Nov. 30, 2011

Deciding on the Day

by Hal Sirowitz

I can't see you next weekend,
she said. I'll be out of town.
I doubt I'll be available that following
weekend either. In fact.
I don't see a weekend
in which I'm not tied up. I can only
see you on a weekday.
If you think that means you
can have a weekend relationship
with someone else while you're
seeing me during the week
you're mistaken. I won't stand for it.
I'd appreciate you telling me
your decision as soon as possible
because I have another guy
who's pretty quick.

"Deciding on the Day" by Hal Sirowitz, from Before, During and After. © Soft Skull Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Irish author Jonathan Swift (1667) (books by this author), born in Dublin. Swift's masterpiece was Gulliver's Travels (1726), the story of a man journeying through a series of exotic places and meeting all kinds of strange creatures, including a disgusting race of beings called Yahoos, which he eventually realizes are humans. The novel was full of vicious inside jokes about the politicians of the day, and Swift was so nervous about publishing it that he dropped the manuscript off at the publisher's house in the middle of the night.

Swift was also a wicked satirist; his most famous — or infamous — example is "A Modest Proposal." Its full title is "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick." Published in 1729, the essay proposes a solution to the problem of Irish poverty: Encourage the Irish poor to sell their children to the English nobility for culinary purposes. The essay begins: "I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."

Today is the birthday of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain (1835) (books by this author), born in Florida, Missouri. He worked as a riverboat pilot, a miner, and a journalist before becoming an author.

In his unfinished novel, The Mysterious Stranger, he wrote, "Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination. No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those."

One of the most quotable of authors, Mark Twain said:

"It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races."

And "Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so."

And "Familiarity breeds contempt — and children."

And "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."

It's the birthday of Canadian author L[ucy] M[aud] Montgomery (1874) (books by this author), born in the village of Clifton on Prince Edward Island, a place she would later immortalize in her beloved book Anne of Green Gables (1908) and its sequels. She was not yet two years old when her mother died of tuberculosis, and she went to live with her grandparents on their sprawling farm. She was imaginative and sensitive, and — much like her heroine, orphan Anne Shirley — she was horrified by any kind of teasing. She divided her time between playing with dolls and engaging in tomboyish exploits like climbing trees and building forts with neighborhood boys. She started keeping a journal when she was nine, writing, "Only lonely people keep diaries" in one entry. Her first poem was published when she was 15, and she wrote, "The moment we see our first darling brain-child arrayed in black type is never to be forgotten."

Her Anne books, originally very popular, fell out of favor after World War I; they were too sunny and optimistic for a world whose tastes had turned darker. She and her husband, a Presbyterian minister, both suffered from crippling depression and nervous fatigue. She died — purportedly of heart disease — in 1942; her granddaughter later revealed that Montgomery may have committed suicide.

Today is the birthday of Winston Churchill (1874) (books by this author), born at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. He had an unhappy childhood, and was a poor student, so his father settled on a military career for the boy. He served in Cuba and, later, India. He read extensively during this time, to make up for his spotty education, and in 1899 he resigned his military post to become a politician and a writer. He lost his first Parliamentary election by a narrow margin, and went to South Africa to report on the Boer War for The Morning Post. He was taken prisoner there after rescuing an armored train, then escaped from the military prison. He returned home a hero.

He had a speech impediment, which affected his confidence in debates, and though he was a master of prepared speeches, he suffered in impromptu ones. One Conservative leader said he carried "heavy but not very mobile guns." He became known for his ability to rally disheartened Britons during World War II. One of many examples: "The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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