Monday Jun. 20, 2016

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On The Days I Am Not My Father

I don’t yell. I don’t hold inside
the day’s supply of frustrations.
My hands stay open all day.
I don’t wake tired and sore,
dazed from senseless, panicking
dreams. On the days I am not
my father I hold my son
when he cries, let him touch my face
without flinching, lie down with him
until he falls asleep, realize
that just because he has a sharp tongue,
just because he’s sometimes mean,
just because he’s smarter than me
doesn’t mean he’ll become my father.

On the days I am not my father
holding you is enough until
holding you is no longer enough
for either of us. I listen well.
I let things go unfinished,
in an order I didn’t plan.
My mouth is relaxed. My teeth
don’t hurt. My face stays
a healthy shade of pink all day.
On the days I am not my father
I don’t fill the silence with my own
irrational rants. I don’t resent
the voices of others. I don’t make fun
of you to make myself feel better.

On the days I am not my father
I don’t care who wins
or loses. The news can’t ruin
my day. I water plants.
I cook. I laugh at myself.
I can imagine living without
my beard, with my hair cut,
without the fear of looking
too much like my father. On the days
I am not my father I romp
and play, I don’t compare myself
with everyone else, the night
is always long enough, I like
how much I am like my father.

“On The Days I Am Not My Father” by Scott Owens from The Fractured World. © Main Street Rag, 2008. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1977 that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began to pump oil for the first time. It was the largest private construction project ever completed in United States history.

Oil companies had been drilling for oil in Alaska for years, without much luck. Then the company that would become Exxon decided to drill one more hole before giving up, and they struck what turned out to be the largest oil discovery in North America. The only problem was that the oil field was 800 miles away from the nearest harbor where oil tankers could pick up the oil and transport it to the rest of the world.

So the oil companies decided to build a pipeline to transport that oil across the state of Alaska, 48-inches in diameter, stretching 800 miles, zigzagging over three mountain ranges and crossing 34 major rivers, including the Yukon. Once it began pumping, about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil began flowing through the pipe every day, traveling at about 7 miles an hour to the port of Valdez.

It's the birthday of English biochemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins, born in Eastbourne, Sussex, in 1861. His father's cousin was the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and young Frederick was more interested in reading books and writing poetry than he was in science. But when he was eight, his mother gave him his father's old microscope, and he spent many happy hours studying things he found at the seashore. He later said that, left to his own devices, he might have become a naturalist.

Hopkins was a capable and bright student in many subjects, especially English and chemistry. At 17, he took a job in an insurance office at his uncle's urging, but was soon bored. He went to college to pursue a degree in chemistry, and later studied medicine at Guy's Hospital in London. He conducted research in toxicology, physiology, and chemistry, and in 1901 he discovered the amino acid tryptophan. For the next several years, he continued to study diet and its effect on the body's metabolism. After further research, he concluded that essential amino acids, which the body needs to produce its own proteins, are not made by the body but must be consumed as part of the diet. He further noticed that rats fed an artificial diet — even though it contained the proper balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and water — became sickly and failed to grow. But when he added a little cows' milk to the rats' diet, they grew and thrived. This led to his discovery that there are elements in food that animals need to survive and thrive. He called these "accessory nutrient factors," but we know them today as vitamins. He published papers on the subject in 1906 and 1912, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1929 for his discovery, a prize he shared with fellow researcher Christiaan Eijkman.

It's the birthday of Vikram Seth (books by this author), born in Calcutta, India (1952). He's the author of A Suitable Boy (1993), the longest single-volume work of fiction in English since 1747. The first draft was 5,000 pages long. His editor helped him trim it down to about 1,500 pages. Seth wrote on the dedication page, "Buy me before good sense insists / You'll strain your purse and sprain your wrists."

It's the birthday of guitarist Chet Atkins (Chester Burton Atkins), born outside Luttrell, Tennessee (1924), to a family of fiddlers and singers. He built his own crystal radio set and listened to Merle Travis, with his fingerpicking style, and learned how to play it for himself.

He said: "I didn't have any idea we were poor. Back then, nobody had any money. We were so poor, and everybody around us was so poor, that it was the '40s before any of us knew there had been a Depression."

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