Nov. 9, 2006


by Mary Oliver

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Poem: "Mindful" by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press.

(Text not published due to copyright restrictions)

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She never went to college, eloped when she was 19, and became a suburban 1950s housewife. She was 28 when she had her first nervous breakdown. After a suicide attempt, her psychiatrist advised her to try to writing poetry as therapy. She did, and within a few years of having written her first poems, she had published her work in more than 40 magazines, including The New Yorker.

For the rest of her life, she was in and out of mental institutions, on and off psychiatric drugs, and she said that poetry was the only thing that kept her alive. She said, "My fans think I got well, but I didn't: I just became a poet."

Anne Sexton said, "Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face."

It's the birthday of the astronomer Carl Sagan, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1934). As a young astronomer, he was hired by NASA to consult on a mission to send a remote-controlled spacecrafts to Venus. In preparation for the mission, Sagan was shocked to learn that there would be no cameras on the robotic spacecrafts, called Mariner I and Mariner II. The other scientists wanted to measure things like temperature and magnetism. They thought cameras would be a waste of valuable space and equipment. Sagan couldn't believe they would give up the chance to see an alien planet up close. He said, "Cameras are important precisely because they could answer questions we are too stupid to ask."

Sagan contributed to the Viking, Voyager, and Galileo planetary exploration missions, and his insistence on the use of cameras helped us get the first close-up photographs of the outer planets and their moons.

It's the birthday of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, (books by this author) born in Orel, Russia (1818), best known for his novel Fathers and Sons (1862). He grew up near Moscow, where his mother was a wealthy landowner, but as a young man he went away to study in Berlin. The experience of leaving Russia changed his life. He said, "I threw myself head first into the 'German Sea,' in which I was ... cleansed and reborn, and when I finally surfaced from its waves, I was a 'Westernist' and remained one forever." From a distance, he began to think of Russia as a barbarous place where serfs were kept as slaves and treated as animals. He would devote the rest of his life to exposing the inhumanity of serfdom.

Turgenev's masterpiece, Fathers and Sons, was published in 1862. It's about the conflict between two generations, the conservative elder generation and the radical youths who want to do away with tradition and create a new social order.

It was on this day in 1906 that Teddy Roosevelt (books by this author) went against more than a century of tradition and became the first American president ever to leave the country while in office. He went to view the construction site of the Panama Canal.

Roosevelt thought it was time for American presidents to become actors on the global stage. The Panama Canal was his pet project, because he believed it would give the United States naval supremacy in the Western Hemisphere, and so it was a natural choice as the first foreign destination of a U.S. president.

When he arrived at the construction site, Roosevelt saw a 95-ton steam shovel. He ordered that the train be stopped so that he could hike through the mud to see the steam shovel up close. It was a new invention at the time, and Roosevelt spent a half an hour asking about its operation. He then took a turn at the controls.

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

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




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