Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Children are famous for this, aren't they? They keep asking questions until they arrive at the one you can't answer--and so you, adult-like, say, I don't know--let's look that up! Or you lie--make something up. Or, these days, you bark to Alexa, if your child hasn't already done so, realizing (because of Alexa) that he/she doesn't really need you any longer. Sad ...
You know the sequence of questions I mean:
KID: What is that yellow bright thing up there?
YOU: The sun.
KID: What is it?
YOU: It's a star.
KID: Why doesn't it look like other stars?
YOU: It's much closer to us.
KID: Why is it yellow?
YOU: Fire can be yellow.
KID: Why is a fire yellow?
Joyce is like this, too. She keeps asking until we reach the extent of my knowledge (in many cases, a very short journey). At which time, out comes her iPhone ... and I feel a pang of something very like jealousy.
An example from last night. We were driving over to Aurora on an errand to Marc's (I needed some flour), and, somehow, in her monologue, she hit up on the expression hell in a handbasket.
She wasn't quite sure how that expression went; I told her (going to hell in a handbasket). Then--and I knew this was coming, knew what I was going to have to say (I don't know)--she asked another question. Where does that come from?
I said I didn't know.
Fortunately, by the time we got home, we had moved on to other things I don't know, but I remembered it just now, and here is what I found:
Not one of my reference books says anything about it.
Online? Much uncertainty, though people seem to agree (by consulting the same sites, no doubt) that it is an Americanism dating back to the Civil War. (Here's one link to one guy dealing with it.) Apparently there are other variations, too--hell in a handcart, hell in a wheelbarrow. Etc.
My own guess? You are (or things are) going to hell, buddy. And the transportation is not going to be comfy.
Oh, and here's William Safire in 1990 expatiating about it: link. Unfortunately, he mentions no sources for what he's found ... He cites a later origin--1913--and a different form (heaven in a handbasket). Seems he didn't know about the earlier reference.
Monday, December 11, 2017
I remember my mother making a tree-shaped bread back when I was a boy. She didn't do it every year (if you look at the recipe, you'll see it's a bit of a bother)--but enough so that when I married Joyce in 1969, I thought it would be a good tradition to continue.
Not that I did it right away. Although I started baking our bread not long after we got married (for pecuniary rather than gustatory reasons--though the motive very quickly segued into the latter), I did not do the treebread for a few years. It seemed so ... daunting.
But eventually I did it, fashioning it, I think, on some similar recipe I found in a cookbook. I should say here that I do not know what recipe my mother used--probably something she found in a magazine (our source for information before the Net). It's not one of the recipes I acquired from her.
And besides, since the summer of 1986 I've been using sourdough rather than "regular" yeast for virtually all our baking.** So I would have to say the recipe I use has ... evolved.
I got up at seven a.m. on Sunday morning (my wonted baking time). The sourdough starter had been bubbling away during the night (before going to bed I'd fed it with its favorite-and lone--diet: 2 cups of warm water, 3 cups of flour), so, first thing, I put two cups of starter back in the container, then back in the fridge. The rest would become the Christmas trees.
Before doing anything else, I cut up a cup of dried apricots, got a cup of mixed candied fruit ready, a cup of slivered almonds ... the other ingredients. Then mixed and kneaded and huffed and puffed and blew myself down (almost).
The treebread dough is heavy, so it took more than three hours to complete its rise--during which time I cleaned up, headed off for our Sunday morning routines with Joyce (the New York Times and a toasted bagel at Panera, grocery shopping at nearby Acme and Heinen's). Then ... home to unpack and write a letter to my mom and work on my blog and wait for the dough to finish rising.
