Saturday Dec. 12, 2015

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Praising Manners

We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.

If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the whole world down.

Your depression is connected to your insolence
And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman
Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter!

The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.
The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.

"Praising Manners” by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2005. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Gustave Flaubert (books by this author), born in Rouen, France (1821). He was a notorious perfectionist in his work, and once said, “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.” In 1851, he began what would become his first published novel, and his masterpiece. Five years later, Madame Bovary (1856) appeared in La Revue de Paris in serialized form. It’s the story of Emma, a doctor’s wife, who is dissatisfied with her life and longs to experience the passion, excitement, and luxury she has only read about in novels. She has two long-term affairs, accrues insurmountable debt, and ultimately takes her own life with arsenic.

From Madame Bovary, chapter nine: “Deep down in her heart, she was waiting and waiting for something to happen. Like a shipwrecked mariner, she gazed out wistfully over the wide solitude of her life, if so be she might catch the white gleam of a sail away on the dim horizon. She knew not what it would be, this longed-for barque; what wind would waft it to her, or to what shores it would bear her away. She knew not if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, burdened with anguish or freighted with joy. But every morning when she awoke she hoped it would come that day.”

A month after the final installment of Madame Bovary was published, the French government banned the book and hauled Flaubert up on charges of offending public and religious morality. Flaubert and his lawyers defended the book, saying that, by exposing vice, the novel was actually promoting virtue. Flaubert was narrowly acquitted, and Madame Bovary was published in book form two months later. The publicity and scandal of the trial contributed to its success.

Flaubert wrote: “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”

It’s the birthday of painter and printmaker Edvard Munch, born in Løten, Norway (1863). A sickly child, Munch lost his mother and favorite sister to tuberculosis when he was a boy, and he was still a young man when his father and brother died as well. Another sister went mad. “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies — the heritage of consumption and insanity — illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle,” he wrote in his journal.

He created a 22-painting cycle that he called Frieze of Life A Poem About Life, Love, and Death. He referred to his paintings as his children, and whenever he sold one of them, he always painted a replacement to keep the cycle complete. Munch intended the Frieze paintings to be seen as universal, rather than personal, portraits of humankind, and he often tried to convey inner psychological states through distortions of color and form. His most famous painting, The Scream (1893), influenced the German Expressionist movement of the early 20th century.

Munch had a nervous breakdown in 1908, ending up in a sanitarium. He gave up drinking and managed to gain some tranquility in the second half of his life, but later paintings never recaptured the passion of his earlier, tormented period. “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness,” he once wrote. “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder. [...] My sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

It’s the birthday of British playwright John Osborne (books by this author), born in London (1929). He wrote Look Back in Anger (1956), a reaction against the escapist drawing-room comedies of playwrights like Noël Coward. Osborne wanted to portray the everyday speech and harsh reality of working-class life. It was Osborne’s third play, and he wrote it in less than a month; producers likewise wasted no time in sending it back to him, but artistic director George Devine was looking for new, post-war voices for the British theater, and he agreed to produce the play for the Royal Court Theatre. A reviewer for Punch wrote that Osborne “draws liberally on the vocabulary of the intestines and laces his tirades with the steamier epithets of the tripe butcher.” Not all theatergoers — nor indeed theater professionals — welcomed this gritty new realism, and audiences and critics were sharply divided. George Fearon, the Royal Court Theatre’s press officer, disliked the play and told Osborne that it was impossible to market. In the play’s press release, Fearon called Osborne “a very angry young man,” and the label stuck. Eventually, all the antiestablishment British writers of Osborne’s generation became known as the Angry Young Men.

It's the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, born in Hoboken, New Jersey (1915) who got a job with his first singing group only because he had his own car and could drive the group to gigs. They won an amateur singing contest on a radio show with the largest call-in vote in the show's history. Sinatra eventually began working on his own, singing in bars, and the clarinetist Benny Goodman saw one of his performances, and offered to hire him as a vocalist for $75 a week. But he told Sinatra that he had to change his awful name. Sinatra said, "You want the voice, you take the name." And so he got to keep it.

His first booking as a soloist was an eight week run at New York's Paramount Theatre, longer than any other solo engagement at the Paramount up to that time. His press agent was so nervous about his debut that he hired a dozen girls to stand at the front of the theater to swoon and scream, but it wasn't necessary. Hundreds of other women showed up and did the same thing.

Sinatra became famous as a crooner, but his vocal chords ruptured during a performance at the Copacabana. He was photographed in the company of known mobsters, he was constantly in the tabloids, and his record label dropped him. So he went back to singing small joints, theaters and saloons and slowly built his confidence back up. He approached Capitol Records for a new recording contract, and the result was a new Sinatra. Instead of a crooner, he sounded like an everyman, he could sing all kinds of songs: pop, swing, jazz, show tunes, and ballads, and he went on to become one of the most successful solo singers in history, recording "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Young at Heart," "All of Me," "What Is This Thing Called Love?," and "That's Life."

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