Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 35



1.  I don't like to write the word asshole, but every now and then there's just no other word that will do. Take this past Wednesday evening. About 5:30, Joyce and I were driving off on our weekly visit with my old Harmon School colleague Andy Kmetz (now in an assisted living facility in Kent). We were southbound, sitting at the intersection of East Main St. and Streetsboro Road (Ohio 303) (see map). That portion of East Main is one-way, and at that corner it's difficult to look east on 303 to see if any cars are coming. The only car with any view at all is the first car in line (which was our car on this notable Wednesday). It was one of those times when traffic was not heavy, but it seemed as if each car were followed by another, just closely enough that it was not safe enough to pull out onto 303. Well, the asshole behind me (who couldn't see the 303 traffic until it was right in front of him) had other ideas, ideas he expressed with the horn of his car. Each time a car would pass, the asshole would honkety-honk-honk, urging me out onto 303, where, if I'd listened to the asshole, would have put us on the receiving end of a collision. I wanted to get out and go tell the asshole, "Look, Asshole, the intersection was not clear. I'm not about to risk my life and the life of my lover so that you can get to wherever you're going thirty seconds sooner than you're going to."

But I didn't do it. These days, you don't know who's packing, who's got road rage, etc. So I just muttered, "Asshole!" and waited till it was safe.



2. Last week we spent a few evenings (in bed) streaming The Interview, that film that caused the North Koreans some anguish. Actually, it caused us some anguish, too. I thought it was horrible. Sure, I laughed a few times (I'm very immature), but for the most part the humor was juvenile, unimaginative, predictable. James Franco was about the worst I've ever seen him, and Seth Rogen was right behind him. I think it's time for these guys to try adulthood ...




3. On Saturday night we saw Whiplash at the Cinemark in Macedonia--and we both loved the film. It's about a verbally abusive jazz teacher at a fictional music school (I think we're supposed to believe it's a place like Berklee College of Music--Boston), a teacher who sees some potential in a young drummer and who employs the most vicious language you can imagine with that young man--and with the other members of his student jazz band. That verbal abusiveness aside--both Joyce and I, career-long teachers, recognized in that teacher the highest standards he was using with his students. If you don't have high standards, if you don't challenge your students with difficult material, well, little progress ensues. No need to be a jerk about it, but expectations matter.

I didn't like everything about the film. There's a cliched family dinner scene that the director easily could have (should have) cut, and the film tread very carefully through the racial minefield. The teacher directed virtually all of his abuse at his white musicians.



4. Writing about my mother's education recently, I misstated her schooling. Her BA was from Vanderbilt, not her MA.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

When Poetry Starts Talking to Us



I didn't much care for poetry when I was a kid in school. Oh, sure, there were verses I learned out on the playground that I thought were pretty cool:

Ooey Gooey was a worm.
Ooey Gooey loved to squirm.
He squirmed up on a railroad track.
"Toot! Toot!"
Ooey Gooey!

And there were other "poems" I saw on the walls of the boys' restroom now and then:

In this castle, do not linger:
If no paper, use your finger.


But those most assuredly were not the poems that appeared in our books in elementary school and beyond--poems that I just could not get into.

Part of the problem was the teaching, I know. The teachers seemed to know the secrets of the poems, and we had to guess what they were. I did not find this fun to do. Also, they seemed to focus on things that just didn't matter to me at the time--poetic feet and rhyme schemes and the like. Who cares? I thought. Just give me some Ooey Gooey and I'll be happy!

It got worse as we moved up into high school, and I had the experience of not knowing what in the hell the poet was talking about. Remember Shelley's "To a Skylark"? Remember this?

HAIL to thee, blithe spirit! 
        Bird thou never wert— 
      That from heaven or near it 
        Pourest thy full heart 
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Okay, I think I was in ninth grade the first time I came across this. All the thee stuff made me think of the Bible (which, of course, always made me feel guilty), and wert? Is that even a word? Lines like these just didn't, well, speak to me. Or chirp. Or whatever. And if you had told me that I would one day--willingly! eagerly!--read all of Shelley's poems, I would have laughed in your fat stupid face.

But then ... something happened. I got older. My vocabulary grew. My knowledge of history increased. I started feeling things--things besides disappointment when I missed a foul shot, or embarrassment when I didn't have my homework done (often), or guilt when I thought about *** during algebra class, or ...

I learned that certain poems speak loudly to you at certain times in your life. Frost's "The Road Not Taken"--a poem about choices and consequences. Robinson's "Reuben Bright"--a poem about loss and grief. Shakespeare's sonnet "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments"--a poem about love's blindness ("love alters not when it alteration finds"). And on and on.

