Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A FRANKENSTEIN Surprise, Part 2


Yesterday, I wrote about this 1968 issue of LIFE magazine, an issue I learned about from a long-ago former student, John Mlinek. It has a major piece about the 150th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--a novel and an author that have consumed many (happy) years of my life.

LIFE, by the way, was part of our household when I was growing up. It came every week. I loved to page through it--it was full of pictures and odd little stories. It was kind of the Internet, 1950s style. I remember, too, that my mom would clip things from it, then take the clippings to show her high school English students in Garrettsville, Ohio. I learned that from Mom--clipping things and showing them to my classes. And I'm still clipping-and-filing even though I, now retired, no longer have students to show them to. Can't tell you why I keep clippin'--I just must do it.

March 15, 1968. The lull before the storm. On April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. would die on the balcony outside his room in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Shot to death. On June 5, Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy would die in Los Angeles after being shot the night of the California Democratic Primary (which he had just won).

That spring, 1968, still single (I had not yet met Joyce), I was finishing my second year of teaching at the Aurora Middle School (Aurora's new Harmon Middle School lay six years in the future). I heard the news about both murders on my radio in my little efficiency apartment on Chillicothe Road. This country was frightening in the spring of 1968. JFK, recall, had fallen to an assassin in November 1963. The Vietnam War was raging ... racial tensions were high ...

But let's look a moment at LIFE magazine that March. I discussed the Frankenstein feature yesterday, but paging through the issue, I was reminded of so much--of so much that has changed--or is no more. Or hasn't changed at all.

  • There are ads for this new luxury item--color TV!
  • There's an editorial: "Vietnam: Let's not have more of the same." It calls for "de-escalating our war with the North Vietnamese"  but says "we have not lost all chance of bringing it to an acceptable conclusion" (4).
  • You could buy a GE clothes dryer for $169.95.
  • There's an ad for a new Dionne Warwick album (Valley of the Dolls)--and for Kava instant coffee (I'd completely forgotten that brand)--and for Right Guard spray deodorant--and for an electric adding machine--and for Hostess Fruit Pies--and ...
But there are some troubling stories, too--reactions to the upcoming Mexico City Summer Olympics. Some black athletes, including Tommie Smith, were threatening to boycott. There is, says the piece, "bitterness among black athletes about the way things are in many colleges" (20). Smith, of course, did go to the Olympics--and raised a clenched fist when the National Anthem was played after he won the Gold for the 200-meter sprint. This was nearly a half-century ago (Smith was born in 1944, the same year as I).

And a full-page color ad for Campbell's Vegetable Beef soup ...

More tomorrow ... including that promised Bill Cosby story ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A FRANKENSTEIN Surprise (or two) (or three)



A couple of weeks ago, Joyce and I had supper with John and Kim Mlinek. John had been among the first 7th-grade students I worked with when I began my teaching career (fall 1966)--was in the first play I ever directed at the Aurora Middle School--went on to become an actor and director and teacher. His wife, Kim, works on the TV productions and telecasts of major sporting events (a superior techie!). And we always have a grand time when we see them.

Anyway, during our most recent visit, John mentioned that he'd seen at some kind of sale an old issue of LIFE magazine, an issue devoted to Frankenstein--the 150th anniversary of its publication. He said he'd intended to buy the issue for me on his way out ... then forgot. (Sure, John!)

I'd not heard of that issue before, so when I got home, I hopped on eBay, found a copy, bought it, and it arrived the other day.

Yesterday, I finally had some time to go through it, and ... well ... wow ...

There is a fairly long account inside of Mary Shelley's creation of the story in 1816--but take a close look at the cover above. She's identified only as "Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley." Her identity is consumed by her poet husband's. Ah, 1968!

The piece, written by Samuel Rosenberg, is accurate, detailed, and interesting (and psychoanalytical). It appears on seven different pages in the magazine--though not all of those pages are entirely devoted to the piece. I didn't really learn anything new (I mean, I spent more than a decade working on that novel and its contexts), but I was surprised by how a major "family" magazine would include such scholarship--and such detail--in one of its issues. (Them dayz is gone!)

I did a little Internetting about Rosenberg (1912-1996) and discovered he was born in Cleveland! (His father was a butcher--and a songwriter. Hmmmm.) Rosenberg wrote a couple of books. He was a big man ("over 300 pounds," says trusty Wikipedia). Here's a link to his obituary in the New York Times. I couldn't find an online photo right away, so, like a true scholar, I quit. (If you find one, send it my way!)

