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+
The Bright Side
by Connie Wanek
God was getting old,
but he’d been this way forever,
Mrs. God said. He always claimed
he liked Earth better “back then.”
“It’s hard, I know.”
She sat beside him,
just beyond the water’s reach.
“I prefer circles to lines,” said God.
“Well,” she half-smiled,
“We are all entitled to our preferences.”
What was age but weariness?
A shortening of the stride,
non-organic pain, low clouds
that lacked definition, but not duration,
like a sheet of steel.
Best to sit quietly, Mrs. God knew,
because very soon he would say,
“The Bright Side” by Connie Wanek from Consider the Lilies: Mrs. God Poems. © Will o’ the Wisp Books, 2018. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1830 that the first American aeronaut, a man named Charles Durant, completed his first balloon flight. He took off from Castle Garden in New York City and landed in Perth Amboy, New Jersey — a trip of about 25 miles.
Americans were late to embrace hot-air balloons. The first manned balloon ride had taken place in Paris in 1783 — almost 50 years before Durant’s flight. Within a year of the Paris flight, a group had crossed the English Channel. The first flight in America actually occurred in 1793, and it was observed by a crowd that included President Washington; but the aeronaut was French, and despite a number of fundraising schemes, he was unable to pay off the debt from his flight, and he returned to France.
So when Durant took off from Manhattan in 1830, ballooning seemed new and exciting to Americans. A huge crowd gathered to watch. The New York Post reported: “The spectacle drew many persons to the Battery, which was literally covered with an immense multitude of every age, sex, condition and color, whose faces were all turned upwards. It is estimated that upwards of twenty thousand persons were collected to see a man risk his neck for their amusement and for their money.”
Durant dressed up for the occasion, wearing a top hat and tails. From the air, he dropped copies of poems praising the joys of flight. The flight took about three hours, and he landed in a farm field, surprising a New Jersey farmer by the name of Johnson.
In 1831, Durant published an essay in the Journal of Commerce called “A New York Balloon Ascension,”describing one of his flights. He wrote: “Here burst upon my sight one of the most imposing views I have ever beheld. Call it majestic, splendid, or sublime, — invoke a Shakespeare’s mind to describe, or a painter’s to portray it, — they, and even thought must fail to conceive the rich downy softness and white fleecy accumulation of clouds piled in waves as far as the eye could reach, covering the earth, and closing to my sight the land, water, and everything, animate or inanimate, that I had so long and often viewed with delight. Above me nothing but a clear, cerulean expanse, — the golden sun-beams spreading over the vast ocean of clouds, and extending through immensity of space where sight is bounded, and from whence even thought returns, unable to traverse the confines of the vast field beyond. Here was a scene sufficient for the writer to fill volumes, and the painter to exhaust his skill, in trying to delineate the infinitely delicate and mellow tints reaching to boundless extent.”
It’s the birthday of novelist Leo Tolstoy (books by this author), born into nobility near Tula, Russia (1828). Besides the pain of losing his mother as a young boy, his childhood was one of relative ease: He read books from his father’s extensive library, went swimming and sledding, listened to stories, and played in the fields and woods on his family’s large estate. After his father died, he lived with relatives and then enrolled at the University of Kazan. His teachers thought he wasn’t very bright, and although he managed to teach himself about 12 languages, he was less interested in academics than he was in gambling, drinking, and women. He dropped out of college and spent years visiting brothels, binge drinking, and racking up such huge gambling debts that he had to sell off part of his estate. Finally, Tolstoy’s brother suggested that he needed a change and encouraged him to sign up for the army. He agreed, joining his brother’s artillery unit in the Caucasus in the spring of 1851. The following winter, 23-year-old Tolstoy wrote his first novel, Childhood (1852). It was praised by Turgenev and established Tolstoy’s reputation as a writer. Over the next few years, he published two more novels in the same vein, Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856).
In 1854, he was promoted and sent to the front to fight in the Crimean War. He was horrified by the violence of war, and in 1857, he witnessed a public execution in Paris, which affected him deeply as well. He wrote: “During my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I.”
By 1863, he had finished a draft of what would become the first part of a novel he was calling 1805. It was set during the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of Russia, but he channeled his experiences in the Crimean War. A version of 1805 was published in 1865, but Tolstoy did not like it, so he went to work rewriting and expanding the novel. He gave it a new name: War and Peace.
In 1867, the first three sections of War and Peace were published, and sold out in a matter of days. Tolstoy began writing furiously, publishing the sections as he wrote them, and finally, in December of 1869, he published the sixth and final volume. He said, “What I have written there was not simply imagined by me, but torn out of my cringing entrails.”
Tolstoy did not think of his new book as a novel. He published an article in 1868, even before the final parts of book had come out, called “A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace.” In the article, he wrote: “What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.” Tolstoy published Anna Karenina between 1873 and 1877, and he declared that it was his first true novel.
It’s the birthday of an early writer of the American Southwest, Mary Hunter Austin (books by this author), born in Carlinville, Illinois (1868). As a nine-year-old girl, she decided to be a writer. She also loved geology — she collected fossils, and at the age of 12, she studied geology in an adult education program for rural Americans. She went to college in Illinois, then moved with her family to California when they set out to homestead there.
She spent most of her life in California, in the desert on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada. She was fascinated by everything: the geology, the plants and animals, the Native people, the weather, and the intense landscape of the desert. She wrote The Land of Little Rain (1903), a book of sketches about that part of the California desert. She said, “I was only a month writing … but I spent 12 years peeking and prying before I began it.”
The Land of Little Rain was a big success, and Austin wrote many more books — novels, plays, and essays, including The Arrow Maker (1911), Experiences Facing Death (1931), and One-Smoke Stories (1934).
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