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Thread: Literary Notes

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    It's the birthday of the writer and editor Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). He grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city that was famous when he was growing up for having been the setting for the movie Ordinary People.
    While he was in college at the University of Illinois, his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then, just after his mother went through severe stomach surgery, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Six months later, both of his parents were dead. Eggers was just 21 years old.
    Of the experience of losing both of his parents so suddenly, Eggers later said, "On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There's a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started."
    Eggers had to drop out of college to become the guardian of his 8-year-old younger brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents' deaths to start his own magazine with some high school friends. They called their publication Might Magazine, because the liked the fact that the word "might" conveyed both strength and hesitation. The magazine developed a cult following for the way it satirized the magazine format. Each issue included an erroneous table of contents, irrelevant footnotes, and fictional error retractions. In one issue, they wrote, "On page 111, in our 'Religious News Round-up,' we reported that Jesus Christ was a deranged, filthy protohippy. In fact, Jesus Christ was the son of God. We regret the error." To raise money for the magazine, they sold the contents of their recycle bins to readers.
    The magazine only lasted for 16 issues, but Eggers used the group of writers he got to know to start a new literary quarterly called Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Eggers wanted to experiment with graphic design and printing techniques, so he changed the format of the journal for every issue. One issue consisted of 14 individually bound pamphlets. Another issue included a music CD with a different piece of music composed specifically to accompany each piece in the journal.
    All the while that he was starting up these magazines, Dave Eggers was staying up late at night trying to write a book about the death of his parents and the effect that it had on his life. But as he wrote it, he began to include all his own doubts about whether writing about his parents' deaths was an act of vanity. That book grew into his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a big best seller in 2000.
    Eggers has gone on to write a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry (2004), and two novels, You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006). He also founded a writing center for young people in San Francisco called 826 Valencia, which has grown into a national organization designed to help and encourage young people to write.

    ~

    It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, (books by this author) born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). He was part of the "Beat Generation," and he came up with the name. He said, "To me, it meant being poor, like sleeping in the subways ... and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that." Later, Kerouac decided that "beat" stood for "beatific."
    His parents were from French-speaking Quebec, and he did not start learning English until grade school. He skipped second and third grades, and as a 16-year-old senior, he ditched class in order to go alone to the public library and read what he wanted: Hugo, Goethe, Hemingway, William Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe, history books, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and books of chess problems. He was a good football player and received a scholarship to Columbia University, but he broke his leg in the first season and didn't play anymore. He dropped out of Columbia, joined the Merchant Marine and then the Navy, and was given a psychiatric discharge after only two months, having been labeled as a "schizoid personality." The next fall, he went back to Columbia where he dropped out again almost immediately, but kept his apartment near campus and it became a gathering place for young intellectuals. During that time, he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Carl Solomon, Neal Cassady, and others who would help found the Beat Movement.
    He spent the next seven years hitchhiking around the United States and Mexico, and in 1949 he and his friend Neal Cassady drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951, he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation. Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." It took him only three weeks to complete and became his novel On the Road (1957).

    ~

    It's the birthday of playwright Edward Albee, (books by this author) born in 1928. He worked a series of odd jobs including selling music and books, working as an office assistant and a hotel barman, and then his favorite job: a Western Union messenger, about which he said, "It kept you out in the air and it was a nice job because it could never possibly become a career."
    During this time, he frequently attended modern art exhibitions, concerts, and plays in New York City and, inspired by the emerging Theatre of the Absurd, he quit his job and in three weeks wrote The Zoo Story (195, a one-act, two-man play about strangers who meet in Central Park. It was at first rejected by New York producers, premiered in Germany, and then staged the next year in New York's Greenwich Village.
    He wrote a few more one act plays and then his first full-length play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), the work for which he is best known. The title is taken from graffiti he saw on a mirror at a New York bar. In its first season, the play's profanity shocked some audience members, and one critic called it an "exercise in depraved obscenity," but it was largely popular with critics and audiences, ran for 644 performances, and won many awards. A film version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton came out in 1966
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of science fiction writer and Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in Tilden, Nebraska (1911).
    He enrolled in George Washington University in 1930 to study civil engineering but was placed on academic probation because of poor grades, and he left after two semesters.
    During World War II, Hubbard served in the Navy and was in command of a submarine chaser in the Pacific.
    In 1950, he wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which formed the basis of the Church of Scientology's teaching. The book explains that humans have "engrams," recordings of painful events experienced in the past, stored in their subconscious and that these are the basis of physical and emotional problems. In order to be cleared of these engrams and unwanted spiritual conditions, a person takes part in an "auditing" session, where a counselor uses an Electropsychometer, or E-Meter, to measure the mental state of a person, helping to locate areas of spiritual distress so they can be addressed and handled in a session.
    The book became a best seller and sold 150,000 copies within a year of publication. Groups formed all over the country to apply Dianetics techniques. Hubbard said, "The creation of Dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch."

