Monday Mar. 20, 2017

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Room Service English Muffins

If you’ve ever had one you know what I’m saying:
soggy with steam, too much butter soaking into the crevices.
At first you’re mad—you told them butter on the side
but then you’re grateful to have it. Day after day
you eat it dry, now away, alone on business
in your overheated hotel room,
you’re grateful for the butter, indebted to strangers
wearing hair nets in a distant kitchen for slathering your muffins,
tucking them into a cloth napkin, placed in a mesh basket,
variety of colorful jams for you to choose.
It’s enough joy just to take that first bite, if you’re lucky
it’s still warm even after the long elevator ride.
If you’re lucky there’s a yellow single stem rose in a bud vase,
shiny silverware poking out of the starched white napkin.
Why give me a fork, you think? You ordered coffee and a muffin,
why complicate it with a fork? And then you spot the tiny
salt & pepper shakers in the shadow of the napkin, and you wonder,
does anyone, no matter how troubled, put salt & pepper
on their English Muffins? Maybe.
Maybe when they’re far from home.

“Room Service English Muffins” by Kim Dower from Air Kissing on Mars. © Red Hen Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Earth is tilted on its axis, so as it travels around the sun each pole is sometimes tilted toward the sun and sometimes tilted away. It is this tilt that causes the seasons, as well as the shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. On this day, the North and South Poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.

Emily Dickinson said: “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old.”

Mark Twain said: “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

On this day in 1916, Albert Einstein (books by this author) published his theory of general relativity. The theory proposed that massive objects, like planets, create a distortion in space-time that is felt as gravity.

Relativity is important for many technologies today. For example, GPS satellites need to take into account imperceptible changes in time described by relativity — just a few microseconds — due to their high speed. If they did not do this, they would be off in their distance calculations by several miles after only one day.

When Einstein was asked what he would have done if his theory of general relativity had not held up, he replied, “Then I would have been sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct.”

It’s the birthday of psychologist B(urrhus) F(rederic) Skinner (books by this author), born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (1904). He was the leading exponent of the school of psychology known as behaviorism, which explains the behavior of humans and animals in terms of their psychological responses to external stimuli. He coined the term operant conditioning to describe the phenomenon of learning as a result of an organism responding to its environment. He did extensive research with animals, notably rats and pigeons, and invented the famous Skinner box, in which a rat learns to press a lever in order to obtain food.

Skinner, who said, “A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

It’s the birthday of the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (books by this author), better known as Ovid, born in Sulmo, 90 miles east of Rome (43 B.C.). Most of what we know about him comes from autobiographical poems he wrote later in life. His father sent him to Rome to study rhetoric, but Ovid decided to be a poet instead of an orator or a lawyer.

He made a name for himself publishing poems about amorous dalliances, and was soon the darling of the Roman literary scene. He then started writing something quite different: the Metamorphoses (A.D. 8). It’s a 12,000-line poem that relates a series of Greek and Roman myths of transformation. He was just finishing the book when he was exiled from Rome for what he called “a poem and a mistake.” We don’t know what that mistake was, but it coincides with a scandal involving Augustus’s granddaughter. She was exiled at the same time, and some scholars believe Ovid may have been an unwitting accomplice. He tried to earn his way back into the good graces of the emperor Augustus, and Augustus’s successor Tiberius, but to no avail. He died in the Black Sea fishing village of Tomis, in what is now Romania, in A.D. 17.

Europe experienced an Ovid revival in the Middle Ages, and his romantic early poems set the standard for the medieval age of chivalry and courtly love. In the Renaissance, Ovid inspired the Humanist movement. Today, Ovid is best known for the Metamorphoses. In retelling the stories of the gods, the poem is really an exploration of human nature. The Metamorphoses inspired the works of Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Pound, among others. Michel de Montaigne, the father of the essay, mentions Ovid several times in his work, and wrote: “The first taste I had for books came to me from my pleasure in the fables of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. For at about seven or eight years of age, I would steal away from any other pleasure to read them.”

Today is the birthday of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (books by this author), born in Skien, Norway (1828). When he was eight, his father’s merchant business failed, thrusting the family into poverty. They moved to a rundown farm. Ibsen performed magic tricks to feel better. He became an apprentice to an apothecary at 15, and for the next six years, he wrote and painted on the side, writing his first great play, Catilina, in 1849.

It was in 1851, when Ibsen met Ole Bull, a violinist and theater manager, that he began to seriously consider life as a playwright. Bull offered him a position managing the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen, which gave Ibsen an opportunity to learn the theater from the inside out.

A youthful James Joyce was in such awe of Henrik Ibsen that he learned Danish just to read the plays in the original language and wrote Ibsen a letter that said, “I am a young Irishman, eighteen years old, and the words of Ibsen I shall keep in my heart all my life.”

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