Sunday Apr. 23, 2017

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Belongings

After being a student, then an hourly worker,
I became a career girl and earned real money.
I left behind a provisional furnished apartment
with its stained curtains, butt-burned table
and Goodwill mattress I was never sure about.

Alone I bought a house with an attic,
a basement and a skirt of flowers.
Freely I spent on white paint, silver knobs
for kitchen cabinets and a sofa made of corduroy
that wrinkled my face when I napped.
A bureau with a display to worship
photos and framed mottos:
If only one prayer, thank you will suffice.

Do I regret the down payment,
fixtures, fittings, furniture, years of mortgage?
Would I take anything back?
No, I would not. I meant it all,
every purchase, all the weight that encumbered
and rooted me on this earth.

“Belongings” by Margaret Hasse from Between Us. © Nodin Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Roy Orbison (1936), born in Vernon, Texas, to Orbie Lee, a mechanic, and Nadine, a nurse. His father gave him a guitar on his sixth birthday, and by the time he was seven, he knew that music was his calling. He later said, "I was finished, you know, for anything else." He studied geology in college, planning to work in the oil fields if he couldn't make a living playing his guitar, but when his classmate Pat Boone signed a big record deal, it only strengthened his resolve to make a go of music. He moved to Memphis with his band, the Teen Kings, in 1956, and they had a contract and a modest hit with Sun Records. Eventually, the band split up, and Orbison worked for a while as a songwriter.

His career ignited in 1960 with a song that had been turned down by Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. "Only the Lonely" was the antithesis of the typical rock and roll song of the period, with no driving beat or teenage defiance; it was mournful and plaintive, with a string section backing up Orbison's operatic voice. He had severe stage fright, and performed dressed all in black, hiding behind a pair of thick prescription Wayfarer sunglasses. He said: "I wasn't trying to be weird, you know? ... But the image developed of a man of mystery and a quiet man in black, somewhat of a recluse, although I never was, really."

One day, during a songwriting session with his partner Bill Dees, Orbison asked his wife, Claudette Frady Orbison, if she needed any money for her upcoming trip to Nashville. Dees remarked, "Pretty woman never needs any money." Forty minutes later, Orbison's most famous hit, "Oh, Pretty Woman," had been written.

His fame declined after "Oh, Pretty Woman" until he formed the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty in 1988. Orbison died of a heart attack in December of that year, about six weeks after the band's first album was released.

Today is traditionally held to be the birthday of William Shakespeare (books by this author), who was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father John was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William's extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible — though unproven — ghost writers.

We know that he married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It's speculated that his son's death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 — possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford — and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn't rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as "bardolatry" until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his "second-best bed." He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones."

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren't even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as "a fool's paradise," "a sorry sight," "dead as a doornail," "Greek to me," "come what may," "eaten out of house and home," "forever and a day," "heart's content," "slept a wink," "love is blind," "night owl," "wild goose chase," and "into thin air."

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero's soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it's satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

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

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