Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Friday, May 22, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 126


I had hoped—when I’d set out on my Shelley Adventure—that I would be able to go everywhere the Shelleys had gone. But I soon discovered this was impossible for any number of reasons—many of them financial. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to go to Ireland after I left Wales in early May 1999. I’d wanted to. I’d wanted to follow Bysshe and Harriet over there—then follow them back to London where Bysshe would meet young Mary Godwin. But money was running out; so was time. When I returned to Ohio on May 6, I’d been gone nearly a month, and a month is just about the longest Joyce and I have ever been separated since we were married late in 1969. I had to settle for what I could do. And afford.
When I reached London after my time in Wales, it was late in the afternoon of May 4. That night, in my hotel, I refreshed my list of places to see on the following day, which would be my final full day in Europe. I checked my master list I’d made before leaving home; I wrote down the subway (Tube) lines and stops I’d have to use. And I sighed with regret. There was just no way.
As I look now at my journal for that day, I see that my list had dwindled to the following:
24 Chester Square—Mary’s final home, the place where she died on February 1, 1851.
Marble Arch–Tyburn—The site of the public hangings in London (still occurring in Mary’s day).
Bread Street—Mary and Bysshe Shelley were married at St. Mildred’s Bread Street on December 30, 1816. The church is long gone—destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War II.
14 North Bank Street—In 1836, Mary and her son (Percy Florence Shelley) were living here after she removed him from Harrow School.
Harrow School—See above. Of primary interest to me, though, was seeing the memorial marker for poor Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron (who’d attended the school) and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont; Allegra had died in Italy on April 19, 1822; she was only five. (Another Harrow student—and there at the time that PFS was there: future novelist Anthony Trollope.)
2 Nelson Square—One of the places that Bysshe, Mary, and Claire lived after their elopement trip in 1814.
The Lyceum and Theatre Royal Haymarket. On July 28, 1823, at the Lyceum—built originally in 1771 and rebuilt a couple of other times because of fire—Mary, along with her father, saw Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, the first play based on her novel. While I was in London, I went to the Lyceum to see a production of Oklahoma!—a show that has much personal resonance for me (born in the Sooner State, you know!). Hanging over my desk right now is a poster from that production—and I still have the program from that day.


I just had a shock: I looked at the program for the first time since 1999, and I see that the actor playing Curly (the male lead) was … Hugh Jackman! This was, of course, in the days before Wolverine and all his other star-making roles. Here are some of the snide comments I wrote in my journal that evening:




… hardly any of these people can talk—just because you’re from Okla. doesn’t mean there are no consonants in your alphabet! Good Lord, I’m an American—a Sooner!—and I can hardly understand what so many of these people are saying! To my immediate left is a poor man (a victim of a stroke?) who maintains a low, off-key hum the entire time, when he isn’t bringing up phlegm from every remote area of his body, or when he isn’t sleeping & slumping over my leg. This does help this experience for me, I feel nothing as I hear this music. Auntie Eller is especially bad—I can barely understand a word she says—the same for most/many of the others.  A few can dance well, a few can sing, but whoever coached the dialogue in this show had more than he/she could handle.

I see on IMDB that Jackman appeared in a TV movie of the production in 1999. I am going to have to see that!
Playing right now at the Lyceum, by the way: The Lion King.
At the Theatre Royal Haymarket on August 10, 1824, Mary had a “date” with Washington Irving (more about this later!).
Royal Doulton—I had some gifts to buy, and I was looking for character jugs based on the wives of Henry VIII.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oh, what a wonderful teacher ...


