“It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.” Isaac Asimov (1920?-1992)
Born in Russia, Isaak Yudovich Ozimov immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of three. A voracious reader of science fiction, he began writing as a pre-teen, selling his first piece in 1939 to Amazing Stories Magazine. He would go on to become one of the most prolific of sci-fi and hard science writers, publishing an astonishing 500 books in nine of the ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System, while simultaneously holding a tenured position as Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University. Recognized as one of the most brilliant men of his age, he was Vice President of Mensa, and opined that Carl Sagan and Marvin Minsky were the only two people he knew who were smarter than he. In his science fiction work he is perhaps best known for his Foundation Series and for I, Robot which propounds the Three Laws of Robotics, incorporated by an entire generation of writers from Roddenberry and Clarke to Ellison and Silverberg. He was a six-time winner of the Hugo Award and has a crater on Mars and an asteroid named in his honor.
“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) from the GHS Guidance Newsletter
Born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Rand moved to the United States in 1926 with the intention of becoming a screenwriter. After two unsuccessful novels and a largely unnoticed play, she wrote The Fountainhead, published in 1943, which established her fame as a writer and was later made into a popular movie. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, expanded on her rationalist, anti-romantic themes, which she labeled Objectivism. This book essentially ended her career as a novelist, as she became more and more influential in Republican and conservative political circles for her libertarian philosophies, which rejected altruism and promoted laissez-faire capitalism. She continued to lead the Objectivist movement until her death due to complications of heavy smoking and decades of amphetamine use.
I have been thinking about what Thanksgiving means, beyond turkey and football. I looked back through my four plus years of weekly quotes and was a little surprised to find so many that speak about the various facets of gratitude, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Wise people over the centuries have recognized the power of thankfulness to transform one’s life, and it certainly has changed mine.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but also the parent of all the others.”
A native of Cambridge (our fair city) MA, Magliozzi was, with younger brother Ray, host of the NPR call-in show “Car Talk” which started locally on WBUR before going national, first as a weekly segment with Susan Stamberg on Weekend Edition, then in its own right as an hourly program, produced by Doug (The Subway Fugitive) Berman. Although they were auto mechanics and owners of a garage, Tom had an engineering degree from MIT and later an MBA and PhD from Northeastern and Boston Universities. He ran an international consulting business and taught at the university level for many years, but it was his infectious laugh and unbridled silliness for which he is most remembered. The show was recognized with the Peabody Award in 1992, and is widely considered to have changed the nature of public radio.
Often cast as the quintessential New England rural poet, Frost was a San Francisco native, who then spent the majority of his youth in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard Colleges, but graduated from neither, ultimately settling in Derry, New Hampshire, where he wrote many of the poems for which he is most famous including “Mending Wall.” He taught English at Pinkerton Academy, (my alma mater) and at Middlebury College for many years. Frost’s gift was to be able to take the doings of everyday people and express them in the vernacular while teasing out the deeper meanings that we are often too busy to see. Although he was recognized and honored in his lifetime, winning four Pulitzer prizes, receiving more than forty honorary degrees, and reading “The Gift Outright” at John Kennedy’s inaugural, he was no stranger to grief and depression, losing both his parents at an early age and outliving all but two of his six children.
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
Beverly Sills (1929-2007)
Born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn to immigrant parents from Ukraine, Sills won her first singing contest at age three and would go on to win first place on both the Major Bowles Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, the American Idol of their day. She broke into opera in the late forties, specializing in the work of Donizetti, Rossini and Massenet, and by 1971 appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as “America’s Queen of the Opera”, despite limiting her career to spend more time at home with her children, both born with disabilities. She retired from singing in 1980, but continued in the public eye, first as director of the New York City Opera, then Chair of Lincoln Center, and finally of the Metropolitan Opera, while simultaneously offering her celebrity to the March of Dimes and other charities. She was the recipient of four honorary doctorates, multiple Emmy and Grammy nominations, and the 1980 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
A Jamaica Plain native, Plath wrote and published poetry from an early age. Educated at Smith College, where she edited the college magazine, she received a Fulbright grant to study at Cambridge University in England, where she met and later married poet Ted Hughes. She struggled with depression throughout her life, spending significant time at McLean’s hospital in Belmont and receiving electroshock therapy. Plath is credited with popularizing the confessional poetry genre and won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Ariel. She survived a number of suicide attempts, but ultimately succumbed just after the publication of her novel The Bell Jar, leaving two children aged 2 and nine months.