    ~


    It's the birthday of journalist Janet Flanner, (books by this author) born in Indianapolis (1892).
    She worked for The Indianapolis Star as a film critic, one of the first in the nation. She was particularly interested in crime and moved to Pennsylvania to work at a girl's reformatory. In 1922, she took a trip to Europe and ended up settling in Paris. From there, she began writing long letters to her friends in America, including to Jane Grant, with whom she had helped found the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought to allow women to keep and use legally their maiden name after marriage. Grant was the wife of Harold Ross, who was starting a new magazine, and she asked if Flanner would write a regular letter from Paris for the magazine.
    Her first "Letter from Paris" appeared in The New Yorker in September of 1925, and she continued writing it for 50 years. It became a biweekly feature of the magazine in which she wrote about how public political news affected private lives. Without telling her, Ross gave Flanner the penname Genet, which he thought was the French name for Janet, but is actually the French word for female donkey.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of novelist John Wain, (books by this author) born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England (1925). His first novel, Hurry on Down (1953), established him as one of Britain's "Angry Young Men" of the 1950s, known as radicals who bitterly opposed the British establishment and the conservative elements in the society at the time.

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    It's the birthday of the humorist Max Shulman, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1919). He wrote several books, including Anyone Got a Match? (1964) and Potatoes Are Cheaper (1971). He grew up during the Great Depression, and he said, "I turned early to humor as my branch of writing ... [because] life was bitter and I was not."

    ~

    It's the birthday of Sylvia Beach, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887). She founded an English-language bookstore and lending library on the Left Bank of Paris called Shakespeare & Company (1919). It became a central feature of the Parisian literary scene of the 1920s and "the unofficial living room" of the expatriate artists there. Writers used it as a meeting place, a post office, and a place for guidance with their writing.
    Beach also published books, including the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922, while it was still banned in America.

    ~

    It's the birthday of the playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote, (books by this author) born in Wharton, Texas (1916). He's best known for writing the screenplays for movies such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Tender Mercies (1983). He also won a Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play The Young Man from Atlanta (1995).
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's is the birthday of the playwright and folklorist Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, (books by this author) born in Galway, Ireland (1852). Lady Gregory is best remembered as an instrumental figure in the Irish Literary Revival. At age 28, Isabella Augusta married the 63-year-old widower Sir William Henry Gregory; the couple's estate at Coole Park became a haven for Irish Revival writers, including W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Sean O'Casey. Yeats actually wrote several poems set at the estate, including "The Wild Swans of Coole."
    Lady Gregory cofounded the Irish Literary Theatre with Yeats in 1899, which became the Abbey Theater Company. Encouraged by Yeats, Lady Gregory collected regional folklore and published numerous translations and retellings of local mythology, including Poets and Dreamers (1903) and God and Fighting Men (1904). Lady Gregory's first play was Twenty Five (1904); in the next eight years she wrote 19 original plays and seven works of translation, all for the Abbey, including The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1906), The Image (1909), and MacDonough's Wife (1912).