When I was satisfied it was ready, I sprayed oil on two large baking sheets, then tossed the dough out onto a floured board, cut it in half, then cut one of the halves into half again. I then cut off pieces of the dough, rolled them in my hands into little "ropes," which I laid out on the sheets to resemble a Christmas tree--or (see below) a rattlesnake. One large tree--which I will send to my brothers and their families in Massachusetts, two small trees--which we will consume here. I let them rise again for about an hour and a half, then popped them into a 400-degree oven to bake--and to permeate the house with that bread-baking smell that I adore.
Moments before serving them on Christmas Day, I will warm them up (after thawing them from their days in the freezer), then decorate them, swabbing them with icing (powdered sugar & water) that will make them look exactly like a tree outdoors in winter (or a snow-covered rattler--see below), then sprinkle on the icing some more of the candied fruit (with a maraschino cherry on top!), making it look now exactly like a decorated snowy tree (or--see below--a rattler, who must be rather puzzled by now).
We will peel off and consume some soft, warm chunks while we're opening gifts with our sticky fingers. (I think this year I will begin by biting off the head of the snake--just to be sure.)
Every year I wonder if this will be the last time for such a routine--no, such a tradition, a ritual. Will I be healthy enough next year? Will ...?
Oh, let's not get into that. Let's just enjoy the treebread, once again, and feel the gratitude that I feel right now--for my mom, for Joyce and family, for the health that has permitted me to do this, year after year after year.
May there be another ...
*a Facebook friend told me it looked like a coiled rattlesnake ... sort of does ... a nice holiday gift!
**I acquired the starter in the summer of 1986 in Skagway, Alaska, on a trip there with our son, 14 at the time, to explore both family history and The Call of the Wild, which had begun to obsess me. I have posted about this before. Google it, if you're interested.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
1. AOTW: Okay, this happened this week--and it has happened myriads of times before. So I'm hoping the AOTW Award will affect its frequency (hah!). I'm driving north on Ohio 91; a guy roars by me on the right (his lane is ending), then--only about a hundred yards ahead--he turns off into a little strip mall. So ... he saved, oh, perhaps seven seconds by his AOTW move. Risked his car, mine, his health, mine, burned unnecessary gas and rubber--all to get into the mini-mart seven seconds earlier than he would have.
2. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to Kent (snow falling--lightly!) to see the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Link to film trailer.) Frances McDormand plays a very frustrated mother and ex-wife (her ex-has left her for a 19-year-old). Her teenage daughter was raped and murdered not long ago, and the cops seem to have given up on the case. So ... she rents three billboards on a local highway and chides the police for not doing anything. And ... stuff happens as a result. (Woody Harrelson does a great job as the local police chief.)
It is a film about anger--the mother's, her ex-husband's (he's physically abusive), one of the local cops (played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell), her son (Lucas Hedges--whom we saw last week in Lady Bird!), the community, and on and on.
And we see the consequences of uncontrolled anger in the lives of just about everyone. And the consequence ain't all that good!
But it's also a film about forgiveness--not everyone for everything--but forgiving for human error rather than human evil. And it's about a change of heart--which, perhaps, is the most difficult change of all.
I did think the film went on a bit too long (my bladder agrees), but I loved how I got surprised a few times--surprise: one of the things I love about films (and books).
So ... do they catch the murderer? Worth going to see to find out!
3. I finished three books this week
- The first is one I've been reading slowly in bed at night--ten pages or so a night: One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858, by Rosemary Ashton (ret. from University College London).
Ashton follows the stories of her three prominent characters throughout that summer when the Thames reeked because of an unresolved sewage-treatment issue--and the temperatures were soaring. Darwin was nearing publication of his classic Origin of Species (1859), Dickens was writing and dealing with a separation from his wife (a scandal in that era--a scandal that threatened his unsurpassed popularity), Disraeli was working to try to do something about the Thames.
The research here is astonishing--the sort of work that in another era would have consumed an entire career. But Ashton was able to read all of the major periodicals of the day because, well, they've been digitized--enabling quick searches and discoveries.
