Jul. 3, 2008

The Rider

by Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

"The Rider" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Fuel. © BOA Editions, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of humor columnist Dave Barry, (books by this author) born in Armonk, New York (1947), the son of a Presbyterian minister. He was elected Class Clown by his high school class of 1965, then went on to major in English at Haverford College, where he claimed to have written "lengthy scholarly papers filled with sentences that even he did not understand."

He got a job with a daily newspaper and was assigned to cover town hall meetings. Then he joined a consulting firm that specialized in teaching business executives to write effectively. He said he "spent nearly eight years trying to get various businesspersons to for God's sake stop writing things like 'Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosure,' but he eventually realized that it was hopeless." He left and joined The Miami Herald, and in 1988 he won a Pulitzer for commentary.

He once said, "You can only be young once. But you can always be immature."

And, "Never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night."

It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, (books by this author) born in Prague (1883). Many of his novels and short stories are about strange and terrible things happening to innocent people. The Trial (1925) begins, "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." And The Metamorphosis (1915) begins, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

Kafka thought that a mindless bureaucratic job would be the perfect way to support his writing, but the job he took at an insurance company exhausted him. He had to work 60 hours a week on endless boring tasks. His health began to suffer, and for the rest of his life he was in and out of sanitariums.

Kafka's best friend was a sickly, hunchbacked man named Max Brod, who worshiped the ground he walked on. He and Brod hung out at cafes, went to brothels, and attended séances together. Even before anyone had heard of Kafka, Brod wrote articles about him for literary journals, saying that he was a genius and the greatest writer of all time. Kafka didn't entirely agree, and sometimes Brod's enthusiasm made him nervous. Brod kept copies of all of Kafka's writings that he could get his hands on. Near the end of his life, Kafka asked Brod to burn all of his unpublished work. Brod refused to do so, and we have him to thank for preserving Kafka's novels.

Franz Kafka wrote, "A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us."

It's the birthday of poet William Henry Davies, (books by this author) born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales, in 1871. He's the author of The Soul's Destroyer (1905), The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908), and What I Gained and Lost By Not Staying at School (1923).

He wrote in the poem "Leisure":

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare? —

It's the birthday of playwright Tom Stoppard,(books by this author) born Tomas Straussler in Zlin, Czechoslovakia (1937). He's the author of many plays, including the trilogy The Coast of Utopia (2003) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967), a comic retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet from the point of view of Hamlet's two friends.

He once wrote, "Life is a gamble, at terrible odds — if it was a bet you wouldn't take it."

It's the birthday of food writer M.F.K. Fisher, (books by this author) born Mary Frances Kennedy in Albion, Michigan (1908). She's the author of many books about food and eating, and best known for The Gastronomical Me (1943). During World War II, she published How to Cook a Wolf (1942), which suggested all kinds of ways people could eat well on food rations. She wrote, "When the wolf is at the door one should invite him in and have him for dinner."

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