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    Today is the birthday of novelist and poet Ben Okri, (books by this author) born in Minna, Nigeria, in 1959. His family lived in London for a while, but returned to Nigeria when he was nine. The protagonists of his first two novels — Flowers and Shadows (1980) and The Landscapes Within (1981) — are young Nigerian men navigating political and personal turmoil. Okri went on to win a Booker prize for The Famished Road, the first in a trilogy of novels chronicling the life of a spirit child in a Nigerian village. Other books in the trilogy are Songs of Enchantment (1993) and Infinite Riches (199.
    Okri resists labels, not just for himself but for literature in general: "Literature doesn't have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer.... The characters of Turgenev are ghetto dwellers. ++++++++++++++++++++ens' characters are Nigerians. ...Literature may come from a specific place but it always lives in its own unique kingdom."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    On this day in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published his seminal novel The Scarlet Letter (books by this author).
    There is considerable debate as to whether the novel's protagonist, Hester Prynne, is based on an actual historical figure, but we know that Hawthorne was aware of the 1694 law enacted in Salem that mandated that a woman convicted of adultery must wear the letter "A" on her clothing. One reason for its incredible popularity is that The Scarlet Letter was one of the first American books to be mass-produced; most publishers hand-bound books and sold them in small batches. The novel's first printing of 2,500 copies sold out in 10 days.

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist Alice Hoffman, (books by this author) born in New York City (1952). She attended Adelphi University and Stanford University, where she published a short story in the magazine Fiction. The editor asked if she had written a novel; she lied and said she had, and then immediately felt guilty enough to write one. This became her first novel, Property Of (1973), which she wrote as a 21-year-old. Hoffman has published 17 more novels, including Practical Magic (1995), Here on Earth (1997), and her latest, The Third Angel (200.

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    It's the birthday of novelist David Liss, (books by this author) born in Englewood, New Jersey (1966). Liss abandoned a dissertation on 18th-century British literature and culture in order to finish writing his first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, a story set in none other than 18th-century Britain. Along with his next two novels, The Coffee Trader (2003) and A Spectacle of Corruption (2004), Liss has been credited with creating a new genre, the "historical financial thriller." His latest novel, The Ethical Assassin (2006), follows an itinerant encyclopedia salesman in Florida, a position Liss himself once held.


    ~


    Today is the birthday of poet and essayistSully Prudhomme, (books by this author) born in Paris in 1839, who wrote under the somewhat lengthier penname René-François-Armand Prudhomme.
    Prudhomme won the first Nobel Prize in literature in 1901 in a controversial decision. The relatively minor writer was selected above Émile Zola (who was nominated but not chosen) and Leo Tolstoy (who wasn't even nominated).
    His books of poetry include Stances et poèmes (1865), La Justice (187, and Le Bonheur (Happiness, 188.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    Today is the birthday of fiction writer Penelope Lively, (books by this author) born in Cairo, Egypt (1933). Lively writes for both adults and children. She was educated at home, reading books shipped over from England and visiting the pyramids every week. At age 12, Lively was sent to boarding school in England, a place she says her family "called home, but as far as I was concerned was not home at all — a mysterious, grey, wet place." She studied history at Oxford and began writing soon afterward; her first book, Astercote (1970), was for children. Since then she has written 26 more books for children and young adults, including The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973) and The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree (1994). A Stitch in Time (1976) won the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Lively has written 14 novels for adults, including the Booker Prize winner Moon Tiger (1987) and her most recent, Consequences (2007).

    ~

    It's the birthday of writer Frank B. Gilbreth, (books by this author) born in Plainfield, New Jersey (1911). His parents were two of America's most renowned engineers; they studied the breakdown of work into fundamental elements, a branch of science now referred to as "work simplification." Their work in efficiency is the fodder for Gilbreth's most famous book, Cheaper by the Dozen (1949), which he co-wrote with his sister Ernestine, in which a couple applies energy-saving techniques to parenting. Cheaper by the Dozen was a best seller in 1949, and Frank and Ernestine received the French International Humor Award in 1950.

