Mar. 13, 2010

Almost a Conversation

by Mary Oliver

Poem text is not displayed at the request of the publisher.

"Almost a Conversation" by Mary Oliver, from Evidence. © Beacon Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Janet Flanner, (books by this author) born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1892), who for 50 years wrote "The Letter from Paris" in The New Yorker.

It was on this day in 1781 that the astronomer William Herschel announced he had discovered the planet Uranus — only at first he was cautious and did not call it a "planet."

European astronomers went to work trying to confirm the planethood of Uranus, making calculations about things like its Earth-Sun distance and the shape of its orbit. Soon, everyone agreed that what Herschel reported was a planet, and in 1783 two years after he first spotted the celestial object from his garden in Bath, England William Herschel announced humbly but formally that he'd discovered a planet.

A German astronomer, Bode, proposed the planet be named "Uranus," after the Greek god of the sky. Astronomers generally prefer to pronounce the planet's name with the emphasis on the first syllable, as in "YUR uh nuhs," which is the way it's said in Latin. But English speakers have adopted the pronunciation with emphasis on the second syllable.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. Its equator is four times longer than Earth's equator, and its mass is about 14½ times greater than Earth's. It takes 84 Earth years to make one complete orbit around the Sun. Its day — the amount of time it takes to make a full spin on its axis — is just 17 hours and 14 minutes, compared with Earth's 24 hours.

It is known as one of the "ice giants," and its atmosphere is the coldest in the solar system, with a temperature of about negative 215 degrees Celsius, and is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium gases. Most of what we know about Uranus comes from an unmanned NASA expedition, Voyager 2, in the mid-1980s. The spacecraft flew within about 50,000 miles of the planet's top layer of clouds, taking pictures and collecting data.

It's the birthday of writer Robert Lanham, (books by this author) born in Richmond, Virginia (1971). He's the author of several works of modern satire, including the book Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic (2004). The term "Food Court Druids" of his book title applies to those people who play video games, get all dressed in Goth garb to go out to midnight Harry Potter book parties, and hang out around Panda Expresses in mall food courts.

His 2003, The Hipster Handbook, poking fun at those "who possess tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool," was a big hit, though reputedly sparked various crises of identity and self-definition in places like Brooklyn and Oakland. He writes that "a Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream."

And he lists the following "Clues you are a hipster":
1. You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn't won a game since the Reagan administration.
2. You frequently use the term "postmodern" (or its commonly used variation, "PoMo") as an adjective, noun, and verb.
3. You carry a shoulder-strap messenger bag and have at one time or another worn a pair of horn-rimmed or Elvis Costello-style glasses.
9. You enjoy complaining about gentrification even though you are responsible for it yourself.
10. Your hair looks best unwashed and you position your head on your pillow at night in a way that will really maximize your cowlicks."

Last year, Lanham wrote an article entitled "Internet-Age Writing Syllabus and Course Overview." It's for a mock college English composition course called "Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era." The syllabus list prereqs like "ENG: 232WR — Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll" or "LIT: 223 — Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less" or "ENG: 231WR — Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance."

Robert Lanham's most recent book is The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right (2006).

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




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