Oh, I just ordered (via ABE) one of his books: Confessions of a Trivialist (1972). Maybe an author photo on it?

Enough for today.

But that LIFE issue has some other real surprises inside ... and one involves Bill Cosby.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Internet Ambivalence



The Internet can be annoying. No question. Especially if you're on social media (as I, sort of, am). Daily, I see Facebook posts that, shall we say, do somewhat less than charm me. (And, of course, my posts--which, I confess, are numerous--surely do less than charm myriads of my "friends.") Every now and then, in fact, I shut the damn thing down and sulk for a few days before, missing it--missing it!--I log back on and resume my rough ride down the rapids.

Email is a different kind of annoyance. It used to be a principal way for people to communicate--I still remember the excitement when Joyce and I exchanged our first emails back in, oh, 1990 or so. It was ... magical.

Then other messaging systems emerged, rose, dominated (some fell away): IMs, texts, etc. Now, about 95%+ of the email I get is junk. Ads. Whatever. Every now and then an actual note from someone--about as rare (though not as thoroughly so) as a snail-mail letter.

So, yes, the Internet is chockablock with junk and jive and lies and loopiness and vanity and vacuousness and sex and sadism (so I hear) and banality and boorishness and (you get the message).

But.

For my research and writing, it's priceless.

Just today, for example, I was entering changes in the manuscript--the endless manuscript--of Frankenstein Sundae, which I'm trying to get ready to publish on Kindle Direct (this will not be soon), and I was railing aloud and flailing myself because when I had been writing, I had not always put down page references for things I quoted.

And just today ... some good examples of how the Internet rescued me from my own carelessness. I hadn't written down some page numbers for quotations from Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. No problem. The full text is online in a number of places, so I loaded one, searched on the words I used, found them, looked for the location (chapter, paragraph), checked my hard copy, found the same place, made the citation! Genius!

Then ... a more difficult one. Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin, wrote an unfinished autobiography, and from it all kinds of folks have quoted a little passage about his boyhood: All my amusements were sedentary; I had scarcely any pleasure but in reading; ....

Cool. I wanted to use it. But where the hell could I find it?

Godwin's biographers merely cited one another--the famous as quoted in ...

And then I remembered. Back in the day, I had plunked down the plastic for the 8-volume set Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin (Pickering and Chatto, 1992), and volume 1 of that set is Memoirs, and in that volume is the unfinished and previously unpublished "Autobiography."

I used the Internet to check a published biography of Godwin, a biography that mentions the point in his life that he was writing about; I then checked the "Autobiography," scanned the paragraphs about that period ... and--voila!--there it was on page 31, that sentence, that luscious chunk of chocolate in the thick cookie!

So ... what can I say? I love you, Internet.

Except when I hate you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 157


1. AOTW; I had pretty much realized I didn't have a winner this week ... until last night. We were on I-77, heading north toward home from Montrose, when the AOTW roared down the entrance ramp, ignored the fact that I, in the right lane, could not move over because I was being passed on my left, and forced his way in front of me, an accomplishment made possible only because I jammed on the brakes, crying "I have my AOTW!"

2. Over the past few days I watched--via Netflix DVD--the old Paul Newman film Harper, released in February 1966 while I was doing my student teaching (West Geauga HS, 11th grade English). I remember seeing the film (at Hiram College?), and by then I was a big Newman fan (still am). I can't remember why I ordered the film (dotage?), but I had a good time with it--and what a cast! Arthur Hill, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber ... It's based on the  PI novel by Ross Macdonald (whose works I've loved), The Moving Target (1949). (Link to film trailer.)

Some of it looks primitive now (scenes in moving cars that are not moving--just the filmed background is), and it's about a half-hour longer than it would be these days (lots of talk--which now bores us), but watching Paul Newman is a gift. Oddly, some of the plot involved illegal Mexican immigrants ... good thing that issue is settled, right? Fifty-one years after the film was released!


3. I finished two books this week.

     - The first was the 1938 novel by William Faulkner (I'm reading those books of his I somehow never read), The Unvanquished, a novel set  in Mississippi near the end of the Civil War--and somewhat afterward. I was struck, I guess, by how so many of the issues Faulkner wrote about nearly seventy years ago are still with us. Race, voting rights, gun violence in the streets, women's rights (a young woman dresses as a man so she can fight with the Confederates)--all of it roils through these pages narrated by a character from a family who inhabits a number of Faulkner novels and stories--the Sartoris family. (A Snopes appears, as well, and behaves like a Snopes.) And, oh, some little Faulkner touches: the members of a poor family read aloud to one another from a cookbook--vicarious pleasures--food they can't find or afford to buy. And my heart went pitter-patter when I came across an allusion to Davy Crockett!


     - The second was the first novel by Elizabeth Strout, whose complete novels I've decided to read (and now finished!). She won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteredge (2008), and I've really enjoyed reading my way through her fiction--a journey, by the way, that I'm doing more or less backwards: I read the most recent ones first, then moved back.

In Amy and Isabelle, 1998, her first novel, Strout employs a device which now dominates her fiction--and enlightens her readers: multiple points of view. She is not the first, of course, to do this (remember The Moonstone, As I Lay Dying, and numerous other forerunners), but she is among the most talented.


The story takes place in the fictional Shirley Falls, Maine (a place she uses in other works, as well) and involves a single mother, Isabelle (she's spread the fiction in town that she's a widow) and her teen daughter, Amy (who's a handful, to say the least). It's a novel about love, about learning what it is and isn't--and about how we resemble our parents in some very fundamental ways. Isabelle, who works as a secretary in the local mill, is obsessed (maybe too strong a word) with her boss, who's married.

Amy gets involved romantically with a new high school math teacher (she's so naive; he's so horny), and Strout shifts the point of view, chapter by chapter. Isabelle, Amy, Isabelle, Amy. A wonder to watch.


4. We're enjoying the cop series Shetland, which we've begun streaming. (Confession: We turn on the subtitles: otherwise, we miss some of what these folks are saying. As we get better with the dialect, we'll shut if off ... promise.) (Link to some video.)


5. And, finally, on Friday night we saw the new film mother! at the Kent Cinema. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Noah, etc.) Joyce and I don't agree on some of this--so this is all in the first person! It's a dark film about love (and what it isn't), about ambition, about the artist and creation and destruction and revision, about family (is murder always below the surface, ready to bubble up?), about public idolatry of the celebrity (we don't come out looking good at all in this film), about vanity and vacuousness. It's surreal throughout--sometimes resembling (and using the techniques of) a teen horror flick (hand-held camera, tight shots of woman walking into a dark room to see what that noise was, etc.) (Link to film trailer.) Fire smolders below all (and, at times, flares.)  People just don't listen. Violence of all sorts. All in an old fire-ravaged house that Lawrence is restoring so that her husband, a poet who can't think of what to write about, can write. The house has a ... history (duh).


There's some sex (mostly implied) and some back-lit shots of Jennifer Lawrence (who is very good in this) in diaphanous sleepwear. And there are some fine actors here--not just Lawrence but co-star Javier Bardem (we saw, not long ago, No Country for Old Men, the Coen Bros' brutal film with Bardem as a psycho killer), Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer (looking ominous all the way).

All said, I thought the film was about a half-hour too long--and a bit too--what?--obvious? I mean, I got it pretty early on, and so I felt the whole thing just went on too long.

Also--confession: I'm not much of a fan of horror films, so the horror-film ambiance here just annoyed rather than entertained me. (This, of course, is my fault, not the film's: It is what it is; I am what I am.)


6. Final Word--A word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers.

     - for you fidget-spinner lovers, from the Oxford English Dictionary


zizz, n.
Etymology: Imitative.
 1.  a. The noise made by the rapid motion of a wheel; also as adv. Also extended to other whizzing or buzzing noises (see quots.).

1824   Scott Redgauntlet II. xi. 258   I carried a cutler's wheel for several weeks..there I went bizz—bizz—whizz—zizz, at every auld wife's door.
1904   G. A. B. Dewar Glamour of Earth vi. 131   The zizz of the cricket, or the shrill of the bat.
1908   H. Belloc Mr. Clutterbuck's Election xiii   They shot round the base of the hills,..had a splendid zizz along the Hog's Back, and then turned sharp round.
1955   D. Barton Glorious Life xxv. 232   The sustained, high-pitched zizz of a party was audible.
1965   Listener 17 June 900/3   The zizz of a trishaw's wheels passing on the road.
1976   Drive May–June 53/2   Gear lever zizz is irritating.

 b. Gaiety, liveliness, ‘sparkle’. colloq.

