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+
A World of Want
by Tina Schuman
You think your life will go on
like this forever—weekly trips
to the garbage bin, untangling
the green snake of hose between the ferns
and the delphiniums, the coral bells
leaning their long necks
against the back fence.
Today, as I watched the carousel
of cars turn one by one through
the intersection and onto the freeway
I tried to imagine each life.
Not so much where they were
going, but what they were made of:
wounds, illusions, desires, deceits…
Through all of this a preoccupation
with the next perceived need floats-up
like thought bubbles inside my head:
Coffee, Cheetos, sex, a new blouse, a larger house,
a desk fan, appreciation from that one specific person,
the phones chirp, the trip to France.
IfI could quiet this conga-line of cravings
what lingering longings would I lament?
What radiant unattached insights
would I muster? Who would I be
without my constant yearnings?
It’s a world of want. You get the idea.
“A World of Want” by Tina Schuman from Praising the Paradox. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
On this date in 1859, petroleum was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It’s been called “the most important oil well ever drilled” because it marked the beginning of the modern petroleum age. Petroleum had been discovered elsewhere, of course, but this was the first well successfully drilled in search of the stuff. Locals had noticed oil seeping from the ground for years; evidence even suggests that Native Americans harvested the oil for medicinal purposes as early as 1410, and European settlers had long used it to fuel their lamps and lubricate their farm machinery. A New York lawyer, George Bissell, had the idea to somehow collect the oil, refine it, and sell it commercially, and he co-founded the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company to that end.
The Drake Well was named for railroad conductor Edwin Drake, who figured out a drilling system to access and collect the oil. Within a day of striking oil, other people were copying Drake’s drilling system. The Drake Well only produced about 20 barrels a day, but it transformed the quiet farming community almost overnight, attracting would-be oil company executives and coopers to make the hundreds of barrels needed to collect the crude. Until the Texas oil boom of 1901, Pennsylvania was responsible for half of the world’s production of oil, and it spawned the motor oil brands Pennzoil and Quaker State. Edwin Drake never patented his drilling process, and died in poverty in 1880.
Today is the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser (books by this author), born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1871. He was one of the early proponents of naturalism in fiction, a literary movement away from the moralizing and delicate sensibilities of the Victorian era. He’s the author of several novels, most notably Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).
He grew up in poverty, the ninth of 10 surviving children. His father was a German immigrant, piously and rigidly Catholic. The senior Dreiser worked as a millworker, but was often unemployed, and he moved his family around a lot in search of higher wages or a lower cost of living. Dreiser’s numerous brothers and sisters always seemed to be in trouble: adultery, unwanted pregnancies, jail, alcoholism. He was quiet and studious, though, and in high school, he had a teacher named Mildred Fielding. She had also grown up poor in a dysfunctional family, and she sympathized with Dreiser at the same time that she recognized his potential. She encouraged his studies and told him to ignore the gossip of his schoolmates.
Dreiser eventually got fed up with his family’s poverty and scandals; he dropped out of school when he was 16 and left for Chicago with little more than a change of underwear and a few dollars in his pocket. He ran into his old teacher, Mildred Fielding, a couple of years later, and she offered to pay his college tuition for him. He took her up on it, but only stayed in school for a year. He eventually found work as a reporter, and turned his hand to fiction for the first time in 1899, at the urging of a colleague. He often used his family as a source of inspiration for characters or stories.
Sister Carrie (1900) was based in part on a scandal involving his sister Emma, who once ran away with a man who had broken into his employer’s safe and robbed it. Dreiser’s novel is about an 18-year-old country girl from Wisconsin who moves to Chicago to live out her version of the American Dream. She uses her youth and beauty to become the mistress of wealthy men, which enables her to go from poverty to material comfort and a sophisticated lifestyle almost overnight. Because Dreiser didn’t condemn or judge his characters, and let Carrie’s moral failings go unpunished, his publisher had some misgivings about the story. They tried to back out of the contract. Dreiser held them to it, but they didn’t really publicize the book very much, and it sold fewer than 500 copies at the time. Dreiser took the novel’s apparent failure badly, and he spiraled down into a deep depression. He didn’t write another novel for almost 10 years. Sister Carrie is now considered an American classic.
So too is An American Tragedy, Dreiser’s first book to sell well. It was published in 1925, the same year as Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Dreiser got the idea for An American Tragedy when he read a newspaper article about a man who had murdered his pregnant girlfriend to keep their relationship a secret. He followed the story of the trial and clipped articles from the paper when they were published. It was critical of the American legal system, and many social reformers praised it highly for that reason. The book became a best-seller. It was also the last novel Dreiser published in his lifetime. He became too busy with a variety of social causes throughout the 1920s and ’30s, and focused his writing on critiques of communism and capitalism. He also published a memoir of his childhood and teenage years, titled Dawn (1931).