Mar. 17, 2008

The old, blue-eyed woman in the bed
is calling down snow. Her heart is failing,
and her eyes are two birds in a pale sky.
Through the window she can see a tree

twinkling with lights on the banking
beyond the parking lot. Lawns are still green
from unseasonable weather. Snow
will put things right; and, sure enough,

by four darkness carries in the first flakes.
Chatter, hall lights, and the rattle of walkers
spill through her doorway as she lies there—
ten miles (half a world) of ocean

between her and her home island.
She looks out from a bed the size of a dinghy.
Beyond the lit tree, beyond town, open water
accepts snow silently and, farther out,

the woods behind her house receive the snow
with a faint ticking of flakes striking needles
and dry leaves—a sound you would not believe
unless you've held your breath and heard it.

"Snow" by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from In the Well. © Bluestem Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

Today is St. Patrick's Day, the feast day of Patrick, a Christian missionary and one of the patron saints of Ireland. Patrick was born in Roman Britain around the year 387; he was captured by raiders and taken to Ireland when he was 16. Patrick worked as a herdsman for six years before escaping and making his way back to his family. He followed his father and grandfather into the church and at some point returned to Ireland as a missionary. St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday in Ireland, but it is celebrated around the world. In the United States, countless cities have their own parades and festivities. Chicagoans dye their river green every March 17th, and New York City's parade attracts more than 2 million spectators. St. Patrick's Day is a Christian festival celebrated by the Catholic Church, and it always occurs during Lent. When St. Patrick's Day is on a Friday, certain bishops grant a release from the traditional Lent Friday no-meat observance. This release is called the "corned-beef indult."

It's the birthday of playwright Paul (Eliot) Green, born near Lillington, North Carolina (1894). Green grew up on a farm, where he worked in the fields alongside black laborers, whose stories inspired many of his dramas. He began writing one-act plays while he was a student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The No 'Count Boy (1924) won the Bealsco Cup in New York City and established Green's place as an important playwright outside of the South. His Broadway play In Abraham's Bosom (1926) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Despite his success in New York, he disliked what he labeled the commercial theater of the city, choosing instead to produce something he called "symphonic dramas" — pieces combing drama with dance, music, poetry, and folklore, and intended for the outdoors. (Green was a self-taught violinist who composed all the music for his pieces.) In the 1930s, Paul Green had a stint in Hollywood, where he wrote films for Clark Gable, Greer Garson, and Bette Davis, among others. Green wrote what Bette Davis considered her favorite line: "I'd like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair."

Today in 1910, Camp Fire Girls was founded. This national youth service and leadership organization was designed as a sister organization to Boy Scouts of America. Camp Fire Girls was the first nonsectarian and interracial organization available to girls in the United States. The group has been co-educational since 1975, and is now called Camp Fire USA.

It's the birthday of writer Frank B. Gilbreth, (books by this author) born in Plainfield, New Jersey (1911). His parents were two of America's most renowned engineers; they studied the breakdown of work into fundamental elements, a branch of science now referred to as "work simplification." Their work in efficiency is the fodder for Gilbreth's most famous book, Cheaper by the Dozen (1949), which he co-wrote with his sister Ernestine, in which a couple applies energy-saving techniques to parenting. Cheaper by the Dozen was a best seller in 1949, and Frank and Ernestine received the French International Humor Award in 1950.

On this day in 1901, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings were shown at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. It was the first major show for the artist, who had committed suicide 11 years earlier, having sold only one painting in his lifetime. The retrospective featured 71 paintings, all with Van Gogh's characteristic bright colors and textured brush strokes. The exhibition made a splash on the Parisian art scene and helped pave the way for galleries to exhibit unconventional artists like Gaugin and Matisse in the coming years. The widely attended Bernheim-Jeune show prompted painter Maurice de Vlaminck to famously declare that Van Gogh meant more to him than his own father. Van Gogh said, "It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent."

Today in 1941, the National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C., thanks to the funding and support of collector Andrew W. Mellon. Mellon was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Britain. He sponsored the construction of the National Gallery and donated his impressive personal art collection — hundreds of paintings, which included artists such as Botticelli, Rembrandt, and Raphael.

Today is the birthday of fiction writer Penelope Lively, (books by this author) born in Cairo, Egypt (1933). Lively writes for both adults and children. She was educated at home, reading books shipped over from England and visiting the pyramids every week. At age 12, Lively was sent to boarding school in England, a place she says her family "called home, but as far as I was concerned was not home at all — a mysterious, grey, wet place." She studied history at Oxford and began writing soon afterward; her first book, Astercote (1970), was for children. Since then she has written 26 more books for children and young adults, including The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973) and The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree (1994). A Stitch in Time (1976) won the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Lively has written 14 novels for adults, including the Booker Prize winner Moon Tiger (1987) and her most recent, Consequences (2007).

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  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
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  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
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