    ~

    It's the birthday of playwright Paul (Eliot) Green, born near Lillington, North Carolina (1894). Green grew up on a farm, where he worked in the fields alongside black laborers, whose stories inspired many of his dramas. He began writing one-act plays while he was a student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The No 'Count Boy (1924) won the Bealsco Cup in New York City and established Green's place as an important playwright outside of the South. His Broadway play In Abraham's Bosom (1926) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Despite his success in New York, he disliked what he labeled the commercial theater of the city, choosing instead to produce something he called "symphonic dramas" — pieces combing drama with dance, music, poetry, and folklore, and intended for the outdoors. (Green was a self-taught violinist who composed all the music for his pieces.) In the 1930s, Paul Green had a stint in Hollywood, where he wrote films for Clark Gable, Greer Garson, and Bette Davis, among others. Green wrote what Bette Davis considered her favorite line: "I'd like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    On this day in 1915, American novelist Richard Condon was born in Manhattan. (books by this author) In his lifetime, Condon wrote 26 novels and two works of nonfiction, including the best sellers The Manchurian Candidate (1959), Winter Kills (1979), and Prizzi's Honor (1982). His novels often focused on the themes of government conspiracy and abuse of power.
    Condon earned very low grades in high school, which ruled out the possibility of a college education. Instead, he began working a string of jobs that included elevator operator, hotel clerk, waiter on a cruise ship, advertising copywriter, and studio press agent. His career as a press agent included a stint with Walt Disney Productions, working on the movies Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio. While a press agent, Condon was required to see all of the rival studios' pictures — eight to 10 a week. He estimated that he saw around 10,000 movies in his 27 years as a press agent.
    Condon's work as a press agent led to a career in writing for two reasons. The first was that, after spending years being required to chat with and constantly entertain actors, producers, and directors, he felt antisocial, and the writer's isolated life appealed to him. Secondly, watching so many movies heightened his interest in storytelling. In a 1994 interview with Texas Monthly, Condon said, "That was back in the golden years of Hollywood, when the stories had beginnings, middles, and ends. The characters were clearly established. The storylines were clear. The entrances, the exits, everything was clear." He said viewing those films gave him "an unconscious grounding in storytelling."
    At the age of 42, Condon wrote his first novel, The Oldest Confession (195, about an art heist. The book was a success, and in 1959, Condon went on to publish his second novel, The Manchurian Candidate. That book, about a Communist plot to brainwash an American soldier and turn him into an assassin, became Condon's most famous novel. It was made into a movie starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, and Angela Lansbury (the movie was remade in 2004). The Manchurian Candidate contains Condon's favorite themes: government conspiracy and abuse of power. These themes would appear in later books, such as his critically praised 1974 novel, Winter Kills, a fictionalized account of the Kennedy assassination.
    Condon also wrote novels about organized crime. Those novels focused on the Prizzi family. Prizzi's Honor (1982), in particular, was a huge popular and critical success, and Condon took his place as one of the country's most famous writers of organized crime novels.
    In his interview with Texas Monthly, Condon said, "I think the most important part of storytelling is tension. It's the constant tension of suspense that in a sense mirrors life, because nobody knows what's going to happen three hours from now."