And so we get an incredible amount of detail about these men and that portion of their lives that found its way into the press--which was a lot. (In fact, I think she should have done one more text-pruning before publishing: a bit much here, even for a fact-dork like me!).
Learned a lot ... too bad I can't remember it all!
- As you may know, I'm working my way through all of the Faulkner novels I somehow missed (avoided)? in my Younger Days, and this week I read Requiem for a Nun, a sequel of sorts to Sanctuary (see an earlier post). Temple Drake reappears (now married to Gowan Stevens, nephew of Gavin, who appears in other Faulkner tales).
This one has in it a horrible murder--of an infant. A black woman, Nancy Mannigoe, who works for the Stevenses, is the culprit (she readily admits it)--but things are complicated. (Imagine that! in Faulkner!). Temple and her uncle (Nancy's lawyer) visit the governor at 2 a.m. on the day of Nancy's scheduled execution--a visit intended to explain the complex contexts of the infant's death. But all for nought (though this scene is how Faulkner lets us know all that's been going on).
He originally intended the story to be a play--and it is set up as one (acts, scenes, settings, dialogue), with some lengthy local history and explication prefacing each act. The play, sans explication, has been performed often.
The novel contains one of Faulkner's most oft quoted lines: The lawyer Stevens says, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" (Lib of Amer ed., 535). Earlier, Stevens said, "There's no such thing as past either" (521). So ... gee ... I wonder if the "past" is what's on Faulkner's mind in this novel?
For contemporary readers, Faulkner can be tough to read--for a variety of reasons: (1) the thick paragraphs, the complex sentences; (2) the racial epithets that flow easily from the mouths of his Mississippi characters--sometimes making Huck Finn look almost PC by contrast!
- The third book I finished this week is a short one, the final book by Sam Shepard, who died on July 27 of this year. I've loved Shepard's work--on the stage and elsewhere. Spy of the First Person is a short memoir/novel/hybrid about a dying man, a man whose life and illness (ALS) resemble Shepard's. Someone appears to be watching him--spying on him as he moves through the final stages of his illness.
Of course, we figure out very quickly that it is Shepard himself doing the "spying." Outside himself watching himself. Memories flow. Some regrets. Some conundrums. He still wonders at nature (he's in Arizona, visiting the Mayo Clinic branch there). But he thinks about the other places he's lived in the West; he thinks about parents and grandparents and children and siblings. As he slowly loses the ability to do anything physically.
This book is very affecting for a variety of reasons. We know, of course, that Shepard did not survive. We know what an fantastic effort it must have been to complete this book (with the help of his family and Patti Smith). By the end, he could only dictate.
On a personal level ... I've had three friends die of ALS. And every moment of this reminded me of every moment of that. Deeply painful memories.
But Shepard somehow retained a buoyancy that comes across in these pages. A tremendous final feat of imagination, determination, celebration.
Oh, will I miss Sam Shepard!
4. Final Word: a word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers. I knew fell but had not seen this version of it ... let's give it a comeback!
- from the Oxford English Dictionary
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: fell adj.1, -ish suffix1.
Etymology: < fell adj.1 + -ish suffix1.
1638 R. Brathwait Barnabees Journall (new ed.) iii. sig. S3 Never was wild Boare more fellish.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
I have just uploaded to Kindle Direct my most recent collection of light verse--the series based on the years of my life. (When it's up and ready to buy--for a mere $2.99!--I'll post it on Facebook ... probably a couple of hours from now.
Meanwhile--here is the Foreword and some other front matter ...
And Other Doggerel and Wolferel
(September 2–December 4, 2017)
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Dyer
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
For Open Door Coffee Company
Home away from home …
I’ve lost count of how many of these little volumes I’ve assembled and uploaded to Kindle Direct. And this is probably a good thing: It’s not all that wise to keep a close tally of your follies. (Someone Else is no doubt doing that anyway—Santa or … Someone.) So … no need to add things up.
