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+
Talking to Ourselves
by Philip Schultz
A woman in my doctor’s office last week
couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,
the difference between dog and deer ticks,
how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie
with her at night in the summer grass, singing
Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only
the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.
Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,
stopped under our lopsided maple to explain
how his wife of sixty years died last month
of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to
his longing reach across the darkness with
each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.
This morning my five-year-old asked himself
why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood
he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,
but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.
When my father’s vending business was failing,
he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips
silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.
He didn’t care that I was there, listening,
what he was saying was too important.
“Too important,” I hear myself saying
in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,
and my wife looks up from her reading
and asks, “What’s that you said?”
“Talking to Ourselves” by Philip Schultz, from Failure. © Harcourt, 2007. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Giroux, born in New Jersey (1914). He wanted to be a journalist, but as a student at Columbia he became interested in literature, inspired by the professors Mark Van Doren and Raymond Weaver. Weaver was the first person to read the manuscript of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd in 1919. This left a mark on Giroux — he liked the idea of being the one to discover a literary masterpiece.
The first major author that Giroux discovered was Jean Stafford. While traveling by train to Connecticut, Giroux took Stafford’s manuscript at random from his briefcase and became so absorbed in reading it that he rode past his stop. When he got to know Jean Stafford she introduced him to her then little-known husband Robert Lowell, whose first collection of poems had been published privately by a small house and had gone largely unnoticed. Giroux snatched him up and he became one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. Lowell then introduced him to a young woman named Flannery O’Conner, whom he also published.
Today is the birthday of American novelist Barbara Kingsolver (1955) (books by this author), who rose to fame with her very first novel, The Bean Trees (1988), about a young woman from rural Kentucky who decides to leave town and drive west toward a new life and ends up taking care of a Cherokee toddler named Turtle.
Kingsolver began her studies at DePauw University thinking she’d be a classical pianist, but then she discovered how little money they made, so she switched to biology. It wasn’t until she was a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson that she tried her hand at writing, winning a short-story contest for a Phoenix newspaper. She kept writing and eventually had something resembling a novel, which she sent to an agent, who promptly sold the book. Kingsolver says, “As long as I’ve been a novelist, I’ve been a mother.” Her first book contract arrived the same day she brought her first child home from the hospital.
All of Kingsolver’s novels since 1995, including The Poisonwood Bible (1998), The Lacuna (2009) and Flight Behavior (2012), have landed on the best-seller lists. She’s mostly concerned with social justice, biodiversity, and the relationship of humans to their environment, which led her to move from her Tucson home to a 40-acre farm in southern Virginia. It was in Virginia that she and her family decided to spend a year eating only local foods (except for coffee, grains, and olive oil), an experiment she wrote about in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007). Kingsolver and her family grew their own food, learned how to can tomatoes, and made cheese. They also had to care for and eat their own livestock, which proved difficult at times. Kingsolver said, “You can leave the killing to others and pretend it never happened or you can look it in the eye and know it.”
Kingsolver rises at four a.m. every day to write. She says, “What keeps me at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall.”
On this date in 1911, Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity. The term refers to the quality of certain materials to exhibit no electrical “friction” or resistance below a certain temperature. Each material becomes superconductive at its own specific and unique temperature. If resistance can be reduced or eliminated, no energy is lost. You can run a charge through a loop of superconducting wire and it will hold its charge indefinitely, even when the battery is removed. Onnes was the first to discover this phenomenon as a property of mercury; other materials have been found to demonstrate it in the years since then.
The lower the temperature of a substance, the less resistance it has to electricity. Prior to Onnes, other physicists had posited that pure metals would become perfect electromagnetic conductors at “absolute zero” — that is, zero degrees Kelvin, or about 460 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. The problem was that it was very hard to attain a temperature of absolute zero. In 1908, Onnes produced liquefied helium for the first time: the temperature at which the helium gas becomes liquid is so low that it boils at a mere four kelvins. The liquid helium could then be used to chill other substances to extremely cold temperatures.
Onnes began testing the theory of superconductivity with gold and platinum but later switched to mercury since it was easier to refine. He chilled the mercury using liquid helium. When the mercury temperature dropped to 4.19 kelvins, Onnes recorded that the metal’s electrical resistance abruptly disappeared. When he allowed it to warm to 4.20 kelvins, the resistance reappeared. In his first publication on the phenomenon, Onnes dubbed it “supraconductivity,” but later changed it to “superconductivity.”
Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha today. Gautama Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha in India, in the sixth century B.C.E., and his parents were told by mystics that he would grow up to be either a great political leader or a supremely enlightened teacher. He was raised in luxury, married, and fathered a son, but when he was 29 he wanted to see the world outside the palace walls. He began taking short trips outside the palace, where he encountered suffering for the first time. He was amazed at how serene people managed to be in the midst of all their pain and sickness, and so he traveled the land for six years, studying meditation and living the life of an ascetic. When he was 35 he outlined the basic tenets of Buddhism, its “four noble truths.” They are: 1) the nature of life is suffering; 2) suffering is caused by human cravings; 3) there is relief from suffering in the state of Nirvana, which is attainable; and 4) Nirvana is attainable by following an eightfold path to self-improvement.
It’s the birthday of lyricist Yip Harburg, born in New York City (1896), who wrote “April in Paris,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Over the Rainbow,” and many more songs. He wrote, “The Lord made Adam, the Lord made Eve, he made ’em both a little bit naive.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®