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+
While I Was Sleeping
by Olivia Stiffler
my daughter’s hair
Great nieces and nephews
returned from college
some with degrees
some with babies
some with the same bad habits.
wore a boyfriend
handcuffed to her wrist.
My husband grew cataracts
and seemed confused.
As was I
waking to this drama
having skipped whole scenes
of the set-change crew.
“While I Was Sleeping” by Olivia Stiffler from Hiding in Plain Sight. © Olivia Stiffler. Dos Madres, 2017. (buy now)
Using the Old Style calendar, it was on this day in 1620 that the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World. The passengers called themselves Separatists or Saints, but today we call them Pilgrims. They had come to believe that the only way to practice their religion freely would be to separate themselves from the Church of England. They moved at first to a village near Amsterdam, where the government was more religiously tolerant, but eventually decided to travel to the New World to start a society from scratch.
They originally commissioned two boats for the journey: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. But when they set out, the Speedwell began to leak. They returned to England and tried to repair the Speedwell, but it was not fit for travel. So on this day in 1620, they set sail in the Mayflower, leaving the Speedwell behind.
Having wasted time trying to repair the Speedwell, they had to start their journey later in the summer, when the winds were less favorable. Because of strong crosscurrents, the Mayflower averaged only two miles an hour.
There are no records left as to the size and shape of the Mayflower, but historians believe it was about 90 feet long. In addition to the 102 passengers, it carried food for the journey as well as stores for the winter, livestock, and tools needed to start the new colony. The passengers of the Mayflower had to make themselves comfortable in the large open cargo area called the orlop. One nice thing about the Mayflower was that it smelled sweet, because it had previously been used to transport wine.
Some of the richer families brought partitions for their areas on the boat, but most passengers on the Mayflower had no privacy. There were no sanitary facilities, and there was little fresh water for washing. Many of the passengers became seasick. They ate cold food — cheese and fish or salted beef.
The Mayflower‘s destination was supposed to be near the mouth of the Hudson River, but it had sailed off course and landed near Cape Cod. The Pilgrims spent the next month searching for a place to settle. On December 21, just over three months after they left England, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, their new home.
Only half the colonists and crew survived that first winter. But today, an estimated 35 million people are direct descendants of those Mayflower Pilgrims.
On this day in 1847, Henry David Thoreau (books by this author) left Walden Pond and moved back to his father’s house in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau had lived in the hut for two years, leading a simple life of gardening and contemplation, subsisting on a daily budget of 27-1/2 cents. When he moved back to Concord, he took with him the first draft of his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, strung together from 10 years of journal entries.
It’s the birthday of writer Alice Sebold (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She grew up near Philadelphia — and she says that she was the “weird” one in an otherwise normal, suburban, middle-class family. Her older sister was smart and talented, but Alice fell between the cracks. She was turned down by the University of Pennsylvania even though her father was a professor there.
She ended up at Syracuse, and during her first semester of college, she was attacked and raped near campus. Sebold tried to piece her life back together — she helped bring her rapist to trial and got him convicted with a maximum sentence; and she went back to college, where she was mentored by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher in the creative writing program. But after graduation, she floated around all over the country, did too many drugs, worked a series of jobs, and made halfhearted attempts to write but never finished anything. When she was in her 30s, she got a job as the caretaker of an arts colony in California. It was there, in a cinderblock house in the woods with no electricity, that she finally started to write seriously. She applied to graduate school and wrote a memoir, Lucky (1999).
Her breakthrough was her first novel, The Lovely Bones (2002), the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered and narrates the whole novel from heaven while looking down on her family and murderer. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.
Sebold has said in interviews that she was as surprised by the book’s success as anyone. She said, “It’s very weird to succeed at thirty-nine years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted anyway.”
It’s the birthday of the general and aristocrat the Marquis de Lafayette, born in Chavaniac, France (1757). He was a 19-year-old captain in the French army when he sailed to America (1777) and offered to help the revolutionary cause. He was appreciated for his powerful court connections, and George Washington made him a major general. He led six light infantry battalions (1780), and a Light Corps (1781), and in the closing days of the war helped confine General Cornwallis’s army to the coast of Virginia.
British aviator Beryl Markham (books by this author) flew alone across the Atlantic from east to west on this date in 1936. She was the second person, and the first woman, to cross the Atlantic in that direction; flying east to west meant flying into the wind, which took longer, used more fuel, and was more dangerous. She made the journey in a blue monoplane dubbed the Messenger.
Markham took off from Abingdon airfield in England, intending to fly to New York. She lost her chart half an hour into the flight, when a gust of wind took it out the window. She had no radio. She ran into bad weather on the crossing, with periods of low visibility, and used more fuel than she had planned on, but she made it across the Atlantic before the fuel ran out. She managed to bring her plane down in a bog in Nova Scotia, within 10 miles of the spot from which Charles Lindbergh had taken off to make the crossing in the other direction. She suffered only minor injuries, walked three miles to the nearest farmhouse, and later hitched a ride on another plane to New York City, where 5,000 people greeted her.
A blond, athletic wife and mother described at the time as a “society matron,” Markham was no stranger to adventure. She grew up in Kenya, still a British colony at that time. Her father was a well-known trainer of racehorses, and when she was a young woman, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. She later became a bush pilot. After she gave up flying, she returned to Kenya and spent the rest of her life training horses.
Markham wrote a memoir of her adventures, West with the Night (1942). Ernest Hemingway was a fan of the book, writing in a letter, “I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.”
Today is the birthday of American social reformer Jane Addams (1860) (books by this author), who co-founded the Chicago settlement house, Hull-House, in 1889 when she was 29 years old. Addams was born into an affluent Quaker family in Cedarville, Illinois. Her father was a state senator and Addams led a life of privilege, but her childhood was beset by health problems at an early age: at four, she contracted tuberculosis of the spine, known as Pott’s disease, which caused a curvature in her spine that lasted throughout her life. She walked with a limp and thought herself ugly. She turned to literature to find her place in the world, especially the works of Charles Dickens.
She attended medical school in Philadelphia for only a year before spinal surgery and a nervous breakdown curtailed her studies. It was during a visit to London with her friend Ellen Gates Starr that she found her true calling. They visited Toynbee Hall, a facility established to help the poor of London, and decided to do the same for the poor immigrants of Chicago’s 19th Ward. They took over a run-down mansion built by Charles Hull, a real estate magnate, named it Hull-House, and, with a number of wealthy women as their donors, began offering services to the needy in the neighborhood. Eventually, Hull-House expanded to 10 buildings and offered a night school for adults, a public kitchen, gym, girls club, bathhouse, and music school. It was the first settlement house in Chicago and at its peak, served more than 2,000 people a week.
Addams believed that it was women’s duty to be “civic housekeepers.” She said: “America’s future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence, we must watch what we teach, and how we live.”
Jane Addams is responsible for the advent of social work as a profession in the United States, as well as the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union. She compiled her lectures on peace and pacifism into the book, Newer Ideas of Peace (1907), and became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (1931).
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