Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 230

And Other Adventures

Mary had several other experiences—let’s call them “adventures”—following her return to England. We’ve just spent considerable time with her (failed) pursuit of Washington Irving, who left England in the midst of it all—about as clear a clue as a lover could have that love, in this case, was a narrow sidewalk accommodating only one.
But before we move on, we need, perhaps, to refresh our understanding of Mary’s current situation early in 1826 after the Headless Horseman had ridden way. She was twenty-eight years old, a widow, dependent almost entirely on the reluctant largesse of her father-in-law, Sir Timothy Shelley, who was purely bitter about the death of his son (five and a half years earlier) and about what he saw as the corrosive influence of Mary’s father, William Godwin. Bysshe Shelley had loved Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793, a long and radical (for the time—for any time, really) tract about the ways Godwin would rearrange things were he not King for a Day but King-in-Perpetuity.
The book is jammed with things that would have assailed the very foundations of Sir Timothy’s beliefs. A couple of examples.
• Writing about human equality: We should endeavour to afford to all the same opportunities and the same encouragement, and to tender justice the common interest and choice.[1] This is clearly a principle that annoys some people—many people—today. But for Sir Timothy? Who lived in a society highly organized by wealth and rank and privilege? The vilest heresy.
• Writing about marriage: The method is for a thoughtless and romantic youth of each sex to come together, to see each other, for a few times and under circumstances full of delusion, and then to vow eternal attachment. … The abolition of the present system of marriage appears to involved no evils.[2] Inspired, in part, by these words, Bysshe in 1814 had left his wife, Harriet, fled to Europe with two teenage girls (Mary and Claire Clairmont), and so horrified his father that he refused all direct communication with him.
Sir Timothy blamed Godwin for this. Showered more of his disdain on Mary, whom he viewed as a dark disciple of her father. He and Mary never in her life met—although, eventually, as we’ve seen, he began contributing some minimal sums for the care and education of his legal grandson, Percy Florence Shelley, Mary’s sole surviving child, who, at the dawn of 1826, had just turned eight years old.
And there are other factors in Mary’s life that we should review before we proceed …

[1] (New York: Penguin Classics, 1985), 184. This is from the 1798 edition revised by Godwin; he’d also done so in 1796.
[2] Ibid., 762–63.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Shorts and Sandals Return!

picture taken today by Joyce Dyer

May 24, 2016

Today was the first day since last fall that I donned my shorts and sandals (new ones, thank you; Birkenstock, thank you; on sale at DSW, thank you; gift cards, thank you). I love this day--right up there with the first day of the year that I can get back on my bike and head off to mail a letter (remember them?), get a haircut, go to the coffee shop.

I did not have much of a boyhood history with shorts. Oddly, though I grew up in infernal Oklahoma and Texas (until I was about to turn twelve), my friends and I didn't wear shorts. The schools proscribed them, and it was just not fashionable for boys to wear them. Levi's were the mode. After all, we were all future cowboys (I knew that I would soon be riding alongside Hopalong Cassidy and/or my other TV heroes). So even in the fiercest heat--sometimes about 110--my friends and I were tough, like Hoppy, the Lone Ranger, the Ranger Rider, none of whom we ever saw in shorts.

I don't recall wearing them during later boyhood in Hiram, Ohio, either, though my cowboy dreams had faded by then, and I was now positive that I would be catching for the Tribe, playing guard for the Celtics (there were no Cavs then--unthinkable).

But later on, one of my father's most insidious genes (the Sweat Gene) declared itself ruler of my summer days, and soon I was wearing shorts pretty much every day in the summer. (And many days in the spring and fall.) Still do.