I do know that I enjoyed doing this one—a lot. A trip through the years of my life, from 1944 (my year of birth) to now. Enjoyed may not be the best word, I realize. I had to revisit some of the most painful of memories—the death of my father in 1999—the losses of others who meant so much to me. Oh, and then there’s the Damn Cancer I’ve been battling since late in 2004. (The winner is certain; the date is not.)
But I also got to write about some of my great good fortune in this life. The family I grew up with. My long teaching career (about forty-five years), most of which I loved. I say “most of which” because, well, any job—any career—has those … unpleasant aspects. Things you’d just as soon forget (or submerge). For me—an English teacher—it was those endless hours of grading I most dreaded—entire weekends consumed by it. On Friday evening I sat down; I looked up: It was Sunday night. Year after year after year …
And there were other quotidian teacher tasks I didn’t exactly look forward to—lunch duty, bus duty, faculty meetings (okay, some were good), in-service days (don’t get me started), and on and on.
But the rest of it? The kids? The classes? My colleagues and mentors? The plays I directed? Gifts, my friends. They were gifts.
And there were many other things I enjoyed writing about during the seventy-five days or so I spent on this project. Meeting my wife, Joyce, and her spectacular family in 1969. The birth of our son in 1972. His marriage in 1999. The births of our two grandsons (2005 and 2009). Journeys. Books. Laughter. To complain about the life I’ve had would be a bit like a mouse, who, having grown up in a cheese factory, complains that there’s not been enough cheddar.
So … there is a little “poem” here for each year of my life. Some of them are obviously better than others, and I did fuss (in a minor way) with some of them for this volume. But I didn’t leave any out—can’t excise time from our lives (as much as we sometimes would love to!).
I’ve also included what I call “Desultory Doggerel”—verse about wee things I saw or experienced or thought about, verse that I swiftly composed and uploaded to Facebook to give my friends there cause for shudder. I’ve left pretty much all of them here—some lightly revised, if not improved.
Finally, there’s a section I call “Wolferel”—a term I (proudly) coined a couple of years ago, a term that refers to verse that is a step above doggerel but still a step below poetry. I know what good poems are. As I’ve said, I was an English teacher, and I’ve memorized more than two hundred wonderful poems, lines that I must continually rehearse throughout the week lest they flee from me, as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once wrote, “like bandits from a burglar alarm.”*
And so I’ll leave you with this—a moment from The Taming of the Shrew, a play I used to read with my eighth graders back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The groom, Petruchio, has returned with his new wife, Katherine (the “shrew”), to his wild and raucous home in Verona. His reluctant servant Grumio has ridden ahead to prepare the welcome for the less-than-happy couple.
When he arrives, Petruchio rails about the appearance of his servants (they look … ragged). And Grumio launches into this explanation:
Nathaniel’s coat, sir, was not fully made,
And Gabriel’s pumps were all unpink’d** i’ the heel;
There was no link*** to colour Peter’s hat,
And Walter’s dagger was not come from sheathing:
There were none fine but Adam, Ralph, and Gregory;
The rest were ragged, old, and beggarly;
Yet, as they are, here are they come to meet you. (4.1)
I like those final two lines—so appropriate here. Yes, some of the Wolferel are all right, and as for the others,… ragged, old, and beggarly; / Yet, as they are, here are they come to meet you.
December 4, 2017
*from his story “Harrison Bergeron”
** lacking ornamentation
*** torch (to provide blacking)
Friday, December 8, 2017
A few weeks ago I wrote about this procedure--this "immunotherapy"--so I'll not do so in detail again, but, simply (!?!), I will undergo three sessions of draining my blood, removing T-cells (the warrior cells!), returning my blood to me, sending the T-cells down to Atlanta to be energized, infusing them back into me. Three withdrawals, three warrior-cell enhancements, three returns to me--in a five-week period.
