Friday Nov. 14, 2014

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When I Am Old

I’ll have dewlaps on a hump and say what all the time
in a cross voice: on every one of my bony crony fingers
a ring. My lips painted with a slash of bright fuchsia,
I’ll drink margaritas by the tumbler full and if my dealer
dies before I do, I’ll just have to look for younger suppliers.
I can’t imagine not being interested in sex, but if it happens,
so be it, really I could do with a rest, complete hormonelessness.
I may forget who I am and how to find my way home, but be
patient, remember I’ve always been more than a little confused
and never did have much of a sense of direction. If I’m completely
demented, I’m depending on friends: you know who you are.

"When I Am Old" by Moyra Donaldson, from Selected Poems. © Liberties Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of children's writer Astrid Lindgren (books by this author), born near Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She was a good writer, and after high school she was offered a job at the local paper. She wrote news articles, reviews, obituaries, and advertising copy. At the age of 18, she had an affair with the editor-in-chief, who was 30 years her senior. He proposed marriage, but she refused. The scandal was hard on her family, and she left for Stockholm. She didn't feel prepared to raise a child, and she heard about a hospital in Copenhagen that was sensitive to the situation of unwed mothers. She gave birth there, and arranged for her son, Lars, to live with a foster family until she was able to take care of him. She went back to Stockholm to work as a secretary, but she was paid badly, and she barely made enough to support herself and travel back and forth to Copenhagen to visit Lars. For the train fare, she borrowed money from friends, and pawned off her few possessions. She was often hungry, relying on packages of butter and cheese sent from her parents. She wrote to her brother: "I feel lonely and poor. Lonely because I am, and poor because the only possessions I have are a few small Danish coins." She was fired for skipping work to visit her son, so she got another job, this time at the Royal Automobile Club. A couple of years later, she married one of her coworkers, and they brought Lars back to Sweden to live with them. Soon they had a daughter, Karin.

Lindgren stayed home with her two young children, and she began to do magazine writing on the side to earn some extra income. When Karin was seven years old, she had a bad case of pneumonia and was sick in bed. She asked her mother to tell her a story, and when Lindgren asked what sort of story, Karin said she wanted to hear about a girl named Pippi Longstocking. Lindgren liked the name, and she told her many stories about a girl named Pippi with red braids and superhuman strength, who tells lies and lives with a monkey and a horse. A few years later, Lindgren sprained her ankle and was herself laid up in bed, so she decided to write down all the Pippi Longstocking stories as a present for Karin's 10th birthday. When Pippi Longstocking (1945) was published, it was a huge success, with 20,000 copies sold in just two weeks. Lindgren wrote more Pippi books and other children's books. She was famous and wealthy, and won prestigious awards. But she stayed living in her small apartment, and kept her job as an editor, writing stories in shorthand in the morning before going off to her editing job.

Her books include Pippi Goes Aboard (1946), The Children of Noisy Village series (1946-1966), Pippi in the South Seas (1948), The Brothers Lionheart (1973), and Ronia, the Robber's Daughter (1981).

On this date in 1889, 25-year-old journalist Nellie Bly (books by this author) set out on a journey around the world. She wanted to beat the "record" set by the fictional Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, so she convinced the newspaper that she worked for — The New York World — to back her in exchange for a story. Business manager George W. Turner was reluctant; he preferred to send a male journalist because a man wouldn't need "a dozen trunks" to undertake such a journey. Bly vowed to travel light, but when the paper persisted in its plans to send one of her male counterparts, she said, "Very well, start the man and I'll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him." The World caved, and Bly set out with a single piece of hand luggage 16 inches wide and 7 inches high. "It will be seen," she wrote, "that if one is traveling simply for the sake of traveling, and not for the purpose of impressing one's fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one." She completed her journey in 72 days.

It's the birthday of Claude Monet, born in Paris (1840). He and his friend Auguste Renoir were among the first European painters to take their canvases outside to paint directly from nature. They would often work as quickly as they could, so that their paintings looked like sketches, and that sketchy style became known as Impressionism. Monet spent the rest of his career exploring the idea that you can never really see the same thing twice. In a single day, he would often paint the same subject half a dozen times, from slightly different angles and in slightly different light, spending no more than about an hour on each canvas.

In the last 30 years of his life, he painted almost nothing but the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. Monet bought the four-acre property in 1883, built the bridges, dug the lake, and selected all the flowers and plants himself. His gardens are now the property of the French Academy of Fine Arts, which hosts visitors from all over the world.

It's the birthday of journalist P.J. O'Rourke (books by this author), born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1947. He's the author of Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (1991), Give War a Chance (1992), and Driving Like Crazy (2009).

He said: "The source of the word 'humorist' is one who regards human beings in terms of their humors — you know, whether they're sanguine or full of yellow bile, or whatever the four classical humors are. You stand back from people and regard them as types. And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®