1942   L. V. Berrey & M. Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Slang §240/2   Animation; spirit; vim;..zing, zip,..zizz.
1970   Gourmet Jan. 18/2   No party got into full swing until Tallulah arrived to put her particular type of zizz into it.
1983   Times 22 Feb. 12/6   The Queensgate centre lacks, perhaps, finesse and a touch of zizz.

 2. Also ziz. A short sleep, a nap. Cf. Z n. 4b. slang.

1941   Tee Emm Aug. 17   He could not have caught our Pilot Officer Prune at three o'clock one afternoon having a zizz full-length on a mess settee.
1960   ‘N. Shute’ Trustee from Toolroom v. 105   ‘Captain's having a ziz now,’ said the navigator. ‘Supper's at eleven o'clock, Greenwich. He's getting up for that.’
1970   P. Dickinson tr. Aristophanes Wasps in Plays I. 169   Just what I aim to forget by having A quiet ziz.
1979   M. Tabor Baker's Daughter i. 31   Philip's having a zizz. He can't stay awake.

1985   Guardian 24 Jan. 1/3   They would not film any lord who had drifted off in the warmth of the lights for a refreshing zizz.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Memory and Entropy

Robert Browning
I just checked my journal. On October 5, 2012 (yes, nearly five years ago), I (more or less) finished memorizing Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess."* Here's what I wrote in my journal that day:

... out to West Market, via Szalay’s; stopped at Summit Mall [Panera], where I read more Mankell and worked on polishing “My Last Duchess,” which I recited (more or less correctly!) for Joyce ...*

Regular visitors to this site know that I memorize poems--for fun (and desperation?). I was in a phase, back in 2012, of memorizing some that had some personal significance for me. And this one, I can recall with a surprising clarity, I can actually hear as I read the words. That's because I first read it (and heard it!) in English 101, Hiram College, summer 1962. I was taking that course because my parents wanted me to get kind of a "head start" on college, which I would commence full-time in the fall.

They were worried about me, I know--as well they should have been. I'd not exactly knocked myself out (academically) at Hiram High School. I just went through the motions. Graduated with a 3.0. Tenth in my class--which sounds impressive until you realize I graduated from a tiny high school that doesn't even exist anymore. I had very few (any?) intellectual interests and figured, in my late adolescent daffiness, that college was mere preparation for the Cleveland Indians and Boston Celtics, whose rosters I would soon adorn.

Not.

Anyway, my professor in English 101 that summer was Dr. Charles F. McKinley (1913-2004), who became a favorite--and, later, a friend who lived only a couple of miles from our house here in Hudson.  And in our literature anthology (Interpreting Literature, which I still have) that poem appears on pp. 339-40. 



And I can still remember, sitting in Hinsdale Hall (RIP), hot (no AC), listening to Dr. McKinley, in his rich, resonant, slightly nasal voice, reading aloud that remarkable poem first published in 1842.  I could hear the voice of that vicious Duke talking with superior calm about murdering his young wife because she smiled too much--at others. Lord, what a dark poem!

Dr McKinley
So ... I didn't learn the poem in the immediate aftermath of Dr. McKinley's death (it was eight damn years later), but I did think of him as I was doing so, did hear his voice as I was doing so, did wish I could recite it to him as I once had recited that Shakespeare sonnet (#73: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold') when he asked me to do so. He loved that one--not one, by the way, that appears in Interpreting Literature, though I have memorized the five that do, several of which we read/listened to in his class.

Well, I learned "My Last Duchess" in the early fall of 2012, and since then I have recited it (more or less silently) four times a week during my drive to the health club. (Routine!) Never much of a problem.

Until last week.

When, suddenly, I froze. Could not remember words. First it was this segment that went:

     -  ... for never read
        Strangers like you that [?????] countenance ....

And then this ...

     - ... Sir, 'twas not
        Her husband's [?????] only ,called that spot 
        Of joy into the Duchess' cheek ....

A quick online check gave me the missing words (pictured, presence), and, so far, they have stayed. Though some others--perhaps emboldened by their truant siblings, will soon flee as well? Oh, the horror ... !

