Oct. 11, 2010


by Sabine Miller

Tell me the one
about the sick girl —
not terminally ill, just years in bed
with this mysterious fever —
who hires a man
to murder her — you know,
so the family is spared
the blight of a suicide —
and the man comes
in the night, a strong man,
and nothing is spoken
—he takes the pillow
to her face — tell me
how he is haunted the rest
of his life — did he
or didn't he
do the right thing — tell me
how he is forgiven,
and marries, and has
2 daughters, and is happy —
no, tell me she doesn't
die, but is cured and
gives her life to God,
and becomes a hand-holder for
men on death row —
tell me the one where the man
falls in love with the girl
and can't do it, or
the girl falls in love
with a dog and calls
the man to tell him
not to come, or
how each sees their pain
mirrored in the other's eyes —
tell me how everyone is already
forgiven every story
they ever told themselves
about living
or not living —
tell me, oh tell me
the one where love wins, again
and again                and again.

"Story" by Sabine Miller, from Circumference of Mercy. © Mountains and Rivers Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of the man who founded the YMCA, Sir George Williams, born on a farm in Somerset, England, on this day in 1821. Growing up, he said he was "a careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow." He went off to London and got a job in a draper's shop, where he toiled away in sweatshop-like working conditions along with a bunch of other young men. He became a devoted Christian. He wanted his fellow laborers to have a place to congregate outside of work — a place where they wouldn't be led into the temptation of sin, a place where they could go to develop a "healthy spirit, mind, and body," he said. And so he created the Young Men's Christian Association in London in June 1844, when he was just 22 years old. In many places, it's now called "the Y," and today it has 45 million members around the world.

It's the birthday of the longest-serving First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City (1884) who said, "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." She began a secret courtship with her cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During World War I, she went off to Europe and visited wounded and shell-shocked soldiers in hospitals there. Later, during her husband's presidency, she campaigned hard on civil rights issues — not a universally popular thing in the 1930s and 1940s.

After FDR died in 1945, she moved from the White House to Hyde Park, New York, and taught International Relations at Brandeis University. As anti-communist witch-hunting began to sweep the U.S., she stuck up for freedom of association in a way that few Americans were brave or bold enough to do. She chided Hollywood producers for being so "chicken-hearted about speaking up for the freedom of their industry." She said that the "American public is capable of doing its own censoring" and that "the judge who decides whether what [the film industry] does is good or bad is the man or woman who attends the movies."

She said that the Un-American Activities Committee was creating the atmosphere of a police state in America, "where people close doors before they state what they think or look over their shoulders apprehensively before they express an opinion."

In 1947, a couple years before the McCarthy Era had reached full swing, she announced, "The Un-American Activities Committee seems to me to be better for a police state than for the USA."

She once said, "We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk."

And, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do."

From the archives:

It was on this day in 1962 that Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, with the goal of bringing the church up to date with the modern world. More than 3,000 delegates attended, including many of the Catholic bishops from around the world, theologians, and other church officials.

As a result of Vatican II, Catholics were allowed to pray with Protestants and attend weddings and funerals in Protestant churches; priests were encouraged to perform mass facing the congregation, rather than facing the altar; and priests were allowed to perform mass in languages other than Latin, so that parishioners could finally understand what was being said throughout the service.

It's the birthday of novelist Elmore Leonard, (books by this author) born in New Orleans in 1925. Straight out of college he got a job at an advertising agency, so he would get up and write every morning at 5 a.m. before going into the office. He published some pulp westerns, and then started writing crime fiction, and went on to write 43 books. Many of them have been turned into movies, including his novels Get Shorty (1990), Be Cool (1999), and Rum Punch (1992), which Quentin Tarantino made into the film Jackie Brown.

He said, "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."

The film To Have and Have Not premiered on this day in 1944. It was based on the novel To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway, which was a hard novel for Hemingway to write, and took him about four years. He had been accused of being politically apathetic, so in this novel he tried to engage with the politics of Cuba and Key West, but the result was generally panned by critics. Philip Rahv of the Partisan Review summed it up: "In transcending his political indifference, he has not, however, at the same time transcended his political ignorance." Hemingway published the novel in 1937, and in 1939, he sold the film, radio and television rights for $10,000.

The film To Have and Have Not opened on this day at the Hollywood Theater in Manhattan for an exclusive showing, and it grossed $46,200 in its first week at that one theater, and went on to be a blockbuster. It was billed as "Ernest Hemingway's (books by this author) To Have and Have Not," but in reality it was based very loosely on the novel. A man named Jules Furthman wrote the screenplay, but the government objected to it because it portrayed Cuba in an unflattering way, and in those days—the Batista regime—the U.S. and Cuba were allies. So Warner Brothers told the film's director that the film would have to be cancelled, even though production had already started.

So the director took it to his friend William Faulkner, (books by this author) a screenwriter on the Warner Brothers payroll. Faulkner took the script and rewrote it, changing the setting to Martinique, imagining a new political conflict, combining characters, dropping others, and rewriting dialogue. But since it had attracted the government's notice, all the changes to the script had to be sent to the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information. Since they were on a tight recording schedule, Faulkner was writing each scene about three days before it was shot, and he helped make changes even during filming. Everyone was pleased with the result, but Faulkner himself wrote to his agent, "After being present for a while at the frantic striving of motion pictures to justify their existence in a time of strife and terror, I have about come to the conclusion which they dare not admit: that the printed word and all its ramifications and photographications is nihil nisi fui; in a word, a dollar mark striving frantically not to DISSOLVE into the symbol 1A."

To Have and Have Not is celebrated as a collaboration between two Nobel Prize winners, although Hemingway and Faulkner did not actually interact during the process of making the film, and apparently Faulkner never mentioned Hemingway at all. And neither one of them wrote the most famous line in the film: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." It was improvised on the spot by the director as a screen test for Lauren Bacall, and she did so well that Faulkner wrote it into the screenplay.

It was on this day in 1975 that Saturday Night Live premiered, with George Carlin (books by this author) as host. The first sketch had Michael O'Donaghue as an ESL teacher attempting to teach English to his Eastern European student, John Belushi. Janis Ian and Billy Preston played music, Andy Kaufman and the Muppets were special guests, and Paul Simon made an appearance. There was a fake advertisement for triple-blade razors, a product obviously considered ridiculous by comedians in 1975, just after the two-blade razor came out—the faux commercial ended, "Because you'll believe anything." These days, there are many more blades on razors—in 2006, Schickette announced plans for a nine-bladed razor—and Saturday Night Live is now in its 35th season.

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




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