“To Survive You Must Tell Stories.” –Umberto Eco

 

What a wonderful way to begin the first of March with the celebration of 3 writers born today!  Ralph Ellison, novelist and essayist, was born in 1914 in Oklahoma; poet Robert Lowell was born in Boston in 1917 and poet Richard Wilbur was born in 1921 in NYC. Ellison didn’t grow up believing he would be a writer; he was more interested in composing, but after meeting Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, his direction changed. Lucky us!  Robert Lowell had bipolar disorder and struggled with that in and out of mental institutions all of his life. Richard Wilbur started out as a journalist, but while serving in WW II, he read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe and started composing poems about the loneliness he was feeling. Wilbur wrote, “I would feel dead if I didn’t have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry.”The Writer’s Almanac   

The opening line of Ralph Ellison’s most famous novel and even the very first paragraph of that novel continues to be studied throughout the world:

”I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”  Sadly, we still have too many “invisible” men, women and children throughout the world.

On a lighter note, The Who’s Roger Daltry is 70 years old today!!!!!!   I have great memories of seeing The Who several times at the Fillmore East in NYC.

 

 

 

 

 

On The Pleasure of Reading

   

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”  ~W. Somerset Maugham

Like many of you out there, I have always been a reader; started very young and was encouraged to read and write by my parents. All through school I read lots of books and wrote lots of poems and stories. As a teacher I would tell my students that the more you read, the better you read; and the more you read, the better you write. Reading and writing go hand and hand. I passed the love of reading onto my children, though my son fought it and didn’t become a reader or writer until later on…more so when a graduate student. My daughter took to it right away. Each child is different.  Currently, I just started “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, which has received very good reviews that I usually ignore. I’m not one to choose books by looking at book lists; only what strikes a chord as I’m reading the blurb. So far, so good, but I just started. I so enjoyed the last book I read, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, whose “The Secret Life of Bees” I truly loved 12 years ago, even enjoyed the movie, a rarity. Since mom is pretty much homebound, I am always looking for books for her to enjoy. She finds big books too big and too heavy to hold so now I’ve been getting her paperbacks like small mystery series set in England…nothing gory. Also, when I can find a good book set in WWI, like the wonderful, wonderful Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, I make sure to order those through my library. I refuse to buy books. No room. The latest WWI book that mom loved was “Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War” by Jennifer Robson, which I may read too, after I finish “The Goldfinch.”  Reading brings joy. Reading distracts. Reading takes me places without moving one step! Gotta Love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Snowy February Day in the North East

   

“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.”-Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day

The author/illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats has always hit a home run in the elementary school classroom. His stories, seemingly simple with simple illustrations appealed to children from all over the world. I’m sure they still do. “Ezra grew up and lived in New York City, where he saw children of different races and nationalities every day. And as the child of struggling immigrant parents, Ezra knew what it meant to feel like an outsider. When he was a young man, he happened to see a series of photos in a magazine of a little boy who was black about to get an injection. Ezra kept these pictures for many years without knowing why they were so important to him. When he decided to write and illustrate his own picture book, it struck him that all the children’s books he had ever seen were filled with white children. That was when he realized why he had kept those pictures. This little boy was going to be the hero of Ezra’s book, and, in a way, to represent Ezra in the world of his own childhood.”-ezrajackkeats.org

I was a teacher who taught about all cultures in my classroom and didn’t limit my lessons to particular months, i.e. February is Black History Month…March is Women’s History Month…October is Hispanic American Month…May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month and so on.  In a way, the designations of teaching certain cultures during specific months forced teachers to at least get a lesson in on that particular culture/race/heritage. There are classrooms that would never get even one lesson if not for those assigned months…sad to say.

This month, personally, gives me the opportunity to revisit writers, artists, philosophers, entertainers, sports legends, actors and so on that I have admired for oh so many years. Today I choose writer/observer James Baldwin and writer Nella Larsen of the Harlem Renaissance era. I used to love listening to James Baldwin when he was interviewed…the tone of his voice was mesmerizing and he never held back. I’ve read everything he wrote and ditto for Nella Larsen who doesn’t have a large body of work.

Here’s what Baldwin had to say about education many, many years ago:

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

         

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”-John Scully

 

E.L. Doctorow “thought of himself as a writer a long time before he actually got around to writing anything.”The Writer’s Almanac  In today’s world with Professional Life Coaches increasing in numbers every day, this attitude or thought process is the ideal; to have big dreams and work toward actualizing them. When I was really young, I dreamed of performing on stage…singing…acting and did some of that throughout school, but never pursued it professionally. The classroom became my stage and I instilled that love of the Arts in my students who knew early on that Shakespeare was right that “all the world’s a stage.” Happy Birthday to E.L. Doctorow, born today in 1931 in NYC. When he burst onto the literary scene with “Ragtime,” I gulped that up quickly. I’ve read his other books; some I liked (Book of Daniel) and other’s I didn’t (Homer & Langley.) 

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”-Kahlil Gibran

Also born today, the Lebanon-born poet, Kahlil Gibran in 1883. When Gibran was 12, he and his mom and siblings settled in Boston. Gibran, too, had dreams…maybe not known to him at the time…maybe not visualized…but this child of extreme poverty and troubled circumstances, learned English quickly in Boston and displayed an artistic talent. Soon his teachers supported that talent and made contacts for the young Gibran which opened his world. After Shakespeare and Lao-Tzo, Gibran is the 3rd best-selling poet in history. When I was a teenager or first-year college student, it was common for people to carry slim editions of Gibran’s “The Prophet” in their back pockets.

