Tuesday Mar. 28, 2017

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Lies My Mother Told Me

If you keep eating raw spaghetti
         you’ll get pinworms,
         then I’ll have to make
         a necklace of garlic for you to wear
         each night while you sleep,
         until they go away.
If you’re mean to your younger brother, I’ll know
         because I have a special eye
         that spies on you when I’m not home.
         You cannot hide from it,
         so don’t try.
If you touch your “down there”
         any time other than when using the toilet,
         your hand will turn green and fall off.
If you keep crossing your eyes
         they will stay that way
         until the wind
         changes direction.
It is bad luck to kill a moth. Moths are
         the souls of our ancestors and it just
         might be Papa paying a visit.
If you kiss a boy on the mouth
         your lips will stick together
         and he’ll use the opportunity
         to suck out your brains.
If you ever lie to me
         God will know and
         rat you out.
         And sometimes
         God exaggerates.
         Trust me —
         you don’t want that
         to happen.

“Lies My Mother Told Me” by Elizabeth Thomas from From the Front of the Classroom. © Antrim House, 2008. Reprinted by permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of Mario Vargas Llosa (books by this author), born in Arequipa, in southern Peru (1936). He went to a military academy in Lima, which he hated. His father was authoritarian in nature and wanted to drum any literary aspirations out of his son with a rigid, disciplined lifestyle. The plan backfired: Not only did Vargas Llosa continue writing, but he also used his experiences at the academy as inspiration for his first novel, The Time of the Hero (1963).

He ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990, against Alberto Fujimori, but lost. He's subsequently renounced politics, saying, "Literature and politics are mutually exclusive. A writer is someone who works alone, who needs total independence. A politician is someone who is totally dependent, who has to make all kinds of concessions, the very thing a writer can't do."

It's the birthday of Nelson Algren (1909) (books by this author). Born Nelson Algren Abraham to working-class parents in Detroit, he grew up in Chicago's immigrant neighborhoods. He wrote his first story, "So Help Me," during the Great Depression, while he was working at a gas station in Texas. His life — and work — changed dramatically after he was caught stealing a typewriter and spent five months in jail. His later novels and stories would feature the down-and-out, the loser, and the reject. He became known as a writer of Chicago; he wrote: "People ask me why I don't write about nature or the suburbs. If a writer could write the truth about one Chicago street, that would be a good life's work."

In A Walk on the Wild Side (1956), set in the world of pimps and prostitutes in New Orleans, Algren gives his three rules for life: "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." The novel is, in many ways, about the contempt of a nation for its dispossessed, and in it he wrote: "When we get more houses than we can live in, more cars than we can ride in, more food than we can eat ourselves, the only way of getting richer is by cutting off those who don't have enough."

Nelson Algren, who said, "A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery."

It's the birthday of St. Teresa of Ávila (books by this author), born in Gotarrendura, Spain (1515). She grew up in a wealthy household in a walled city. She was fascinated by the spiritual life even as a young girl, particularly the martyred saints. At the age of seven, she ran away from home with her younger brother, hoping to find wherever it was that the Moors lived and be martyred. Their uncle found them just outside the city and dragged them home.

Teresa was also a beautiful and social girl. She loved perfume, jewelry, and elegant clothes. Her mother died when Teresa was 14, and she was heartbroken. Her father felt that it was inappropriate for his beautiful daughter to be without a female companion, so he sent her off to a convent school, which would teach her the necessary skills to become a good wife and mother. Instead, she decided to become a nun. A couple of years later, she suffered from malaria and almost died. She survived, but her legs were paralyzed for three years. During her illness, she had mystical visions, falling into trances or levitating during times of intense rapture.

Although she stayed at the convent for 20 years, it was not the sacred place she wanted it to be. Each nun had a set of private rooms, and sometimes a personal maid. They were allowed to wear jewelry, leave the convent, and entertain daily visitors, both women and men. Teresa eventually broke away and founded the Discalced Carmelite Order (the word "discalced" means "shoeless"). In this new reform order, the nuns lived in poverty and simplicity, devoting their time to prayer, according to ancient traditions. After establishing her own monastery, Teresa traveled around Spain on a donkey, setting up 16 new monasteries for women. She also wrote several books, including The Way of Perfection (1566) and The Interior Castle (1580).

It's the birthday of novelist Lauren Weisberger (books by this author), born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1977. Weisberger majored in English, spent a summer backpacking around Europe and Asia after graduation, then moved back to the U.S. and landed a job as assistant to the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. After she left Vogue, she worked as an assistant editor at Departures magazine, then took some writing classes and started to work on a book. It became The Devil Wears Prada, which contains a pretty straightforward autobiographical narrative about Weisberger's experiences as a personal assistant at Vogue magazine: The main character, Andy Sachs, aspires to be a writer, moves to New York City, and gets a job at a fashion magazine working as the personal assistant to the despotic and domineering editor. The Devil Wears Prada spent six months on the New York Times best-seller list when it came out in 2003.

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