Saturday Mar. 11, 2017

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Things to Think

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

“Things to Think” by Robert Bly from Eating the Honey of Words. © Harper Collins, 1999. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1818 that the novel Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus was published. It was first published anonymously, but quickly became a sensation, and when 21-year-old Mary Shelley (books by this author) stepped forward as the author, many were doubtful that such a young woman could have crafted the deeply complex and intriguing story of creation, ethics, and philosophy.

The story of scientist Victor Frankenstein and the creature he forged from the spare parts of corpses. Frankenstein is now considered a modern classic, the very first science fiction novel, and became a popular symbol of feminist literature in the 1960s. Mary Shelley went on to write novels like Valpergo (1823), The Last Man (1826), and Perkin Warbeck (1830). She died at the age of 51 from a brain tumor.

Today marks the 129th anniversary of “The Blizzard of ’88,” one of the worst in American history. Over 55 inches of snow struck the northeast coast of the United States, killing around 400 people. At the time, nearly a quarter of all Americans lived in the affected area. The day before the storm, the temperature had been a balmy 50 degrees. By the next morning, however, the world was in a whiteout, with winds reaching up to 85 mph.

The most heavily affected city, perhaps, was New York. All existing train, water, phone, and gas lines were above ground, frozen, and in some cases burst — in fact, the realization that this configuration was a problem is what led to the underground systems we have today. But despite the catastrophe unfolding around them, many New Yorkers carried on as usual. Rather than be deterred by a snowfall that only reached the second story of their buildings, some made the trek to their usual above-ground train lines to go to work. When they eventually became trapped on those train lines, other entrepreneurial locals offered to pass them a rescue ladder for a small fee. Mark Twain and P.T. Barnum were both in the city, stranded but in good spirits. Some locals tried to cross the frozen East River spanning between Manhattan and Queens only to be stranded on free-floating floes when the ice broke.

On this day in 1969, Levi-Strauss began selling bell-bottomed jeans. In the 1960s, young women began ripping the outside seams on the legs of their jeans and sewing on additional triangles of fabric in bright colors to create a flared leg. The style quickly became popular, as many young people were looking for funky, offbeat, casual clothing, and they could buy jeans cheaply at thrift and military surplus stores. Flared pants weren’t new, though: flared legs had been around since the 17th century. They were especially popular with sailors because they could easily roll up the wide legs when mopping wet decks. If a sailor fell overboard, the pants could be pulled over his boots, inflating with air and buoying him. Most clothing manufacturers in the ’60s were hesitant to jump on the trend because bell-bottoms were associated with radicals, rebellion, and marijuana use, but not Levi-Strauss.

It is the birthday of British humorist and science fiction writer Douglas Adams (books by this author), born in Cambridge (1952). He is best known for his five-part “trilogy” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which an unassuming man named Arthur is saved from Earth’s destruction by an alien travel journalist who picks him up in a spaceship. Among the people that Arthur meets in his travels are a depressed robot, the two-headed Galactic President, and the only other human survivor in the universe — a woman whom Arthur once met at a party in England.

It’s the birthday of international media titan (Keith) Rupert Murdoch, born on a farm outside Melbourne, Australia (1931). Young Rupert spent hours riding his horse around the picturesque family farm, through green fields bordered by ghost gum trees. His father was a famous war correspondent and owned a couple of newspapers; the house was full of books and art, and Rupert was groomed from a young age to take over the family trade. “I was brought up in a publishing home, a newspaperman’s home, and was excited by that, I suppose,” he later said. “I saw that life at close range, and after the age of 10 or 12 never really considered any other.”

His father died unexpectedly in 1952, and the 21-year-old Rupert found himself the owner of two of his father’s Adelaide papers: the News and the Sunday Mail. After a brief apprenticeship in London, he returned to Australia to run the papers. “I was so young and so new to the business that when I pulled my car into the lot on my first day, the garage attendant admonished me, ‘Hey sonny, you can’t park here,’” he recalled. But Murdoch rolled up his sleeves and got involved in every aspect of newspaper publishing, from setting type to writing headlines. He turned The News into a tabloid, trading in sex, scandal, and gossip. People were shocked — but that didn’t stop them from buying the paper in record numbers. The changes were so successful that Murdoch was able to expand his empire after just three years, buying papers in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and revamping them in a similar fashion.

In 1968, he expanded his empire, buying the famous London tabloid The News of the World, and adding The Sun a year later. Under Murdoch, The Sun first unveiled its “Page 3” feature, publishing pictures of topless women on the paper’s third page. Murdoch later said that an editor made that decision while he — Murdoch — was out of town, but the move proved so popular that he decided to go with it. The headlines of Murdoch’s tabs were always big, bold, and in eye-catching capital letters: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR”; “UP YOURS DELORS”; “SINISTER SECRETS OF THE HELL HOUSE”; and “F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH 5 HOOKERS.”

Murdoch broke into the American market in 1973 with the purchase of a Texas tabloid, the San Antonio Express-News. He has, at various times, owned many American publications, including the Star, the New York Post, the Village Voice, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald, New York Magazine, National Geographic, and TV Guide. In 1985, he branched out from print publishing into entertainment with the purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. He also created the FOX television network. He consolidated a number of British and American publishing houses under the umbrella of HarperCollins in 1990.

Murdoch makes no secret of his conservative political views, and the influence he could wield through media is part of what drew him to his profession in the first place: “I sensed the excitement and the power,” he recalls. “Not raw power, but the ability to influence at least the agenda of what was going on.” He once explained his dislike of the European Union by saying: “When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” He founded Fox News in 1996; it provides news, infotainment, and conservative political commentary. But he also claims not to be a “knee-jerk conservative.” He’s spoken out in favor of renewable energy and liberal immigration policies.

It’s the birthday of children’s author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (books by this author), born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn (1916). The son of impoverished Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, he wanted to be an artist, and that worried his family — but he couldn’t afford art school, so he got a job painting murals for the Works Progress Administration, and designed Army camouflage during World War II.

Keats had no intention of illustrating children’s books, much less writing them. He began to publish illustrations in magazines like Playboy and Reader’s Digest. But one children’s author saw his work and asked him to illustrate her book. The first book he wrote and illustrated on his own was The Snowy Day (1962), done all in collage, about a young black boy named Peter playing in his neighborhood after a new snowfall. It was one of the first children’s books to feature a black character. He went on to illustrate more than 80 children’s books, and to write and illustrate more than 20 books.

He said: “I love city life. All the beauty that other people see in country life, I find taking walks and seeing the multitudes of people.”

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