I posted a little thingy on Facebook yesterday about the 88th birthday of Prof. Abe C. Ravitz, the teacher who had the greatest effect on me at Hiram College--well, and in just about every other setting, too. As I said in that post, I took seven courses with him between 1962-1966, and I didn't always get A's, as these items from my transcript verify:

  • English 216 (American Lit II)--Winter Quarter, 1962-63: B
  • Eng-Hist 377 (American Thought II)--Fall Quarter 1964: A
  • Eng-Hist 378 (American Thought III)--Winter Quarter, 1964-65: A
  • Eng 215 (American Lit I)--Winter Quarter, 1964-65: B
  • Eng 306 (Imag Forms of Prose II--Creative Writing)--Summer 1965: B
  • Eng-His 376 (Amer Thought I)--Fall Quarter 1965: A
  • Eng 216H (Amer Life in Lit II)--Spring Quarter, 1966: A
I should mention one other thing: Dr. Ravitz reviewed books for the Cleveland Plain Dealer while he was at Hiram (I think, maybe, after he left, too, for a while?). And I never imagined (or could have imagined) back in the mid-1960s that I would one day review for that paper, as well. Of course, he was one of the principal reasons that I became qualified to do so.

On the 21st of March, 2000, Dr. Ravitz returned to Hiram College to deliver a series of talks, a visit that Joyce had arranged as part of the Regional Writers program she'd initiated there. And I got to introduce him. Here's the text from that day ...

Introduction for Abe Ravitz
21 March 2000
Hiram College Convocation

I was privileged while a student at Hiram College (1962-1966) to have some of its greatest teachers, at least two of whom I see here this morning. From Prof. Charles McKinley I took freshman English and two other courses called Masterpieces of World Literature. I never could coax an “A” from him, but I never really deserved one, either, so I bore him no grudge and today count him among my finest friends.
The other professor to whom I refer, of course, is our speaker this morning, Prof. Abe C. Ravitz.
Let me tell you a story . . .
It was along in the winter term of 1965. I was enrolled in the third part of a three-part course called American Thought, a course cross-listed in English and history. The teacher was Dr. Abe Ravitz, and he scared me to death.
There were three reasons for this undergraduate terror of mine. For one, he had been, like Prof. McKinley, one of my older brother Richard’s favorite teachers at Hiram College. Richard, three years older than I, had graduated in 1963, and during my dissolute years at Hiram High School I had heard him regularly wax enthusiastic about Dr. Ravitz—“Dr. Ravitz” this, and “Dr. Ravitz” that. I had also heard brother Richard typing papers for Dr. Ravitz, late into the night, sometimes early in the morning (sometimes only hours before they were due), the old upright Underwood uttering an annoying pneumatic sound that easily penetrated—no, shook—the walls between his bedroom and mine down at 11917 Garfield Rd., the house now owed by the Fratuses. Anyway, Richard had always been an outstanding student—valedictorian of his mighty Hiram High School class of 1959 (he was #1 in a class of a dozen or so; I used to impress my students by telling them I graduated 10th in my class!), so I knew I had a tough if not impossible act to follow with Dr. Ravitz.
Another reason he scared me in the winter of 1965: Having already taken two previous courses with him, I had learned he was not easy, not at all. I’d had a “B” in the first part of the two-part American Lit survey and somehow struggled to an “A” in American Thought II, writing a long, earnest, and superficial paper on Frank Norris that I still have. So I was scared in the winter of 1965 because I knew I’d have to work hard—something I wasn’t all that fond of 35 years ago.
But on this particular day I’m telling you about, there was a more immediate reason for my anxiety: There was a mid-term in Dr. Ravitz’s class. 10:20 a.m. I had read the books for the test, had studied in my customary desultory way, and was as ready as I ever was for anything academic in 1965. But first, I had to go to work at my campus job, deep sink at breakfast, Miller Dining Hall, a deeply unsatisfying position that required me to get up far too early in the morning, to struggle the vast distance from Whitcomb to Miller, to scrub bacon grease and eggy goo from utensils that did not readily surrender their crusty treasures. On this particular morning that I’m remembering, the day of the mid-term, I did in fact make it to my job, then returned to my room about 8:30, thinking I’d lie down for a few minutes and rest a little before my 10:20 exam.
At 10:25, I woke up when my roommate, Chuck Rodgers, back from his 9:10, bounded into the room with his usual infuriating early-morning cheer. “Hey,” he chirped, “don’t you have a test—?” but he delivered the rest of it to my back as I sprinted for Hinsdale, not even bothering to don a coat to combat the bitter February wind. My face creased with sleep, my heart racing with alarm, I cruised into the room about 10:27 (I was fast in those days), walked over to the desk where sat Dr. Ravitz, wearing that black turtleneck, drumming his fingers and staring out the window. He turned slowly, regarding me with those eyes—oh, those eyes I felt always could see straight into me, could read in my mind the sordid little story of my ignorance. It was the familiar fairy tale—but in reverse: He was the emperor, and he knew that none of us wore any intellectual clothing! I mumbled an abject apology, and—relief!—received a test paper. I slid into a desk, folded my Blue Book to the first page, and read the first essay question (always essay questions in Dr. Ravitz’s class): Discuss The Great Gatsby as a frontier drama of time.
What the hell? Now, don’t get me wrong: I understood each individual word in that question: Discuss . . . frontier . . . drama . . . time . . .and so on; it was the mystifying combination of those words that made me wonder if I were actually still asleep, back in my room, deep in a guilty nightmare. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. And do you know what? I still don’t know what that question means, but I answered it, at length, certifying, I guess, that I possessed in some measure an English major’s skill to fashion answers that are long, grammatically correct, and vastly speculative (if not wholly ignorant).

