Feb. 15, 2014


by Joyce Sutphen

My father taught me how to eat breakfast
those mornings when it was my turn to help
him milk the cows. I loved rising up from

the darkness and coming quietly down
the stairs while the others were still sleeping.
I'd take a bowl from the cupboard, a spoon

from the drawer, and slip into the pantry
where he was already eating spoonfuls
of cornflakes covered with mashed strawberries

from our own strawberry fields forever.
Didn't talk much—except to mention how
good the strawberries tasted or the way

those clouds hung over the hay barn roof.
Simple—that's how we started up the day.

"Breakfast" by Joyce Sutphen from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 20I0. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of artist, writer, and filmmaker Miranda July (books by this author), born Miranda Grossinger in Barre, Vermont (1974). She grew up in Berkeley and attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, but dropped out after a couple of years — she was frustrated with her film class, which she said was "all guys, and every project had a gun or a dog in it." So she moved to Portland and started doing performance art. She said: "Nothing I can come up with these days is as scary as opening for punk bands in bars back before anyone knew who I was. Sometimes these audiences were so confounded, so unfamiliar with the idea of 'performance' that they would get angry and yell at me while I performed." But she kept at it, and eventually was invited to do installations and performance art at such prestigious museums as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim Museum.

The novelist Rick Moody came to see one of her performances and told her that he was secretly in a rock band. She told him that she was secretly a writer, and he offered to read her stories. He thought they were great, although he gave her some suggestions like: "It would be good if something happens outside the narrator's head." So she worked on her fiction and soon she was getting published in prestigious journals, and she published a book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007).

July also wrote, directed, and starred in the film Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Jury Prize for "originality of vision." At the Cannes Film Festival, it won the Caméra d'Or for best first film.

The novelist Dave Eggers asked her if she had trouble figuring out which artistic medium she should use for any given idea, and she said: "I write down the idea in my notebook, and then I put a little letter in the corner of the page in a circle. S for story, N for novel, M for movie, A for art, P for performance, B for business."

She said: "We humans are here because nothing can be perfect. There always have to be some living things that are unsatisfied, itchy, trying too hard. If it was all just animals and rocks and lettuce, the gods wouldn't feel like they had enough to do."

It's the birthday of American composer and pianist Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo (1905), the son of a musician. In the mid-1920s, he met lyricist Ted Koehler; together they collaborated on such tunes as "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and "I've Got the World on a String." Among his many Broadway and Hollywood songs are "It's Only a Paper Moon," "That Old Black Magic," and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

On this date in 2001, a working draft of the human genome was published in the journal Nature. This draft covered about 83 percent of the genome. The entire Human Genome Project was completed in April 2003 — two years ahead of schedule.

In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick had published a paper that first described the structure of DNA, and they hypothesized that this structure "suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." DNA is the blueprint that develops and directs the function of an organism. Its molecules take the form of a double helix: two twisting strands that are linked together like the sides of a ladder. They're made up of four different chemical units, called nucleotide bases, which match up, forming the base pairs that make up the rungs of the ladder. The goal of the Human Genome Project was to sequence and map all the genes in the blueprint that makes up a human being, using the resources and brainpower of scientists all over the world; it's the largest single biological investigation in modern science.

Funding for the project originally came from the United States Department of Energy's Office of Health and Environmental Research; they had been supporting research into understanding the human genome for several years. Once the Human Genome Project was ready to get underway in 1990, the DOE coordinated its efforts with the National Institutes of Health. James Watson — who had first described DNA's structure in 1953 — was heading up the NIH's National Center for Genome Research at that time. There was a similar project in the private sector, run by a company called Celera Genomics. Celera planned to patent as many as 300 genes, but President Clinton declared in 2000 that the genome sequences could not be patented, and said that the results should be made available to the public. As a result, the human gene sequence is freely available on the Internet, but Clinton's announcement sent Celera's stock plummeting and cost the biotech sector about $50 billion in market capitalization.

Scientists expected to find that humans had more than 100,000 genes; it turns out we have only about 20,000 to 30,000 — about the same as mice. The genes themselves are mostly similar to mice and other mammals too, with only a few exceptions. The Human Genome Project is the highest profile DNA sequencing project, but there are others that map the genomes of other organisms, like fruit flies, yeast, plants, and microbes.

The next phase of the research, the International HapMap Project, aims to establish a list of common genetic variants, since an individual's genome — with the exception of identical twins and clones — is unique to them. Researchers hope to identify the variants that cause higher risk of diseases like cancer and diabetes, and they also hope to develop more accurate and effective treatments tailored to these genetic variants. Biotech companies have developed tests to show whether a person has a genetic predisposition to develop things like cystic fibrosis, liver disease, and breast cancer. But there are also ethical concerns, like whether the information contained in a genome is likely to be used to discriminate against an individual when it comes to insurance or employment. The Human Genome Project formed and funded the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications program to consider such questions.

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
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show