Monday Nov. 28, 2016

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I fished alone that languid autumn evening.
Fished as darkness kept coming on.
Experiencing exceptional loss and then
exceptional joy when I brought a silver salmon
to the boat, and dipped a net under the fish.
Secret heart! When I looked into the moving water
and up at the dark outline of the mountains
behind the town, nothing hinted then
I would suffer so this longing
to be back once more, before I die.
Far from everything, and far from myself.

“Evening” by Raymond Carver from Ultramarine. © Vintage Books, 1986. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of comedian Jon Stewart, born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz in New York City (1962). For 16 years, he was the host of Comedy Central’s satiric news program The Daily Show — and was at one time considered by Americans as one of their most trusted journalists. He conducted dozens of interviews with current and former world leaders, including Britain’s Tony Blair, whom he confronted about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Nineteen people flew into the towers. It seems hard for me to imagine that we could go to war enough to make the world safe enough that 19 people wouldn’t want to do harm to us. So it seems like we have to rethink a strategy that is less military-based.”

Since his retirement, he’s enjoyed spending more time with his family and experiencing the mundane aspects of life. “I go to the carwash,” he said. “I get smoothies. I call [my wife] on the road and be like ‘I’m eatin’ a slice in the car,’ you know.” He and his wife, Tracey, have also opened an animal sanctuary on their farm in Middletown, New Jersey. In October, Stewart was honored for his efforts on behalf of the firefighters and other first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He repeatedly lobbied Congress to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which provided health care funding. “I cannot bring heroism or integrity to this process,” Stewart said in a press conference. “I can only bring cameras and hopefully a sense of public shame.”

It’s the birthday of the philosopher and writer Friedrich Engels (books by this author), born in Barmen, Prussia (now Germany), in 1820. He dropped out of high school, went to work as an office clerk, then served in the army. He was excited by radical philosophy, and his father sent him to England to work in textile firm where he was a shareholder, hoping to change his son’s opinions. Instead of convincing young Friedrich to abandon his views, working in England just made him more radical, and he wrote a book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845). Engels decided to go back to Germany, but on his way he stopped in Paris to meet Karl Marx at a café and talk, and they ended up becoming good friends, and Engels ended up staying in Paris. He helped Marx with the book he was working on, and a few years later, they co-authored the Communist Manifesto (1848).

It’s the birthday of music producer Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown Records, born in Detroit, Michigan (1929). He went to work on an assembly line, writing songs in his head to relieve the monotony. He borrowed $700 from his family to start a recording studio in 1959, and he got his first big hit in 1960 with the song "Shop Around" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Today is the birthday of astrophysicist and author Alan Lightman (books by this author), born in Memphis (1948). He was fascinated by science and by writing, so he decided to do both. He studied physics at Princeton and at the California Institute of Technology. To feed the writer side of his soul, he studied and emulated the essays of E.B. White.

He was the first professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to receive a joint appointment in departments of science and humanities, and he often found himself teaching physics in the morning, then walking across campus to lead a fiction-writing workshop.

In 1992, Lightman published Einstein’s Dreams, a novel that chronicled the dreams Einstein might have had as he worked on his theory of relativity. It was composed of 30 small vignettes, each a separate dream about time. Einstein’s Dreams was an international best-seller. His most recent book is a partly fictionalized memoir called Screening Room (2015), about Lightman’s movie theater mogul grandfather. The Washington Post named it one of the best books of 2015.

From Lightman’s essay collection The Accidental Universe (2014): “I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone.

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