Category Archives: Odes

Goodbye Oprah, and Thank You Talk Show Pioneer Phil Donahue

Of course, today and much of the past week (in the broadcast TV world anyway) have been all about Oprah Winfrey‘s extended farewell. As well they should have been. Whether or not you liked her style or resonated with her messages, Oprah has no doubt deeply influenced and touched countless people in numerous ways.

This is a nice tribute, Why Did Oprah Matter?, from Ken Tucker at ew.com. Another nice piece, Five Reasons Oprah’s Last Show Should Matter to You, appears in the Dallas Morning News from Michael Landauer.

But enough about Oprah.

In all the hoopla, I can’t help but think back to Phil Donahue, whose very thoughtful talk show I watched often. It is Donahue who pioneered the act of entering the studio audience and was often seen running up and down the stairs of his set, microphone in hand and white hair flopping, to record the impressions of a guest.

The Phil Donahue Show (later – in a nod to the times? – simply Donahue) ran an incredible 26 years nationally, from 1970-1996 (one year longer than Oprah), and three years locally in Dayton, OH, before that. He took on most of the political, cultural and philosophical issues of the times – civil rights, gay rights, consumer rights, religion, abortion, war, even holocaust denial  – and didn’t shy from (indeed perhaps stoked) controversy and passionate conversation. He also did lighter, but no less educational, shows such as one in which he introduced many viewers to break dancing and rap.

My friend, Bay Area writer and cultural observer Barbara Tannenbaum, shared this:

I think Phil Donahue was one of several major factors helping the country with gay visibility/ cultural change. When Bill Maher said it was television, not politicians, who were behind this paradigm shift, I instantly thought of Donahue….and Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas (less so, but must tip my hat to my Mom!)

Donahue was on the air during the worst part of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Again, a forum for our Moms to meet gay men fighting AIDS, making that conversation much easier for parents. My mom comforted a lady in the dressing room of Nordstrom’s about discussing her gay son’s diagnosis with her husband. Her inspiration was not me, but Phil Donahue!!

Even Oprah Winfrey acknowledges, “”If it weren’t for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show.”

Here’s Phil Donahue interviewing writer Ayn Rand, about whom he said, in his introduction, “You mention this woman’s name and you’re in for a very vigorous conversation.” That short phrase sums up much of Phil Donahue’s talent and appeal, in addition to an element we could use much more of on television and in the greater culture and discourse.

Farewell Oprah and thank you Phil!

Photos: AP/Paul Beaty, Doug Ross

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Vanishing Breed: World’s Last Typewriter Factory Closes its Doors

Hold on to your ribbons and keys: The world’s last typewriter factory, located in Mumbai, India, is closing its doors. As late as 2009, the factory, Godrej and Boyce, was still rolling out 10-12, 000 machines a year (down from 50,000 a year in the 90s). But the ubiquitous computer just proved too much for it.

The concept of impressing ink-coated letters onto paper may date to a 1714 English patent held by Henry Mill. The first working typewriter was said to have been built in 1808 by Italian Pellegrino Turri. Our current typewriters (and computer keyboards) owe the most debt to the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, produced in New York, beginning in 1873, from gunmakers E. Remington & Sons. Some of you may still have Remington manual typewriters.

Sholes, a newspaperman from Wisconsin, created the QWERTY keyboard that we still use today. The first one made only capital letters. There is more early typewriter history on this excellent site. This is another great site featuring lots of pictures and information about different models of early typewriters, from American Visible to World.

U.S. typewriter production was dominated by just four brands — Underwood, Royal, Remington and Smith-Corona — from the 1920s until they stopped production. Remington, then Remington-Rand, moved production to Europe in 1961. The last Smith-Corona and Royal typewriters came out in the 1970s. Underwood merged with Olivetti in 1963 and began diversifying. The last Olivetti portable typewriter was produced in Spain in the 1980s.

Though I typed a “novel” on a manual typewriter in 6th grade ( a tome in which terrible fates befell the fictional denizens of an elementary school, truth be told), and learned manual typing from typing teacher Stella Staley to prepare for high school, for most of high school I typed papers on a series of lovely IBM Selectrics. These were probably the slightly outdated castoffs from my parents’ ad agency office, but still — they were quite sleek, in lovely colors (robins egg blue or gunmetal gray), and they had fascinating metal balls that spun around to find the designated letter. Best? You could change the font by changing out the ball. (I also remember the change-over from white-out to type-out correction paper.) It turns out IBMs had been somewhat stylish (and electric) since the 1930s.

Now, of course, there is a collectors’ market for typewriter ribbons and other accessories, not to mention the typewriters themselves. And while news of this last typewriter rolling off the factory belt may hit some of us with an odd sense of surprise and nostalgia, I note that the same keyboard from almost 150 years ago is still with us, and that some people (even in high schools today) continue to say “typing” rather than the duller-sounding “keyboarding” or, God forbid, “word processing”.

This wistful change brings both and “end of an era” feeling and the notion that I personally can’t imagine how long-form writers ever typed complete novels without the luxury of inserting, deleting, copying and pasting at will — even if I once tried it myself.

Be sure to see: The typewriter dance number.

This just in: Some typewriters are apparently still being made, in the U.S., for the prison market. So, perhaps more accurately, the world’s second to last typewriter factory closed its doors.

Photos: IBM typewriter ads, top to bottom, Model Year 1954, 1930, 1948, 1948, 1959, 1967. These and many more on etypewriters.com. Early writing ball typewriter, 1903 Remington ad and popular 1920s Underwood 5 manual typewriter on this typewriter history site. Later Underwood 5 typewriter on Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk

I’m not sure quite why I can’t resist lingering over a neon roadside sign at dusk. Nor why I find some to be just a bit forlorn. Perhaps it’s the gulf between the sign’s bright promise — in this case evoking our local mountain, given the Native American Miwok name meaning “coastal mountain” — and the reality of a motel, or a bar, or an eatery that’s seen better times. Or maybe it’s just the time of day, the light, the glory and wonder of neon, and the beckoning of the open road, none of which ever grow old.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

First of Spring 2011, Larkspur, CA

Woman in electric blue Mary Janes reading a paperback while walking

Bunches of boys on bikes

Cucumber seedlings set out at the market

Small girl with flower-ringed bun being walked to ballet

100 year old pocket park

Metal chairs on front porches

Cupolas, a flag in the breeze

Dinner special on restaurant chalkboard

Old couple walking with canes

Smell of wild onions

Crack of baseball bat on ball

Dappled sunlight

Hope

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony today, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that he saw no shadow today and accordingly foretold an early end to winter. Over the 125 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16, counting today. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as they no doubt would have today, when a smaller than usual crowd stood in the freezing rain to watch the ceremony.

The same article also notes that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festival, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

— English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies, none is nearly as famous as Punsxutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

You might also enjoy: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing


When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she had the most marvelous poetry teacher, who visited the school through a terrific program called California Poets in the Schools, which has been bringing professional poets into K-8 classrooms for 46  years.  The poet, Karen Benke, was extremely special. She had a way of coaxing whimsical language and deep, unconscious connections from children, sometimes with the aid of “word” tickets that would appear from a velvet pouch she carried. When in doubt, the muse could usually be summoned with the help of a word ticket.


Now Karen has published a book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, to help poets young and old summon their muses, with a full range of completely fun poetry exercises and triggers that will work when you’re stuck, or just want to stretch out and have fun. She and a host of well-known poets contribute notes and ideas in a very warm, encouraging and easy-to-read format.

Closer to games than assignments, a lot of the exercises offer ways to slow down and ask oneself questions like, What does that color feel like? What was my favorite age? What’s it really like to be a stone? There are ways to loosen up, such as making lists, creating recipes, using gross-out words, and trying not to make sense. There are encouragements to go deep and write about what hurts, or what you’re grateful for, or something you’ve never told anyone before.

Different forms are played with, such as odes and haiku. Karen shows that words can be visual — They can be piled on top of one another. They can form the shape of an object. They can reach to infinity. Exercises let poets write just for sound, and explore repetition of language. There are illustrations of concepts like similes, spoonerisms, alliteration, juxtaposition, point of view, going beyond cliches, calling on all the senses, and all kinds of tools that poets can use to make their writing more alive and the act of writing more fun.

Rip the Page is definitely fun. It’s about stretching and expressing ones uniqueness with games, prompts and tons of ideas that would encourage even the most reticent writer. Karen’s joy and enthusiasm for writing, children and life are completely contagious. The book unfolds like a series of magic tickets. You could open it anywhere and summon the imagination and courage to do something out of the ordinary like catching a whisper or letting the moon speak.

Karen will be leading a Rip the Page: Poetry Workshop for Kids Saturday, Sept. 25 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.

She also recently hosted a poetry, music and performance event as a collection drive for Operation Backpack!, a charity she created to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, a mining town in the mountains south of Puerto Vallarta, where her aunt, Barbara Rounds, volunteers and where children cannot afford backpacks for school. Look for a future post about the Operation Backpack! event, which was, like Karen and Rip the Page, warm, inspiring and fun.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Fall Begins Tonight with a Big Harvest Moon

The Autumnal Equinox will occur overnight tonight at 3:09 Universal Time (7:09 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 10:09 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time), officially ushering in Fall. In a rare occurrence, a big, full Harvest Moon will be in the sky to greet it.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune: Typically, the Harvest Moon arrives within days or weeks of the Autumnal Equinox, but rarely does it align within hours. There hasn’t been a comparable coincidence since Sept. 23, 1991. Such an alignment won’t happen again until 2029.

As I wrote last year, the Harvest Moon is quite a magnificent, miraculously timed occurrence. It traditionally shines its all-night beacon at precisely the time farmers are gathering their crops. Because it’s close to the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere, October’s full moon is also particularly large and bright — quite helpful in the days before electricity, and perhaps even now.

Here is a good explanation of the how the September Equinox works.

Happy Fall!

You might also enjoy:

The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall
Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest
Fall Foliage at its Peak
Enjoy October’s Full Harvest Moon
Celebrate May’s Full Moon

Photos: Mattias Kobel, Susan Sachs Lipman