The Writer’s Almanac for November 1, 2018

Flowers

by Linda Pastan

 

The text for today’s poem is not available. The collection in which it appears, Traveling Light, may be purchased here.


It was on this day, seven years apart, that two of Shakespeare’s plays (books by this author)were performed for the first time: Othello in 1604, and The Tempest in 1611.

Othello was performed for the court of James I. In the “Accounts of the Revels at Court” from 1604, there is an entry that says: “By the Kings Maiesties plaiers. Hallamas Day being the first of Nouembar, A play in the Banketinge house at Whithall called The Moor of Venis. Shaxberd.” Othello, the Moor of Venice was performed several more times before Shakespeare died in 1616, but it wasn’t printed until 1622.

Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s friend and the leading man in his acting company, probably played the first Othello, just as he played Hamlet, King Lear, and Richard III. He definitely played him in later productions, and a poet described Othello as Burbage’s “chiefest part, / Wherein beyond the rest he moved the heart.” King James was a scholar himself and a serious patron of the arts — he gave his name to the King James Bible, and he and his wife particularly enjoyed theater, and so many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed before the royal court. Macbeth was written specifically for James, who was fascinated by witchcraft. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who preceded James, an average of six or seven plays were performed each year in the royal court. The court of James I averaged more than 20 each year.

And it was on this day in 1611 that The Tempest was first performed, once again for the court of James I. The Tempest tells the story of Prospero, a powerful magician and the former Duke of Milan who is exiled to a remote island with his daughter. He conjures up a storm to shipwreck his brother, who stole his throne. Prospero is one of the only Shakespeare protagonists who is not based on a known historical figure. But in 2008, a retired policeman-turned-amateur historian from Scotland named Brian Moffatt self-published a book called Death Resurrection and the Sword. In it, he explained his theory that Prospero is based on the real-life Francis Stewart, the Fifth Earl of Bothwell. He was the king’s cousin, but he turned against James. He and his wife were said to be practitioners of witchcraft and magic, and Bothwell apparently tried to cast a spell to conjure up a storm and shipwreck his cousin, James, as he returned from Denmark with his new bride. The spell didn’t work, and Bothwell was tried and acquitted, but later exiled, and he ended up dying in Naples.

Because The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last major play, a lot of people think that Prospero is meant to stand for Shakespeare himself, and that his last speech, when he gives up his powers, is Shakespeare’s own comment about the end of his career: “To the dread rattling thunder / Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak / With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory / Have I made shake and by the spurs plucked up / The pine and cedar: graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth / By my so potent art. But this rough magic / I here abjure; and, when I have required / Some heavenly music — which even now I do, — / To work mine end upon their senses, that / This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book.”

The theater scene at James’ court must have gone downhill after Shakespeare’s day, because a few years later, in 1614, a courtier wrote to his friend complaining of the constant plays: “We have Plays at Court every night, — wherein they shew great patience, being for the most part such poor stuff that, instead of delight, they send the auditory away with discontent. Indeed our Poets’ brains and inventions are grown very dry, insomuch that of five new Plays there is not one that pleases, and therefore they are driven to furbish over their old; which stand them in best stead and bring them most profit.”


It’s the birthday of novelist Susanna Clarke, (books by this author) born in Nottingham, England (1959). She worked in publishing, then went to Italy to teach English, and while she was there she said: “I had a kind of waking dream about a man in 18th-century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background — he’d been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong.”

She decided to write a novel about this character, even though, as she said, “I really like magicians, but there was no reason to suppose anyone else would.” She took a five-day science-fiction and fantasy class, and one of her teachers was so impressed with a short story she wrote in the workshop that he sent it to his friend Neil Gaiman, who showed it to an editor, who called her up and offered to publish it. So she started publishing short fiction, but her novel was slow-going. She was working as a cookbook editor for Simon & Schuster, and for years she got up and started writing at 5:30 in the morning, wrote for about three hours, and then went off to her day job. The novel took her 10 years to write, but finally she was done with the manuscript, called Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s the story of two wizards, one a handsome and charismatic young man named Jonathan Strange and one an uptight scholar named Gilbert Norrell. It isn’t a book of high fantasy as much as a comedy of manners and a history of early 19th-century England during the Napoleonic Wars — with a lot of magic thrown in. When it was finally published, Susanna Clarke got as many comparisons to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens as to any fantasy writer.

