Feb. 19, 2012

The Same Cold

by Stephen Dunn

In Minnesota the serious cold arrived
like no cold I'd previously experienced,
an in-your-face honesty to it, a clarity
that always took me by surprise.
On blizzard nights with wires down
or in the dead-battery dawn
the cold made good neighbors of us all,
made us moral because we might need
something moral in return, no hitchhiker
left on the road, not even some frozen
strange-looking stranger turned away
from our door. After a spell of it,
I remember, zero would feel warm—
people out for walks, jackets open,
ice fishermen in the glory
of their shacks moved to Nordic song.
The cold took over our lives,
lived in every conversation, as compelling
as local dirt or local sport.
If bitten by it, stranded somewhere,
a person would want
to lie right down in it and sleep.
Come February, some of us needed
to scream, hurt ourselves, divorce.
Once, on Route 23, thirty below,
my Maverick seized up, and a man
with a blanket and a candy bar, a man
for all weather, stopped and drove me home.
It was no big thing to him, the savior.
Just two men, he said, in the same cold.

"The Same Cold" by Stephen Dunn, from Different Hours. © W.W. Norton, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the scientist who first proposed that the Earth revolved around the Sun, Nicolaus Copernicus, born in the ancient city of Toruń, Poland (1473).

The Christian Church, Protestants and Catholics alike, held the belief that God had created the Universe just for mankind and so the Earth must be the center of it. But that did not fit with what Copernicus knew about physics and the motion of the planets — he couldn't make the math work or match his observations — and he realized that, if he created a new model and moved the Sun to the center, the equations all functioned much more smoothly.

Sometime between 1510 and 1514, Copernicus published his "Little Commentary" on his new model, a 40-page outline of his heliocentric — sun-centered — universe, which he sent to various astronomers while he continued working on a much longer, more detailed discussion of the idea. That work became On the Revolutions (1543), which Copernicus dedicated to Pope Paul III, hoping the Pope would protect him from vilification for having removed the Earth from its sacred place. On the Revolutions hardly created a revolution when he wrote it; it was groundbreaking and controversial but, contrary to popular lore, the Church didn't immediately condemn him for it.

It's the birthday of the author of The Surrealist Manifesto (1924), André Breton (books by this author), born in Tinchebray, France (1896).

As a young man, Breton was interested in mental illness and Freud's theory of the unconscious. Breton studied to become a doctor but never qualified, and in World War I served in a neurological ward for the wounded. After the war ended, Breton joined the Dada movement, an anti-war art movement that rejected convention and emphasized the illogic and absurd, but he was disturbed by Dada's negativity and wanted instead to figure out if man could be reconciled with the world.

In 1924, Breton wrote The First Surrealist Manifesto, recommending mankind put aside inhibition and prejudice and adopt a new state of being where dream and fantasy are joined to the everyday world. The manifesto was meant to be a revolutionary document and was signed by a number of French artists and writers.

It's the birthday of novelist Carson McCullers (books by this author), born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia (1917), known for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and The Member of the Wedding (1946). McCullers had originally planned to be a concert pianist and began studying music at the age of five. But after contracting rheumatic fever, she was left without the stamina for the rigors of practice and performance. McCullers left Georgia at 17 to try studying the piano at the Juilliard School in New York. But on her second day in the city, she lost her tuition money and her time at music school ended practically before it began, which led her to try her hand at writing.

It's the birthday of Amy Tan (books by this author), author of The Joy Luck Club (1989), born to Chinese immigrant parents in Oakland, California (1952).

It's the birthday of writer Siri Hustvedt (books by this author), born in Northfield, Minnesota (1955). She is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Sorrows of an American (2008), The Summer Without Men (2011), and the memoir The Shaking Woman: A History of My Nerves (2010).

On this day in 1963, journalist Betty Friedan (books by this author) published her first book, The Feminine Mystique, which begins: "The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'" That question would end up sparking a second wave of feminism in the United States, would permanently transform the American social fabric, and the book would come to be seen as a pioneering moment in American history and one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.

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




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