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October 27 is Sylvia Plath Day

Is it possible to wish someone a Happy Sylvia Plath Day? How can anyone celebrate the birthday of a woman who killed herself? Is this a joke? Is it sponsored by some brand of oven cleaner? We found evidence that this holiday exists:

From the Sylvia Plath Forum:

To all avowed Sylvia Plath supporters and admirers:

I am with the Sylvia Plath day organizing committee. Let me explain: over 1,000 people signed a petition just recently in the city of Northampton, Ma to have a Sylvia Plath Day. The Mayor, consumed by the irresistible force of Plath petition signers/supporters then declared October 27, 2001 Sylvia Plath Day. As you know, Sylvia Plath attended Smith College in Northampton. We are planning a big celebration of the life and legacy of Sylvia Plath on October 27 of this year. We can use your help!

Michael
Northampton, Ma, USA
Friday, April 27, 2001

Unfortunately, we could find no Northampton public records to confirm the mayor was indeed “consumed by the irresistible force.” But if we still pore over her work and the minutia of her life over fifty years after her death, does it matter if it’s official or not?

sylvia plath day

Published under a pseudonym

Of course, we remember Sylvia Plath because she wrote The Bell Jar, required reading for many in high school. And, like it or not, we remember her because she committed suicide. We study her poetry and prose, trying to divine what fueled her despair, what caused her to take her own life. Plath wrote this in her journal a few months before her death:

I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.

Plath wrote poetry in a confessional style, revealing intimate details about herself. She was driven, publishing her first poem when she was eight. She was the first poet awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote fifty short stories and one novel, The Bell Jar.

In February of 1963, her depression overcame her. For weeks, her doctor had tried to secure a bed for her in a psychiatric hospital. She sealed her children in their room upstairs, then sealed herself in the kitchen, put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. She was thirty years old.

On Sylvia Plath Day, instead of fetishizing her death or lamenting the loss of all she might have written, we can celebrate her life by learning about her, reading her work and being happy for what she shared with us in her short yet brilliant life.

It’s a day we should also acknowledge the brutal power of mental illness to damage and destroy lives.

Learn more at:
Neurotic Poets
BenGuinter.com
This Day in History
Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers: 2011, Univ. of Massachusetts Press

If you are thinking about suicide, read this first.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website and toll-free telephone number: 1 (800) 273-8255

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 16 is Dictionary Day

dictionary day

An immense effect may be produced by small powers wisely and steadily directed.
Noah Webster, 1821

Dictionary Day was founded to celebrate the life of Noah Webster, born on October 16, 1758. Why would anyone spend twenty-seven years of his life working in solitude to produce an American dictionary?

Webster sought to create a unifying, distinctly American standard for the spelling, usage, and pronunciation of words. He felt British spelling was unnecessarily complicated and changed words such as colour to color, plough to plow, musick to music.

In the process, Webster learned more than twenty languages, which allowed him to thoroughly examine each word’s origin and definition. This research significantly contributed to the fields of philology and lexicography.

By the time he finished in 1825 at the age of 66, Noah Webster had penned 70,000 words. Of those, 12,000 had never been included in any dictionary. (Among them: skunk, chowder, squash, and hickory.) American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828.

Critics disparaged Webster’s changes and additions, particularly his inclusion of non-literary scientific and artistic terminology, as presumptuous and detrimental to the purity of the English language. Despite such pronouncements, Noah Webster has become known as the father of the American dictionary.

You might be asking yourself right now, “What’s so weird about this holiday?” Nothing, except that few people other than English teachers and rabid word nerds know about it. This was a man of astounding tenacity who helped determine the very language we speak and the words you’re reading right now.

We just blew your mind.

More words:
TEDtalk: Erin McKean redefines the dictionary
Dictionary Day and the Quest for Words – visualthesaurus.com

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

September 13 is Roald Dahl Day

Roald Dahl Day

Roald Dahl

Today is Roald Dahl Day. September 13, 2017, would have been the beloved children’s book author’s 101st birthday.

Dahl is best known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox. His dark, twisted sense of humor has endeared him to generations of young readers.