The withdrawals will be at the Akron Red Cross; the returns will be at University Hospitals in University Circle. Each session will take up to four hours. I'm going to have to find some fat novels to take along with me!
I am relieved for the coverage, but I'm not going to jinx myself by telling you who it is. (Don't want anyone to have second thoughts!) It is very expensive, I can tell you that--so much so that if the company had not approved the sessions, I would not be having them.
Of course, I am grateful. Relieved.
But I am also passionate about how this sort of procedure should be available for everyone who needs it. Imagine this conversation:
PHYSICIAN: We have this procedure that might save and prolong your life.
PATIENT: That's wonderful! I can spend more time with my family, my grandchildren, my--
PHYSICIAN: Only ... [Pause.] ... you don't have insurance. [Or: Your insurance plan won't cover it.]
PHYSICIAN: I'm sorry.
PATIENT: How much time do I have?
PHYSICIAN: Who cares?
Well, no physician would say such a thing--surely not! But it's exactly what our country's health-care system is saying.
If you're fortunate enough to have worked for an employer who offered health insurance (I was), if you're fortunate enough to have a comprehensive plan in later life (I am), if you're financially secure (we're not rich by any stretch--but we are making it), well, then you're in luck! You've won the Lottery of Life!
But if not ... well ... who cares?
I just don't see how these Senators and Members of Congress who are weighing the removal or reduction of health benefits to the most needy among us can look at themselves in the mirror.
Maybe they do look, though. It's just that they don't see anything there. Vampires can't.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
I was never much of a dash man--or boy. My dad was. A champion sprinter in his Oregon high school, he was uncatchable out in the yard in our little football games--unless, of course, he let us catch him. And he often did. (Good man, my dad.) It was fun catching him--but frustrating because I knew he'd just let me!
Yes, I was somewhat slow afoot and cursed throughout high school the genetic failure of my parents to pass along to me the Speed Gene. Neither my younger brother (Dave) nor I got it.
My older brother, Richard, did. And didn't care a bit. He was interested in opera and fat novels with small print, and the fact that he could outrun everyone in his class (when forced to do so in gym) brought him some mild pleasure--but not enough to convince him to join the track team. I have to say that it annoyed me--massively--that I (the putative athlete) could not catch my older brother when we were running around.
Life is not fair!
So ... dashes ... not my thing.
Except the ones in writing! It's possible I've posted about this before. Too bad. I'm doing it again.
And the reason? I'm getting ready to publish (via Kindle Direct) the latest collection of "poems" I've written, this particular batch dealing with the years of my life. And as I was going along and reached the years when I was a teacher, I found it more convenient to write about school rather than calendar years.*
So ... I had poems with headings like this one:
1990-1991 School Year
Now ... take a look: That little horizontal mark between the years is a hyphen (all that Blogspot will permit--unless I paste in an alternative). And I should have an alternative there. I should not have a hyphen but an en dash. (So named because it equals in length the width of the letter N.)
There is also an em dash, the kind used, well, here: I liked Snickers bars--a lot. (Blogspot allows only a double-hyphen to serve an an em-dash.)
Okay, what are these things?
Here are the definitions--swiped from Webster:
- hyphen: the punctuation mark used to divide or to compound words or word elements (use with brother-in-law, for example--or to divide words at the end of a line)
- en dash: used to represent a span or range of numbers, dates, or time (like 2003–2004; we were there from 4–5 o'clock) (I had to paste those suckers in.)
- em dash: can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect (Examples: I'm sorry I was late—traffic; I saw you at the movies—was that your boyfriend?) (Again--had to paste.)
Okay. In the popular social media (Twitter, Facebook) the only way to include en and em dashes is to paste them in from elsewhere (a pain), but if you're using Word, the program does it automatically for you--if you observe the following:
- to get an en dash: type the word (or number), leave a space, type a hyphen, leave a space, type the next word, type a space--and, voila, an en dash appears (you then need to delete the extra spaces you just made); there's an easier way: in Word, go to Insert-Symbol; find the en dash, select it, then choose a code so you can insert it quickly; I use alt-n; saves time.
