I gotta say, I totally love me some Writer’s Almanac. I first got turned on to this when I was driving my kids to school in Berkeley, as it came on the Bay Area’s NPR station every morning at nine a.m. If you are not familiar with this fine institution, it’s basically Garrison Keillor telling you about which writers’ (and writerly persons’) birthdays it is, every day. And then reading a groovy poem out loud. Which is kind of awesome, really.
These days, since I have outlived the maximum-chauffeur years, child-wise, I get it as an email around midnight every night. I miss the lagniappe of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and the poem comes at the beginning rather than the end, but it’s still pretty damn amazing on a daily basis. Just, Snacks-‘o-Thought, in a rather lovely way. And sometimes the conjunction of people born on the same day seems almost prophetic or something. Like, better than a horoscope.
But last night was an especially good one, at least for provoking snacks ‘o thought on my part. First off, today is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s birthday.
And I never knew before that he went through a total shitstorm in his life while quite young and gave up writing for ten years, commenting later: “I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live…” which just, well… mon semblable, mon frere. Let’s leave it at that.
AND it’s also the day Anne Hathaway died. Shakespeare’s wife, to whom he left his “second-best” bed.
AND it’s the day that Robert Burns was roundly and publicly chastised in church for having knocked up a chick to whom he was not yet married–with fraternal twins.
While perhaps having also gotten another chick pregnant (that would be the OTHER chick, pictured above, whom he called his “Highland Mary.”) And even though he THEN got published and all of a sudden chick numero uno’s parents welcomed him with open arms as a son-in-law and stuff, and they went on to have a boatload more children–and he had a separate boatload along the way with a bunch of OTHER chicks, apparently. Which state of affairs (ahem) was accepted with grace by his wife, the former Jean Armour:
She bore his philandering with patience and apparent good cheer, just as she continued to bear him children — the ninth was born on the day of Robert Burns’ funeral in 1796. “Our Robbie should have had twa [two] wives,” she is said to have exclaimed upon taking in one of his illegitimate daughters to raise.
Oh, AND today South Carolina delegate John Rutledge “presented a first draft of the United States Constitution to the Constitutional Convention, in 1781,”
while it’s also the day that Jane Austen finished writing Persuasion.
So all of that seems pretty damn auspicious, to me, but I think my favorite bit from today’s Almanac is the following, in that the innovation has been quite literally and profoundly life-altering for me (and probably you, too, if you’re reading this, which we must presume you are):
It was 20 years ago today that British physicist Tim Berners-Lee posted a description of a project he called the “World Wide Web” to an online newsgroup, effectively revolutionizing modern life.
Working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Berners-Lee invented his service to allow scientists to easily share and access information via the Internet. Although the infrastructure of the “Net” had been growing for years, it was until then a highly technical system known mostly to academics and scientists like Berners-Lee. The World Wide Web, as Berners-Lee conceived it, would use the Net to connect documents with clickable links — or hypertext — and make them searchable.
Under the encouraging headline “Try it,” Berners-Lee’s post included information on accessing the first Web server and a Web browser prototype, and gave the address — or “coordinates,” as he called it then — of an example website he’d created. This Web page — the world’s very first — further explained the project he’d nicknamed “W3,” explaining how to search the Web and how to build your own page. Academia began using the service first, then industry. In early 1993, Mosaic was released, the first Web-browsing software for PCs and Apple Macintosh computers. Anyone with an Internet connection could now surf — and help create — the Web.
Berners-Lee had written in that first post: “The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone.” Today the word “much” seems quite an understatement, and “academic” almost laughable. But it is astonishing to be reminded that so much of what’s on the Web is “freely available” because Berners-Lee created the Web for free. For his donation, he was named by Timemagazine as one of the top 20 thinkers of the 20th century, and was awarded a knighthood in 2004.
Berners-Lee said: “The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.”
I mean, DUDE–THE FUCKING INTERNET, right? Or the worldwideweb or whatever. I get kind of confused. But still… I mean, here are ten things that happened to me because of the internet (in reverse temporal order):
- I signed up for The Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, and ended up meeting Lee Child and a whole slew of other groovers, including many of the people who’ve written for this blog.
- I found my mystery-writing group in Berkeley on craigslist, and got published five years later with the help of all those good folk.
- I (earlier, slightly) found epinions.com, which landed me smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of burgeoning writers who were AWESOME and funny and talented and wonderful, right when my life had totally turned to shit. They gave me my chops back, as a writer and as a human being. Seriously.
- Part of the reason my life had turned to shit is that I found out my husband had been fucking the secretary at his office in Boulder, shortly after I learned how to do email. Because I found their emails. (Okay, this one SUCKED, but still–life altering.) We were in Cambridge by that point, but still…
- I got to meet a really groovy writer named Dick Pollak (because of an autism chat group on Compuserve) who wrote a deeply amazing book about Bruno Bettelheim, who was such a giant shitheel I would still like to dig him up from his grave and hit him over the head with a shovel. Even though he was cremated. (Bettelheim, not Dick. Dick is excellent.)
- Well, I can’t even begin to enumerate all the amazing shit that the world wide web has wrought in my life… because it’s just totally stunning and mind-boggling and FUCKING AMAZING. So I will stop at six.
But I am hugely, hugely grateful to Tim Berners-Lee. DUDE–YOU ROCK!!! THANK YOU!!!!
What’s the best thing that’s happened in your life because of the web, o dearest ‘Ratis? What’s the shittiest? What would you be doing right now instead of reading Murderati, if this whole shebang hadn’t been invented?