*****

A lesser-known fact about Dahl is that he was a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. On September 19, 1940, he ran low on fuel while searching for an airstrip in Egypt. The plane struck a rock as he attempted to land in the desert. His skull and nose were fractured and he was temporarily blinded in the crash. (The RAF’s inquiry found that the directions provided to Dahl had been completely wrong.)

He was rescued and taken to a hospital in Alexandria, where he recuperated for the next four months, then rejoined his squadron. He flew dozens of sorties and shot down several German planes in the next few months until he began having headaches so severe that he blacked out. He was sent home but still hoped to become a flight instructor for the RAF.

In March 1942, while in London, Dahl met Major Harold Balfour, who recruited him to supply intelligence to British Security Coordination, a Stateside arm of MI6, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. (His official title was “assistant air attaché” at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.) He later said,  “My job was to try to help Winston to get on with Roosevelt, and tell Winston what was in the old boy’s mind.”

*****

Dahl also contributed to medicine. In 1960, his four-month-old son Theo’s carriage was hit by a taxicab in New York City. The baby’s skull fracture resulted in hydrocephalus, a condition treated with a shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain. But it often became blocked, causing pain and blindness, necessitating emergency surgery and risking permanent brain damage or death.

After moving his family to England, Dahl entrusted his son’s care to neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, who agreed that the standard shunt in use at the time was flawed. At his insistence, Till met with hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade, and they collaborated to invent the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, which was sturdy and easy to sterilize with negligible risk of blockage.

By the time the valve was perfected in 1962, Theo no longer needed it, but it proved so effective and inexpensive—the three men agreed to take no profit from its invention—that several thousand children benefited from it before technology advanced beyond it.

*****

There are too many tales of triumph and tragedy in the life of Roald Dahl to enumerate here. A great place to find many of them is Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock. We choose to share this last one with you and think he would laugh at its surprise ending.

On November 12, 1990, at age 74, Dahl was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, with complications of a blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. He knew the end was nigh; it would be fair to assume that, as an author and raconteur, he’d given the issue of his last words a bit of thought.

Eleven days later, surrounded by family, Roald Dahl said, “You know, I’m not frightened. It’s just that I will miss you all so much,” then closed his eyes and appeared to fall asleep. As everyone sat quietly around him, a nurse injected him with morphine to ease his passing, and he uttered his last words: “Ow, f*ck!” (He used a vowel; we’ll let you fill it in.)

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

September 7 is National Buy a Book Day

Logo by Clifton Hill

Today is National Buy a Book Day, created in 2010 by author Philip Athans to support bookstores, writers and the publishing industry. He chose September 7 as the date of its observance because it falls on his birthday.

Athans described his inspiration in science fiction/fantasy blog Grasping at the Wind:

It started with a tweet, which warned of more layoffs ahead at Borders. I know a few people there, and one of them told me, “I’m only speculating, but I really think that unless Borders has a huge holiday sales run, they’ll be looking at bankruptcy by the early part of next year. I hope I’m wrong. And unless things change, it wouldn’t surprise me if B&N shares the same fate in a few years.”

As we now know, Borders did indeed file for bankruptcy protection on February 16, 2011. The next day it began to liquidate 226 of 511 stores, laying off 6,000 employees. On July 19, 2011, it announced layoffs of 10,700 and liquidation of the remaining 399 stores; the last closed on September 18, 2011.

David Magee of the International Business Times had this to say in 2011:

So many customers liked to flip through some books, maybe even buying one every now and then. But Borders stores occupied 25,000 square feet on average, and it’s hard to make a profit renting some of America’s prime real estate at that level when people primarily enjoy looking at the only product you have to sell.

In other words, bookstores in America have become more park-like for many consumers than action-oriented book buying spots…The stores would have been great if they were truly park-like, with government subsidies filling in for the lack of profit…

It’s sad, yes. It’s also the reality of this day. Bookstores have become park-like for many, a place to relax and look. But active buying is required to keep them open.

These gentlemen’s dire predictions edge ever closer to becoming reality. Get out there today, find a store that sells books: paperbacks, hardcovers, even books of daily affirmations will do, if you must. Athans suggests you buy a book written by a living author so he or she can profit from the sale.

Feel free to post the title of the book you bought—or the book you’ve written—in the comments. We’re lacing up our sneakers now to embark on our own quest.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays