by Jeannine Hall Gailey from Becoming the Villainess. © Steel Toe Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Spy Girls

always get their fiancés killed
in the very first scene.
A femme fatale can't also be
a loving wife and mother.
So she becomes a workaholic
to get over Steve, Jeff, or Lance,
sliding down elevator chutes
cutting through plate glass windows
carefully cracking the codes of illegal governments
dressed in formfitting rubber suits and blue wigs,
Temporarily blinded with acid spray
and shot through a shoulder and thigh,
she still manages to somersault over the wall
to grab the bars of the helicopter
just as it lifts off
secrets of nuclear fission in a disk
tucked in her lace-up boots,
keeping the world safe
from people just like her.
At night, she dreams of rescue,
of blending in with the crowd
of being one more girl
who eats ice cream for dinner
whose purse is not full of explosives.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses, whose action takes place on June 16th, 1904. It's called Bloomsday because the main character in the book is Leopold Bloom, a Jewish ad salesman who lives on the north side of Dublin. Bloom is introduced in the fourth chapter of Ulysses; he eats breakfast and serves his wife breakfast in bed. He spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing errands.

Joyce (books by this author), chose June 16, 1904 as the date for his novel because it was on that day that he went on his first date with the love of his life, Nora Barnacle.

It's the birthday of one of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century, Barbara McClintock, (books by this author), born in Hartford, Connecticut (1902). She grew up in the semi-rural Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and, growing up, she was much more interested in playing sports with the boys of her neighborhood than she was in studying.

Unfortunately, McClintock's mother refused to let her attend college. So McClintock got a job at an employment agency and spent all her free time at the library. Her parents eventually realized that she wasn't going to come to her senses and get married any time soon, so they relented and let her study biology at Cornell University.

She became interested in the study of maize, or Indian corn, because its multicolored kernels showed visible evidence of genetic changes from one generation to the next. She became one of the first scientists to show that the visible traits of a plant were directly linked to the structure of its chromosomes.

Despite her revolutionary work, Cornell would not give her a faculty appointment, because she was a woman. A friend eventually got her a permanent research position at another school, and she was elected president of the Genetics Society of America, but her research into genetics was so radical that it was ignored by other scientists. Nobody accepted her theories. She eventually stopped publishing her work altogether.

It wasn't until the 1970s that molecular biologists with more sophisticated tools began to prove that Barbara McClintock's theories about genetics were correct, and suddenly she was seen as a visionary. In 1983, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for the work that she had first published in 1951.

She said, "I know my corn plants intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them."

It's the birthday of novelist Joyce Carol Oates, (books by this author) born in Lockport, New York (1938). She is one of the most prolific writers of her generation, having published almost one hundred books in forty years, including novels, short stories, plays, poetry and essays. She's the author of many novels, including Them (1969), Bellefleur (1980), and We Were the Mulvaneys (1996).

Oates's own father worked for forty years as a tool-and-die designer at the Harrison Radiator Company. Her parents were poor and uneducated, but they both had artistic leanings. Her father often came home from the tool-and-die shop and played piano in the evenings.

Oates went to school in the same one-room schoolhouse where her mother had gone to school in Niagara County, near the Erie Canal. When she was eight years old, her grandmother gave her a hardcover copy of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and Oates loved it so much she memorized the whole book, word for word. She started writing novels in high school.

When asked how she can write so much, Oates says she just works steadily, about eight or ten hours a day. She spends a lot of her time thinking about her work while she's running, walking, or bicycling. She said, "At such times the imagination floats free, and one can contemplate one's work with an almost magical detachment."

Oates also said, "We [humans] are the species that clamors to be lied to."

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




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