But publishing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell wasn’t easy — it was 800 pages long, and the first few publishers turned it down, saying that it would be impossible to market such a book. But then Bloomsbury picked it up and was so sure it would be a success that they offered her a huge advance. Sure enough, the book stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for about three months.


The Arecibo Observatory opened on this date in 1963. At a diameter of a thousand feet, it’s the largest single-aperture telescope ever built. It’s also got the largest focusing dish in the world, which gathers electromagnetic waves from space. Located near the city of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, it’s close to the equator, which enables it to “see” (via radio waves) all the planets in the solar system; within six months of its opening, it enabled scientists to study the rotation rate of Mercury and determine that it rotated every 59 days, rather than 88 as was previously thought. It’s also been used for military purposes like locating Soviet radar installations by tracking their signals as they were reflected off the moon. It’s provided the first full imaging of an asteroid and also led to the first discovery of planets outside our solar system.

In 1999, it began collecting data for the SETI Institute; SETI stands for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence,” and the organization looks for deliberate radio or optical signals from other planets. The Arecibo Observatory also sends data over broadband to the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers, who, through the Einstein@Home program, donate their computers to be used for data analysis during periods when they would otherwise be idle. Eight years ago, three such volunteers in Iowa and Germany discovered a previously unknown pulsar, 17,000 light years from Earth.


The first medical school for women opened in Boston, Massachusetts, on this date in 1848. It was started by Samuel Gregory, who named it the Boston Female Medical College. The first class — 12 women in all — graduated just two years later, in 1850. Gregory’s own formal medical training consisted of a summer lecture course that he had taken in anatomy and physiology. He wasn’t remotely a supporter of women’s rights, but he believed it was unseemly for male doctors to assist women in childbirth, so the college was mostly intended to serve as a school for midwives at first. In 1856, the school’s name was changed to the New England Female Medical College; it named among its graduates Rebecca Lee Crumper, the first African-American to earn a medical degree, which she did in 1864.


The “match race of the century” between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was run on this date in 1938. Seabiscuit had become something of a kindred spirit to dispirited Americans in the grip of the Great Depression: He was little, he was ugly, his legs were crooked, and he was plagued by frequent injuries. He was named for his sire, Hard Tack; a “sea biscuit” is another name for the hard bread eaten by sailors. Early in his racing career, he had been unreliable — sometimes blazing fast, sometimes lazy and tough to motivate — and he liked to overeat and oversleep. In spite of being trained by one of the top trainers in the business, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, he lost his first 10 races and no one really thought he’d amount to much. Fitzsimmons began to neglect him, and turned his attention to more promising colts.

But Seabiscuit eventually found a new owner. He also found a new trainer, who had recently served a suspension as a scapegoat in a doping case; and a new jockey, who had a drinking problem and happened to be blind in one eye. Trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard saw potential in the colt, and worked to awaken his competitive spirit. The horse’s stubbornness began to work in his favor, and soon he was winning. He would draw even with his competitors and stare them down out of the corner of his eye until they gave in, almost defeating them through sheer force of will. He became so competitive and so fierce that some of his stablemates refused to run against him in workouts. Track handicappers, in an attempt to make races more equitable, loaded him down with lead weights, but still he won. In 1937, as a four-year-old, he won 11 of 15 races and was the top money earner of the year. But he lost the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year to another stallion, who just happened to be his uncle.

That other horse was War Admiral, son of the great Man o’ War, who was Seabiscuit’s grandfather. War Admiral was everything Seabiscuit was not. Tall, gleaming black, and handsome, he had won the Triple Crown. A match race was set between the five-year-old Seabiscuit and the four-year-old War Admiral at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. Forty thousand people packed the stands, and 40 million listened in on the radio. At one-to-four odds, War Admiral was the overwhelming favorite. Seabiscuit broke fast from the gate, pulling away quickly, but War Admiral gained on him and the two traded the lead for a while. Seabiscuit’s usual jockey, Red Pollard, was sidelined with a bad racing injury, but he’d told his replacement what to do: Ease up on the horse and let him get a good look at his opponent. Seabiscuit looked War Admiral in the eye and pulled away with a burst of speed, winning by four lengths. The little brown horse’s tale inspired two movies and several books, including Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001). In 1940, The Saturday Evening Post called him “the Horatio Alger hero of the turf, the horse that came up from nothing on his own courage and will to win.”