We celebrate the birthdays of 2 writers who didn’t know at a young age their exact realm of possibilities As parents, teachers, supporters, we need to nurture our children and all children to dream despite or in spite of obstacles in their lives and to help visualize dreams and paths toward those dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“That’s the Terrible Part. I Swear to God I’m a Madman.”-J.D. Salinger

 

J.D. Salinger was born on New Year’s Day the same year as my dearly beloved dad, 1919. Growing up, I read everything by Salinger and I know I loved his books then. Today, I haven’t a clue, I’d have to revisit him. Recently, when that new bio came out on him, Salinger by Shields and Salerno, I started it, but it was way too detailed and didn’t finish it. I’ll see their documentary on Salinger, which I just read is airing on PBS on January 21st.There was much I did know about him anyhow even if he was reported to be a recluse.  Anytime Joyce Maynard made a comment or wrote something on her relationship with him, I read it. Remember her?  “Joyce Maynard first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1973, when she was a freshman at Yale.”Joyce Maynard.com

When I was in the 7th grade, I had a lovely English teacher from England and I mentioned that I read “Catcher in the Rye” and she felt it was inappropriate at my age. I couldn’t understand that and neither could my  mom. I’ll never forget that.

Salinger, himself, remains an intriguing character due to his own persona, something the public never got to know. His written characters remain with the reader 50 years after digesting his stories…I’ll never forget Holden and his sister, Phoebe or Franny and Zooey and the others. Why?

According to Shields and Salerno, unpublished writings of Salinger will come out beginning in 2015 and for several years afterwards.

When Salinger was approached by a reporter and asked why he hasn’t published, this is what he said: “He said, ‘I refuse to publish,'” Eppes , “‘There’s a marvelous peace in not publishing,’ he said. ‘There’s a stillness. When you publish, the world thinks you owe something. If you don’t publish, they don’t know what you’re doing. You can keep it for yourself.'”Bill Chappell, NPR, 8-2013

Opposite of Salinger’s demeanor, Country Joe McDonald was also born today in 1942. I saw him several times and loved his music.

He was way out there in the limelight protesting the Vietnam War.

He’s happily still performing!

HAPPY 2014 EVERYONE!

 

 

 

 

 

One of “The Hollywood Ten”

     

“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five [people] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

    –Joseph Raymond McCarthy, speech, Wheeling, West Virginia, Febuary 9, 1950

Novelist, screenwriter and brave individual, Dalton Trumbo was born today in 1905. I remember reading his “Johnny Got His Gun” as a young teen and the profound impact it had on me as I read the thoughts of a soldier whose whole body was blown up and only his mind remained. It was a powerful book.

“Then there was this freedom the little guys were always getting killed for. Was it freedom from another country? Freedom from work or disease or death? Freedom from your mother-in-law? Please mister give us a bill of sale on this freedom before we go out and get killed. Give us a bill of sale drawn up plainly in advance what we’re getting killed for… so we can be sure after we’ve won your war that we’ve got the same kind of freedom we bargained for.”-Dalton Trumbo, “Johnny Got His Gun”

And to think, that the writer of the above text was considered a threat to our country? 

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?’

In the 1950s, thousands of Americans who toiled in the government, served in the army, worked in the movie industry, or came from various walks of life had to answer that question before a congressional panel.”ushistory.org

Dalton Trumbo was one of The Hollywood Ten, those individuals who were blacklisted because they wouldn’t name names at Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts, the HUAC hearings in the late 40s and early 50s. Trumbo was the screenwriter behind “Spartacus,”  “Roman Holiday” and other big movies. Lives were forever ruined by McCarthyism.  I am so happy a movie is being made about Dalton Trumbo and what he went through. It will star Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame and will be simply and aptly titled, Trumbo. We can never take our liberties and freedoms for granted.

“No man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.” -Edward R. Murrow, On Senator Joseph McCarthy, See It Now, March 7, 1954

 

 

 

 

 

“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”-Joseph Heller

 

“Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller, is not an entirely successful novel. It is not even a good novel. It is not even a good novel by conventional standards. But there can be no doubt that it is the strangest novel yet written about the United States Air Force in World War II. Wildly original, brilliantly comic, brutally gruesome, it is a dazzling performance that will probably outrage nearly as many readers as it delights.”Orville Prescott, Books of the Times, NY Times, Oct. 23rd, 1961

Catch-22 was published today in 1961 when I was 9 years old; of course I didn’t read it then, but I must’ve read it at around 13 or 14 and I do remember loving it. I’m sure I was introduced to it by dear old Mom, who will be 90 soon. Throughout the years I would see Joseph Heller from time to time on TV (probably on Dick Cavett), especially with his cronies, other writers whose names I just can’t remember as of this moment, except for Kurt Vonnegut. Heller was an interesting fellow to say the least. When his daughter, Erica Heller, wrote her memoir about growing up with Joseph Heller in 2011, I read that…oh read it, it’s great, “Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home and Life Was a Catch-22.” For the 50th Anniversary of Catch-22, I saw Christopher Buckley (Yes, Bill’s son), Bob Gottlieb (Heller’s editor and friend) and Mike Nichols who directed the

film, Catch-22) a few times in various panel discussions on the relevance of Heller’s only book for quite a while. It took Heller over 10 years to write his 2nd book, Something Happened, which Kurt Vonnegut, a close friend of Heller’s, reviewed, “Is this book any good? Yes. It is splendidly put together and hypnotic to read. It is as clear and hard-edged as a cut diamond. Mr. Heller’s concentration and patience are so evident on every page that one can only say that “Something Happened” is at all points precisely what he hoped it would be.”NY Times Book Review, Oct. 6th, 1974

Six years after the publication of Catch-22, The Moody Blues released “Nights in White Satin.” It’s still beautiful after all these years. I do remember seeing them a few times in concert…probably at The Fillmore East in NYC.

What unites Joseph Heller and The Moody Blues?