I cannot express adequately what Dr. Ravitz meant to me—and, really, to an entire generation of English majors—here at Hiram College. Some of them are here this morning. I took seven courses with him, every thing he taught, I think, including, in the summer of 1965, one memorable creative writing class that met in his Hinsdale office. There were only two students, we both smoked nonstop (can you imagine that today? he must have inhaled a cubic mile of second-hand smoke every morning), and during those sultry summer school weeks—in the days when air-conditioning was just an implausible rumor at Hiram College—I learned things about writing that I still think about every time I sit down at the keyboard. (Here’s one: “Don’t give your characters problems; given them demons.”) Just yesterday I exhumed from my files a little class exercise we did on stream-of-consciousness. Here’s the comment atop this paper: “Your aim is admirable. [“This paper sucks,” in other words.] Rather than the stream, however, your protagonist is observing everything and thinking not too much. [Just like the person who wrote it.]” As I re-read that awful paper, I am grateful for his generous comments—and for the “B,” which should have been much, much lower.
 Dr. Ravitz also instilled in me a habit I still have—reading an author’s complete works.  When we studied a writer, he invariably told us about all his or her other books, as well—and just yesterday, over at Crestwood High School, I smiled with nostalgic pleasure as I listened to him telling the seniors, who thought they would be hearing only about The Grapes of Wrath, about Steinbeck’s minor works. So thus—today, as I stand here—I find myself about one-fourth of the way through the forty-seven (or so) novels of Anthony Trollope. My mistake was to read the first one; Dr. Ravitz taught me that I now have a moral obligation to read all the rest.

On a more personal level, Dr. Ravitz never for a single second made me feel I was merely Richard Dyer’s younger brother—some pale copy, some barely literate homuncular version who shared with him only a surname and, perhaps, some stray genetic fragments.  Instead, Dr. Ravitz praised me for my few strengths and devoted himself to improving my myriad weaknesses, to educating me. I still remember scurrying after class over to the library to look up apotheosis and verisimilitude and lycanthropy and scores of other words that he employed with the sure and certain knowledge that we didn’t know them—but ought to. I remember writing in my notebook: The American novel deals with the transcendental journey from innocence to experience, and then for thirty years gravely telling my students the same thing, as if I’d invented the notion.
I most recently saw Dr. Ravitz in Pasadena a few years ago. I was in the area doing research for a Jack London book, and I called him. We quickly made arrangements to have dinner. And a wonderful one it was, too. Afterwards, we strolled along the streets, saw a bookstore, and entered it. “What do you think of this?” he asked, holding up a title I can’t remember right now. But what I do remember is my accelerating heart rate as I met those wise eyes. It was 1965 all over again—he was the emperor, and I the callow, intellectually naked 19-year-old, caught in my own little frontier drama of time—and, truth be told, I couldn’t have been happier.
Men and women of the Hiram community, it is with inexpressible pride and gratitude that I introduce to you one of the most influential professors in the history of Hiram College; emeritus professor of English at California State University, Dominguez Hills; scholar and author of works about figures as diverse as Clarence Darrow and Rex Beach and Fannie Hurst and—soon—Vachel Lindsay; a teacher whose devotion to scholarship infected so many of us; a man whose personal lexicon does not include the word retirement; a man who grabbed me and scores of others by the shoulders and shook our minds alive—Dr. Abe C. Ravitz.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 125



