Saturday Dec. 31, 2016

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New Year Poem

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

We are dying away from things.
It is a necessity—we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.

Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.

We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.

There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
Faintly ridiculous
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)

Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.

“New Year Poem” by May Sarton from Collected Poems. © Norton, 1993. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s New Year’s Eve, which means people across the world will celebrate the passing of another year and toast to hopes for the new year ahead. The idea of celebrating a new year dates back 4,000 years to the Babylonians, who held a massive 12-day festival called Akitu, which was the Sumerian word for “barley.”

Millions of people will sit in front of the television to watch the ball drop at midnight in Times Square in New York City. The first Times Square celebration occurred in 1904 to commemorate the official opening of the Times Tower, the new headquarters for the New York Times newspaper. More than 200,000 people gathered to wave noisemakers and to watch fireworks. Fireworks were banned two years later, but an enormous, illuminated 700-pound iron and wood ball was lowered instead, from the tower’s flagpole, beginning a beloved tradition.

It’s the birthday of the painter Henri Matisse, born in Le Cateau, France (1869). As far as historians can tell, there was absolutely no sign in Matisse’s early life that he would go on to become an artist. He started out studying law, and though his law school was in Paris, Matisse never once attended an art museum while he was living there, not even the Louvre.

He returned home after law school to take a clerical job in a lawyer’s office, when he was struck by a case of appendicitis. He was bedridden for weeks, and a neighbor suggested that he try passing the time by painting. His mother bought him a box of paints, and he read a how-to-paint book. He later described those first experiences painting as almost like a religious conversion. He said, “For the first time in my life I felt free, quiet, and alone … carried along by a power alien to my life as a normal man.”

Henri Matisse said, “I overdid everything as a matter of course.”

It’s the birthday of the novelist Nicholas Sparks (books by this author), born in Omaha, Nebraska (1965). He’s one of the few successful male romance novelists, starting with his first novel, The Notebook, which he wrote as an homage to his wife’s grandparents. They had been married for 62 years when he met them and he realized while talking to them for the first time that they were still flirting with each other.

Nicholas Sparks said: “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.”

It’s the birthday of Jule Styne, born on this day in 1905, a British-American songwriter whose 75-year career produced Broadway musicals like Funny Girl and over 200 hits and industry standards, among them “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!”

Junot Díaz turns 48 today (books by this author), the Dominican-American fiction writer known for his works The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008), Drown (1996), and This Is How You Lose Her (2012). Díaz was born in Santo Domingo in 1968. He moved from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey with his family when he was six years old, and his work highlights the history of his country and the experiences of its emigrants, including the lasting influence of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The situations and characters in his books often overlap. One of Díaz’s most memorable characters is the Spanglish-speaking, street-smart Yunior, whom Díaz has featured in three books since his creation in 1991 as part of a short story meant to get Díaz into Cornell University’s Master of Fine Arts program. According to Díaz: “I guess I’m just hopelessly fascinated by the realities that you can assemble out of connected fragments.”

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