Friday, October 22, 2021

The Magic of Magazines



   The Magic of Magazines

   I come across a lot of words on a daily basis. I get a lot of postal mail, mostly from organizations and groups, but occasionally a card or note from a family member or a friend. I get a lot of e-mails, from friends, Dukes contacts, businesses and political organizations. I also have print and digital subscriptions to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Tribune as ways of supporting local independent journalism. That’s a lot of written words that come into my space within any week, and I am glad of it. 

    Of course, I do not get to look at all of those words immediately. Some of these are important, of course, and I have to attend to them right away. But a lot of my e-mails I either delete or I bookmark them and put into various folders and resolve to look at them another day. (Sometimes I actually do look at them, and I find out a lot of fascinating and moving things about world culture, art, cities, birding and more.)  The magazines, though, I  pile up on the wooden bookcase on the porch right next to the front door. I do that because I regularly grab one as I am heading out the door to take with me when I ride the bus or the train. I have magazines from 5 different museums, a couple of birding and nature magazines, several political and issues-oriented magazines, and a travel magazine about sustainable travel that I regularly read. While I don’t read every word in every issue of every magazine, it is important to me to look at them. For magazines have played and still play a huge role in my life.  

   Magazines have been a big part of American culture since the mid-to late 1800’s. We sort of take them for granted-they have always been there and they always seem to be around. They are in doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and other offices as we wait for appointments. They are in some commuter trains stations. Even in this digital age, there are many magazines that are delivered directly to people via the Postal Service. They have been an important part of American life, and they have had a huge impact on our culture. They have played a big part, in ways both good and not so good, in setting the guidelines and “rules” about what it meant to be “American.”

   Early American magazines were concerned with sharing and instilling certain values, many of which came from the Protestant beliefs of early Americans-faith, thrift, hard-work, etc. They had some literary offerings, but we more about what we might call, “self-improvement’ and, “moral uplift.”As the country underwent the Industrial Revolution, gained many more people, and became more middle class, however, magazines began to seek a wider audience. Many more Americans were educated enough to read. The cost of printing decreased. So the idea of a “mass market” magazine-one that could appeal to lots of readers of different ages and from different backgrounds- became a possibility. The Saturday Evening Post, first published in 1821, and Godey’s Lady’s Book, started in 1831, were two of the first successful mass market magazines. The Post had items that were newsworthy, advice, short stories by authors such as Poe and Hawthorne and several European authors, some poetry, illustrations, and humorous pieces. Godey’s Lady’s Book had much the same content, but it was designed to publish only American authors, and was directed at women. It included recipes, household hints, etiquette advice, and lavishly illustrated ‘fashion plates’ that depicted stylish clothes. It also, under the direction of Sara Josephina Hale, argued for women’s education, urged its readers to write legislators in support of causes such as making Thanksgiving a national holiday, and supported women working. In fact, Godey itself employed over 100 women. Due to Ms. Hale’s leadership Godey’s was the most popular magazine in the country for a good part of the 19th century. 

  From that point on magazines became a major part of US culture. Americans wanted magazines for just about everything. Specialty magazines grew in number and in popularity. There were mystery magazines, women's magazines, literary magazines, and magazines about hobbies and activities, such as hunting and astronomy. General picture magazines, such as Life and Look, took off and by the post WWII era were in the homes of most US families, spreading info across the country and helping solidify some ideas about what it meant to be American. My family was no different from many families at that time. We subscribed to Life and Look as well as National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. I remember Reader’s Digest for the shortened or excerpted sections of the works of authors I had only heard about, and for their vocabulary quizzes, which helped encourage my love of words. National Geographic fueled my sense of wonder and travel; the phrase “bucket list” hadn’t been invented yet, but there were things I saw in that mag that I knew I wanted to do some day, and some of them I have done. We also read Jet and Ebony, magazines about Black life and Black news and Black accomplishments. This was great because it helped broaden, and in some cases, challenge or correct some of the cultural ideas that were being pushed in the major magazines. Through all of this, I was becoming a well rounded thinker. 