An Illinois native, Hubbard enjoyed early wealth as a successful salesman for the Larkin Soap Company. Inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris, the self-described socialist founded the Roycroft Press and later the Roycroft Community in East Aurora, New York, whose shops produced furniture and printing that had a profound influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement. During the First World War he was fined and had his passport revoked for printing anti-war commentary. He successfully appealed directly to President Woodrow Wilson for it to be reinstated and traveled to Europe to report on the war. Hubbard and his wife were returning to the States on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a U-boat and sank off Ireland, both died. Another Hubbard quote: “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive.”
“…the intrigue of existence would be purposeless without the element of the ineffable.”
Timothy Wilson (198?- ) From Quantum Art Review (as is the bio below.)
Timothy was born and raised in rural Maine. Upon graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design he enrolled briefly at the Grand Central Academy before moving back to Maine to work as a creative designer for a clothing company. Not long after, he decided to leave the portence of a successful career and pursue a life as a frustrated painter. In November he will be undertaking a two month Fellowship in the Hudson Valley courtesy of the Art Students League. Timothy keeps his studio in Portland, Maine where he occasionally cat sits for his sister’s purebred Persian. His solo exhibition at the Steven Amedee Gallery in New York City opens in October.
“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”
Gary Edward “Garrison” Keillor (1942- )
The Minnesota native has been the host of the popular radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” a fixture on NPR since 1974 portraying life in the fictional Midwestern town Lake Wobegon. Thrice married, Keillor’s folksy story telling mixed with literary allusions has been published in the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Salon.com.
His liberal politics and opposition to the policies of George W. Bush have raised the ire of some of his conservative listeners, but he has been a sought-after speaker and voice-over artist. Keillor has won the Peabody Award, the National Humanities Award, the Steinbeck Award, a Grammy, and the first Moth Award for excellence in story-telling.
Born Frances Elizabeth Kent, the Iowa native joined the Roman Catholic Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in 1936. She studied art at Otis College of Art and Design and the Chouinard Institute and received her BA from Immaculate Heart College where she laterbecame the Chair of the Art Department. She said her work was influenced by Buckminster Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames, with whom she enjoyed close relationships as she developed her signature style of painting and serigraphy, said by many to have changed the course of modern art. Corita Kent left the sisterhood in 1968, moved to Boston, and devoted herself to a highly successful life as a studio artist. Among her best known works are the “Love” postage stamp from 1985 and the controversial gas storage tanks on the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester which are said to contain the profile of Ho Chi Minh.
A Chicago native, Williams attended Claremont McKenna College and the Juilliard School, breaking into television as the alien Mork on “Happy Days”. Mork was such a popular character that the spin-off “Mork and Mindy” ran four years providing Williams with the perfect vehicle for his unparalleled mimicry and improvisational impersonations.
A veteran of dozens of film roles from Peter Pan to the deranged killer in Insomnia, Williams received an Academy award for his portrayal of a Harvard professor in Good Will Hunting, as well as several Emmys, Golden Globes and other awards.
Williams continued to perform stand-up comedy and was active in support of myriads of charities, several connected to his battles with substance abuse and depression. Thrice married, the quote may reflect self-awareness.
