Because they fill their diapers
with reliable ease, sitting on your lap
or spread out on your best mattress.
Guilt is as foreign to them as vichyssoise.
Because they spread sticky fingers
over the piano keys, looking for you
to hoist them onto your lap. They slam
the ivories for the racket they can make.
Re-think your nap.
Because they are blank slates
on which so much waits to be written,
their eyes opened wide to take everything in,
including the lines around your eyes,
the pouches under your chin.
Because they manipulate the controls
on the TV, finger the holes in the electric socket,
stomp the cat’s switching tail only to smile
and gaze at you as if you held the keys to joy.
Because you can embrace them, but
you can’t bind them. Because they have nothing
to give you—and everything. Because
something loosens when they come around.
Something opens you didn’t know was shut.
“You Should Avoid Young Children” by Claire Keyes from What Diamonds Can Do. © Cherry Grove Collections, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It's the birthday of journalist and current editor of The New Yorker magazine, David Remnick (books by this author), born in Hackensack, New Jersey (1958). This is his first editing job. He worked as a sports reporter for The Washington Post and then as their Moscow correspondent, where he covered the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He interviewed politicians, generals, intellectuals, and workers to get a complete picture of the effect on Russian society. One day, three of his stories from Moscow appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. His first book, Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (1993), won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.
In 1992, he started as a staff writer at The New Yorker, and six years later was asked to be the editor. When a room full of staff writers at The New Yorker heard that he'd accepted the post, they burst into applause — a five-minute-long standing ovation.
He continues to report and write for The New Yorker as well as edit it, and he's also the author of a 672-page biography of President Obama, called The Bridge (2010).
It's the birthday of the biographer James Boswell (books by this author), born in 1740 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family was descended from minor royalty, and they had occupied the same land more than two hundred years. Boswell's father was a judge who insisted that his son study law. So James Boswell passed his bar exams in Scotland, but he didn't really like law and he didn't really like Scotland. Boswell loved gossip, drinking, and traveling, and he wanted to be in London, to be in the company of the rich and famous. He also wanted to be known as a great lover, so he bragged constantly about his love life.
James Boswell was a good writer with an incredible memory, and he started keeping a journal as a teenager, and he kept it for the rest of his life, filled with reflections and anecdotes about the famous people he befriended—Voltaire, Rousseau, Oliver Goldsmith, John Wilkes. Most of all he wrote about his friend Samuel Johnson. When Boswell was just 22 years old, he met Johnson, who was his idol, in the back of a bookshop. Johnson was 53, and he gave the young Boswell a hard time when he met him, but Boswell went back to visit him anyway and they soon became good friends. Over the next 20 years, Boswell followed Johnson around, and he always had paper and took notes constantly. Johnson was often frustrated with Boswell, and Boswell could be critical of Johnson, but they still liked to spend time together, and they traveled together through Scotland and the Hebrides.
After Johnson's death, Boswell spent years writing a biography of his friend. He used letters, interviews, as well as his own diary, of which he said, "A page of my Journal is like a cake of portable soup. A little may be diffused into a considerable portion." Finally, in 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson was published, and people loved it. There had never been a biography like it before. Instead of a dry recitation of facts, Boswell filled his book with personal anecdotes and vivid descriptions, and overall it was fun to read, and he made Johnson sound like a real person who wasn't totally perfect. It's still considered one of the greatest biographies ever written, and it's a big part of the reason why Samuel Johnson is still so famous today.
Today is the birthday of the folk artist and quilt maker Harriet Powers, born into slavery outside Athens, Georgia (1837). She was married at 18 and gave birth to nine children. She lived most of her life in Clarke County, where in 1897, she began exhibiting her quilts at local cotton fairs. She was believed to have been a house slave and first learned to read with the help of the white children she cared for.
Powers quilts used a combination of hand and machine stitching along with appliqué to form small detailed panels. She then organized these squares to unfold a larger story, much like a modern graphic novel. This teaching style of quilting has its roots in West African coastal communities, and her uneven edging of panels mirrored the complex rhythms of African-American folk music. Through her quilts, she recorded legends and biblical tales of patience and divine justice. Only two pieces of her work have survived: Her Bible quilt of 1886, which she sold for $5 in the aftermath of the war, now hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Her Pictorial quilt of 1888 is displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Powers' work is now considered among the finest examples of Southern quilting from the 19th century.
The city of Athens held a centennial celebration in her honor in 2010, and the mayor officially declared October 30th as Harriet Powers Day.