Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Going to Heaven
by Emily Dickinson
Going to heaven!
I don’t know when,
Pray do not ask me how,–
Indeed, I’m too astonished
To think of answering you!
Going to heaven!–
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the shepherd’s arm!
Perhaps you’re going too!
If you should get there first,
Save just a little place for me
Close to the two I lost!
The smallest “robe” will fit me,
And just a bit of “crown”;
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.
I’m glad I don’t believe it,
For it would stop my breath,
And I’d like to look a little more
At such a curious earth!
I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.
“Going to Heaven” by Emily Dickinson. Public domain. (buy now)
The Italian poet died in exile from his beloved city of Florence after supporting a failed challenge to the pope’s authority. Dante had been a member of the White Party, which wanted the city to remain independent from the influence of the Vatican, but the Black Party wanted to form an alliance with the pope. Dante had tried to help work out a compromise to avoid any real conflict. He traveled to Rome to negotiate with Pope Boniface about the situation, but while he was there, the Blacks launched an uprising and took over the city of Florence. Dante was actually on his way home when he got the news that he had been banished from the city. The government announced that Dante would be buried alive if he ever set foot in Florence again.
Stripped of his wealth, Dante retreated from politics and spent the rest of his life wandering from city to city in northern and central Italy, estranged from his wife and kids and often living in poverty. His only solace during his exile was writing, and sometime around 1308, he started work on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and he spent the rest of his life working on it. He chose to write the poem in colloquial Italian rather than Latin, which had been the language for Western literature for more than a thousand years. At the time, Italian society was fractured and politically unstable, and Dante believed that a common literary language would help bring unity to the country. It was also the first epic poem in Western literary history in which the author served as the main character.
Dante had hoped that the success of his poem would be so great that he would be invited back to his home city, but he wasn’t. Just before his death, his children visited him in Ravenna; it was the first time he had seen them since he left Florence almost 20 years before. He died a few years later on this date in 1320.
In the years after his death, the influence of Dante’s work helped establish Italian as a serious literary language worldwide. His hometown of Florence came to regret having banished him and requested that his remains be transferred back for burial. But it wasn’t until 2008 that the city officially rescinded his sentence of perpetual exile. Today, there is renewed interest in Dante’s Florence as tourists flock to the sites of the recent Dan Brown thriller novel Inferno (2013), a reinterpretation of the Divine Comedy.
Today is the birthday of physiologist Ivan Pavlov (books by this author), born in Ryazan, in central Russia (1849). His father was the village priest, and Pavlov was all set to follow in his footsteps — even enrolling in theological seminary — when he read Darwin’s work and became interested in the study of science. He left the seminary and began a course of study in physics, mathematics, and natural sciences at the University of St. Petersburg; later he received his medical degree at the Imperial Medical Academy. He left religion behind because he couldn’t reconcile his passion for scientific proof with a life of faith, and was surprised when he came across other scientists who were religious. One day, walking to his laboratory, he saw a medical student cross himself outside a church. “Think about it!” Pavlov told his colleagues. “A naturalist, a physician, but he prays like an old woman in an almshouse!”
In 1890, he was named head of the Physiology Department at the Institute for Experimental Medicine, and five years later he was named Chair of Physiology at the Imperial Medical Academy. It was during this time that he did his most groundbreaking work. In 1903, he published a paper called “The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals.” In it, he explained his theory of conditional reflexes. Unlike innate reflexes, which are instinctual, conditional reflexes are learned. Pavlov came up with this theory in the course of studying the digestive systems of dogs. He noticed that the dogs would begin salivating when the lab assistant brought in their food; this was a natural reflex, and it didn’t surprise him. But then after a while, the dogs began drooling whenever the lab assistant entered the room, even if there was no food present. Pavlov speculated that the dogs’ behavior had changed because they had learned to associate the presence of the lab assistant with the presentation of food. He turned on a metronome at the same time that the dogs were fed. Eventually, the dogs would salivate whenever they heard the metronome — even without food — which meant that Pavlov had created a new, learned reflex in his subjects. He was even able to fine-tune the response so that it only happened when the metronome was set at a particular speed. He also learned that the reflex could be unlearned: if he used the metronome too many times without later providing food, the dogs stopped associating the sound with a meal, and they stopped salivating.
It’s the birthday of American essayist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (books by this author), born in Queens, New York (1934), and best known for her travel writing, interviews, and autobiographical essays. Harrison’s grandparents emigrated from Calabria, in Southern Italy; her parents were first-generation Americans. Harrison’s childhood was deeply troubled: her father sexually abused her, and her mother suffered from mental illness. She insisted on calling herself “Barbara’s relative,” instead of her mother. When Harrison was nine years old, she and her mother were converted by a Jehovah’s Witness who visited the family.
As a teenager, Harrison said she was “very smart and very strange.” She skipped several grades in school and fell in love with her high school English teacher. He encouraged her writing talent, but the relationship remained platonic. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she was forbidden to attend college, so she went to live and work at the Watchtower headquarters, doing housework for 30 male Witnesses. After three years, she became convinced “my intelligence was some kind of tricky, predatory animal, which if not kept firmly reined, would spring on and destroy me.” She had a nervous breakdown, left the headquarters, and renounced her faith at 22.
Harrison leapt wholeheartedly into the 1960s, finding community among the bohemians of Greenwich Village, writing, and falling in love with an African-American jazz musician. They had a torrid three-year affair, but when her book An Accidental Autobiography came out (1996), she refused to name him, calling him only “Jazzman.” The affair was briefly reignited late in Harrison’s life. Harrison immersed herself in the women’s movement, married an aid worker, and lived in Tripoli, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. Married life didn’t suit Harrison. She said, “I was the kind of wife who always had a novel under her apron.”
She had two children and divorced the aid worker, but kept his last name, and moved back to New York, where her trenchant, incisive, feminist essays were finding homes in Ms. Magazine, Harper’s, The Village Voice, Esquire, and The New York Times. She became particularly well-known for her brash and somewhat accusatory interview style, often pinning her subjects uncomfortably, as she did in 1979 with writer Joan Didion, whom she called a “neurasthenic Cher.” Harrison wrote, “… my charity does not naturally extend to someone whose lavender love seats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel.”
Harrison became nationally known with the publication of Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses (1978). The book was a blend of memoir and church history. She was kind to some of the members, but she portrayed the faith itself as harsh, tyrannical, and sexist. Agnostic when she began the book, she experienced a spiritual epiphany while writing it, and converted to Catholicism. Harrison traveled widely, and her travel essays, particularly of Italy, are still beloved.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®