The Writer’s Almanac for November 5, 2018

I would not paint­­–a picture…

by Emily Dickinson

I would not paint—a picture—
I’d rather be the One
Its bright impossibility
To dwell—delicious—on—
And wonder how the fingers feel
Whose rare—celestial—stir—
Evokes so sweet a Torment—
Such sumptuous—Despair—

I would not talk, like Cornets—
I’d rather be the One
Raised softly to the Ceilings—
And out, and easy on—
Through Villages of Ether—
Myself endued Balloon
By but a lip of Metal—
The pier to my Pontoon—

Nor would I be a Poet—
It’s finer—own the Ear—
Enamored—impotent—content—
The License to revere.
A privilege so awful
What would the Dower be,
Had I the Art to stun myself
With Bolts of Melody!

 

“I would not paint—a picture…” by Emily Dickinson. Public domain. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of writer and activist Vandana Shiva (books by this author), born in Dehradun, India (1952). As a kid, she came home from boarding school and told her parents that she needed a nylon dress, because all the rich girls she went to school with had them. Her mother said: “If that is what you want, of course you shall have it. But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car. And the cotton that you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal.” She gave up on the idea of nylon.

Growing up, her hero was Albert Einstein, even though she went to school at a convent that didn’t even teach science or math. She taught herself, and ended up at a Canadian university, where she got a Ph.D. in theoretical physics — her dissertation topic was “Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory.” She was all set to stay in Canada and become an academic. But she said: “There is a question in my mind. We have the third-biggest scientific community in the world. We are among the poorest of countries. Science and technology is supposed to create growth, remove poverty. Where is the gap? Why is science and technology not removing poverty?” So she decided to take three years off, go back to India and learn more about the society and culture that produced her, and then come back to teach.

As she started learning about some of the technology in India, she saw how much it was connected to power structures and resources. She moved more and more into environmental work. She was horrified by the news of Indian farmers committing suicide after their crops failed, and she started advocating for saving seeds, promoting diversity of crops and local food movements. She set up a big organic farm and training center in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she grew up.

She said, “You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.”

She is the author of many books including The Violence of the Green Revolution (1992), Monocultures of the Mind (1993), Water Wars (2002), Earth Democracy (2005), Soil Not Oil (2008), and Making Peace with the Earth (2013).


It’s Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night, in the United Kingdom. It commemorates the failure of conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. At issue was the anger of Roman Catholics toward King James I, who refused to extend religious tolerance to the Catholics. The conspirators, led by Robert Catesby, planned to target Parliament at its opening ceremony, thereby killing the king and queen and clearing the way for a new era of Catholicism in England. Someone tipped off the authorities, and one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was caught red-handed stashing explosives in the cellar on the night before the planned attack. Fawkes was tortured, tried, convicted, and executed for treason, along with any other conspirators who weren’t killed when they resisted arrest.

The first observation of Guy Fawkes Day took place that same year, when bonfires were lit to celebrate the safety of the king, and has been going on ever since. It features fireworks, to represent the explosives, and bonfires, at which Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy. The Yeomen of the Guard also perform a ceremonial search of the Parliament buildings. Children carry the effigies around town for several days prior to the bonfire, asking passersby for “a penny for the Guy.” They use their collection to buy fireworks.

Ironically, Guy Fawkes was really just a peripheral figure to the conspiracy. Born a Protestant in 1570, he had converted to Catholicism when he was 23. Catesby and the other leaders of the plot recruited Fawkes because he was a military man, and they thought his experience would serve them well. He was nowhere near the mastermind that tradition has made him out to be.


It’s the birthday of Uzodinma Iweala (1982) (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C., to Nigerian parents. He wrote Beasts of No Nation (2005) while he was going to school at Harvard. Published the year after he graduated with an English literature degree, the novel hit bookstores the week of his 23rd birthday. It was his first novel, and it garnered glowing reviews from The New York TimesThe London TimesThe Washington PostRolling Stone, The New Yorker magazine, and many others. Iweala was selected as one of America’s 20 Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine.

Beasts of No Nation is about a boy from West Africa whose father, a village schoolteacher, is killed by guerilla fighters who come to town. The boy, Agu, is forced to become a child soldier with those guerilla fighters. He narrates the brutalities of war, and his gradual embrace and enthusiasm for violence, his experiences coming of age in such conditions, his faltering belief in God, his deferred dream of becoming a doctor. The book is written in the first person, in an English cadenced in the idiom of Iweala’s parents’ native Nigerian languages. At the beginning, the child narrates: “I am not wanting to fight. I am not liking to hear people scream or to be looking at blood. I am not liking any of these thing.”