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Waiting for snow, hoping, praying

It has snowed a smidge in Minneapolis and I went to church Sunday to give thanks for it and ask for more. The TV weatherman talks about who might be “hit by” a snowstorm and who might “escape,” as if the flakes carry an infectious disease, but snow is light, it does not hit anybody so that you’d feel it, and true Minnesotans love a snowstorm, the hush of it, the sense of blessedness, as Degas loved the female form and Cezanne cared about apples. I thank God for all three, apples, women, and snow, and also for my good health.

 I am an old man chained to a computer and I get less exercise than your average statue in the park, meanwhile I avoid vegetables in favor of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, I seldom wash my hands and often rub my eyes, my daily water intake is less than that of a small lizard, and yet I feel pretty darned good, knock on wood, whereas certain people I know who lead exemplary lives of daily workouts and hydration and veganism complain of insomnia, sharp stabbing pains, exhaustion, gassiness, and memory loss, so where is the justice, I ask you. How is it that the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?

The answer is: I have an excellent doctor. I searched high and low for one, eliminating those with WASPy names like Postlethwaite or Dimbleby-Pritchett and those with old names (Amos, Portia, Naomi, Elijah) who maybe don’t know about antibiotics. I scratched very young doctors (Sean, Amber, Jared, Emerald) who maybe don’t understand geriatrics. I eliminated doctors who, when I called to inquire about an appointment, I was put on hold and heard flute music. I nixed doctors who had tassels on their shoes or whose M.D. degrees came from schools in Tahiti or Tijuana. And by the time I found a doctor, medical science had taken great leaps forward in the treatment of sedentary dehydrated germ-ridden men like me, so here I am.

My advice to the young is: Don’t sweat exercise. Eat what you want to eat. Live your life. Follow your heart. And be sure to marry well. I did that a quarter-century ago and it took me a while to realize it but now I feel buoyant around her and without her I’m just going through the motions. With her, I’m Mr. Successful, and without her I’m an old guy with soup stains on his shirt.

Thoreau said to advance confidently in the direction of your dreams and you’ll be successful, but he could’ve been more specific. He himself was a failure, as an author and as a lecturer and at finding a date for Saturday night. When he said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he was talking about himself. His classic, “Walden,” would’ve been a better book if there’d been a woman living in the cabin with him, but he only had a hard narrow bed and was more interested in mushrooms than in being a fun guy. And he was a Red Sox fan.

Scientists have pointed out that fans of losing teams experience a 20 percent drop in testosterone. A cruel thing. Your warriors go down to defeat and you get up from the TV and your wife comes and puts her arms around you and you think, “Oh no, not this again.”

I’ve been a fan of the Twins (78-84), the Golden Gophers (3-6), the Democratic Party (1 out of 4, counting the Supreme Court), and country music (he gets fired, his wife leaves him, he gets drunk, she runs off with a successful orthopedic surgeon) so I’m running low on testosterone, but there is hope. The lessons last Sunday in church said so. The prophet Isaiah said, “You shall be a crown of beauty. … You shall be called My Delight,” which nobody ever said to me before. The psalm was about feasting, and in the Gospel of John, Jesus did his magic trick turning water into wine at the wedding. I was absolved of my transgressions and I prayed for my daughter and for the infant Ida Rose, one week old, and afterward people around me reached over and shook my hand. I pulled out a five to put in the collection plate and saw too late that it was a twenty and the usher had seen it, so I let it go. Fifteen bucks for a sense of hope? Cheap at the price. And now I look out and see snow falling.

News bulletin: offensive joke ahead

I have a small mind and I don’t mind admitting it. Friends of mine are concerned about the future of democracy in America and thank goodness for them, meanwhile I get a thrill out of sticking a fork into the toaster to retrieve the toasted bread, which I was warned against as a child. Mother saw me do it and imagined sparks flying and the sizzle of her middle child, like a murderer in the electric chair. And now I do it (very carefully) and I’m still here. This is me writing these words, not a ghostwriter.

