Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015

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In the Morning

Often in the morning the fog is thick over Jersey,
Sometimes, like today, lifting later on
To reveal with the clarity of a dream
The wide river with its traffic, the cluttered far shore,
And the hills beyond where hidden towns
Send up spires like messages.

The river is never terribly obscured
Even when the land beyond is absolutely white,
And I can see the ferry leave the shore
With a load of commuters like refugees from a land
Where faces have no face, and bodies only exist
If you put your arms around them.

They come to the city where I am
Although they do not find me
Nor even know that they are searching for me;
And as the morning progresses with its growing clarity
There is a world over there after all,
Anyway; for a while; precise as a dream, perfect and grimy,
Until another night and its temperatures
Pulls down the fog from the air and obliterates it.

“In the Morning” by Edward Field, from Stand Up, friend, With Me. © Grove Press, 1963. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo received its premiere on this date in 1607, in Mantua, Italy. It told the story of Orpheus, who descends into Hades to retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice. Around this time, musical theater consisted largely of orchestral interludes between the acts of straight plays, but some composers were experimenting with including music into the action of the play itself. L'Orfeo was the first fully developed works of the new genre in which all the actors sang, and people liked it.

Today is the birthday of Wilhelm Grimm (books by this author), born in Hanau, Germany (1786), who with his brother Jacob collected and compiled oral folktales from nearby villages. The brothers Grimm published their first volume in 1812, many of them very dark and violent. While their original intent was only to preserve their culture's oral folktales, they soon realized children were reading their book, and began adapting the tales to take out out some of the more disturbing imagery. The old stories, which had previously performed the psychological function of preparing young people to deal with the harsh realities of medieval life, ended up as fairly sanitized cautionary tales about morality. They also provided a lucrative franchise for Walt Disney.

We can thank Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm for the tales of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty, among others.

Today is the birthday of Jane Hirshfield (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). She went to Princeton, where she was in the first graduating class to include women in 1973. She published her first poem not long after, then went off to northern California to study Buddhism for the next eight years, during which time she didn't write at all. She said: " I don't think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn't just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live."

Her most recent book of poetry is The Beauty (2015).

Today is the birthday of Steve Jobs, born in San Francisco (1955) to two University of Wisconsin graduate students who placed him for adoption. Clara and Paul Jobs, an accountant and a machinist, adopted him when he was still a baby. Growing up, Jobs and his father would tinker with electronics in the garage.

He dropped out of college after a semester, went to India in search of spiritual enlightenment, returned a devout Buddhist, experimented with LSD, and then got a job with a video game maker, where he was in charge of designing circuit board for one of the company's games. In 1976, at the age of 21, he co-founded Apple Computers, and less than a decade later, Apple unveiled the Macintosh computer. It was the first small computer to catch on with the public that used a graphical user interface, or GUI (sometimes pronounced "gooey"), where people could simply click on icons instead of typing in precise text commands.

The graphic user interface revolutionized computers, and it's on almost all computers today. It's on a whole lot of other devices as well, like fancy vending machines and digital household appliances and photocopying machines and airport check-in kiosks. And graphical user interface is what's used with iPods, another of Apple's wildly successful products.

Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He opted for a variety of alternative treatments, but eventually — in 2004 — he underwent surgery to remove the tumor. His health began to decline in 2009. He was 56.

Jobs once said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

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