He has also decried the West’s fascination with aid to Africa. In a 2007 Washington Post article called “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa,” he writes: “Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.”

In 2011, Iweala graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and he was also a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.  His most recent book is Speak No Evil, a novel about a Nigerian-American teenage boy  struggling to come out as gay.


Today is the birthday of the man who said: “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal class, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” That’s the speaker and labor organizer Eugene Debs (books by this author), born to poor Alsatian immigrants in Terre Haute, Indiana (1855). At the age of 14, Debs left high school to work as a paint scraper on the railroad. He soon joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, became an influential member of the union, and went on to become editor of their national magazine. He first went to prison for support of the Pullman Strike of 1894. He emerged six months later a committed socialist, a charismatic speaker, and in 1900, ran for president on the Socialist ticket. He also co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) alongside Bill Haywood and Mother Jones.

A tall lanky man with piercing blue eyes, Debs was an animated speaker, often bending far over the podium to look into the faces of the crowd. He disliked the label of leader, saying: “Too long have the workers […] waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing you cannot do for yourselves.”

In 1908, Debs campaigned for president on “The Red Special” locomotive, traveling to the farthest corners of the country. He lost yet again, but this time he received more than a million votes. Nine years later, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a speech in which he said, “The rich start the wars, the poor fight them.” The Espionage Act had recently passed, making it a crime to publicly oppose the American involvement in World War I. Debs represented himself, called no witnesses, and his statement before the court is regarded as a masterpiece of American oratory.

He continued to speak out from an Atlanta penitentiary on labor issues, and ran yet another popular presidential campaign from behind bars. Now in his early 60s, he refused any special treatment in jail and won over his fellow inmates by constantly fighting on their behalf. When he was pardoned on Christmas Day in 1921, the warden opened every cell block and allowed more than 2,000 inmates to gather at the gates and bid farewell to Debs. As he turned the corner and began to walk the gauntlet of prisoners, Debs opened his arms to the men and began to weep as the crowd roared. Some 50,000 people greeted him upon his return to Terre Haute.

His book on the prison industry, Walls and Bars, was published after his death from heart failure in 1926.

Eugene Debs, who said, “When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other’s throats; when we’ve stopped enslaving each other, we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends.”


On this day in 1930, a Swedish newspaper reporter telephoned Sinclair Lewis (books by this author) to tell him that he had won the Nobel Prize in literature. Lewis thought it was a practical joke and began to imitate the man’s accent. But it was not a joke: Lewis was, in fact, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He wasn’t sure he deserved it and told a friend at the time, “This is the end of me … I cannot live up to it.” He used his Nobel lecture to talk about all the other writers that might have been chosen: Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O’Neill, and Willa Cather; and he ended the lecture by mentioning the younger writers he considered the future of American literature, including Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, each of whom had just published their first few books. Lewis said, “Young Americans … are doing such passionate and authentic work that it makes me sick to see that I am a little too old to be one of them.”


It’s the birthday of writer Thomas Flanagan (books by this author), born in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1923. He did not become a novelist until after the age of 50. He’d been a professor of literature in New York and at Berkeley, and a scholar of Irish history. One day, waiting for his wife to pick him up, he had a flash of inspiration for a historical novel in which an Irish poet walked down a road. This became the first chapter of The Year of the French (1979), about Ireland’s failed attempt to revolt against the English in 1798. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Flanagan went on to write other well-received historical novels about Ireland, incorporating real-life figures like Charles Stewart Parnell and Wolfe Tone along with fictional characters.

He spent nearly every summer of his last 40 years in Ireland, and once said, “It is not the romantic, rather sentimental Ireland of many Irish-Americans that I love, but the actual Ireland, a complex, profound, historical society, woven of many strands, some bright and some dark.”

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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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A Prairie Home Companion: January 26, 2008

A Prairie Home Companion: January 26, 2008

This week, huddle close together for another stream of a classic winter episode! With special guests Chuck Mead, Becky Schlegel, Nellie McKay, and humorist Roy Blount Jr. (pictured).

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The Writer’s Almanac for January 22, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for January 22, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 21, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 20, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 19, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 18, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 17, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 16, 2019

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

The Writer’s Almanac for January 15, 2019

“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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