Oct. 11, 2008


by Raymond Carver

He slept on his hands.
On a rock.
On his feet.
On someone else's feet.
He slept on buses, trains, in airplanes.
Slept on duty.
Slept beside the road.
Slept on a sack of apples.
He slept in a pay toilet.
In a hayloft.
In the Super Dome.
Slept in a Jaguar, and in the back of a pickup.
Slept in theaters.
In jail.
On boats.
He slept in line shacks and, once, in a castle.
Slept in the rain.
In blistering sun he slept.
On horseback.
He slept in chairs, churches, in fancy hotels.
He slept under strange roofs all his life.
Now he sleeps under the earth.
Sleeps on and on.
Like an old king.

"Sleeping" by Raymond Carver from Ultramarine. © Vintage Books, 1986. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of Vietnamese monk, writer, and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, (books by this author) born in 1926 in Tha Tien, Vietnam. He became a Buddhist monk when he was 16 years old. During the Vietnam War, he decided that monks shouldn't just stay in monasteries and meditate all day long while a war was going on. So he founded an organization that helped rebuild bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, and organize agricultural cooperatives. He traveled to the United States to urge the American government to withdraw its troops, and he persuaded Martin Luther King Jr. to publicly oppose the Vietnam War. But both the non-Communist and Communist governments banned him from Vietnam in 1966, and it was just a few years ago, in 2005, that he was finally allowed to return for a visit. Since he was banned from Vietnam, he set up a monastic community in southern France, called Plum Village.

Thich Nhat Hanh has published more than 100 books, books of poetry and Buddhist thought. About 40 of them are in English, and many of those have been best-sellers, including Peace Is Every Step (1991), Call Me by My True Names (1993), and Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995).

It's the birthday of the man who founded the YMCA, Sir George Williams, born in 1821 in Dulverton, England. Williams left his family farm for London, where he got a job in a draper's shop. He was horrified by the conditions of the city. There were so many young men who came from the country to try and find jobs there, and they worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, and slept in crowded rooms together. When they did have time off, their only entertainment was whatever they could find on the streets of London — streets filled with gamblers, drunks, and prostitutes. Williams wanted to create a place for young men to hang out and make friends, a place free of temptation. So he and some of his fellow drapers started a group for recreation and Bible study, and that was the first Young Men's Christian Association, the YMCA.

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Ben Marcus, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967. His most recent novel is Notable American Women (2002). The novel's main character is named Ben Marcus, and his mother belongs to a cult of feminists who will do anything in their quest to attain complete silence.

When someone asked Ben Marcus how he writes, he said: "I try to make myself laugh, which is sometimes too easy, and sometimes impossible. It's like staging improvised theater all day in one's own home, wearing pajamas and drinking too much coffee."

It's the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1884. She was shy and awkward as a girl; her mother, a beautiful socialite, was disappointed in her daughter. Both Eleanor's parents died by the time she was a teenager. Then she met a distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and they got married. Eleanor gave birth to six children, and she said, "I suppose I was fitting pretty well into the pattern of a fairly conventional, quiet, young society matron." But as her husband began his political career, she learned about politics too, and she was inspired by women's suffrage and started campaigning for women, for the labor movement, and for minorities. Eleanor became more and more independent, especially after her husband had an affair with her secretary. She held press conferences, traveled all over the country, gave lectures and radio broadcasts, and wrote a daily syndicated newspaper column called "My Day," where she expressed her political and social opinions. She also wrote four books: This is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), On My Own (1958), and Tomorrow Is Now, which was published posthumously (1963).

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