Sunday Apr. 30, 2017

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Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
        When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
        Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
        The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
        The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
        A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

        Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
        Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

“Spring” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Public domain.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of American nonfiction writer and novelist Annie Dillard (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). In 1970, she began keeping journals of her daily walks around Tinker Creek, by her home outside the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. She’d write about everything she saw, like animals and birds, and even her reflections on theology and literature. Eventually, she wrote so much she filled 20 volumes of journals. She decided she had enough for a book and at the very end, she was writing for 15 to 16 hours a day. That book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), won the Pulitzer Prize, when Annie Dillard was just 29 years old.

Dillard was the daughter of an oil company executive and read voraciously as a child. She says, “I opened books like jars.” One of her very favorites was The Field Book of Ponds and Streams (1930) by Ann Haven Morgan. She wrote about growing up in Pittsburgh in her autobiography, An American Childhood (1987). It was so popular that it helped usher in the memoir craze.

Dillard went to college, and ended up marrying her writing professor. She says: “In college I learned how to learn from other people. As far as I was concerned, writing in college didn’t consist of what little Annie had to say, but what Wallace Stevens had to say. I didn’t come to college to think my own thoughts; I came to learn what had been thought.” Annie Dillard’s books include Holy the Firm (1977), which is only 66 pages long, but took 14 months to write; Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982); and The Maytrees (2007).

Her advice: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek begins: “I live by a creek, Tinker Creek, in a valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. An anchorite’s hermitage is called an anchor-hold; some anchor-holds were simple sheds clamped to the side of a church like a barnacle or a rock. I think of this house clamped to the side of Tinker Creek as an anchor-hold. It holds me at anchor to the rock bottom of the creek itself and keeps me steadied in the current, as a sea anchor does, facing the stream of light pouring down. It’s a good place to live; there’s a lot to think about.

It’s the birthday of the woman who is most famous for being Gertrude Stein’s lover: that’s Alice B. Toklas (books by this author),  born in San Francisco (1877). She studied music at the University of Washington for a time, and was a gifted pianist. But when her mother died in 1897, she left college and her career aspirations behind, and returned home to care for her father and brothers.

She and Stein met in Paris in 1907, and Stein hired Toklas as a secretary. Toklas typed Stein’s manuscripts, and they fell in love. They officially moved in together in 1910, and were together until Stein’s death in 1946. Stein left most of her estate, including their valuable shared art collection, to Toklas, but since their relationship was not legally recognized, Stein’s relatives disputed her right to have — and sell — the art. The paintings ended up locked in a Paris bank vault at the insistence of the Steins. In need of an income, Toklas began writing, and published three books — one of which was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). That was Gertrude Stein’s autobiography, which Stein wrote using Toklas as narrator. In the book, Stein writes as Alice: “I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and a pretty good secretary and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I found it difficult to add being a pretty good author.” Toklas did eventually publish her own memoir, What is Remembered (1963). She spent her later years in financial difficulties and poor health.

On this day in 1939, the first live public television broadcast was aired to between 100 and 200 television sets in New York City. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the opening ceremonies of the New York World’s Fair in Flushing, NY. Around 1,000 people watched.

Live broadcasts were carried via the NBC network, which began regular programming after the Fair debut. Mass-produced televisions did not enter the market until around seven years later, in 1946, when RCA introduced its black and white 10-inch screen for the equivalent of $4,500 in today’s market. By the end of its first year, around 10,000 units had been sold. By the early 1950s, half of all Americans owned a television set.

It’s the birthday of John Crowe Ransom, born in Pulaski, Tennessee (1888). He started out as a passionate literature professor at Kenyon College whose students included Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate. At first, his students thought he was a terrible teacher because he forced them to read literature so slowly, sometimes spending an entire hour looking at a single line of poetry. He went on to found The Kenyon Review, and he became one of the most important literary critics of the 20th century.

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