Tuesday May 23, 2017

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the great escape

listen, he said, you ever seen a bunch of crabs in a
no, I told him.
well, what happens is that now and then one crab
will climb up on top of the others
and begin to climb toward the top of the bucket,
then, just as he’s about to escape
another crab grabs him and pulls him back
really? I asked.
really, he said, and this job is just like that, none
of the others want anybody to get out of
here. that’s just the way it is
in the postal service!
I believe you, I said.

just then the supervisor walked up and said,
you fellows were talking.
there is no talking allowed on this

I had been there for eleven and one-half

I got up off my stool and climbed right up the
and then I reached up and pulled myself right
out of there.

it was so easy it was unbelievable.
but none of the others followed me.

and after that, whenever I had crab legs
I thought about that place.

I must have thought about that place
maybe 5 or 6 times

before I switched to lobster.

“the great escape” by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. © Ecco Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

The New York Public Library was dedicated today in 1911. It is the second-largest public library in the U.S. — behind Library of Congress — and fourth-largest in the world.

The idea for the library gained steam in the late 1800s, with the death of former New York governor Samuel J. Tilden. In life he had strongly believed in the need for a public library, and his will left over $2 million for its inception.

For years, New York City had already had two major libraries — the Astor and the Lenox. The Astor Library was purely a reference stock hold, and as such it did not circulate its books. The Lenox was even more exclusive as a collection of rare books intended primarily for scholarship. The Lenox was free, but required tickets of admission.

In 1895, a plan was solidified to combine the Lenox and Astor libraries with the Tilden funds to create a truly public New York library. More than 1 million books were available for checkout. Around 40,000 visitors showed up on opening day. In the following years, Scottish-American steel baron Andrew Carnegie helped to fund branch libraries across the city.

Today, the library exists in 92 locations, holds nearly 53 million items, and serves about 18 million patrons.

The first state-sponsored veterinary school was established at Iowa State College on this date in 1879.

Animal medical care is as old as animal husbandry. A papyrus dated roughly 1900 B.C.E. has been found that lists a series of medical prescriptions for cattle and domestic dogs. But formal training in the Western world dates back only to 1762, when the first veterinary school was founded in Lyons, France. American veterinarians were either self-taught or served an apprenticeship with a more experienced practitioner. If they wanted a comprehensive education, they had to go to Europe. In the mid-1800s, professional schools began to emerge in the United States, but most didn’t last long, because their science was questionable. Some colleges and universities began offering courses in veterinary medicine in the 1860s, but there was no formal training program.

In 1858, Iowa Governor Ralph Lowe had signed a bill for the establishment of a “State Agricultural College.” Within that college, there would be a Veterinary Division, which would provide a truly scientific training program—something that was keenly needed, according to Dr. J. Arnold of the University Medical College in New York. He wrote: “This desire for instantaneous practical results is the damnation of true science; the telegraph, the steam engine were not developed by men of commercial minds, but by those who, seeking diligently for knowledge, which is truth, found the precious treasure, and being pure of heart, gave to their fellow men the result of their labors.”

The first dean of the Iowa State veterinary school was Milliken Stalker. The school was housed — along with the botany department — in the university president’s old house. One of the bedrooms served as the laboratory, and lectures were held in the front parlor.

Today there are roughly 70 million dogs, 74 million cats, 8 million domestic birds, and nearly 5 million horses in the United States, and their medical needs are met by 317,000 veterinarians. Since its foundation, Iowa State’s veterinary school has produced more than 7,000 of these.

Today is the birthday of American poet Jane Kenyon (1947) (books by this author), who once said, “A poet’s job is to find a name for everything: to be a fearless finder of the names of things.” Kenyon is best known for poems that explore depression, spirituality, and nature.

Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her father was a jazz pianist who toured with dance bands and her mother was a nightclub singer. To make ends meet, her father taught piano and her mother gave sewing lessons out of their home. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they had a lot of books, records, two upright pianos, and a used RCA Victor record player. Kenyon came of age in the 1960s, that decade’s sense of civil unrest inspiring both her desire to write and her later religious conversion. She met her future husband, the poet Donald Hall, as an undergraduate in his poetry writing class. They married when she graduated and moved east, to his ancestral farmhouse at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire, where they lived for the rest of Jane Kenyon’s life. She died of leukemia in 1995 at the age of 47.