From Tan-yr-Allt to Mary Godwin


Bysshe and Harriet Shelley fled Wales—and their hillside home, Tan-yr-allt, in Tremadoc—in late February 1813. They crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland, where they spent nearly a month on various projects. As I’ve already reported, Bysshe wrote a frantic note to his English publisher, Thomas Hookham, on February 27: I have just escaped an atrocious assassination. … you will perhaps hear of me no more.[1]
A week later, from aboard the Bangor Ferry (from Bangor, Wales, to Dublin, Ireland—about 100 miles) Bysshe wrote to Hookham again (thanking him for some £20 the publisher had advanced him), saying he needed a little breathing time to recover from the excitements—terror, really—of his recent wrestling match with Death.[2]

In March, from Dublin, Bysshe sent his latest poem to Hookham—Queen Mab. But his other correspondence during this period involves pleas for money. His angry father, Sir Timothy Shelley, had cut him off, and he was exploring every source he could think of (except labor, of course—one did not do that sort of thing) to acquire the funds he and Harriet required to live in the way he wanted to live.
By the first of April, he had borrowed enough to pay for their passage back to England, to London, and by April 5, they were living at 23 Chapel Street, not far from Buckingham Palace, not far from the Serpentine, a body of water in Hyde Park, just to their northwest, a body of water that would one day—a day not too far in the future—provide one of the coldest chapters in Bysshe Shelley’s life.


Meanwhile, where was Mary Godwin? In January 1813, she was briefly back in London from Scotland, where she’d been living with the Baxter family (her escape from her horrible relationship with her stepmother, Mary Jane Godwin), in company with her new friend Christy Baxter. They went with Godwin to see the premiere of Coleridge’s play Remorse at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (still standing—I've seen plays there), which had just recently been rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1809. She and Christy were back in Dundee in June, the same month that Harriet Shelley would give birth to a daughter, Eliza Ianthe. It was nearly a year later—in late March 1814—that Mary returned to live at home in London. And not long after that, all the world would change. Her world. Bysshe’s world. Harriet’s world. Little Ianthe’s world. Godwin’s world. Our world.




[1] The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, I: 355.
[2] Ibid., 359.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sad News about an Old Hiram High Classmate

1961 Yearbook, Hiram High School
I got word via mass email yesterday that a former Hiram Schools schoolmate had died--Edward C. Troyer. We called him Eddie. And I was afraid of him.

Eddie was a year older than I, and when we moved to Hiram near the beginning of the 1956-57 school year, I was going to start seventh grade. For homeroom, the entire seventh and eighth grades shared a large room on the main floor--Mrs. Rood's classroom; seventh graders sat in the front, eighth graders in the back.

And that's where I first noticed Eddie Troyer. He sat right behind me, and I knew, having seen him around, that he was much bigger than I. Tougher looking. I was a small lad in seventh grade. See photo below of our seventh grade basketball team. I'm the guy with the snazzy red kneepads, second from the left in the front row. (To my right, by the way, on the end, is Lester Detweiler, an Amish kid whom I fervently envied: He got to quit school at the end of the 8th grade! He was also a fine little player--much better than I. And current FB friend Ralph Green is also in the front row, third from the right).


Eddie was taller, leaner, broad-shouldered, and, as I would discover a bit later, an excellent basketball player--perhaps the best in the school. My freshman year I still remember watching the most exciting basketball game I've ever seen--and I mean ever: Our Hiram Huskies varsity beat nearby Garrettsville in triple overtime (sudden death), and Eddie, a sophomore, made some key shots and foul shots down the stretch that made possible that impossible win.