I can't say that my mom has been thrilled with my summer wardrobe choices. Two stories.
  • Out in Oregon for a Dyer family reunion (1990?), we were all staying in a motel just across the Oregon-Washington border in Walla Walla (near where my dad grew up). There was going to be a family picnic at my uncle John's house--scores of Dyers would be there. (Dad had about a dozen sibs.) As Joyce, Steve, and I walked over to Mom and Dad's room, she saw me (be-shorted) and said, "You're not wearing that, are you?) Note: I was in my mid-forties at the time. Mom, it's a picnic ... I began, but I could tell that I was really annoying her. So back I went with son Steve (about 18 at the time) to change into jeans (also not my mother's favorite--but I have standards!). I was not happy and uttered some grievous execrations in our room. And, of course, at the picnic everyone was in shorts or jeans. Except Steve and me..
  • When my mom moved into her stages-of-care place in Lenox, MA (Dad died in 1999), oh, 2006-ish, she did not like seeing me (or my younger brother) wearing shorts (or jeans) when I came to visit. She told me (a lie) that they would not seat me in the dining hall--they always do.
Okay, another quick story ...
  • In the spring of 1999 I was in Naples, Italy, and one of my destinations was the summit of Mt. Vesuvius; the day I was going to do the hike, it was very warm, so ... shorts. I rode the train to the base of the mountain, having walked a ways through Naples first. And all along the way--on the sidewalks, on the train--Italian men pointed and snickered and made, I assume, jokes. I also assume they had something to do with my manhood. And I noticed that no other man was wearing shorts, not in the entire city? (Oklahoma, 1954?) But I, confident in my solid masculinity, strode on, right to that gorgeous summit, then endured more ridicule on the way home (grateful, of course, that I possessed only a few key words in Italian).
I suppose there will come a day when pride and modesty (and shame?) will prevent me from wearing shorts. There will come a time, I know, when I will once again feel I'm in Naples, only this time I will understand every single word of derision/disgust/etc.

But for now? I'm wearing shorts, damn it! Deal with it!

**PS--the light cotton sweater I'm wearing in the pic ... it was a little cool this morning; I'll get rid of it later today.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 229

On the evening of June 25, 1825, Payne and Mary went for a walk, and Payne, unable to endure the uncertainty any longer, declared his affections and desires. And Mary told him she liked him … as a friend—the words no man in the history of the species has ever wanted to hear. And then Mary (was she really so clueless about the workings of a man’s heart?) asked Payne if he would mind, you know, working as her agent to discover if Washington Irving might be interested in her.
And Payne, no doubt crushed, agreed.[1]

But Washington Irving seems to have felt about Mary Shelley the way Mary felt about John Howard Payne. Let’s be friends. Although Irving was truly not all that interested in friendship. As we’ve seen, he’d just had his hopes dashed by young Emily Foster, 18, who had dazzled fortyish Irving, whom testosterone propelled around the Foster family like a drone. As we’ve seen, she’d said OMG! No! when she’d realized in early April 1823 that his interests in her were not paternal nor avuncular nor mentorial. Actually, she responded, apparently, with much more tact and compassion, but she had clearly let the author of “Rip Van Winkle” know that she would have preferred the young version of Rip.[2]
And now, barely a year later, here was Mary Shelley knocking at a door he refused to open. As Jones says in his biography of Irving, the only words he ever wrote about her in his journal about this triangle that refused to ring when struck was this: Read Mrs. Shelley’s correspondence before going to bed.[3] Thoughtful Payne had let Irving read Mary’s letters, the ones alluding to Irving himself.
And so it ended. Quietly. Mary, realizing how the cards lay on the table, gradually grew silent on the whole thing, and we are left to wonder about what might have been—the author of Frankenstein, the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” joining lives, perhaps, later, moving to Sunnyside, Irving’s home near Tarrytown, New York—near Sleepy Hollow, New York—where, perhaps, Mary might have recovered some peace, might have, once again, found love.
I have this feeling that I’ve written about this before (I don’t look back: a failure, I know), but we also wonder why Irving “passed” on Mary. All reports of her in her mid-twenties are that she was a very attractive woman—obviously bright and gifted. Irving’s equal—maybe more.
Perhaps that alone was sufficiently daunting—her talents. (Some men can’t handle that). Or, perhaps (as I’ve written earlier, I know!), Irving preferred men (though, if that’s so, Emily Foster remains a mystery). Or maybe it was Mary’s reputation—damaged since 1814 when she’d run off with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man (a father!). Maybe Irving just couldn’t abide the faint odor of scandal.
Or maybe—simpler—he just didn’t feel anything in her presence. Love is not logic. The heart listens to no argument. Love happens; it doesn’t. End of story.

[1] Letters, vol. 1, 493n.
[2] See account of this in Jones, Washington Irving, 209-12.
[3] 230. The full citation from the journal: Tuesday, August 16, 1825. Appears in The Complete Works of Washington Irving; Journals and Notebooks, Vol. III, ed. By Walter A. Reichart (Univ of Wisconsin P, 1970), 510.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 103

1. AOTW: There's really just one exercise bike I like to ride out at the health club--and there are only two of this particular style; the one I don't like is so for good reason(s): It's a piece of junk. Monday when I got there, I saw that some guy was on "mine," but then ... he got off! I walked over, and when he saw me coming he got right back on. "Doing thirty minutes more," he said. There is a 30-minute limit. He'd just done thirty, had stood up, taken two steps, then gone back and hopped on again. Although some poor soul (I) clearly wanted to use the machine, he figured he would get two 30-minute stints; I, none. So ... he's the AOTW!

2. Finished a book this week, Don DeLillo's new novel, Zero K (Scribner, 2016), a powerful and grim story about a facility that preserves you--in some separate pieces--after your death. Or, in case of imminent death, that facility will sort of ease you a little more quickly along your journey. The facility preserves you with intense cold (cryopreservation) and with some other techniques. Later, when the technology has advanced even more, the place will revive you, boot you up again.

The novel involves a young man, Jeffrey, whose father, Ross, enormously wealthy, has established this state-of-the-art facility somewhere in one of the former Soviet Socialist Republics. Ross' wife is dying (the narrator's stepmother), and they are preparing her.

Well, other things happen: Ross considers going with her; Jeffrey has memories of his birth mother. The novel is a graceful, imaginative riff on mortality, technology, family, and the question: Should we do something just because we can do it? Technically clever (as DeLillo has always been).

I think the first novel of his I read was End Zone (1972), a football novel that was far more than that, and I'm pretty sure I've read all of his others (well, maybe just most of them?). One of our great talents.

3. Friday night Joyce and I drove down to the Hanna Theater in downtown Cleveland to see the Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of The Fantasticks, which I don't think I've seen in nearly fifty years. The first thing I remember about that show? The Kingston Trio recorded "Try to Remember" on their 1973 album The Kingston Trio #16. Bob Shane sang it; the other two (Nick Reynolds, John Stewart) played their guitars. Here's a link to that performance.

Anyway, the GLTF production was excellent--strong players (a small group), excellent singing, and I'd like to give a shout-out to the sound engineer, who kept the singers sounding more or less natural instead of so heavily amplified that they sounded like Bad Guys in a sci-fi film. I was very moved several times, especially (of course) with "Try to Remember" (beautifully sung) and "They Were You"--a song that comes near the end when the estranged lovers realize ... well, look at the title of the song! (Here's a link to that song.)

4. Last night (Saturday) we went to see the new Shane Black film, The Nice Guys, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe (a chunky Russell Crowe--he must have eaten all the meat on the Ark--surprised we have any animals alive on earth now) playing a couple of fairly dim-bulb investigators in 1977 LA (loved the period stuff in the film) who are tangled up in a series of murders that are far more complicated than they thought. The film will remind viewers (in a good way) of Black's earlier film Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) with Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer in similar roles. (I loved that film so much I bought it--rare for me.)

What I liked: I was surprised every few minutes--very surprised--and I laughed throughout, even when I was ashamed of myself for doing so. (Joyce loved it too.) (Trailer for film.)

5. Final Word--This one can sound like complacent (pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied).

Complaisant \kuh m-PLEY-suh nt, -zuh nt, KOM-pluh-zant\

1. inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant: the most complaisant child I've ever met.

Though I see an example of the horror facing people learning English: Definition 2 of complacent is ... complaisant. Read and weep ...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Ghost in the House?

This morning--as is my wont--I staggered downstairs about 6:15 to do a couple of my early-morning chores: unload the dishwasher, get my backpack ready to haul over to the coffee shop, clean off the dining room table (our family surface on which to place things we don't know what to do with).

And as I entered the dining room (on the way to the kitchen), I heard an odd, inhuman voice say, very precisely, There's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.

Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One. Falstaff is barking at the Hostess of the inn.

That rational part of me that recognized the line quickly fled (coward!), replaced by the part of me animated by my brain stem (that reptilian part), the part that hissed: What in the hell was that?

I looked around the room. Saw no ghost of Shakespeare. Saw no Falstaff going through our refrigerator.

The rational part of me crept a little ways back, uttered a line Macbeth hurls at Banquo's ghost: Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!

And then I remembered ...

Let's back up ...

