Wednesday May 18, 2016

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The Ferry

Whenever we needed to cross the Arkansas,
we had to take the dirt road to the ferry.
My father would drive.
My mother would fret
about missing the on-ramp,
driving off the other end,
getting caught by the dark.

After we bumped ourselves on
with a few other cars,
after the ferry coughed us away from shore,
the operator would shut the motor off
to drift as long as he dared.
Then we’d hear the motor again,
arguing with the current.

Thus we kept our course—
the river suffering us,
the sun easing down,
darkness closing over us
merciless as water.

“The Ferry” by Jo McDougall from In the Home of the Famous Dead. © The University of Arkansas Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president on this day in 1860. The Republican National Convention was held in Chicago that year; it was only the second national nominating convention for the fledgling party. The lanky Kentucky-born lawyer had gained national attention for his debates on slavery with Illinois senator Stephen Douglas two years before. Douglas, a Democrat, had argued that the question of slavery was best left to the individual states to decide, while Lincoln — formerly a Whig — had argued to curb the expansion of slavery. This ended up being one of the more moderate positions among the contenders for the Republican nomination. Two of his rivals — William Seward and Edward Bates — supported the complete eradication of the practice of slavery nationwide. Delegates knew they would have to win voters from the West and South to win the presidential race, so Lincoln was their choice. After his election, every one of his rivals ended up a member of his Cabinet.

It was a speech that Lincoln gave in New York City just three months before the convention that won over skeptical Easterners. Some 1,500 curious New Yorkers crowded into Cooper Union in the East Village to hear what Lincoln had to say. Most of them doubted that this uneducated Westerner had what it took to lead a nation in crisis. One eyewitness reported that he was appalled at how tall, awkward, and ungainly Lincoln was. Once the presidential hopeful began to speak, however, "his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling [and] cheering for this wonderful man."

It is the birthday of comedy writer and actress Tina Fey (books by this author), born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (1970). Her mother, Jeanne, worked in a brokerage firm and her father, Donald, was a university grant proposal writer. She has one older brother, named Peter.

She was a high school honor student, a member of the drama club, and she performed in a summer theater group. She enrolled at the University of Virginia, where she studied playwriting and acting, and after graduation in 1992, she moved to Chicago, where she took night classes at the improv training center The Second City, while working at a YMCA during the day. In 1994, she began performing with The Second City, traveling around the country and doing eight shows a week for two years. Three years later, she was hired as a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live and she quickly rose to head writer.

A while later, producer Lorne Michaels approached Fey to appear on SNL's weekend edition alongside comedian Jimmy Fallon. Her performance was well received. A longtime glasses-wearer, she had wanted to wear contacts on camera, but when someone commented on how great her glasses looked during a run through, she wore them instead. They became part of her signature look — and, as it would happen, enhanced her resemblance to the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. She played Palin in a series of sketches during the run-up to the 2008 election.

Fey also wrote, produced, and starred as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, a comedy she created in 2006, based on her experiences as head comedy writer at SNL. Her memoir Bossypants (2011) quickly went to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

In response to people who claim that women are not funny, she said: "My hat goes off to them. It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that because you don't like something, it is empirically not good. I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write articles trying to prove it doesn't exist."

It's the birthday of film producer, director, and three-time Academy Award winner Frank Capra, born in Bisacquino, Sicily (1897). He moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was a young boy, and he worked odd jobs until he finally landed work at Columbia studios. In 1928, he signed a contract with the studio and began making his signature films, which include It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town(1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

Capra said, "I wanted to glorify the average man, not the guy at the top, not the politician, not the banker, just the ordinary guy whose strength I admire, whose survivability I admire."

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