When in Doubt, G to the Rescue

Most of the time, life is quite distracting. I have trouble deciding where to focus my time and energy. The circus in Washington is quite disconcerting and tragic; the fires in the Arctic are potentially even more troubling; and then, there are more personal issues like new career vs full retirement and self-actualization in general.

I wish I had written the following, but alas, Garrison Keillor beat me to it. I swear, I was working on something very close to it when I read this today.

“Someday you’ll understand what I’m telling you

My birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.

I reached my present age thanks to medical advances that didn’t exist for my uncles (than whom I am now somewhat older) nor for Dostoevsky (59) or Thoreau (44). Pharmaceuticals would’ve enabled Dostoevsky to retire from writing agonizing novels and switch over to light comedy in his old age and Thoreau to leave Concord and move to New York and find a girlfriend. He went out on a cold rainy night to look at trees and caught bronchitis, which agitated his TB and he went into a steep decline. As he lay dying, his aunt asked if he’d made his peace with God, and Henry said, “I was not aware that we had ever quarreled.” So he had a good last line, which many people don’t, but think what he and his girlfriend could’ve done with thirty more years. Go into the canoe business, buy a house with a lawn, beget kiddoes, enjoy evenings at home, Isabelle lying with her head in Henry’s lap, reading “Walden,” laughing at the funny parts.

Life is unbearably precious. Two heroes of mine died in car crashes when I was in college, and yet I myself, a couple years later, driving north on Highway 47 in my 1956 Ford, on a straight stretch in Isanti County, gunned it to 100 mph just to see what it felt like. It felt good. Then a pickup truck eased out of a driveway and onto the road. This was before seat belts. In a split second, I swerved to go behind him and it was a good choice — he didn’t back up — otherwise he and I would’ve been forever joined in a headline. I hope he has enjoyed his survival. Whenever I relive those fifteen seconds, all regrets vanish, all complaints evaporate.

I am now older than my older brother, who died ten years ago at 71. He slipped while skating and fell backward and hit his head. I think of him often. He was a scientist and engineer, a problem-solver, a sailor, a family man, and when faced with a personal dilemma, it’s good to ask, “What would Philip have said?” He tends to recommend patience, attention to detail, and taking a break for a few hours, perhaps on a boat, during which the answer may suddenly occur to you.

I don’t brood about death as the actual date approaches. My mother (97) enjoyed herself into her mid-nineties, flew places, saw her ancestral Scotland, cruised the coast of Alaska, and seemed, all in all, happier than when she had six little kids to worry about. We grew up near the Mississippi and she thought extensively about drowning. When cousin Roger (17) drowned, trying to impress his girlfriend Susan, Mother sent me to swimming lessons at the Y, but I couldn’t bear it, the instructor was such a bully, so I went to the library instead, a wise choice on my part, and I grew up to earn my way as a writer rather than as a professional swimmer.

Nature is not interested in my twilight years; past 30, semen develops problems, man becomes irrelevant in the furtherance of the species. God created erectile dysfunction because old men can’t be trusted to raise kids. Living past 70 is an artificial idea, a lovely idea, like flying or anesthesia, but still. So an old man needs to justify his continuance, taking up space and being a traffic hazard on the freeway by driving the speed limit. My reason for living is simply this: I am still working and my best work may be yet ahead of me.

I say, 77 is a fine age, way beyond 17 or 37 or 57, but take your time getting there, and remember to marry someone who is good company and can carry one end of the conversation and sometimes both. There’s the real message. That’s worth reading to the end of the column to find out.”

– – –

Reprinted without permission. I’m more of an ask forgiveness kind of guy.

What’s Next

I won’t be posting on Facebook for awhile. I’ve decided to use this spot.