I take pleasure in the fact that the plastic bags from the grocery store exactly fit our garbage pail and so the garbage goes out the door in the same bag in which the food arrived. I derive pleasure from this. It isn’t about economy or conserving our plastic resources, no, it’s about symmetry. In, out; same bag. I don’t shop at the big fancy megamarkets: bags are wrong size.

I have just discovered that the best way to retrieve the last of the blueberry jam from the bottom of the jar is to use a teaspoon, not a knife. With the time I’ve spent over the years fishing up specks of jam with the tip of a knife, I could’ve written a very bad novella: a teaspoon gets the job done.

I sat through a four-hour performance of “Aida” with the ridiculous Act II procession of triumphant Egyptians hauling wagonloads of defeated Ethiopians through a set the size of the grain silos of Omaha, trumpet fanfares, four horses (count them, 1 2 3 4) on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, ballet dancers, spear-carriers, priests, the Met chorus in their robes and sandals singing the march, which sounds noble in Italian but the English is so dumb:
We won the war so we wear
The lotus and the laurel:
They smell good and we don’t care
If you think the war was immoral.
(My translation.)

It only made me think of high school commencements I have seen, but with singing instead of speaking.

The great transcendent moment of the opera is at the end. Aida and Radamès locked in the tomb, facing death, sing their farewell to this earth, a delicate ethereal duet that stays with you all the way home on the subway. The Met could’ve shown a movie for Act II, a scene from “Ben Hur,” and saved a half-million bucks.

I am a man with a small mind. (Am I repeating myself?) The major event of this week, plus the opera, was a joke told to me over the phone by a millennial feminist in San Francisco, a friend (I think) but who knows? She told me a joke I’d never dare tell to any woman under sixty. It is so incorrect, alarms go off, red lights flash, a semaphore drops. Do not read the following paragraph, please. Skip it and go to the end.

A woman decides to kill herself and goes out on the Brooklyn Bridge to jump and a sailor grabs her and cries, “No! You have much to live for! Listen. I’m sailing to Italy tonight. I’ll stow you aboard and take care of you and in ten days you’ll be in Naples.” The woman has always wanted to see Italy, so she says yes. The sailor takes her to the boat that night and stows her in a tiny cabin below decks and for a week, as the ship sails, he brings her food every night and they make love. Then one night the captain finds her: “What are you doing here?” She explains. “A wonderful sailor saved my life and he’s taking me to Italy and — he’s screwing me.” The captain says: “He sure is. This is the Staten Island Ferry.”

I explained to the m.f. that this is about date rape, it’s about sexual treachery, about male oppression. And she said, “I thought it was funny. It made me laugh.”

This is bigger news than the government shutdown. An m.f. told a joke because she thought it was funny. The world turns. Aida may yet be rescued. Do not stick a fork into a toaster. Call me a romantic but I believe that someday the Staten Island Ferry may sail to Italy and I hope to be aboard with my wife when it does and we’ll be very happy in a small cabin below decks.

Life is good, unless you get on the wrong train

In response to the government shutdown, I have stayed in bed, gone without bathing, turned off the phone. I am going to continue until Walmart sends me six fresh walleye and a set of white sidewalls autographed by Barbara Walters. I know what is needed and I can hold out for years if I have to.

Meanwhile life is good. Of course tragedy is at the heart of great literature but life is not a novel and we’re here because our parents got excited and happy and if we put our minds to it, we can be happy too. Politics is a mess because liberals want a just world and it just isn’t going to happen, meanwhile conservatives want it to be 1958, but goodness never depended on politicians. Goodness is all around us.

Senator Romney said last week, “To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation,” and that is a bunch of hooey and horse manure. America has not suddenly become a nation of sleazy con men and compulsive liars. If anything, the presidency in its current state offers a valuable moral object lesson on an hourly basis. Senator Romney is way off base, like saying “To a great degree, a U.S. senator wields great influence on hair style.” I don’t see it. Children are growing up during this administration who are learning a good lesson: if you don’t know history and you can’t do math, you’re in deep water and there’s no way to hide it.