Lately--no surprise--I've been affected by poems about aging. I've memorized Coleridge's lines

When I was young?—Ah, woeful when! 
Ah, for the change 'twixt Now and Then!
('Twixt would have annoyed me in youth! I think I first learned that word, though, from crooner Pat Boone. Remember his little book about teenagers--'Twixt Twelve and Twenty? I didn't read that book, but for a while it was everywhere.)



And just the other day, reading a novel, I came across an allusion to a poem by Yeats about aging. The novelist quoted only a line or two, but my trusty iPhone and I hopped onto the Net, where I easily found the whole thing, "The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner":

Although I shelter from the rain
Under a broken tree
My chair was nearest to the fire
In every company
That talked of love or politics,
Ere Time transfigured me.

Though lads are making pikes again
For some conspiracy,
And crazy rascals rage their fill
At human tyranny,
My contemplations are of Time
That has transfigured me.

There's not a woman turns her face
Upon a broken tree,
And yet the beauties that I loved
Are in my memory;
I spit into the face of Time
That has transfigured me.


I love that line--I spit into the face of Time. So ... unpoetical in ways (a line I would have loved in elementary school!), so profoundly poetical in other ways.

But, you know, it's a poem you have to be ready for. Which, unfortunately (fortunately?), I am.




Friday, January 30, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 91


For his children’s books, Godwin employed several pen names, one of which both clutters the tongue and arouses amusement: Theophilus Marcliffe. Godwin put Marcliffe’s name on The Looking Glass (1805), and The Life of Lady Jane Grey (1806). “Edward Baldwin” appeared on a number of other volumes, including The History of England (1806), The Pantheon (1806), and The History of Rome (1809).
He also used yet a third name—William Frederic Mylius (sometimes just W. F. Mylius)—which appeared on a few titles, some of which are not positively identified as Godwin’s work, including Mylius’s School Dictionary of the English Language (1809—a volume that would go through numerous editions) and The Poetical Class-Book; or, Reading Lessons for Every Day of the Year, selected from the Most Popular English Poets, Ancient and Modern (1810).
We know that his daughter Mary was among the first readers of many of these works—and that he was surely thinking of her—and of other children like her—when he conceived and composed them.
The last one he wrote as Edward Baldwin (or as anyone else other than William Godwin) was History of Greece, a book he began in 1809 but did not complete until 1821. I discovered just now in my files the folder I’d set aside for this book. I have a photocopy of the entire thing, a copy I’d made during one of my numerous Shelley-related trips down to the Cleveland Public Library, which has an 1822 edition of the book on microfilm. History of Greece, I see on the title page, cost five shillings at the time.
I think how research has become so much easier now. I just checked online and found several digital copies of the book. Were I working on this project now, I would not have to leave my house, drive to the Shaker Rapid on Green Road, ride down to Tower City, walk to the Cleveland Public Library, request the microfilm, load it on a reader, drop a dime into the machine for each page I wanted to print, walk back to Tower City, ride the Rapid to Green Road, drive home. No, nowadays I could just print it right where I sit—maybe catch up on Facebook while the printer is churning out the pages—that is, if I even wanted a physical copy of the book. No need, really. In fact I just this moment downloaded and saved on my desktop a .pdf of the entire book. Took under thirty seconds.[1]
Anyway, in his preface (writing in the voice of Baldwin), Godwin says he now takes his final leave of the class of young persons, for whose amusement and instruction his publications were intended. He ends with a touching sentence: He well knows the motives, warm and inextinguishable as they are in his heart, from which these works have derived their being …. He’d written those books for money, of course—but also for his own children—and, in some ways, especially for Mary. His preface is dated November, 1821.
But by that time his beloved daughter Mary, now in her mid-twenties, had left his home and had shattered his heart.




[1] All of Godwin’s books are now in digital form. Check this website: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Remembering My Mother as a Teacher

Mom, 79, in town for our son's
wedding, August 1999
My mother, Prudence Dyer, now 95, had a long teaching career. She began--with my dad's encouragement--back in the mid-1950s in Enid, Oklahoma, where she taught English at Enid's Emerson Junior High School--Enid, which as I've mentioned before, named its two junior highs for Emerson and Longfellow.

Dad and Mom had moved around a bit after World War II, and she'd actually finished her B.A. at Vanderbilt. She'd done her student teaching in Enid, but with three young sons at home (in 1953 we three turned 12, 9, 5) she'd had no immediate plans to teach. But then one day (she told me) there was a knock at the door. It was Enid school superintendent DeWitt Waller (who now has an Enid junior high named for him); he said he'd heard about her student teaching; he said he wanted to hire her.

Mom said she wasn't so sure. But Dad encouraged her. See, he knew about Mom's intelligence, her amazing organizational abilities (with three young sons you'd better have them). And so Mom began teaching during the era of school desegregation (Brown v. Board, 1954) and taught the first African American kids to attend a previously all-white school, Emerson JHS.

Mom would subsequently teach at James A. Garfield HS (Garrettsville, OH--when we moved to Hiram in the summer of 1956) and at Drake University (when she and Dad both took positions there in 1966), where she retired in the early 1980s. While she was teaching at Garfield, she pursued and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, 100 miles away. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, she would leave Garfield, drive to Pitt, take evening classes, drive home, arriving near midnight--then get up and teach the next day. In the summers, she would rent a room in Pittsburgh during the week, come home on the weekends. We tended to eat better on the weekends.

Here are a few things I remember about Mom's teaching--in no particular order ...

  • At Emerson, her students read Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe--her ninth graders. As I posted here last year (I think), I recently read that book for the first time and could not believe it had once been a standard work in the junior hi curriculum. 
  • She also taught her kids sentence-diagramming, and I remember one day watching her working at home on a project she was planning for her class--diagramming "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." She was having the best time ...
  • Mom routinely corrected my usage and grammar. (Which I abhorred!) But the result? I never really had to study for such tests in school. I would just try to remember what Mom had said. Later, though, a teacher myself, I had to learn the reasons for what I was (usually) saying "correctly." 
  • Enid could be brutally hot in the fall and spring, and no schools had air-conditioning. I think of her in 100-degree heat, a classroom full of prairie kids diagramming sentences, debating the values of Ivanhoe ... hard to imagine. I remember her coming home, exhausted, but still ready to deal with her three demons--uh, sons.
  • At Garfield, she supervised student publications and honor societies at the high school, taught a full load, helped redesign the entire curriculum. During those years I was a junior high and high school student myself, and I was not--to my enduring shame--the most understanding of sons. (Translation: I was a jerk.) I remember her grading papers in good weather out on the big veranda we had on our old Hiram house--sitting on a porch-furniture chaise longue; I remember her meticulous printing (she did not write cursive) in the margins of the books she taught (I have some of them); I remember how students in various groups would come to the house to meet with her; I remember seeing how profoundly they respected her; I remember--adolescent jerk that I was--wondering Why?!?!
  • By the time little brother, Davi, reached high school age, Hiram High School was no more--consolidation with nearby Crestwood Schools in Mantua. But Mom took Davi with her to G'ville every day, where he would eventually become the valedictorian and head off to Harvard for his undergrad (and, later, graduate) studies.
  • Mom had a very quiet voice. When she was really serious, her voice grew softer, not louder. (Barely audible = Very dangerous) Some kids I knew at Garfield told me she was the same in class--when things got rowdy, her voice grew softer, and the room came to attention.
  • At Drake University, Mom really came into her own--became a revered member of the Department of Education, an advisor to doctoral students. She published a number of articles, a book (with Prof. John Shaw at Hiram) on the teaching of poetry--Working with Poetry, 1968; Amazon lists it only as Shaw's book--grrr; she was a regular "presenter" at various education workshops and conferences. (Link to Mom's book on Amazon.)
  • Early in my own teaching career (which commenced in 1966) I once visited one of Mom's classes at Drake to talk about classroom discipline (hah!); she did not tell them who I was, just that I was a young teacher. But I recall that her students figured it out almost immediately--people always said I looked like my mom--not something a boy really wants to hear, you know?
  • Mom was an early and vigorous user of a personal computer. She had an early Apple II that interfaced with her IBM Selectric. She used computers well into her 80s, then, in her 90s, her fingers would no longer cooperate; her memory faded, and she couldn't remember how to boot it up--how to shut it down. Her last laptop, unused in years, still sits on her dining room table.

Nowadays, Mom's life is considerably circumscribed. She lives in a stages-of-care facility in Lenox, Mass. Assisted living. She needs help to do pretty much everything--except correct my usage, which she occasionally still does. And I smile, am grateful. (See how mature I've become!)


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1100 Posts ... Is It Possible?


"Is it possible ...?" asks the young servant Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew--he's just watched his master, Lucentio (also young), fall in love (first sight) with the young and lovely Bianca, sister to Katherine, the "shrew" of the title of Shakespeare's early play. Tranio is asking about something quite different from what I'm going to write about here, but I like the question nonetheless.

This is blog post #1100. When I began DawnReader on January 6, 2012 (link to initial post), I wasn't really too sure what I was going to be doing. I figured I'd write about books (I read a lot; I'm a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and the Cleveland Plain Dealer), about schools (I used to teach--45 years, as a matter of fact--middle school, high school, college), about ... whatever (whatever). And so I have done.

I've done some other things, too. I've serialized several books on this site, books which I subsequently revised and uploaded to KindleDirect, where, on Amazon, they await your purchase! (You can check my Amazon Author page by following this link.) And I am currently serializing Frankenstein Sundae, a memoir about my ten-year pursuit of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein. This draft I've been posting (2-3 times per week) is very, very ROUGH--i.e., it often sucks), but I have hopes for it--though it will take much revision. But, hey, I'm retired ... what else am I gonna do?

I've put little notes here each time I've reached 100 posts, and I never look at how many "hits" I've had on the site until I reach a new 100. I've discovered that I don't really care about the number. I'm pretty much writing for myself--and for those in the family who will live after me--so as I type these very words (Tuesday evening), I don't know the latest figures; I'm going to pause a minute and go check ... [pause]...

213,419

Okay, let's divide that by 1100 ... an average of about 194 hits/day. Not bad. Actually, I am very surprised it's that high. As I've said before, the total hits I have is equal to what, oh, any random blogging celebrity earns in twenty minutes, but for me? Not bad.

I haven't missed very many days. Illness and travel have been the only excuses, though even when I'm traveling, I try to keep up with DawnReader. There are days I don't feel like it, believe me, but the Puritan Conscience I inherited from the Osborn side of the family is like a cattle prod that "suggests" I sit down at the computer anyway. And I almost always obey the prod. (Who wouldn't? It hurts!)

So, anyway, Tranio's question ... here's the little exchange from the play:

TRANIO
I pray, sir, tell me, is it possible
That love should of a sudden take such hold?
LUCENTIO
O Tranio, till I found it to be true,
I never thought it possible or likely;
...
Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio,
If I achieve not this young modest girl.
Counsel me, Tranio, for I know thou canst;
Assist me, Tranio, for I know thou wilt.
Well, Lucentio ends up with Bianca (to his sorrow)--a double wedding with her sister Kate and her mad suitor, Petruchio, and the end of the play.

When our son, Steve, was at Western Reserve Academy (1986-1990), he got to play Lucentio in Shrew, a play I'd taught to his class in the 8th grade at Harmon School in Aurora. (Also in that cast--Aurora's Andy Paul, whom I also taught and who was, I think, Petruchio?) I'd directed those boys a half-dozen times in middle school productions, and when I saw them onstage in Shrew, guess what my tear ducts were doing?

I'm not sure what any of this has to do with DawnReader #1100 ... but that's the nice thing about a blog, isn't it? It doesn't really have to make much sense! And I love the thought that blog sounds a lot like bog, which is exactly where I find myself mired many mornings.

I'll end with this. In 1797, William Godwin (father of the child who would become Mary Shelley--a child born this very year) published a collection of essays called The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners and Literature. Early in the fourth essay ("On the Sources of Genius") he says this: When a man writes a book of methodical investigation, he does not write because he understands the subject, but he understands the subject because he has written. He was an uninstructed tyro, exposed to a thousand foolish and miserable mistakes, when he began his work, compared with the degree of proficiency to which he has attained, when he has finished it.

Oh yes. But I would broaden what he said: It's not just books of methodical investigation; no, it's just about any kind of writing we do. Writing clarifies our thinking, and we often don't know for sure what we really think until we've written.

And so ... DawnReader will continue to be the place where I figure things out--sometimes clumsily, sometimes incompletely, sometimes ridiculously, sometimes not at all. But it's the effort that counts, right?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Parade's End, 1


I've been slowly working my way through the one-volume edition of Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy--Parade's End, comprising four novels (original pub dates in parentheses): Some Do Not ... (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and The Last Post (1928). The novels take place before, during, and after World War I--a war which Ford knew intimately: He'd served in the British army, had endured some bloody battles, was wounded. Parade's End, in some ways, deals with events and emotions that roiled through his own life.

Of course, I'd heard of these novels throughout my entire adulthood but had somehow never gotten around to reading them. But when Joyce and I recently streamed the 2012 HBO Miniseries based on the novels (with Benedict Cumberbatch!), I got hooked--decided to read them--bought the one-volume edition you see above (Knopf, 1961)--and just finished the 1st novel.


I love it so far.

