Wednesday Apr. 12, 2017

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Be Kind

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Be Kind” by Michael Blumenthal from No Hurry. © Etruscan Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Tom Clancy (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). He was the author of many military thrillers, including The Hunt for Red October (1984), Patriot Games (1987), Clear and Present Danger (1989), and The Sum of All Fears (1991). His research was so meticulous, and his books so accurate in the tiniest detail, that they were very popular among members of the armed forces. Video games based on his books are so realistic that the military uses them for training. He was invited to lecture at the Pentagon several times, and he often sat in on weapons briefings. But Clancy — although he had been a naval history buff since he was a kid — never served in the military. He did join the ROTC in college, but his eyesight was terrible, and he was rejected from service

“I tell [aspiring writers] you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” he once said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.”

Clancy’s last book, which was co-written with Mark Greaney, was Command Authority. It was published in December 2013, just a couple of months after Clancy’s death.

It’s the birthday of the playwright Alan Ayckbourn (books by this author), born in London (1939). He dropped out of school when he was 17 to pursue a career in the theater, and he has written 81 full-length plays, including The Norman Conquests (1973).

He said, “The darker the subject, the more light you must try to shed on the matter. And vice versa.”

Today is the 101st birthday of writer Beverly Cleary (books by this author) (1916), the creator of Ramona Quimby, an irascible, imaginative, feisty little girl who continues to transfix children more than 60 years after first appearing in the book Henry Huggins (1950). There are more than 91 million copies of Beverly Cleary books in print.

Cleary's books tackled difficult subjects—like Ramona's father losing his job and trying to quit smoking—with grace and humor, but minus the moralistic tone she remembered from the books of her childhood. She said, "I wrote books to entertain. I'm not trying to teach anything." Her books include Beezus and Ramona (1955), The Mouse and the Motorcycle  (1965), Ramona the Pest (1968), and Ralph the Mouse (1982).

You can visit Ramona, Ribsy, and Henry Huggins at the Portland, Oregon, "Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden."

On why Ramona Quimby struck such a nerve with young girls, Beverly Cleary answered: "Because [Ramona] does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be 'better' children and, in my experience, they didn't. They just grew, and so I started Ramona [...] and she has never reformed. [She's] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don't turn out the way she expected." Ramona Quimby has a doll named Chevrolet and campaigned to name her baby sister Aston Martin.

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