May 29, 2007

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

TUESDAY, 29 MAY, 2007
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Poem: "Advice to Myself" by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1913 that The Rite of Spring premiered at the Théâtre des Champs–Élysées in Paris, a ballet with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and music by Igor Stravinsky.

Stravinsky drew on dozens of Russian folk songs for the melodies, but instead of using those melodies in any conventional way, he chopped them up and threw them together into a dissonant collage of sounds with a relentless staccato rhythm. He composed the piece on a piano in a rented cottage, and a boy working outside his window kept shouting up at him that the chords were all wrong.

The theater director, Sergei Diaghilev, knew that the ballet could cause a scandal, and he fanned the flames by inviting people to the performance who he knew would hate it. But no one could have known how violently the crowd would react. It was unseasonably hot on this evening in 1913, so it's possible that the audience was more restless than usual. The audience sat quietly through the first several minutes of the piece, but when the music suddenly turned harsh and dissonant, people in the audience began to shout at the stage.

Fights broke out between the audience members. People who were enjoying the music attacked those who were booing. People spat in each other's faces. Men exchanged cards in order to fight duels the next day. The police were called to remove hecklers between the first and the second act, but the disruption continued. Stravinsky was so upset by the response that he left his seat in disgust.

It was one of the most legendary artistic moments of the 20th century. Almost overnight, Stravinsky became one of the most famous artists in the world.

It's the birthday of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy (books by this author), born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1917). In 1960, he was the youngest person ever elected president of the United States, and many people saw him as a symbol of freshness and youth. Part of his personal story was that, during World War II, he was serving on a tiny ship that got rammed and cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. He saved several of his crewmen from drowning.

But something that almost no one knew about John F. Kennedy was that he had suffered from numerous medical problems for most of his life. He had Addison's disease, which required frequent injections of cortisone. He also suffered from mysterious digestive problems and terrible back pains. He had to wear a corset-like back brace at all times.

Kennedy was in terrible pain and didn't complain about his back or his stomach problems while he campaigned for a House seat in 1946. In 1952, he ran for the U.S. Senate, and he was one of the few Democrats to win a race in a year when Eisenhower swept a lot of Republicans into office. But soon after the race, X-rays showed that parts of his spine had collapsed. He couldn't tie his own shoes or walk without crutches. He finally decided to try a risky operation to fuse his vertebrae. He fell into a coma during the procedure and was given last rites. He recovered, but had to spend six months in bed.

The surgery made it possible for Kennedy to walk, but he could not bend his back forward or backward at all, and could barely turn himself over in bed or sit in a low chair. The media reported that he had recovered completely. During the election of 1960, Nixon operatives apparently tried to break into Kennedy's doctor's office to steal his medical records, but the records were stored under a code name, so they were never found. No one but his closest family members and his doctors knew of his true condition.

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




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