But Eddie was a rebel. He wore his jeans low, his collar up, his hair greased (rebel uniform in our day). And he would quit the team later on (or was he kicked off? he did like his cigarettes and some proscribed liquid substances--and I think I remember a confrontation with the coach?). As I look in his class yearbook his senior year, I don't see his picture anywhere--no individual picture, no group. Did he not graduate? I don't remember. I can't find a single picture of him anywhere.

But I do remember some Eddie Troyer stories, listed below in no particular order:
  • The eighth graders had to write a term paper for English. Eddie's, I remember, was something about metal alloys. He showed it to me in home room, just before he was going to turn it in. And I saw on the cover he'd made: Turn Paper.
  • After a year or so living up on the Hiram College campus (on Dodge Court, for you Hiram fans), we moved down Hiram's north hill to 11917 Garfield Rd., the house where Prof. David Fratus (ret.) still lives--they bought the place from us when we moved in 1966. Eddie lived nearby, just up the hill a little bit on the other side of the street, and so we somehow (how?) achieved a sort of peace, Eddie and I--even a kind of friendship, one that my father was not very pleased about. I started greasing my hair a bit, talking tough to much smaller kids.
  • On the north side of our house was a field that Dad wanted to convert to lawn. I knew that Eddie's family had a tractor, so I recommended him to Dad, who hired Eddie to plow and disc and seed the field. It took Eddie awhile to get around to doing it, but he did, and if you drive by that house now, you can see ... lawn! A nice one. We should call it the Edward C. Troyer Memorial Lawn.
  • We liked to play pick-up touch football games on the nearby lawn of the Hiram College President. (The Troyers lived just across the street.) We weren't trespassing: Trevor Sharp, the President's son, was one of the players. Eddie played sometimes--but we were all afraid of him, so he ran for touchdowns with impunity. One day he showed up for a game wearing track shoes--with spikes. My little brother (five years younger than Eddie) broke away on a play and was sprinting (well, insofar as little Davi could sprint) for the goal line when Eddie caught up with him. He slowed Davi by spiking him in the calf. That ended the game and commenced a trip to Dr. Sprogis.
  • One summer day, up at the Hiram College tennis courts (which, then, were behind what was then the library; it's now, among other things, the computer center), I was witness to a bloody encounter between Eddie and a classmate of mine (whom I will not name but will call Thor). I had been playing tennis with one of them (can't remember? I played both), when the other showed up, and the fireworks began. Words were exchanged. Threats. Then Thor took one of Eddie's tennis balls and smacked it up on the library roof. Oh, now it was on!
    • And quickly over. Thor smacked Eddie a few times in the face. Blood. Thor got Eddie in a headlock.
      • Eddie: You've got blood on your shirt.
      • Thor: It ain't mine.
    • Then--a moment of terror ..
      • Thor: I'm going to ram your ****ing head into that net post.
      • Eddie ... [I don't remember what he said--but whatever it was, Thor released him and headed off in search of Loki, I guess.]
    • The entire time I was sitting in the bleachers, a lone fan at what I thought would be a championship bout--but ended up being a championship rout. I was terrified the entire time. Because, you see, I was friends with Thor, as well. Eddie came back to the bleachers and told me he was going to get a pipe and kill Thor.
      • Didn't happen.
      • Thor, by the way, is in the basketball picture above. Ain't tellin' you which one he is, though.
  • I don't remember Eddie's involvement in any school activity other than basketball. It's possible, but he was sort of simultaneously in and out of the school. He seemed to have a life (lives?) elsewhere. I wish I knew more.
I don't remember, either, when Eddie and I drifted apart. Probably when I started getting involved in so many school activities--plays, music, sports, etc. I never saw him after high school; he never attended any of the Hiram Schools reunions--at least none when I was there.

But I do remember this: Eddie Troyer had a heart. During those months I was hanging out with him in junior high, I learned that he was far softer than his public image. He was kind to me--for no discernible reason. And my fear gradually evaporated and transformed into something very like admiration. He could drive a tractor. He could make foul shots at the most critical times. He knew about metal alloys (I'd never even heard of them at the time). He wasn't afraid of authorities. He did what he wanted.