Facebook annoys me. I’m tired of a virtual life. I need more actual living. I want to…

…hike more
…write more
…sit by a fountain and listen more
…read the Bible more
…pray more
…help out more
…split wood more
…sing more
…go fishing more often
…play my guitar more
…listen to music more
…watch fireflies more often
…drink more cold beer
…play more volleyball
…go for more bike rides
…walk along the beach more
…laugh more
…read the books on my shelves more
…travel more
…go bowling more
…even clean my office more
…talk with flesh-and-blood friends more
(just a partial list)

Facebook has made me ADD-distracted (Gerry Brooks explains what it’s like, below)

Facebook is also too toxic lately. I need a cleanse. Garrison says that “Facebook is okay but if it went away, we could learn to sit with people over coffee and conduct conversations.” I agree with the second half, but I think “okay” is too strong of a descriptor. Facebook is “meh” to use the already-old hip jargon. I think Jerry Seinfeld has made a valiant effort to get people sitting with coffee and conducting conversations on his recent Netflix series (which I love). He’s subtly re-teaching us how to be with each other.

Regarding my non-virtual life and being with flesh-and-blood friends…

I was recently part of a committee that recommended a new head pastor for our church (She’s amazing by the way…come and visit us in a couple months when she starts). I take pride in my ability to listen and contribute when I’m on committees. And I made some new friends along the way; a fun way to volunteer my time for an important task.

I am part of a men’s group at our church that meets (most) every Tuesday morning at 7 am. to discuss a book and to connect. I have enjoyed getting to know each of these men as we walk on our faith journeys.

I’m in a gospel choir called the Earl Nelson Singers that meets on Monday nights to practice singing and to get to know each other better. We sing in concert sometimes too. All fun (and praise).

You can’t do these things on Facebook. And these are the things I want to do more.

I’m not saying I’ll never look at Facebook. Just look, not lurk (or post). What’s next for me is less and less screen time. Yes, I like to play a few games, and communicate via email and text some, but I am consciously disconnecting from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I’ll see you here…or in person. Garrison goes on to say that “Comedy and compassion are what you need to make your way in the world.” Makes sense to me. Maybe I’ll go find Garrison and see if he wants to talk about comedy over a cup of coffee. Or I could start my own show: Armenians in Restaurants getting Meze (appetizers); or Kabodians in Bars drinking Beer; or Wanna-be Comedians in Nightclubs getting Booed.


P.S. If you’re continuing on Facebook, here’s a couple tips about talking with difficult people. First of all, good for you, for sticking with it. I jumped ship as my method. My friend, Troy Hicks, wrote a piece on Peer Review in Public that used four things to keep in mind when commenting on a peer’s text, which I believe is good advice for most any communication —

(Troy’s piece is worth reading and you can also annotate the book, Annotation, and feel a part of the larger project)

And I recently read The Faith Club in men’s group; it’s a welcome reminder that, while some conversations (for example, about religion) are difficult, we shouldn’t avoid them. It’s not necessarily advice I am following in my life right now, but I aspire to it.

Commencing into Success…and a poem

Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).

Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.

Instead, at 6 am

I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen

And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —

I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound

And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved

Morning.

Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.

I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,

Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water

In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.

Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action

Morning bliss

————
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?

Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.

Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.

Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:

* “Follow your heart…within reason”

* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”

*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”

* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”

I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.


Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time

I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.

Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.

A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.

2009

Danger of a Single Story

I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.

Other resources:

* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.

* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

* As the Women’s World Cup winds down, here’s an eye-opening article about how women’s professional soccer players do what they love in the midst of sacrifices.
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Finally, a blessing to all of us as we strive to live the most whole, rich lives we can…

May you live in peace
May your heart always be open
May you awaken to the divine light deep within
May you be healed
May you be a source of healing for others

(This may be from a Tibetan Buddhist Prayer)

Loss of

Loss of

The same people that research
Family histories —
They still write physical letters
To others.
Besides that, letter writing is dead.

And I’m still grieving
The fun
I had with it.

Creating a letter
Was like writing a symphony.
It was mine
But I was gifting it
So someone else —
That I cared about —
Could have this message, this song,
This part of my mind and heart.

