Dec. 26, 2012

Year's End

by Ted Kooser

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red feather on the wind.

"Year's End" by Ted Kooser, from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African cultural holiday first celebrated in 1966. The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits," and the first-fruits celebration is recorded in African history from as far back as ancient Egyptian times.

Today, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African culture and unity that started during the Black Freedom Movement in the United States. It is also celebrated in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, particularly in Brazil, and in African communities within Europe. Kwanzaa was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who made the holiday cultural rather than religious so that people of all faiths could come together and celebrate.

It's the birthday of columnist Doris Lilly (books by this author), born in South Pasadena, California (1926). She wrote society columns for the New York Post and the New York Daily Mirror, writing mostly about celebrities. She once admitted that her columns were silly and that the people she wrote about were shallow, but she said, "They're pleasant and they smell good and they eat well and drink good wines, and that's all right."

Her first book was How to Marry a Millionaire (1951), which was made into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe. She wrote a later version called How to Marry a Billionaire (1984). She said: "A million dollars isn't much money these days. You can't even get a decent house for that."

She also wrote for Ladies' Home Journal, Avenue, McCall's, and Cosmopolitan, and she wrote film scripts. Lilly never married, but she did date Ronald Reagan for about three years, when he was between marriages to Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis.

Lilly is believed to be the one of the women who served as inspiration for Holly Golighty, the character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Thomas Gray (books by this author), born in London (1716). He gave us the phrase "Where ignorance is bliss — 'Tis folly to be wise." All of Thomas's early poems were written in Latin, of which he had remarkable control, but we know him for his masterful poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language. The poem begins,

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller (books by this author), born in New York City (1891). He was rebellious by nature. He said, "From five to ten were the most important years of my life; I lived in the street and acquired the typical American gangster spirit."

With money his father gave him intended to finance him through Cornell, he went on a trip through the Southwest and Alaska. When he returned, he went to work in his father's tailor shop, but left after trying to unionize the workforce. After that, he ran a speakeasy in Greenwich Village, but eventually moved to France for nine years. While there, Henry wrote about his bohemian experiences in Tropic of Cancer (1934), of which he said: "This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing." The book was immediately banned in the U.S. for its obscenities and graphically sexual content. In 1964, the Supreme Court finally ruled that Tropic of Cancer could not be suppressed. He had already sold 2 million copies of it by this time.

Today is the birthday of the humorist and writer David Sedaris (books by this author), born in Binghamton, New York (1956) He grew up in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, in a family of eight, and there endured a childhood marked by an obsessive-compulsive disorder, juvenile Tourette's syndrome, and a lisp.

He bounced around to a few colleges, studying visual art, and landed in Chicago to pursue writing in the mid-1980s. There he was discovered reading in a comedy club by the radio show host Ira Glass, who invited him to appear on his weekly show, The Wild Room. Sedaris' self-deprecating stories were popular and led to national exposure and a book deal. Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays came out in 1994 and showed off Sedaris' deadpan humor, mostly pulled from his own life. The SantaLand Diaries tells of a stint he spent working as an elf for Macy's department store. He followed with more autobiographical stories, like his collection Naked (1997), in which he wrote about coming out as a gay man.

Since the early '90s, Sedaris has been a frequent contributor on the nationally syndicated radio show This American Life. He now divides his time between France and London, where he lives with his partner of more than 20 years. He doesn't drive, gets by with no cellphone, no email address, and still does his writing at a typewriter.

David Sedaris, who said, "At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.

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




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