But this is just another instance, isn't it, of something our friend Yeats wrote about? "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / ..."

Indeed.

Meanwhile, I'm still stuffing poems into my head--verse junkie am I. I am now at 212 and counting--and hoping that entropy does not assert itself again.

But, of course, it will. It's what it does.

*Text of "My Last Duchess":

My Last Duchess
Robert Browning

 That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,' or ‘Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

**PS--We're probably going to Szalay's and West Market after supper tonight!

Friday, September 15, 2017

And in Our Heads ...!?!?!



I woke up early this morning thinking about cartoons. About those images we're all familiar with of cartoon characters whose heads are filled with--or are surrounded by--punctuation marks, marks intended to let us know that a character is confused or adamant or whatever. Like the emoji at the top of this page.

And I started thinking about times when my head has been filled with questions--or exclamations--or periods--or dashes (I seem to use a lot of those--don't I?).

In my lifetime I've been watching some punctuation marks disappear or evolve--if slowly so. I often now see restrooms with Mens and Womens above the door. (Buh-bye, apostrophes.) Starbucks doesn't have an apostrophe. And in the age of texting, emojis often replace the marks we once would have used.

I've also noticed (to counter my own argument) the proliferation of some marks--like the exclamation point. It's no longer sufficient to say No way! We have to write No way!!!!! Or maybe even add some other marks: No way!?##*4;r50293u4r5

Random punctuation used to mean profanity. Shut your *##$ing mouth! Now ... we use the profanity instead--much more efficient.

The ellipsis (...) is also more ubiquitous these days (I've used a few here ... haven't I?), though it often has grown, eschewing its old-fashioned three-period formulation and expanding to multiple periods. And when I saw her there ..... with HIM! ..... well, I just wanted to ...........

So it goes in Punctuation World.

But I really wasn't thinking too much about all of this in the early pre-dawn today. Instead, I was thinking how we seem to be living in an era where people have very few question marks in their heads. We are all so sure about things. Too few of us see any ambiguity in things--or complexity.  Right. Wrong.  That's it.

Check out the commentators on the news stations. When was the last time you ever heard anyone say, "Well, you know, Phil, that's a very complex issue--a lot of ways to look at it"?

No. Commentators are positive--and that stuff rubs off: Too many of us these days are positive--and often about things that are extraordinarily complex and nuanced. All the question marks that danced around our heads as children are gone, replaced by exclamation points and emphatic periods.

My wish for myself in all of this? That I will forever be surrounded by question marks, that I will continue wondering and learning and changing. (My young grandsons are my models here!) And--dare I say it?--improving.

No question marks in your head? You're intellectually dead. No, not dead, just frozen in a glacier like one of those prehistoric men and women who sometimes reappear these days in the melting ice. I'm positive about it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vulnerable



We're all vulnerable now, aren't we?

You've probably read about/seen some TV about the enormous hack of financial information at Equifax (of which most of us had never heard ... till now). Some 143,000,000 Americans

I'm assuming I'm one of them. (I've read that the process of checking if you are is a bit ... iffy right now.) Better to assume than ignore.

I just checked on a .gov site and saw how I can file for a 90-day fraud alert (vendors, etc. will check for certainty for the ID of anyone attempting to use one of my accounts).

I just filled out a bit of a form on Equifax's site, clicked "submit"--and quickly got an error message.

I'm guessing it's because 142,999,999 other people have been filing temporary fraud alerts. And the system is a bit ... overwhelmed.

It's stunning, isn't it? There are people out there--lots of them, all over the world--who are dedicated to stealing your information and money--or to conning you out of it. (My poor mother, a half-dozen years ago or so, fell for the equivalent of a Nigerian-prince Internet scam and lost thousands before my brothers and I caught onto it).

I happened to be in my mom's apartment when the guy called to ask for more money. I took the phone, told him never to call this number again. I sounded really threatening.

Slammed down the phone.

He called back a half-hour later. So much for my ... dire ... warning, for my minatory manner.

Our Internet world--so alluring, so seductive, so helpful in so many ways--is in fact a tangled jungle, beautiful to look at (and consider) but full of predacious creatures bent on destroying us.

And those predacious creatures walk on two legs. Have language. Have mothers. (Have somehow misplaced their hearts.) Can smile and laugh. All the way to bank.