Nov. 14, 2012

Meeting the Light Completely

by Jane Hirshfield

The text for this poem is no longer available.

"Meeting the Light Completely" by Jane Hirshfield, from The October Palace. © Harper Perennial, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of political satirist P.J. O'Rourke (books by this author), born in Toledo, Ohio (1947). After a conservative upbringing, he started his writing life in the 1960s as a "left-leaning hippie," but claims that he was never ever a Democrat. He said, "I went from being a Republican to being a Maoist, then back to being a Republican again."

He went to college, and said: "I thought being a college student was so dull, so bourgeois, so predictable. I wanted to be a race car driver, a soldier of fortune or a rock and roll star. But I didn't have a race car. Soldier of fortune, I guess I could have done, but they wanted me to serve a stint in Vietnam first." He got out of the draft in 1970 by making a list of the drugs he had abused and giving that list to the Army. He chose to be a writer because "it was the '60s — there was no quality control on anything. If I wrote, who's to say that I wasn't a writer?"

He's published more than a dozen books, including Republican Party Reptile (1987), Give War a Chance (1992), and most recently Holidays in Heck (2011), a sequel to 1989's Holidays in Hell, a collection of travel writing in which O'Rourke visited war zones and other trouble spots around the world. This time around, he traveled to places like Galapagos and Disneyland.

O'Rourke, who said: "One of the problems with being a writer is that all of your idiocies are still in print somewhere. I strongly support paper recycling."

It's the birthday of children's novelist Astrid Lindgren (books by this author), born in Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She grew up on a farm in southern Sweden, playing with her brothers and sisters and listening to her family tell stories. Eventually, she got married, had a daughter, and gave up working at age 24 in order to stay home and take care of her kids. One day, her daughter, Karin, was sick in bed, so Astrid started telling her stories of a spunky, strong, independent girl who mocks adults and manages to get by just fine without a family, caution, education, or the opposite sex. And that girl was Pippi Longstocking, with magical powers, a pet monkey, freckles, and bright red pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. The book was published as Pippi Långstrump (1945) in Sweden, Pippi Longstocking in English, and it became one of the most beloved children's books of all time.

It's the birthday of cartoonist and author and William Steig (books by this author), born in New York City (1907). When he was 23, The New Yorker bought his first cartoon for $40. He collected his cartoons in books such as Small Fry (1944), Spinky Sulks (1988), and Our Miserable Life (1990). It was only late in his life that he began writing books for children. In 1990, he wrote Shrek!, about a green ogre whose name means "fear" in Yiddish and who has nightmares about fields of flowers and happy children who won't stop hugging and kissing him. He eventually meets an ugly princess and they fall instantly in love. Shrek! ends with the line: "And they lived horribly ever after, scaring the socks off all who fell afoul of them."

It's the birthday of Claude Monet, born in Paris (1840). He and his friend Auguste Renoir were among the first European painters to take their canvases outside to paint directly from nature. They would often work as quickly as they could, so that their paintings looked like sketches, and that sketchy style became known as Impressionism. Monet spent the rest of his career exploring the idea that you can never really see the same thing twice. In a single day, he would often paint the same subject half a dozen times, from slightly different angles and in slightly different light, spending no more than about an hour on each canvas.

In the last 30 years of his life, he painted almost nothing but the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. Monet bought the four-acre property in 1883, built the bridges, dug the lake, and selected all the flowers and plants himself. His gardens are now the property of the French Academy of Fine Arts, which hosts visitors from all over the world.

Claude Monet, who said: "I am following Nature without being able to grasp her. I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."

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




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