Jul. 5, 2010


by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night
the channel was full of starfish
. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life's way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won't give you smart or brave,
so you'll have to settle for lucky.) Because you were born at a good time. Because you were able to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

"Starfish" by Eleanor Lerman, from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds. © Sarabande Books, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French writer and artist Jean Cocteau, (books by this author) born in Maisons-Laffitte, France (1889), who hung out with Picasso, Proust, and Erik Satie. He called poetry the foundation of art and a "religion without hope."

He was prolific in all sorts of media, and in addition to writing poetry and novels, he wrote plays for theater and screenplays for film, and he illustrated poetry collections, composed artwork, and produced radio broadcasts.

Despite all of the occupations at which he was successful, he considered himself foremost a poet, and he said that all of his work was poetry. And he once said, "Poetry is indispensable — if I only knew what for."

It's the birthday of the man for whom the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship is named, Cecil Rhodes, born in Hertfordshire, England (1853). He founded the De Beers diamond company, which made him a very rich man.

In his final will and testament, he established the Rhodes Scholarship to fund postgraduate study at Oxford University for students from countries that were under British rule, or formerly under British rule, or from Germany. Rhodes himself was a graduate of Oxford, finishing his degree nine and one-half years after starting it.

It's the birthday of one of those novelists who has found great critical success but not so great commercial success. Craig Nova, (books by this author) born on this day in Los Angeles (1945).

He grew up in the Hollywood Hills, went to Berkeley, studied writing at Columbia, and wrote his first novel, Turkey Hash (1975), while in his 20s. It led to the prestigious Harper Saxton literary prize, a prize once given to Sylvia Plath. But for him publishing a first book to great acclaim didn't pay the bills. He got a job driving taxicabs around Manhattan for the next several years, and he worked on novels after his shifts finished in the evening.

After writing his fourth novel, The Good Son, to widespread critical acclaim, he moved to the countryside with his wife, and managed a tree farm. Now he's a professor at the University of North Carolina.

His most recent novel, The Informer (2010), set in Berlin in the 1930s, came out just a few months ago. The Informer begins: "Gaelle turned away from the man in the car and stepped out onto the sidewalk, the money in her hand. The instant she slammed the door, she was sure of it. They were coming for her. ... It wasn't the actual being dead, she told herself, that mattered so much as how she got that way."

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




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