Goodness is lavished on the world from all sides. Small generosities engender tremendous force against the darker powers. Great kindness pervades our lives. The man at the newsstand says “Good morning” and “How is your day so far?” and he is from somewhere in the Middle East and I am warmed by his blessing. The woman at the café pours a cup of coffee, light, and toasts my sesame bagel and slathers it with cream cheese with scallions. I ask her how her day is so far and she smiles enormously and says, “Excellent, sweetheart.”  I’m in Penn Station, with my daughter, waiting for the train to Schenectady, and a Schenectadian tells me to be sure to visit the Nott Memorial at Union College, which I take as a joke — what is a memorial that is not? “N-o-t-t,” he says. “The guy who built the thing.” Schenectady is a depressed old factory town but here is a man who loves it and I have a perfect bagel and coffee and we two are about to embark on the 8:15 train. It is a very good morning and it is shaped by good people and God Almighty, not by the president. He is as irrelevant as Delaware, El Dorado, the Elks Club or L.S.M.F.T.

I have no business in Schenectady: the trip is my gift to my daughter who just turned 21 and who loves train rides. We’ll go up on the Adirondack and back to New York on the Lake Shore Limited, which used to be the 20th Century Limited, which Cary Grant rode in North By Northwest. I will sit by the window, point out the Tappan Zee Bridge, Poughkeepsie, Albany, and she will study the people around us. I’m a loner, she’s the sociable one, scoping out the neighbors. Up around Yonkers, she leans against me, scootches down, lays her head on my shoulder. She says, “I love you.” She falls asleep.

When I say “life is good,” I’m not talking about serenity. I’m not a guy who feels complete within himself and at home in the universe. I am talking about the basic animal goodness of having a mate — my wife, who doesn’t care for trains, enjoying her day alone in the city — and having a daughter who loves me and nestles against me. I was a neglectful father, obsessed with work, on the road, and yet I got this beautiful daughter, jokey, loyal, good company, affectionate. I want to warn her against men, their cruelty and treachery. When they’re not vulgar, they’re clueless. They are brutes and savages, all of them, and you should avoid them whenever possible, especially the shy and sensitive ones, they’re the worst, and if you decide to have one of your own, find one who seems trainable. This may take years. If he doesn’t show progress, kick him down the stairs and start over. This is what needs to happen in Washington. What are we waiting for? Hurl the bozo out on the street and his robotic vice president with him. Nancy Pelosi for president. Next week would not be too soon. Next stop, Schenectady.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 23, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for January 23, 2019

It was on this day in 1977 that the miniseries “Roots” premiered on ABC. Restaurants and shops cleared out while it was showing, and bars showed it on their TVs in order to keep customers there.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 22, 2019

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Today is the birthday of British Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788), who was called “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” by one of his many lovers.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 21, 2019

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Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, a national holiday that Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1983, following years of activists’ petitions, conferences, and advocacy.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 20, 2019

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It’s the birthday of the late Susan Vreeland (1946), whose novels, such as “Girl in Hyacinth Blue,” intersected with alternate histories of art.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 19, 2019

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Today is the birthday of Edwidge Danticat (Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1969), author of “Krik? Krack!” and the upcoming short story collection “Everything Inside.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 18, 2019

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It’s the birthday of Rubén Darío (1867), a great poet in the Spanish-speaking world who is barely known to English speakers.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 17, 2019

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Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” premiered on this day in 1904. He had meant for it to be a comedy, and was annoyed that the director had presented it as a tragedy.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 16, 2019

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On this day in 1605, Book One of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” was published. The novel remains the most-translated book in the world after the Bible.

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 15, 2019

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“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr., born this day in Atlanta, 1929

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Writing

Waiting for snow, hoping, praying

It has snowed a smidge in Minneapolis and I went to church Sunday to give thanks for it and ask for more. The TV weatherman talks about who might be “hit by” a snowstorm and who might “escape,” as if the flakes carry an infectious disease, but snow is light, it does not hit anybody so that you’d feel it, and true Minnesotans love a snowstorm, the hush of it, the sense of blessedness, as Degas loved the female form and Cezanne cared about apples. I thank God for all three, apples, women, and snow, and also for my good health.

Read More

News bulletin: offensive joke ahead

I have a small mind and I don’t mind admitting it. Friends of mine are concerned about the future of democracy in America and thank goodness for them, meanwhile I get a thrill out of sticking a fork into the toaster to retrieve the toasted bread, which I was warned against as a child. Mother saw me do it and imagined sparks flying and the sizzle of her middle child, like a murderer in the electric chair. And now I do it (very carefully) and I’m still here. This is me writing these words, not a ghostwriter.