   So magazines, then and now, have played a big part in my growth as both a thinker and a person. They have exposed me to new ideas, given me some new ways to look at things, and helped form and solidify some of my values and ways of being in the world. Yes, they can be convenient things to help me meet boredom and situations when I have to wait. But they have also been and are ways for me to grow and develop. I am glad for those subscriptions; for over 65 years, they have been a major player in my life.  


Saturday, October 9, 2021

"It's Like Thunder; Lightnin'"

“The thunder? Don’t be afraid. It ain’t nothing but God going bowling up in heaven”     Numerous parents to their little kids  

Over the last week I have seen some evidence of the fact that it is fall again in our cycle of seasons. Goldfinches have appeared at the backyard feeders in their dark grayish coloring rather than their summer yellows. The colors on brightly colored flowers in the flowerboxes in the neighborhood have faded, and there are some leaves from them on the ground. The trees in the ACME parking lot are now a lighter green, and there are other trees in the areas with some changes in the tone and depth of their color. The temperatures are cooler, and the early morning darkness is longer and more pronounced. All of these say, “Fall,” and that is good for me.  

   The maples haven’t started changing yet, however, and that is a little disappointing to me. We have a lot of maples in West Mt. Airy-sugar maples, Japanese maples, red maples, silver maples and more. When they change, it is always spectacular and dramatic-bright reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and more. And the sidewalks beneath the trees are magically transformed into colorful leaf-carpets that look and feel as if we are in another universe. It is not fully fall for me until the maples start changing,  and I am a bit impatient for that to happen.  

   But the natural phenomenon that is uppermost in my mind right now is the amazing thunder, lightning, and rain storms we had in this area on Tuesday night. I have not heard thunder that loud and with all of that deep rumbling since I was a little kid, and it truly shook me. I woke up several times from the booms, and then I heard the wind and the rain slapping against the house and the windows. The lightning flashes were intense, and it felt like being in a movie version of a Stephen King novel. And I was immediately taken back to glimpses of my childhood growing up in West Philly.  

   For most of my childhood I shared a bunk bed with my older brother. When thunder and lightning storms struck, I was scared and often cried. I would have visions of the house being struck by lightning and bursting into flame, or of trees flaring up and crashing into the house. Our parents, and sometimes my brother, would try to comfort me by telling me that thunder was not to be feared; it was God bowling or the Devil and God fighting. And lightning was God chasing the Devil away from Earth or some such supernatural happening. Those tales would often comfort me.  

  As I got older, outgrew the fear, and found out the science of what causes thunder, I was no longer scared. But my natural curiosity and love of history led me to seek out ways other times and other peoples made sense of thunder and lightning.  And as making sense and finding patterns in the world is one of the things that make humans human, every culture and time had well developed explanations for these events. Lighting was often a weapon of the supernatural: the ancient Hindus pictured lightning as a weapon of the god Indra, and the to the ancient Chinese, lightning was the domain of Dian Mu, the wife of the thunder god. She told right from wrong and could deliver justice. The Iroquois had a similar idea; Hinon, their thunder god, was fierce, but he often intervened to help humans see truth or to rescue them. The Hittites and Romans saw lightning as indications of things to come, and it even figured into Roman political and military decisions.  Thor, as many of us know from Marvel, was the Viking god of thunder, and the Vikings believed that thunder was him striking his hammer against an anvil as he roamed the sky. The Bantu in South Africa believed in a lightning-bird, whose power could foretell the future and heal the sick, but sometimes it could simply wreak havoc. It had to be handled by medicine men. Clearly, the strength and intensity of thunder and lightning meant that they had to connected to some very important things in each culture.  They were not to be ignored or downplayed: they mattered.  

  While I did not get much sleep Tuesday night, I am glad that I had the experience of being taken back to a bit of my childhood. I find it interesting and good for me to look back sometimes and see where I have been, where my early experiences took me, and how they have influenced who I am today. Of course, this does not mean I necessarily want to experience those type of storms again; I think Tuesday night’s experience can last me for a while...(smile) But it was good to recall a younger me and a simpler time.   

   (Here is a link to an article about how different cultures looked at thunder and lightning: