Dec. 1, 2006

In the Middle

by Barbara Crooker

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Poem: "In the Middle" by Barbara Crooker, from Word Press. © 1998 and printed by permission from the author. (buy now)

In the Middle

of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee
and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail is a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1860 that the first installment of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations was published. Dickens (books by this author) was under financial strain at the time. He had recently purchased a giant mansion called Gad's Hill Place, which he had first admired when he was five years old. Unfortunately, the cost of the house and its upkeep was quite a burden on his bank account. He had also recently separated from his wife, and was forced to support her separate living expenses. Several of his sons were starting out on their own, and he had given them generous allowances. On top of it all, he had recently founded his own magazine, called All the Year Round, and sales of the magazine were dropping.

So in order to improve his financial outlook, he decided to start publishing a new novel. Critics consider it one of his most autobiographical books because it tells the story of a boy who is destined to become a blacksmith, but because of a chance meeting with a fugitive prisoner, he winds up becoming an aristocratic gentleman.

Each installment of Great Expectations sold more than 100,000 copies, more copies than each issue of the London Times newspaper at the time. Today it is among the most popular of Dickens's novels.

It was on this day in 1862 that Abraham Lincoln gave the State of the Union address at one of the lowest points of his presidency. An end to the Civil War was nowhere in sight. Just 10 weeks before, Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, turning the war into a war about slavery rather than just states' rights. But in the recent election, anti-Lincoln Democrats had made big gains in the Congress. Many people saw that as a sign that the North didn't want to fight to free the slaves.

Instead of expressing doubts in his speech, Lincoln argued that freeing the slaves was necessary to ensure that America live up to its own ideals. In his speech, on this day in 1862, Lincoln said, "The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. ... We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth."

It's the birthday of American detective novelist Rex Stout, (books by this author) born in Noblesville, Indiana (1886). He was 46 years old when he wrote his first novel featuring Nero Wolfe, a detective who weighs more than 300 pounds, collects orchids, and never leaves his house. The first Nero Wolfe novel was called Fer-de-Lance, and it was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1934. It was a huge success, and Stout went on to write another Wolfe novel almost every year for the rest of his life. He ultimately published 46 novels in the Nero Wolfe series.

It's the birthday of director and screenwriter Woody Allen, (books by this author) born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn (1935). He hated school as a kid. He said, "I loathed every day and regret every day I spent in school." Every day, when Allen got home from school, he immediately went into his bedroom and shut the door. He spent all his time reading, learning to play the saxophone, and teaching himself magic tricks.

He started writing jokes, and then directing movies. In the 1970s, he started working on an autobiographical movie. When Allen turned the rough cut of the movie into the studio, it was several hours long, with almost no plot, and he wanted to call it Anhedonia, which is the name of a psychological disorder in which a person is unable to experience pleasure. The studio helped him cut the movie down to a more reasonable length, and they found themselves cutting almost everything except for the scenes with Diane Keaton, who played Woody Allen's love interest. So they named the move after her character, and it became Annie Hall (1977). It went on to win the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, and best actress.

Woody Allen said, "My one regret in life is that I am not someone else."

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




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