- to get an em dash in Word: type a word, type two hyphens (no spaces anywhere yet), type the next word, hit the space bar--an em dash appears! It's like magic! (I set up a code for this, too--alt-d.)
So ... why am I writing about this today? Well, it's harder to make an en dash on the Word version I use on my iPad (which is how I do a lot of writing now), so today I was going through my manuscript (on my computer) and replacing all the hyphens with en dashes.
English-teacher fun (and, yes, that's a hyphen!).**
*You can see them all on my other blog: Daily Doggerel. (Link to it.)
**And Joyce, my teacher, just reminded me (okay, taught me--schooled me?) that there are two other related marks:
- the 2 em dash is used for missing parts of words
- example: You are such a d——ed nuisance!
- the 3 em dash is used for the second instance of an author's name in a works cited list or bibliography
- Dyer, Daniel. I Am Stupid. Hudson:. Stupid Publishing, 2017.
- ———. I Love Snickers. Hudson: Stupid Publishing, 2017.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
This came up last night during our car trip for an emergency service (hot coffee): What is up with the words draft and draught? I feigned knowledge I did not have--a skill I developed in elementary school, perfected in junior high and high school, and abandoned later when I realized that technique didn't fool too many (i.e., any) of my professors in college and grad school. And it definitely didn't fool the middle school students whom I began teaching in the fall of 1966. Kids can tell when a teacher is faking!
Anyway, here's what I know (I think) before I look it all up and share it with you:
- a breeze coming through the house is a draft
- a beer on tap is draft
- there is a military draft and you can be drafted
- an ox is a draught animal
- you can take a deep draught of a liquid
Okay, let's go to the mighty Oxford English Dictionary and find out what's what ...
PAUSE WHILE I CHECK THE OED ...
And the first thing I see: draft is a "modern phonetic spelling" of draught.
I knew that (not).
And I see a few meanings I missed/forgot:
- an order for the paying of money (a bank draft)
- a preliminary form of an art work or some writing (a rough draft) ... how in the hell did I forget to list that one?
- it's also a technical term in masonry: "Chisel-dressing at the margin of the surface of a stone to serve as a guide for the leveling of the surface." Okay, I understand that (not).
Okay, let's check out draught now ..
- the action or act of drawing or pulling (a beast of draught)
- a quantity drawn (a specific measure of something drawn or extracted)
- the act of drawing a net for fish
- the quantity of fish taken in one drawing
- a measure of weight of eels
- the drawing of a bow; a bowshot
- the drawing of a saw through a block of wood
- the drawing of a liquid into the mouth--or down the throat
- a fanciful name for a company of butlers (!!!)
- a dose of liquid medicine; a potion
- the drawing of smoke or vapor into the mouth
- the drinking in of something by the mind or soul
- a move a chess or any other similar (!) game
- a current, stream, flow
- a current of air
- an appliance for creating a draught in a fireplace
- drawing of figures
I quit! These go on and on and on and on (I've even left out some earlier--lazy). Okay, here's another one that I think is my favorite:
- the entrails of an animal drawn out
Anyway, there are 46 definitions of draught just as a noun! And dozens of compounds (many are adjectival)--e.g., draught-screen: a screen to block draughts.
Draught is also a verb--but the meanings (as I look over them) are related to the nouns.
By the way, you can read in the OED and on other sites about where the word came from--why it's pronounced the way it is--etc.
Okay, not to be lazy: Here's what Merriam-Webster says of the origin:
Middle English draht, draght, draught; akin to Old High German traht, trahta act of carrying, Old Norse drāttr act of pulling; derivatives from the root of Old English dragan to draw
First Known Use: 13th century
But here's what I learned: I don't know nuttin'! I remain, it seems, what I was in seventh grade: a fraud!