Read More

Life is good, unless you get on the wrong train

In response to the government shutdown, I have stayed in bed, gone without bathing, turned off the phone. I am going to continue until Walmart sends me six fresh walleye and a set of white sidewalls autographed by Barbara Walters. I know what is needed and I can hold out for years if I have to.

Meanwhile life is good. Of course tragedy is at the heart of great literature but life is not a novel and we’re here because our parents got excited and happy and if we put our minds to it, we can be happy too. Politics is a mess because liberals want a just world and it just isn’t going to happen, meanwhile conservatives want it to be 1958, but goodness never depended on politicians. Goodness is all around us.

Read More

Onward, my friends! Courage! Comedy!

My first resolution for 2019 is “Lighten up. When someone asks you how you are, say ‘Never better’ and say it with conviction, make it be true.” And my second resolution is: “Don’t bother fighting with ignorance. It doesn’t bother him, and you wind up with stupidity all over you.”

So I ignore the government shutdown and write about the one-ring circus I saw in New York last week, under a tent by the opera house. It was astounding. The beauty of backflips and the balancing act in which a spangly woman does a handstand one-handed on a man’s forehead. The perfect timing of clowns and the dancing of horses, a bare-chested man suspended on ropes high above the arena as a woman falls from his shoulders to catch his bare feet with her bare feet and hang suspended with no net below. A slight woman on the flying trapeze hurling herself into a triple forward flying somersault and into the hands of the catcher. I have loved circuses all my life. This was one of the best. A person can pass through the turnstile in a sour mood and the impossible perfection of feats of style brightens your whole week.

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A Christmas letter from New York

It was, in my opinion, the best Christmas ever. Men are running the country whom you wouldn’t trust to heat up frozen dinners, a government shutdown meant that TSA people worked as volunteers (and also the DOJ employees investigating Individual-1’s dealings with the Russians), and on Wall Street the blue chips were selling like buffalo chips, and yet, in my aged memory, granted that the MRI map of my brain shows numerous multipolar contextually based synopses and a narrowing of the left strabismal isthmus, my little family had a beautiful and blessed week.

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Why I left home and crossed over the river

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

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Time passes except when it suddenly leaps backward

Snow on the ground in Minnesota and a frosty grayness in the air and a delicious chill that makes a person feel alive and vibrant. Cold is a stimulant, but of course some people don’t tolerate it well and they decamp for the Sun Belt and — don’t tell anyone I said this — everything works better when those old people leave town. Traffic flows, the line at checkout moves faster without querulous oldsters demanding a discount on bruised bananas, you don’t have fifteen cars waiting at the drive-up ATM while some old coot tries to remember his PIN number. I can say this because I’m 76. If you said it, you’d be accused of ageism, which it is, but past the age of 70, one is entitled.

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Having reached the end, he continues

The real news these days is about science, and last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy is dropping in the U.S., and the American male’s average life expectancy is 76.1 years, a figure I reached in October. My expiration date has passed. This comes as a shock, to think that I’m expected to die now, in a state of ignorance, still trying to figure out the basics (What am I here for? Why do rainy days make me happy? Where are my glasses?).

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One more week, its little successes, etc.

It’s a father’s duty to take at least one long trip with each of his children, the two of you, nobody else along, and now that my daughter and I have traveled by rail, the old 20th Century Limited route from Chicago to New York, the trip Cary Grant took with Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest, we are ready to take another. Nineteen hours from Chicago’s magnificent Union Station to Manhattan’s wretched Penn Station, including a fast run along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and the bond between young woman and her old man is sealed solid.

Highly recommended, especially for us newspaper readers constantly fussed-up over national crises — from a train, you see the solidity of the country, its infrastructure, factories, warehouses, everything working remarkably well.

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A great task lies before us, but first we sleep

Small sorrows speak; great sorrows are silent. My current small sorrow is a daily flood of junk e-mail — cheap insurance, health nostrums, hernia repair, free loans, travel discounts, an app to find out if your spouse is unfaithful — a stream of crap generated in Orlando. In tiny print at the bottom is “If you wish to unsubscribe, click here,” and I click there and the stuff keeps coming, an infestation of electronic cockroaches.

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