    ~


    Today is the birthday of American novelist John Updike, (books by this author) born in Shillington, Pennsylvania in 1932. Updike is known for writing about middle-class, middle-aged, ordinary Americans. He is also known for writing about the theme of adultery. His most popular books feature a character named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a man who is afraid of responsibility, aging, and his tedious job, and who suffers marital problems. The last two novels in Updike's "Rabbit" series, Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990), earned Updike a number of awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, and two respective Pulitzer Prizes. Of winning the prizes for Rabbit is Rich, Updike said, "After a long period of prizelessness, winning the National Book Award and some other major fiction prizes of the year felt like a step up in my position as an American writer. I felt that not only was I being given a prize, but that a prize was being given to the idea of trying to write a novel about a more-or-less average person in a more-or-less average household. That vindicated one of my articles of faith since my beginnings as a writer: that mundane daily life in peacetime is interesting enough to serve as the stuff of fiction."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It is the birthday of Russian humorist, dramatist, and novelist Nikolai Gogol, (books by this author) born in 1809 in Sorochinsk, a town in what is now Ukraine.
    Gogol wrote regularly for periodicals. He wrote about his childhood in Ukraine, and some of his writings featured the devils, witches, and demons of Ukrainian folklore. These writings led to his book Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka — a book that delighted the Russian literary world and made Gogol an overnight celebrity.
    Gogol went on to write more stories, as well as a play and a novel. His play The Government Inspector, first performed in 1836, was a satire aimed at the corrupt bureaucracy of the czar. His novel Dead Souls (1842) was written while Gogol was living in Rome. It was another satire and is considered to be Gogol's masterpiece. Gogol also wrote two famous stories, "The Nose (1836)," about a nose that disappears off the face of a collegiate assessor, is found by a barber, and then parades all around St. Petersburg, and "The Overcoat (1842)," about a man who acquires an overcoat and then dies of a broken heart when it is stolen. Gogol once wrote of his comic works, "The merriment observed in my early works corresponded to a certain spiritual need. I was subject to fits of melancholy which I could not even explain to myself and which may have originated in my poor health. To distract myself, I imagined every conceivable kind of funny story. I dreamed up droll characters and figures out of thin air and purposely placed them in the most comical circumstances."
    The writer Dostoyevsky once famously remarked, "We have all come out from under Gogol's overcoat."

    ~


    Today is the birthday of American novelist Philip Roth, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933. Roth's novels often feature smart, middle-class, fiercely honest Jewish characters. Perhaps Roth's best-known character is Nathan Zuckerman, who appears in nine of his novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral (1997 ) and his most recent novel, Exit Ghost (2007). Zuckerman, like Roth, is a novelist, and Roth has noted that the books featuring Zuckerman are like "hypothetical autobiographies" — ideas of what Roth might be doing. However, Roth has said that Exit Ghost will be the final appearance of Nathan Zuckerman. In an interview with The New Yorker after the book's release, Roth said of Zuckerman's departure, "Will I miss him? No. I'm curious to see who and what will replace him."

    ~


    On this day in 1962, Bob Dylan released his self-titled debut album. The album featured only two of Dylan's own songs, "Song to Woody" (for his idol Woody Guthrie) and "Talkin' New York." The rest of the album consisted of Dylan singing covers of traditional and blues songs. John Hammond, who produced the album, spent less than $500 to make it. The album did eventually go gold in 1973 — 11 years after its release — and is now generally considered to be a fine debut.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    On this day in 1852,Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. (books by this author) Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist, wrote the novel shortly after the Fugitive Slave Law — a law requiring that free states help capture fugitive slaves — was passed. The law was deeply upsetting to Beecher Stowe, and she wrote in a letter to her sister that she would use her literary talents "to make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is."