Kenyon published poems in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Her poems were quiet and contemplative, written in a plain style that appealed to people. Her poetry became so popular that it was even featured in the Cameron Diaz movie In Her Shoes (2005). Diaz’s character, who has a learning disability, recites a few lines of Kenyon’s most famous poem, “Let Evening Come,” which is about Kenyon’s battle with depression, something that afflicted her throughout her life.

When asked what inspired her to write that poem, Kenyon, who became a Christian in midlife, said, “That poem was given to me [by] the muse, the Holy Ghost.” Kenyon’s books include Let Evening Come (1990), A Hundred White Daffodils (1999), and Collected Poems (2001).

Kenyon and Donald Hall (books by this author) were married for 23 years. At Eagle Pond Farm, they woke every morning, had coffee, took the dog for a walk, wrote poetry, took a nap, read the mail, played ping-pong, ate dinner, and then read books before bed. He said, in a famous essay about their marriage called The Third Thing, “It took me half my life, more than half, to discover with Jane’s guidance that two people could live together and remain kind.” Hall had published several more books than Kenyon had, and after her death, he wrote: “Two years after her death, a review of Jane began with a sentence I had been expecting. It was uttered in respect, without a sneer, and said that for years we had known of Jane Kenyon as Donald Hall’s wife but from now on we will know of Donald Hall as Jane Kenyon’s husband.”

On writing poetry, Jane Kenyon said, “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

Today is the birthday of writer, literary critic, and woman of letters Margaret Fuller (books by this author), born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts (1810). She was the first of eight children, and a precocious child. Her father — a Harvard-educated lawyer and politician — had hoped for a son. Even though girls received very little in the way of formal schooling in those days, he insisted that Margaret receive the very best education. He homeschooled her rigorously for several years and then sent her off to the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies. She took after her father in forcefulness and drive, but he was a demanding and cold teacher, and she suffered from migraines, nightmares, and depression. She wasn’t popular at school, mainly because she came across as a tactless know-it-all. A lot of her bluster was a front for her insecurity, which she revealed in her journals. “I shall always reign through the intellect, but the life! the life! O my God! shall that never be sweet?” She felt that she was cursed with “a man’s ambition” and “a woman’s heart,” but later wrote that the ambition was necessary to keep her heart from breaking.

In 1832, her childhood friend James Freeman Clarke suggested to Fuller that she might channel her passionate nature into writing. And just a few years later, in 1835, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author). Their personalities could not have been more different, but they ended up being very close friends for the rest of Fuller’s life. Being in Fuller’s company, Emerson once said, “is like being set in a large place. You stretch your limbs & dilate to your utmost size.”

It was also in 1835, the year she met Emerson, that Fuller’s father died. She went to work as a teacher to help support her family, even though she had been planning to write a biography of Goethe, in whom she had a passionate interest. She did take Clarke’s advice and published her first book, Summer on the Lakes, in 1844. Her most famous work is Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), in which she argues that women should not be constricted by gender roles in their choice of career, but should rather be allowed to do work that appeals to them. “Let them be sea-captains, if they will,” she wrote.

Fuller hosted a series of parlor discussions that she called “Conversations.” They were on various topics, from literature to education to philosophy, and only open to women. Fuller’s real purpose, besides education, was to enrich the lives of women. She ran these conversations for five years, and then she felt she needed a change of pace, so she moved to New York and went to work as a reporter for Horace Greeley. Greeley gave her a front-page column in his New York Tribune, and she later became the paper’s first female editor. In 1846, Greeley sent her to Europe as a foreign correspondent. She ended up in Rome, covering the Italian revolution, and that’s where she met Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a nobleman who had been disinherited by his family for his radical sympathies. They began an affair, and may have even secretly married after Fuller became pregnant.

She was returning to the United States with her lover and their toddler son, Nino, when a hurricane forced their ship onto a sandbar off of Fire Island, New York. The whole family lost their lives in the shipwreck.

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