Last night (Saturday) Joyce and I drove down to the Hanna Theater in Cleveland to see a production of The Fantasticks, the final show of our four-show package with the Great Lakes Theater Festival (formerly the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival). The Festival, sans Shakespeare's name, still mounts two Bard shows a year (this year it was Lear and Love's Labour's Lost), and in their gift shop at the Hanna are some Shakespeare-themed gifts: T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, coffee mugs, and the like.

Last night I found a sort of bobble-head doll to mount on my car's dashboard. Cute. And we also found a couple of wee gifts for the grandsons (7 and 11), and one of those gifts, as I eventually realized this weird morning, was the cause of my near-alarm, the source of the weird voice.

In the gift shop we'd found a small wallet, which employs the same technology as those talking greeting cards: You open them; they speak. The wallet, however, when opened, delivers various lines from various Shakespeare plays. Well, not just lines. Insults.

Let's go forward ...

This morning--my reptile self eyeballing the dining room--I saw that the wallet was lying on the table, and my bumping the table with my backpack had activated it. And the words of the long-dead Bard floated across the room, judging me, condemning me, cursing me.

Realizing what had happened, I went about my chores, feeling as dumb as ... well, as dumb as a stewed prune. And I hurried upstairs to share with Joyce this patent truth about myself.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 228

Payne pops the question ...

Reading over the letters among Mary, Payne, and Irving, I think it’s clear that Mary had no romantic feelings for Payne whatsoever. She liked him—he was a “friend”—but his principal value to her comprised two things: his friendship with Irving (in whom Mary was very interested); his ability to score theater tickets for her (and her friends) on practically a moment’s notice. Here’s a fairly typical example, Mary to Payne:
My dear Payne,—I shall be most happy to see you at the theatre this evening, though I hope to make such arrangements as to preclude your thinking it necessary to escort me …. I am extremely obliged to you for the trouble you take for me.
            Ever yours, M.S.[1]
If I were, say, an eighth-grade boy who received a note (or, today, a text) from the Object of My Affection, a message that said, basically, Thanx for the tix—no need for you to take me, I think even I—dense, dense, dense I—would recognize that I was being, well, used—though abused is probably a more accurate term.
But Payne was so besotted that it took him a while—and something far more explicit and direct—for him to recognize the obvious. And surrender.
On the evening of June 25, 1825, Payne and Mary went for a walk, and Payne, unable to endure the uncertainty any longer, declared his affections and desires. And Mary told him she liked him as a friend—the words no man in the history of the species has ever wanted to hear. And then Mary (was she really so clueless about the workings of a man’s heart?) asked Payne if he would mind, you know, working as her agent to discover if Washington Irving might be interested in her.
And Payne, no doubt crushed, agreed.[2]

[1] Romance, 47; Letters, vol. 1, 485–86. Betty Bennett assigns a date for this letter: 21 May 1825.
[2] Letters, vol. 1, 493n.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Grandpa Moment(s)

Last Sunday, I had a few "Grandpa Moments"--all in a very short time. I need to preface this with a little description of our Sunday-morning routines.

On Saturday night I feed my sourdough starter, and the next morning I put some of it back in the fridge for the future and then bake something with the rest of it--bread, rolls, pizza, biscuits, waffles, whatever.

Then, cleaned up, we head off on our "rounds"--to the nearby Panera for breakfast, Sunday Times, laughing and talking.

Afterward, we make our two local grocery-story stops: Acme and Heinen's (neither store has all of what we want/need/crave).

Then, at home, we put stuff away, and both of us go to work until lunch. ... That's enough of a background.

Okay, last Sunday (the 15th) ... here are the "Grandpa Moments":
  • Coming down the stairs, getting ready to head off to Panera, I realized, about halfway down, that I was still wearing my bedroom slippers. Not shoes. Which were back upstairs, nearly (but not quite) speechless with dismay (Where is he?!?!). An awkward mid-stairway turn and back to the bedroom for some remediation. (Where have you been?)
  • In the car, talking animatedly with Joyce, I made a wrong turn and had to 
    • pretend I'd done it on purpose;
    • figure out a way to get where we were going without making it obvious that my body language, soaked in insouciance, was a lie.
  • At Panera, I realized I'd left the Times back on our dining room table. I dropped Joyce off and drove home, occupying that soggy emotional terrain between humor and depression.
This kind of stuff is happening much more frequently these days of dotage (okay, advancing dotage). Right now it's still in the Cute & Amusing stage. Most of the time ...