Letter writing was an opportunity to share
A bit of my creative soul
With a loved one.

(That old-person-thing where they can’t stand all the changes in the world — I’m feeling it)

Innovation is allegedly a sign of creativity
But
Creativity is a sign of blending heart and mind
And soul

Most days
I don’t miss changing the ribbon on
A typewriter

It was messy and often tricky to get right

And yet
Maybe this phone-focused life, world,
These relationships

Need some messy time. Need to feel that
Uneasiness

Relationships are tricky to get right
In ways emoticons
And textspeak lingo
Can’t convey.
We’ve come to expect our
Relationships to load quickly.
When the dreaded, perpetual spinning
Circle of waiting
Appears,
In human form,
We are flustered, confused, stymied.

Can we go back
To simpler times?
Has too much changed?
Progress at ANY cost?

There are moments in
Our days
When we have time
To disconnect from our work at hand.
Instead of singing
Or
Writing a letter
Or
Calling a friend
Or
Meditating
Or
Resting —
We open our phones.

We suckle at
The techno breast
And it feeds us
Techno milk
And it’s not what we need.
It’s mind-numbing shit.
It’s not symphony writing.
It’s escape
When we need
Touch
Rest
Contact
Attention from

“What do you want from me?”

This poem was included in the Writer’s Almanac for today and spoke to me about expectations.

House Poet Wanted
by Anita S. Pulier

Experienced, articulate,
references required.
Job requires weaving
the fibers of household matter
and daily routines into an examined life.
Must explain the dagger through the heart,
the nail piercing the skull,
memories triggered by the scent
of Mamas over-salted soup.
Applicant must define the life worth living,
identify ancestors stuck together
in that box of sepia photos,
be plain spoken, persistent,
willing to be misunderstood,
interpreted to death.

Reading “New” Poets

Here are two poems by poets who are new to me. The first was recommended by a poet friend and I had the honor of hearing the second poet read her poems recently (thanks for the book, Janine!). I’m sharing these poems — on this last day of Poetry Month — as a reminder to look for new poets, new perspectives, new expressions of life’s joys…even in sorrow. These poems touched my heart as I think back over loved ones who have died in recent years; somewhere between dreams, embraces, and memories I see them still. For more information about each poet, click on the poem’s title.

The Embrace
by Mark Doty, 1953

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out — at work maybe? —
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Water Lilies at the Musee D’Orsay
by Janine Certo

I study my father across the gallery
in his wheelchair, bald head angled up,
swaying under eight by eight feet
of psychedelic blues and living greens.
I once read that water lilies are always
hungry, and suddenly I picture them
voraciously pulling him into the pond,
his morphine pump loosened
and drifting away, his body turning,
nerves finally cooled. Blossoms
cover his skin, their petals cocoon him.
Then my father wheels his chair
around, his face shocked with light.
He’s searching for me, water in his eyes,
my red purse ridiculous on his lap.

A few poems that have been taste-tested

Last week, I was part of a poetry reading at the East Lansing Public Library. I was encouraged by the audience’s reaction to a few of my new poems. I offer them here, as a April-is-Poetry-Month salute. The audience laughed all the right places (thank you to every single one of you) and that reaction was a wake up call to me to write more funny stuff. I’m not sure that you’ll see me doing stand up comedy in the future, but I have started reading Comedy Writing Secrets and aiming toward a more humorous tone in my poems. We’ll see where it leads.

A few, unrelated Haiku

Nuthatch speeds from branch
To feeder to branch and back —
Life’s rat race displayed

Life isn’t five-seven-five
Life rhymes sometimes
Nearly

Most of my exercise
Is pulling myself out of bed
To write this

— — —
FYI: A dancing madrone (below)

How You Know You’re in the Northwest

First of all, you and your car
Are in line for a ferry.
You’ve been on an island
Where time is inconsequential
And you are temporarily
Giving up all that
To make the ferry
At a certain time

The air is crisp
Even early in the afternoon sun.
A Madrone’s sensuous bar
Catches your eye
As it dances out through the wood

A sporty, older couple
Sips coffee
In their matching caps,
Chuckling at secret jokes

A human beauty
Madrone-like in her mystery
Walks by, not really
Noticing you.