Not all those things worked out for him at the time, but when I got the news yesterday about Eddie, I was sad. And that sadness lingers today.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Coronation



I'm just back from a coronation.

Mine.

Yes, I'm back from almost two hours at the dentist's office where I got one of my upper molars crowned--an upper molar I'd somehow cracked recently (I'm sure it was not the popcorn at the movies, right? No, it was something some Evil Thing performed on me while I slept), and when I was in for my "routine" exam not long ago, I got the coronation news.

My dentist actually said to her assistant (as if I were not even in the room): "Look! It's the last of his six-year molars without a crown!'

I failed to feel the same excitement. All I know is: I'll be making my dentist's next yacht payment for her.

I just found this tidbit on a pediatric dental site on the Web: The first permanent molars, or 6 year molars, come in around the age of 6 and they erupt behind all of the primary teeth. That's a daunting word, erupt!

So ... that means I've had these particular teeth since about 1950. Truman was President.We were living in Enid, Oklahoma. My dad was back from World War II, teaching at Phillips University (RIP) there in Enid. My mom had three little boys (9-6-2) and was dreaming of a professional career (she would have one). I was in first grade. Adams Elementary School. And for the life of me I cannot recall the name of my teacher--the only teacher I've had whose name I can not remember. A puzzle--because I liked her. (See, I'm not totally gone: I can recall my teacher's gender!)

So now I'm home from the dentist. I have only the foundations of those teeth that erupted (!) back in 1950 (or so) in Oklahoma's Garfield County. And I'm trying to avoid seeing all of this as too ... metaphorical. You know? Loss as we age? That sort of thing ...

There was one moment of amusement as I was leaving. I was at the counter, setting up my subsequent appointment when I will get the True Crown (only a temporary so far). One of the two receptionists was going through the routine for billing and payment.

The other one--a veteran--interrupted. "Oh," she said, "no need for this. He knows the drill."

I told them that was not a kind thing to mention in a dentist's office. Knowing the drill! Oh, do I!?!!?!?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 51



1. AOTW. Good news: No one qualified this week. In fact (as usual), I came very close to winning the award myself on a couple of occasions. I guess I'll just have to try harder?

2. I use Quicken Billpay for a lot of regular payments, and this week I got to send off to Toyota the final payment on our 2010 Corolla, a car that has served us very, very well. Sixty payments. Whew!


3. This week I finished the penultimate novel by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771),  The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (serialized, 1760-61), a novel with some obvious connections to Don Quixote but with some very funny and some very moving moments. (He takes the entire book to win his Lady Love--no surprise there, really: This is the sort of thing that occurs usually in the first chapter.) And some biting moments of social satire. Near the end, he takes on the whole idea of mental institutions (where Launcelot finds himself briefly held against his will):

Finding himself agitated with impatience and indignation, he returned to his apartment, and the door being locked upon him, began to review, not without horror, the particulars of his fate. “How little reason,” said he to himself, “have we to boast of the blessings enjoyed by the British subject, if he holds them on such a precarious tenure; if a man of rank and property may be thus kidnapped even in the midst of the capital; if he may be seized by ruffians, insulted, robbed, and conveyed to such a prison as this, from which there seems to be no possibility of escape! Should I be indulged with pen, ink, and paper, and appeal to my relations, or to the magistrates of my country, my letters would be intercepted by those who superintend my confinement. Should I try to alarm the neighbourhood, my cries would be neglected as those of some unhappy lunatic under necessary correction. Should I employ the force which Heaven has lent me, I might imbrue my hands in blood, and after all find it impossible to escape through a number of successive doors, locks, bolts, and sentinels. Should I endeavour to tamper with the servant, he might discover my design, and then I should be abridged of the little comfort I enjoy. People may inveigh against the Bastile in France, and the Inquisition in Portugal; but I would ask, if either of these be in reality so dangerous or dreadful as a private madhouse in England, under the direction of a ruffian?” (from Chapter 23)

Smollett would love to write only one more novel--The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, published in 1771, the year of his death. I've started reading it ...

