Friday Nov. 7, 2014

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What could be more picturesque
than us eating lobster on the water,
the sun vanishing over the horizon,
willing, once again, to allow us almost
any satisfaction. William James said
marriage was overlooking, overlooking,
yes, but also overlapping: opinions,
histories, the truth of someone not you
sitting across the table seeing the you
you can’t bear to, the face behind
the long fable in the mirror. Freud said
we’re cured when we see ourselves
the way a stranger does in moments.
Am I the I she tried to save, still lopsided
with trying to be a little less or more,
escaping who I was a moment ago?
Here, now, us, sipping wine in this
candlelit pause, in the charm of the ever
casting sky, every gesture familiar,
painfully endearing, the I of me, the she
of her, the us only we know, alone together
all these years. Call it what you like,
happiness or failure, the discreet curl
of her bottom lip, the hesitant green
of her eyes, still lovely with surprise.

"Husband" by Philip Schultz, from Failure. © Harcourt, Inc., 2007. Reprinted with permission.   (buy now)

It was on this dayin 1492 that a meteor fell from the sky near the town of Ensisheim in Alsace, France, one of the oldest recorded meteorites.

The only witness was a young boy, who heard a sound like an explosion and watched a huge piece of rock fall out of the sky and bury itself in a nearby wheat field. He went to alert the townspeople, and soon people were climbing down in the hole to chip off pieces for souvenirs and good luck. The lord of the town showed up and demanded that everyone stop immediately, and he had the big black meteorite dragged to the local church. Even after all those pieces had been hacked off, it still weighed almost 300 pounds.

It’s the birthday of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky (books by this author), born in Ukraine (1879). He was one of the leaders of the ruthless civil war that overthrew the Russian czar and established the communist state. Later, he opposed the dictator Josef Stalin and became an enemy of the Soviet government. In his later years, he wrote many books about Russian history and Marxist ideas. In 1924, he wrote Literature and Revolution, a book that discusses art’s relationship to politics. Trotsky said, “Learning carries within itself certain dangers, because out of necessity one has to learn from one’s enemies.”

It’s the birthday of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (books by this author), born in New York City (1897). He worked as a screenwriter on many successful Hollywood films, but he was uncredited on a lot of them, like Horse Feathers (1932), Million Dollar Legs (1932), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) — he was the one who suggested that they film the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz in black and white. But he did get credit for his work with Orson Welles co-writing the script for Citizen Kane (1941). Citizen Kane topped a lot of lists as the best film of the 20th century, but when it came out, it won only one Academy Award, and that was for its screenplay.

When he was in New York, Mankiewicz said, “Oh, to be back in Hollywood, wishing I was back in New York.”

Today is the birthday of the Algerian-born French writer Albert Camus (books by this author), born in Mondovi, in French Algeria (1913). His father died early in World War I, and his mother, who was half deaf, took work as a cleaning woman to support the family. For most of his childhood, Camus and his older brother lived alongside his mother, grandmother, and a paralyzed uncle in a two-room apartment in the working-class section of Algiers.

Camus went on to university and steeped himself in the French classics, blossomed intellectually, and got involved in revolutionary politics. He worked for an Algerian newspaper as a journalist in the run-up to the Second World War, and was an influential editor for the left-wing French paper Combat during the German occupation. He rejected the political orthodoxy of Communism, frustrating his colleagues, and was a lifelong opponent of capital punishment. During the war, he published his first novel, The Stranger (1942), which explored themes of alienation and paralleled Camus' place as an Algerian-born Frenchman, or pied-noir, often resented by both cultures. His second novel, The Plague (1947), was an attempt to transcend nihilism and the negativity of his contemporaries like Sartre, whom he admired.

Camus continued to write philosophical novels, such as 1951's The Rebel, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957. He died just two years later in an auto accident along with his publisher — an unfinished manuscript of his scattered into a nearby ditch. It was recovered and published in 1995 as The First Man.

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