In your sideview mirror,
You watch her stop
Suddenly
Putting her hand in the window
Of a stranger’s car
To pet a dog
She doesn’t know.

This goes on for a time.
You can’t keep your eyes
Off her enjoyment.

As she walks on,
You realize
That you
Are jealous
Of
The
Dog.

— — —

Apologies

I intended

To be

A better person —
The dad we wish
We had,
The one who stops
The car
To help the stranger
And does actually help.

One of the
Pure of heart
24/7, 365

One of the
Type A organizers,
As least where
My desk is concerned

One of the
People who never
Need to apologize

But I do.

And so

I apologize

To everyone

For all of it.

There.
That does feel better.
Was it good for you?
Let’s get on with
Life!

— — —

Anonymous Incognito

I can’t tell you
How many times
I’ve been enjoying
A poem, only to look down
Or flip the page
And the great Anonymous
Was the poet

Flying under the radar
With immense humility
Anon nearly always
Satisfies.

And Anon’s versatility —
One minute rhyming
Like a master,
The next a short
Free verse picture of life.

And timeless, my goodness,
Anon never dies.
Anonymous has a self-appointed
Androgynous immortality.

So my dear Anonymous
Who could be listening now,
Probably is,
I salute you.

On so many levels —
You are classy
In your stealth.
I am in awe of
your prolific volumes.
Maybe it’s your humble
Nature that’s kept you
Alive so long,
Albeit incognito.

Good Things Come in Threes

I get a lot of junk mail everyday. Both the snail mail and email variety. I don’t even see the really terrible stuff because the good people at gmail collect it all in my Spam folder so I don’t have to look at it. On the other hand, Garrison Keillor sends me mail electronically every day via The Writer’s Almanac and weekly via the column he writes on his website. Those personal messages from GK not only far outweigh all the crap I get, they also keep me turning on my computer every morning.

His recent column called “So that’s over, and what’s next?” is a fine blend of old man humor and spicy politics with a dash of musical fun. In the column, Garrison explains that he attended three amazing musical events in a week. He notes that “…all three had moments that threw me out of the plane and opened my parachute.”

After reading the column, I realized that I, also, had three parachute-opening experiences (though not musical) this past week. Here are my recent top three OMG, felt-like-I-was-flying moments:

#1 — The MSU Spartan men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16. I really hate to agree with Jay Bilas, but “the Spartans should not be this good.” We have had so many injuries to key players that we should just be mediocre this year. Once the team’s health started unraveling, so did my expectations. But we found a way to beat Michigan THREE times and win the Big Ten title and tournament. Starters and bench players alike have stepped up their game; who knows what tonight holds in the Sweet 16 game against LSU? It’s been an amazing run for a gritty team. I’d like to see Winston score and pass like crazy. McQuaid and Goins hit three-pointers with ease. Tillman block shots and disrupt passes. Nick Ward step back into his mid-season shooting proficiency. And Henry and Loyer could shine also. I’m just proud of their effort to get to this point. Go Green and White!

#2 — I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, finishing it this week. Reading her book, Becoming, it felt like she was sitting in the room talking with me. I enjoyed her direct, frank writing style. Michelle’s unique perspective on motherhood, friendships with Jesse Jackson’s family, Barack’s Presidency, the Secret Service, and service in general, were very engaging. She’s a classy, intelligent person. And her humor is refreshing, even encouraging, in the midst of her place in history. With every page, the book got better and better, bringing me to tears at times, laughing out loud others. Mostly, I was just sitting there listening intently, soaking up her story.