4. Yesterday (Saturday), I had the pleasure of seeing and listening to a former student at Harmon Middle School, Cori McCarthy, now a noted YA author who has been on tour promoting her latest, the exciting Breaking Sky, which is now in the process of being transformed into a movie--or so we all hope. (Sony is working on the production.)

I wrote recently here about Cori's novel Breaking Sky (link to that post), and I noted that Cori was in 8th grade the year I retited from Harmon Middle School (1997), and I didn't know the 8th graders very well that year for a couple of reasons--for one, I retired in January; for another, I had a student teacher in the fall.

And I especially didn't know Cori very well because for 8th grade English she had not me but a wonderful young teacher, Karl Norton, who had recently come to the school to continue his teaching career. Cori is grateful to him (as she should be), crediting him for helping awaken her interest in literature, especially through the poetry of Walt Whitman.

I did know Cori's family. Her older brother Evan had been one of my finest students, and we are still in touch via Facebook.

Anyway, there was a nice Saturday afternoon crowd at the Aurora Memorial Library yesterday (50? more?), including many of Cori's friends from school days--as well as neighbors (and a teacher or two).

She spoke without notes about her decision to become a writer--about things that had gone well and not gone well in her career--about the difficulties you face with agents, editors, publishers, publicity--about her "writing process." She writes the first draft of a novel very quickly, she says (about a month), then spends months rewriting and revising and, especially, looking for the novel's heart.

Most affectingly, she talked candidly about how she invests herself in her characters--even identifying individuals in her books who are in fundamental ways like her. She talked about how injecting her pain into characters on the page has helped her--and, she hopes, her readers, as well.

There were quite a few local students there in the crowd, and they were riveted by her.

Afterwards, we chatted briefly as she signed her two books for me, and I told her, as I was leaving, that I wished I'd retired a year later than I did. We teachers hate missing special young people.

5. Jocye and I tried to watch the Hitchcock film of Dial "M" for Murder not long ago (link to trailer for the 1954 film). We had recently seen the stage production up in Cleveland and wanted to see how Hitchcock adapted it for the screen (he shot it in 3-D, his only film using that technology). The screenplay, by the way, was by Frederick Knott, who'd written the stage play. But we didn't last long with the DVD. It was so similar to the play that we got kind of ... bored (surprising for a Hitchcock film) and turned it off after the near-murder about 1/3 of the way through. Enjoyed seeing Robert Cummings, though. When I was a kid, I loved his TV show--The Bob Cummings Show--back in the 1950s. He played a daffy photographer--who was a bit of a ladies' man.

6. Finally ... last night we both enjoyed the DVD of Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird,  a 2010 documentary (available from Netflix) that was shot, of course, before news of the "new" Lee novel exploded in the media last year. The film was almost entirely positive. It explained the background of the writing, Lee's later retreat from the spotlight, her friendship (later fractured) with Truman Capote. The filmmakers interviewed on camera a number of notable contemporary writers (James McBride, Lee Smith, Rick Bragg, Richard Russo, and others), all of whom spoke with great admiration for the book--and for its transformative effect on them as young readers. Seldom was heard a discouraging word.

Lee gave her last interview in 1964, and it was eerie to hear her voice. Even more eerie? The time-shredded voice of her 99-year-old older sister (who appears several times), who, at the time of the film, was still a local lawyer, still in practice.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

I've got this other quiet little blog ...


I've got this other quiet little blog. Daily Doggerel, it's called. And I just noticed a day or so ago that I had reached 200 posts on it. Not many people visit the site, which gives me hope for the human race.

My Facebook friends know what it is, probably--the site where I send into deserved obscurity the doggerel I post on Fb now and then (well, daily, for the most part). I've got a few followers on the Daily Doggerel site, but I don't bother re-posting each day on Fb since those poor folks have already seen that day's ... offering. I do Tweet the link each day, but I doubt there's much of resulting ruffle of feathers in the Twittersphere.

Anyway, I'm (sort of) pleased that I've kept it going this long. It shows I'm still in harness--never a threat to a lead dog (like Buck!)--but still pulling a little weight now and then even though I know I'll probably not reach the goldfields. I'm just enjoying the scenery along the way.

Here's a link to Daily Doggerel for those of you who have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon.