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+
by Donald Hall
At dinner our first night
I looked at you, your bright green eyes,
We laughed and told the hundred stories,
Kissed, and caressed, and went to bed.
“Shh, shh,” you said,
“I want to put my legs around your head.”
Green eyes, green eyes.
At dawn we sat with coffee
And smoked another cigarette
Companionship and eros met
In conversation’s afterplay,
On our first day.
Late for the work you love, you drove away.
Green eyes, green eyes.
“Conversation’s Afterplay” by Donald Hall, from The Painted Bed. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of Roald Dahl, (books by this author) born in Llandaff, South Wales (1916). One of the few things he enjoyed about his childhood was that the Cadbury chocolate company had chosen his school as a focus group for new candies they were developing. Every so often, a plain gray cardboard box was issued to each child, filled with 11 chocolate bars. It was the children’s task to rate the candy, and Dahl took his job very seriously. About one of the sample candy bars, he wrote, “Too subtle for the common palate.” He later said that the experience got him imagining what a candy factory might be like, and from it wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).
It’s the birthday of the pianist and composer Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck in Leipzig, Germany, in 1819. Both of her parents were musicians, and after her parents divorced when she was four, Clara was raised by her father, who taught her to play the piano. When she was eight years old, she performed at the home of some family friends, and 17-year-old Robert Schumann was so impressed by her playing that he dropped out of law school to study piano with Clara’s father.
Clara made her formal debut at age 11, and she was considered a great pianist for the rest of her life. Her concerts sold out, she won all sorts of awards, and the critics loved her, comparing her to Beethoven. By the time she was a teenager, she was a much better piano player than Schumann, but he fell in love with Clara and proposed to her, and her father did everything he could to stop the marriage. Clara and Robert finally had to take him to court, and they were married on the eve of Clara’s 21st birthday.
Clara raised seven children and continued to tour, compose, and perform, and it was largely because of her popularity and because people respected her so much that they gave Robert Schumann’s work a chance, although many people still didn’t like it. When her husband died in 1856, Clara continued touring, and played her last concert in 1891, 61 years after her performance career had begun. She died five years later, at the age of 77.
She said, “My imagination can picture no fairer happiness than to continue living for art.”
Today is the birthday of author Sherwood Anderson (1876) (books by this author), born in Camden, Ohio. He became a writer in 1912, after suffering a nervous breakdown and wandering around Cleveland for four days. His prose style was direct and unpretentious, and he was one of the first authors to incorporate the modern psychological theories of Freud into his work. He was a major influence on the generation of American writers that followed him, including Hemingway and Faulkner, although they both eventually turned against him. Anderson encouraged Faulkner in his writing aspirations, and he who wrote young Hemingway a letter of introduction to take with him to Paris, helping put him in touch with Stein and other American ex-pats. For her part, Stein called Anderson “a much more original writer than Hemingway.” Anderson is best known for his short-story cycle Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a portrait of life in a small Midwestern town. He also wrote a best-selling novel, Dark Laughter (1925).
It’s the birthday of British novelist, playwright, and essayist John Boynton — known as J.B. — Priestley (1894) (books by this author), born in Bradford, Yorkshire. He served in the infantry during World War I, and most of his friends were killed in combat. He didn’t write about the war, and remained nostalgic for the pre-war years, saying, “I belong at heart to the pre-1914 North Country.” After studying English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, he became a journalist, and then a novelist, and then a dramatist. He was also a popular and talented radio speaker, and produced a series of patriotic broadcasts during World War II. He wrote more than 120 books, most notably the novels The Good Companions (1929), Bright Day (1946), and Lost Empires (1965).
In a 1978 interview with the International Herald Tribune, he said, “Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness — when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be,” and, “Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries.”
On this date in 1848, railway worker Phineas Gage survived having an iron rod driven through his brain. He was 25 years old, a handsome young man and a hard worker, and was a foreman on a crew cutting a railroad bed near Cavendish, Vermont. He was using a tamping iron to pack explosives into a hole in a boulder when the explosive powder detonated. It drove his tamping iron — which was 43 inches long, and an inch and a quarter wide — through his left cheek, up behind his left eye, and out the top of his head, where it landed some 30 yards away. He lost the vision in his left eye, but it’s possible that he didn’t even lose consciousness; in any case, he was able to walk to an oxcart within a few minutes of the accident. Workers took him to his boarding house, where he had enough of his wits about him to quip to the local doctor, “Here is business enough for you.” One witness reported that Gage got up and vomited; “the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.”
The doctor, John Martin Harlow, cleaned the wounds, removed the smaller bone fragments and replaced some larger ones. He closed the top head wound with adhesive, but left it open to drain into the dressing. Gage hit a few stumbling blocks in the next weeks, developing what the doctor called a “fungus” on an exposed section of his brain, which put him in a semi-comatose state and prompted his family to order a coffin for him. He also developed an abscess under the scalp, which the doctor drained before it could leak into his brain cavity. But by the following January, Gage had completely recovered, although the large exit wound never fully healed.
Though he was living a seemingly normal life, Gage’s friends noticed dramatic changes in his personality in the months after the incident. Dr. Harlow faithfully recorded them and published them 20 years later in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Medical Society: “He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinent [sic], yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.'” He lost his job with the railway company and took work in stables, driving coaches, until he died 12 years later after a series of seizures.
Had he merely survived the accident with most of his faculties intact, he would have gone down in history as an oddity. As it turned out, he also inspired new areas of brain research and became one of the most famous patients in neuroscience. Even though there wasn’t much hard data recorded about Gage, scientists began researching a connection between brain injury and personality change. They also became interested in “mapping” the brain, noticing a link in Gage’s case between the frontal cortex and social inhibitions, and positing that different areas of the brain may control different functions. Two-thirds of psychology textbooks mention him. His skull and the tamping iron are on display at the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard’s School of Medicine.
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