    ~


    It is the birthday of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, (books by this author) born in 1828 in Skien, Norway. Ibsen's parents were relatively well off until his father's business failed. This brought hardships to the family and made Ibsen's father a deeply bitter man. Subsequently, the effect of poverty on families became one of the themes Ibsen would explore in his plays.
    When Ibsen was 17, he got a domestic servant pregnant. This event also inspired themes that would recur in his plays: youthful sins, secrets, and mistaken paternity.
    Ibsen went to Oslo to enroll at the university; but he failed his entrance exams, so instead, he became an assistant stage manager at the Norwegian Theater at Bergen. It was his job to compose and produce an original drama each year. This position helped him learn how to revise material and create dramatic interest for the audience and actors. On the other hand, the job did not allow him to write what he wanted to; instead, he had to write dramatizations of Viking sagas and Norse myths.
    In 1864, Ibsen was awarded a stipend by the Norwegian government. The next 27 years he spent living away from Norway, writing plays that would transform the theater. These plays included Peer Gynt (1867), A Doll's House (1879), Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1882), The Wild Duck (1884), and Hedda Gabler (1890).
    Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, where he wrote his final four plays. By this time, his plays had changed the landscape of theater. They featured only one or two locations instead of multiple sets, five or six characters instead of an excessive cast, heroes that were middle- or working-class rather than kings or queens, and complicated protagonists who were neither all good nor all evil.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    Today is the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born on this day in 1685 in Eisenach, Germany. Bach's baroque compositions are some of the most famous in the world, although at the time his work was considered old-fashioned. Bach grew up in a family of musicians and learned the violin from his father at an early age. He sang in the choir of St. George's Church, where his father was the organist. Bach would later become the choirmaster of a similar boys' choir at his church in Leipzig.
    Bach was 10 years old when his parents died, and he went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf. His brother was the organist at St. Michael's Church and taught Bach the harpsichord. When he was 17, Bach graduated from St. Michael's School in Lüneburg and accepted a position as a violinist in the chamber orchestra of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar. The organ, however, was always his favorite instrument, and Bach spent hours practicing on the church organ in Weimar. He became so good that when he demonstrated the new organ at a church in Arnstadt a year later, the church offered him a permanent position.
    Unfortunately, Bach's relationship with his choir at Arnstadt was less than ideal — after the performance of his first church cantata on Easter 1704, he asked to be released from the responsibility of conducting the choir. The church administration replied that maybe the friction was his fault, and the whole thing culminated in a street fight where he apparently called one of his orchestra members a "nanny-goat bassoonist."
    Bach was not the most considerate employee. He asked for a month off to travel to Lübeck (a 200-mile walk), where the famous organist Dietrich Buxtehude played at St. Mary's Church. Bach loved Buxtehude's music so much that he stayed an extra three months without letting anyone in Arnstadt know. When Buxtehude retired and Bach was offered his position, however, the young organist turned it down. If he had accepted, he would have been expected to marry one of Buxtehude's daughters, all of whom were much older than he.
    Instead, Bach married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, after accepting the organist position at the Church of St. Blaise in Mühlhausen in 1707. Although Mühlhausen as a city had a deeper musical appreciation than Arnstadt, Bach still ran into trouble with his employer. The pastor of St. Blaise, Reverend Frohne, was a strict proponent of Lutheran Pietism, a movement that stripped liturgy (and liturgical music) of all frills and complications. Bach's growing experimentation in the other direction caused him to look for another position.
    Returning to Weimar, Bach became the court organist of Duke Wilhelm Ernst. His residence there from 1708-1717 produced some of Bach's most famous works, including Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. Bach's reputation as an expert organist grew, and his compositions moved away from reliance on common forms into the realm of intricate, ingenious tonal design. Bach was especially skilled at counterpoint, an aspect of baroque music that involves two or more melodies playing at the same time.
    After accepting a better-paying job in Cöthen in 1717, Bach produced mainly instrumental music for the chamber orchestra there. His wife Maria Barbara died, leaving him with seven children. Bach chose a young, 20-year-old woman, Anna Magdalena Wülken, for his second wife and married her in 1721. Anna Magdalena went on to bear him 13 children. Bach supplied his children with harpsichord instruction books of his own invention, many of which are considered masterpieces today.
    When Prince Leopold of Cöthen married a woman who disapproved of spending so much time and money on music, Bach began looking for another position once more. He became the choirmaster at St. Thomas' Church in Leipzig in 1723 and remained there until his death in 1750. In Leipzig, for the first time, Bach's talents as an organist were not required as much as his skill as a composer. Here Bach composed the majority of his choral music, including The Passion According to St. Matthew (1729), Mass in B Minor (1733), and the Christmas Oratorio (1734).
    Four of Bach's sons went on to be great musicians themselves: Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph, and Johann Christian.
    Alan Rich once said of Johann Sebastian Bach: "No composer in history ... has been so widely jazzed up, watered down, electrified and otherwise transmogrified, debated, and admired as this German provincial."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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