Saturday Oct. 21, 2017

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We’ll Always Have Parents

It isn’t what he said in Casablanca
and it isn’t strictly true. Nonetheless
we’ll always have them, much as we have Paris.
They’re in our baggage, or perhaps are baggage
of the old-fashioned type, before the wheels,
which we remember when we pack for Paris.
Or don’t remember. Paris doesn’t know
if you’re thinking of it. Neither do your parents,
although they say you ought to visit more,
as if they were as interesting as Paris.
Both Paris and your parents are as dead
and as alive as what’s inside your head.
Meanwhile, those lovers, younger every year
(because with every rerun we get older),
persuade us less, for all their cigarettes
and shining unshed tears about the joy
of Paris blurring in their rearview mirror,
that they’ve surpassed us in sophistication.
Granted, they were born before our parents
but don’t they seem by now, Bogart and Bergman,
like our own children? Think how we could help!
We could ban their late nights, keep them home
the whole time, and prevent their ill-starred romance!
Here’s looking at us, Kid. You’ll thank your parents.

“We’ll Always Have Parents” by Mary Jo Salter from The Surveyors. © Knopf, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin (books by this author), born in Berkeley, California (1929). She grew up in a family of academics. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a psychologist and writer. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University—he's been called the "Dean of American anthropologists." He specialized in researching Native American cultures, and so Ursula grew up with Native American myths.

When she was young, over the course of 10 years, she wrote five novels, none of which were published. Publishers in the 1950s thought her writing was too "remote." So she began to write science fiction and fantasy, and she has been incredibly prolific for the last four decades. She has published more than 100 short stories, 20 novels, 11 children's books, six volumes of poetry, and four volumes of translation. She's best known for her Earthsea books, a fantasy series that takes place in a world populated by wizards and dragons. She also wrote the Hainish Cycle — science fiction novels set in an imaginary universe where the residents are genderless.

An interviewer once asked her advice for writers, and she replied: "I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn't flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work."

It was on this day in 1879 that the inventor Thomas Edison finally struck upon the idea for a workable electric light. People had been trying to make electric lights since the 1820s to replace kerosene and gas lamps, but they had chosen the wrong material for the filament: platinum. And Edison tried carbonized cotton thread, carbon filament that worked much better. He later improved the design with a tungsten filament that lasted longer and glowed brighter.

One of the effects of the invention of the electric light is that people sleep less than they once did. Before 1910, people slept an average of nine hours a night; since then, it's about seven and a half. Sleep researchers have shown in the laboratory that if people are deprived of electric light, they will go back to the nine-hour-a-night schedule.

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

Production Credits

Host: Garrison Keillor
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Theresa Burgess
Web Producer: Ben Miller