Although the exact historicity of his life is lost in time it is generally accepted that Siddhartha Gautama, born a prince in what is now Nepal, was a member of the warrior/ruler class who, as a mature and married man, renounced his noble life and began many years of wandering and study, ultimately rejecting the extremes of asceticism and hedonism to establish a middle way to spiritual awakening. He spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma, or the nature of things, and expounding the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths, the acceptance of which is said to be the route to Nirvana, the perfect peace of a mind free from ignorance, greed and hatred. He is also reputed to have said ”No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
A Pennsylvania native, Tina Fey was interested in comedy from an early age and got her foot in the door with The Second City improv group, moving to Saturday Night Live as a writer in 1992. She later became an on-screen performer and ultimately head writer for the series. She is probably best known for her spot-on impersonation of vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, and her long tenure as co-anchor of the Weekend Update segment, first with Jimmy Fallon and later with Amy Poehler. She left SNL in 2006 to develop the sitcom 30 Rock and has appeared in more than a dozen movies. She is one of the most highly paid actresses working today and is often listed as one of the most influential women in show business. Fey is a multiple winner of the Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards. In 2010 she was honored with the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the youngest recipient to date.
“A lot of parents will do anything for their kids, except let them be themselves.”
Banksy (1974?- )
An English graffiti artist, film maker and painter, Banksy’s birth name has never been revealed, although he is said by some to have been from a middle-class background in Bristol. He first gained public notice in the early nineties for his ironic, existentialist, and darkly humorous street art that has a liberal and anti-capitalist viewpoint. Much of his wall art is stencil based and shows a strong influence from the earlier work of French artist Blek le Rat. Often labeled vandalism by the powers that be, his preserved work, sometimes an entire wall, can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. His first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, won documentary awards at several festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Austen lived and wrote extensively about the life of the minor English gentry of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Her first successful novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published anonymously, and although she enjoyed some fame later in life it was not until the 1940’s that she gained the dedicated following her work garners today. Her other best known books, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, set the tone for highly detailed seriocomic romantic fiction describing the dependency of the women of that time on the correct marriage to assure their standing and security. Few details of her quiet domestic life are known, including the cause of her relatively early death.
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Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, NY, Schwartz attended Columbia and the University of Wisconsin before receiving a degree from New York University. He studied philosophy as a graduate student under the great Alfred North Whitehead at Harvard while he roomed with the poet Robert Lowell. His first book, In Dreams Responsibilities Begin, based on his parents failed marriage, gained him widespread notice. He went on to teach writing at a number of schools including Syracuse and Kenyon. Among his many students and protégés was Saul Bellow, whose Humboldt’s Gift is based on their relationship. Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground also studied with Schwartz, wrote at least two songs in his memory and named him the “first great man I ever met.” Schwartz died at 52, alone and isolated from the world, from complications of alcoholism and mental illness.
The quintessential American industrialist, Ford got his start as an engineer with the Edison Illumination Company, eventually rising to Chief Engineer and beginning to experiment with vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Ford is credited with the development of assembly line manufacturing and the franchise system which allowed him to produce and sell a car that the middle class could afford. He also believed in paying his employees much higher wages than average so that they could help fuel an upward capitalist spiral. He thought increased international commerce would lead to peace and was only a reluctant supporter of the US war effort, although at its peak his Willow Run plant was building one B-24 bomber every hour. Ford’s reputation as a philanthropist was enhanced by the vast wealth he left to the Ford Foundation, but sullied by his life-long anti-Semitism.
Born in the Prussian province of Saxony, Nietzsche showed a particular aptitude for music and language as a young man. His extensive knowledge of Roman and Greek culture led to his appointment as Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel at the age of 24. His later study of the works of Schopenhauer and Ritschl ignited his interest in philosophy and helped him promulgate his own ideas on relativistic truth, the origins of morality, and the failings of Christianity. He had a close relationship with Richard and Cosima Wagner, and with Lou Andreas Salomé, who would later mentor Rilke. Nietzsche’s philosophy included what he called the “death of God” and the individual’s “will to power” which many viewed as dangerously egocentric. His failing health and ultimate early death left his papers in the hands of his younger sister, whose husband was a prominent German Nationalist and anti-Semite. Their reworking of posthumous editions of his philosophy gave them an ugly twist the Nazis later used to justify their amorality. A master of aphorism, it was Nietzsche who coined the phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” but also “Within every real man is hidden a child who wants to play.”