Though I felt like starting the book over again when I finished, I gave it to Judy to read. It is true that I’m writing a poem based on the book…partially so I can keep it on my mind.

Here are a couple quotes that stood out to me. “Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to people.” And later, when she was campaigning for Barack, the more she met with small groups the more she “learned it’s harder to hate up close” — though she did feel hated at times.

Her book is really a call for optimism in the midst of these crazy times.

#3 — I experienced Arizona in March. I realize that Arizona in March happens every year. It’s just that I’m usually in Michigan when it happens.

I soaked up every moment of sun, getting up at 6:30 and writing while sitting amidst their ‘chilly’ 48 degree morning — I saw a road runner dart across the road — And Judy saw a skittering salamander — We took several hikes (in shorts), appreciating the exercise as much as the remarkable views — We had time to talk with family and friends that we don’t see often — We enjoyed Gilbert’s diverse Farmer’s Market with fresh fruits and veggies — I checked out the A’s Spring Training camp last game (from the road)…they don’t seem ready to me — The Desert Botanical Garden was spectacular; then, at night they cranked it all up a notch with lights and music…with a bonus sunset in-between — Rob and I fit in 9+ holes of desert golf and I didn’t do half bad…

It’s all a blur now. Here are a few photos to help bring it into focus for you (more on my Facebook page).

The backdrop to these joys is that “a man is tweeting on his phone and primping his hairdo while at the wheel of our national government careening down the highway.” Garrison suggests that we “get off at the next exit.“ For me, reading 45’s tweets (and listening to him talk) is like opening my SPAM emails and trying to take it all seriously. And there are too many joys in life for that.

Poetry Month Prep

As April approaches, I’m going to be focusing my poetry on haiku. One helpful thing about writing haiku is that it requires me to include many of the key elements of poetry: brevity, emotion, nature, and a celebration of the moment.

Recently, I rediscovered one of my favorite collections of haiku poetry. Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan had fallen behind some other books and I had thought I lost it. Having it back and reading it nearly daily is one way I try to stay centered. And the haikus are inspiring. Both as a poet and as a human. Here are a few examples…

no flower can stay
yet humans grieve at dying —
the red peony

— by Edith Shiffert

the warbler poops
on the slender
plum branch

— by Onitsura Uejima

the shell i take
the shell it takes
ebb tide

— by Vincent Tripi

Such beauty in capturing a moment and seeing into the moment with wisdom, humor, perspective, or whatever the poet wants to share. Only the first haiku follows the 5-7-5 syllable rule; relatively few in the book do. I like the structure but others experiment with sharing moments not bound to syllable lengths.

I entered a haiku contest today at the Washington Post. Follow the link if you have one that has something to do with life in Washington D.C.

Here’s one I wrote years ago that had enough of a Washington D.C. theme to it in order to enter.

pink teardrops fall from
magnolia limbs — helplessly
form cemetery

And another I wrote today…

distant train whistle
calls to nearby fire siren —
a chat of warnings

Write On!

P.S. Here are a couple public service announcements. First, if you know of a young person who is looking for a chance to write over the summer, follow this link to the Red Cedar Writing Project website. The Spartan Writing Camp has several options for students in grades 1-8 and Greenrock Writers Retreat has two options for students in grades 9-12. Also, if you are looking for a great read, I suggest Michelle Obama’s Becoming book; I’m entranced by her writing style and by her telling of the story of her upbringing and rise to the White House.

Literary Nonsense

I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.

Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.

——————
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor

“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong

Whitman wrote.
He knew
the claws & paws
of darkness,
how they capture
light & try
to blind
our eyes to hope.

Darkness
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
pushing aside
the darkness
as we move.

Standing still
lets the darkness
in.

“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.

He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
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On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.

The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
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It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.

Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”

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On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

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It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.

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It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh

A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.

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Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.

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Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.

A few recent attempts at limericks:

Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.


There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.


The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”

I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”