And one thing that has really impressed me is how screenwriter Tom Stoppard so artfully adapted the story. I mean, there are moments in the novel that merit only a sentence or two, but Stoppard saw their significance and used them in the film. We see, for example, a wordless but passionate sex scene aboard an English train--Christoper Tietjens (protagonist) and his wife-to-be, the complex Sylvia, have just met and have, uh, progressed rather rapidly. Here's what Ford says about it: Because he had had physical contact with this woman before he married her; in a railway carriage, coming down from the Dukeries. An extravagantly beautiful girl! (121).

And that's it.

I'm going to write more about this tetralogy in the coming weeks, but today--a story about Tom Stoppard. He's, of course, the celebrated playwright (The Real Inspector Hound, 1968, etc.) and screenwriter (Shakespeare in Love, 1998); he's also written novels, radio plays, and just about any other damn thing he feels like.

Back in 1979-80, Joyce and I had just arrived on the campus of Western Reserve Academy to commence our careers there. I was going to teach a section of English III (juniors), and during the junior year the students would be reading Hamlet (as they still do). I thought it would be great to introduce them to Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), a play based on Hamlet's old university buddies who agree to spy on him for King Claudius. They are kind of clueless young men, and Hamlet catches on almost immediately. When Claudius sends Hamlet (along with R&G) to England, supposedly to collect a debt, he is actually carrying his own death notice, but he switches it up so it's R&G who get offed. Chop, chop goes the axe; plunk, plunk go their heads.



I had a first edition of the published play, and a WRA colleague (who shall remain nameless) borrowed it from me after I'd finished using it with my class. Months passed. A little concerned, I asked him about the book, and with a face as deceptive as Guildenstern's he said, "I gave it back to you a long time ago."

Liar.

I replied that he had not returned it; he said he was positive he had. End of issue. (Oh, how I wished for a headsman of my own!)

What could I do? Nothing but rage, rage against the dying of the Right.

This perfidious colleague moved elsewhere after a year or so, probably packing the book with the household linen so that I, sneaking in his house late at night to go through his books, would not find it.

By the way, I just checked on Advanced Book Exchange: A 1st printing of R&G is now going for as much as $7500.

Damn!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 90



Yes, our Aaron Burr. He’d come, among other things, to see little Mary.

Little Mary, in fact, was quite an attraction for the literati and the cognoscenti in her earliest years—especially the left-leaning ones. The daughter of two of the great minds of the era—Godwin, Wollstonecraft. What marvels would this child one day perform? (Quite a few, as we have subsequently learned.)
Burr—the former Vice-President of the United States, having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel (1804), having escaped a treason charge (1807)—was now in Europe getting involved in various enterprises, none of which panned out, and he was financially destitute. The Godwin family, despite their own dire financial straits, welcomed him, however. Mary’s biographer Miranda Seymour writes, 41 Skinner Street was a haven of kindness and hospitality.[1] Burr’s diary mentions many visits to the Godwins’, and he grew very fond of them—and they of him. But by 1812, Burr was back in the United States to play out the final scenes of his remarkable life. And the Godwins were trying to make a go of their book business.

To make his children’s bookshop flourish, Godwin knew that he could not publish his books under his own name. England had veered to the right, and many in the reading public now considered him dangerously liberal—if not treasonous. And, of course, there was that scandalous volume he’d published about his late wife. But Godwin carried on, employing some pseudonyms in his books for the young.
His first book—the author named as “Edward Baldwin”—was Fables, Ancient and Modern, published in 1805 (when little Mary was about eight). Here’s a brief excerpt from my journal, March 30, 1998: to Saywell’s [local drugstore and coffee shop, now gone, sadly] to begin reading Godwin’s Fables Ancient and Modern, a volume for children he wrote under the pseudonym Edward Baldwin; interesting; I borrowed it from OhioLink, and it is seriously overdue, not something I like to do; sent e-mail to Hiram to see if I can renew the thing….
Apparently, I didn’t have much trouble, for I continued reading the entire volume, finishing it on April 2, 1998. Looking for my notes today (January 26, 2015), I discover that I’d typed them on 4x6 index cards. I’ve got quite an impressive little stack of them. I always used a blue card for the bibliography card, white for the notes (oh, how OCD I could be!). I have a single card for each of the fables Godwin rewrote. Here’s the card for “The Eagle and the Crow”:
A crow, observing an eagle carrying away a lamb, decides to emulate his great relative. He lands on a ram and tries to carry it away: “He might as well have thought to fly away with the city of London.” The shepherd disentangles the crow, clips his wings, and “turned him into the garden for the amusement of his children.”[2]
Hmmm, what kind of moral do we have here?







[1] Ibid., 59.
[2] London: Thomas Hodgkins, 1805. New York: Garland Publishing, 1976, pp. 147–51.