Tuesday Jul. 26, 2016

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Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
though the sea was too wide.
I’m proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge, which was his idea.

Now that I’m old the work goes slowly.
Ever nearer death, I like it out here
high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred-foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.

So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss. Tonight the moon will be in my lap.
This is my job, to study the universe
from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea, the faint
green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.

“Bridge” by Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Aldous Huxley (books by this author), born in Surrey, England (1894). Huxley's grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was one of the great scientists of the previous century, a man who helped popularize Darwin's theories of evolution. Huxley considered becoming a scientist himself, but when he was 17 years old, he came down with an eye disease that rendered him nearly blind. Since his eyesight made scientific research impossible, Huxley decided to be a writer. He wrote his first novel in the months after he lost his eyesight. He typed the whole thing without even being able to see what he was typing, and he never read it, having lost the manuscript.

Huxley's first successful novel was Point Counter Point (1928), about a group of artists and intellectuals who don't realize that one of the men in their company is a budding fascist revolutionary. It was an extremely ambitious book, with numerous characters and a complex interweaving structure, so Huxley decided that his next book would be something light. He had been reading some H.G. Wells, and thought he'd have fun trying to write something about what the future might be like. But once he got started, he got caught up in the excitement of his own ideas. He wound up writing a much more serious book than he'd intended.

The result was Brave New World (1932), about a future in which most human beings are born in test tube factories, genetically engineered to belong in one of five castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. There are no families, people have sex all the time and never fall in love, and they keep themselves happy by taking a drug called "soma."

Brave New World was one of the first novels to predict the future existence of genetic engineering, test-tube babies, anti-depression medication, and virtual reality. When George Orwell's 1984 came out a few years later, many critics compared the two novels, trying to decide which one was more likely to come true. Huxley argued that his imagined future was more likely, because it would be easier to control people by keeping them happy than it would be by threatening them with violence.

Huxley spent most of the rest of his life writing essays. He published only six novels in all. When people met him, they were always impressed by his brilliance. He seemed to know something about everything. This was mainly because he always carried with him a micro-sized edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, printed on extremely thin paper.

Aldous Huxley said, "Most of one's life is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself from thinking."

It's the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw (books by this author), born in Dublin (1856), who wrote more than 50 plays, including Man and Superman (1902), Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1912), and Saint Joan (1923). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925; he considered refusing the prize, but his wife talked him into accepting it. He still refused the money.

He died at the age of 94. He was up on a ladder pruning one of his trees, and he fell and broke his hip. He died a couple of months later as a result of complications from the injury. On the night before his death, he was visited by a friend, and he said to her: "Well, it will be a new experience anyway."

It's the birthday of humorist Jean Shepherd (books by this author), born in Chicago, Illinois (1921). He's remembered for the autobiographical stories he told on the radio about a boy named Ralph Parker growing up in Hohman, Indiana. One of his stories was made into the movie A Christmas Story (1983), which he narrated. It's about a boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas, even though every adult in his life says that he'll shoot his eye out.

The stories Shepherd told on-air were always improvised, but he later wrote them down and published them in collections like In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (1967) and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters (1972).

Jean Shepherd said: "Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man."

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