Mar. 31, 2012

The good, the bad and the inconvenient

by Marge Piercy

Gardening is often a measured cruelty:
what is to live and what is to be torn
up by its roots and flung on the compost
to rot and give its essence to new soil.

It is not only the weeds I seize.
go down the row of new spinach—
their little bright Vs crowding—
and snatch every other, flinging

their little bodies just as healthy,
just as sound as their neighbors
but judged, by me, superfluous.
We all commit crimes too small

for us to measure, the ant soldiers
we stomp, whose only aim was to
protect, to feed their vast family.
It is I who decide which beetles

are "good" and which are "bad"
as if each is not whole in its kind.
We eat to live and so do they,
the locusts, the grasshoppers,

the flea beetles and aphids and slugs.
By bad I mean inconvenient. Nothing
we do is simple, without consequence
and each act is shadowed with death.

"The good, the bad and the inconvenient" by Marge Piercy, from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Daylight Saving Time went into effect in the United States for the first time on this date in 1918. Benjamin Franklin was the first person to come up with the idea of changing our clocks to take advantage of the longer days. He was serving as a delegate in Paris in 1784, and noticed that Parisians tended to sleep late in the mornings. He wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay arguing that sunlight was going to waste in the mornings and would be much more appreciated in the evenings. By changing the clocks and shifting the daylight hours later, he wrote, people could take advantage of more natural light and save money on candles and lamp oil.

Today is the birthday of philosopher René Descartes (books by this author), born in La Haye en Touraine, France (1596), called the father of modern philosophy, but he considered himself a mathematician and scientist. He became interested in philosophy when he heard that the church persecuted Galileo for his scientific theories. Descartes realized some of his own theories were also controversial, so he wrote a book called Discourse on Method (1637), about the necessity of doubt in scientific inquiry. He also wrote about beginning to doubt everything about his life, even the fact of his own existence. But in the process of doing so, he realized that he couldn't doubt the existence of his own thoughts, and he produced his most famous line: "I think, therefore I am."

It's the birthday of the poet Andrew Marvell (books by this author), born in Winestead, England (1621). His most famous poem is "To His Coy Mistress," about a man trying to convince a young virgin to sleep with him. It begins, "Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime," and contains the lines, "But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Marge Piercy (books by this author), born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). She grew up poor, one of the only white girls in a black neighborhood, and she was the first member of her family to go to college. She published her first book, a collection of poems called Breaking Camp, in 1968. Her most recent publication is a nonfiction book about the Jewish tradition of the Passover Seder, called Pesach for the Rest of Us (2007).

Oklahoma! opened on Broadway on this date in 1943. It was based on a play called Green Grow the Lilacs (1930), by Lynn Riggs. Though the play, which was about settlers in the Oklahoma Territory, featured some old folk songs, it wasn't a musical of the Broadway variety. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were both admirers of the play, and they had both independently tried to adapt it to the musical format, but their respective songwriting partners — Lorenz Hart and Jerome Kern — weren't interested. So Rodgers approached Hammerstein about it. Usually, musicals were made up of fairly thin and joke-riddled plotlines that only served to string together the most important element: the songs. But Rodgers and Hammerstein were both committed to making the songs fit the story, rather than the other way around. One of Broadway's most beloved musicals, as well as one of its most successful partnerships, was born out of their collaboration.

Nobody expected the show to do very well, but Oklahoma! was an immediate smash hit, and the first big Broadway blockbuster. It ran for more than 2,200 performances.

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




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