Dawn Reader

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

On Reaching 75

A Birthday Doggerel to Myself
November 11, 2019

When I woke up today, I was seventy-five—
And a little surprised that I still am alive!

For young Billy the Kid didn’t live all that long—
Nor did Poe whose great gift was to turn words to song.

Nor did Shelley—not Mary nor Percy Byshhe, too—
And Lord Byron departed—his years were too few.

And the Bard didn't make it to my age--a shame.
(Though I have to admit he surpassed me in fame!)

And then poor Stephen Crane—he just vanished so soon.
(If his life were a year, he lived only till June.)

And some others—but I won’t proceed with this list—
For my eyes are developing some kind of a mist.

So instead I will thank you—my friends far and near—
And perhaps I will celebrate yet one more year!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Sundries, 250

1. HBOTW [Human Beings of the Week]: Once again--the wonderful folks at Open Door Coffee Company, who continue to help make my daily life on this "bent world" (stole that from Gerard Manley Hopkins--link to his poem, "God's Grandeur--a poem I first read with Dr. Charles McKinley back at Hiram College in, oh, 1964 or so). Anyway, the owner and the baristas at OD are surpassingly kind to me--and tomorrow, I'll tell you a story!

2. I see that this is Sunday Sundries post #250. That's nearly five years of them! I'm actually always quite surprised when I discover, a week on from my previous post, that I still have something to say. May it ever be so! (Ha!)

3. I finished just one book this week (though I am running out of pages in a couple of others), a book called Papa Goose: One Year, Seven Goslings, and the Flight of My Life (2018) by ornithologist  Michael Quetting, translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst.

Let me explain why I bought and read this book: Back in September, Joyce and I were talking about the myriads of Canada geese around here, and we were wondering if, when they, oh, parade across a busy highway--or fly in that remarkable V--if they always do so in the same order. I was guessing that they did (geese, I think, are even more habit-bound than I!). So I looked online for a goose-book, saw this one, thought it would be perfect.

It sort of was. Quetting tells about his project of raising a set of geese from egg to departure. And he did. He took them into his life (he did not live at home!), maintained the incubator, made sure they were used to his sounds, and by the time they hatched, they had already bonded with him--and so they stayed until they winged off for the final time (not all at the same time, by the way). He tells about taking them for walks, showing them their rural world, "talking" with them, naming them (he put colored bands on their legs so he could tell them apart), and, finally, soaring into the sky with them (he flew an ultralight).

The stories he tells are amazing.

But ... he never really answered my question, though, based I what he said about other things in the anserine world, I'd bet that, well, I was right!

(Just checked online via Smithsonian: I was wrong. In flight they change positions to ease the strain from wind and weather on the one at the head.)

(I'm not going to look on the Internet for any info about the order they walk in: I don't want to be wrong twice on the same day!)

4. I've been watching Amazon Prime's Jack Ryan (season 2) in bed for a few minutes a night as I wait for Joyce to quit reading and writing and join me--at which time we stream bits of "our" shows (right now: Doc Martin, Waking the Dead, + some comedians now and then). I can't watch a lot of Jack at once: I get too ... nervous (it's just great being older!)  ... so I shut it down before I have a heart attack.

Back in the Day, I read a lot of Clancy, finally giving up when (in my view) he got crazier and crazier. Admired his research and knowledge, though.

5. Last word: A word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers:
     - from dictionary.com

strepitous—or strepitant (STREP-uh-tus)
rare—noisy; boisterous
C17: from Latin strepitus a din

Saturday, November 9, 2019

"With a Little Bit of Bloomin' Luck"

My Fair Lady (1956). Song: "With a Little Bit o' Luck." I was in 7th grade in 1956-57, and I'm pretty sure that this was my favorite song from the show. A bit irreverent. Naughty. (Just like the Me of Then!) (Link to song from 1964 movie.)

What does any of this have to do with anything? Well ...

On Thursday after lunch I had to eschew my usual journey--over to Open Door Coffee for more reading and writing and conversation with a good friend--because I had several other appointments of a more ... pressing nature.

  • a haircut
  • the Ohio BMV to get my driver's license renewed
  • Office Depot to get some writing tablets (which I mostly use for notes on the books I'm reading)
  • Office Depot to copy a draft of the next volume of doggerel I'm going to upload (soon?) to Kindle Direct
Okay. That sounds like an awful afternoon, right? With long waiting times guaranteed.

But Fortune (not the financial kind) must have been with me that afternoon because ...
  • When I got to the barber shop, one guy was in the chair. No one else was there waiting. (My barber takes no appointments--first come, first ... you know.)
  • When I got to the OBMV in Stow, I was imagining the worst. I walked in the door. No one else was there waiting. I was #1. By the time I left, though, there was the proverbial Line out the Door.
  • When I got to Office Depot, I grabbed a pack of tablets and headed over to the copy area. No one else was there waiting. All done in a matter of minutes.
So ... I'd left home for the barber shop about 12:15, and I was home--all things done--by 2. I was shocked: I'd especially been expecting hours of waiting at the OBMV (where I got that newer form of license that will enable me to, you know, get on an airplane--not that I'm likely to do that ever again).

Of course, no one really "deserves" the luck (good or bad) that he/she experiences.

The roll of those most fabled dice
Can turn out naughty, turn out nice.

It really has no thing to do
With me, of course--and not with you.

And we cannot blame any stars--
Or any phase of moon or Mars.

It's just the way the cards are dealt--
We get a stroke of love--or welt.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Age of Innocence

In yesterday's New York Times, in the Book Review, there was page-long essay about Edith Wharton's 1920 novel, The Age of Innocence. (Link to the essay.) And memories came flooding back, not so much about the novel itself (about which I have far too few memories!) but about what was going on in our lives when that novel entered our story.

It was the summer of 1972. Joyce was pregnant. We were both nearing the end of our coursework for our Ph.D.s at Kent State, and Joyce (was it for a class? for edification?) was reading Wharton's novel.

And then, in mid-morning, July 16, son Steve decided it was time to arrive.

We were ready (we thought). We'd taken a Red Cross course in "natural childbirth"; we'd packed a bag; we'd bought the crib and the clothes and the toys and the mobile; etc.

And off we went that morning to Akron City Hospital (where Joyce, too, had been born). Among the things Joyce took with her: The Age of Innocence.

Her delivery was a rough one--and the rules then stipulated that I had to leave the room once they administered a sedative. So all I could do was go out in the waiting room ... and wait. Her screams accompanied me down the hallway.

I don't remember how much longer before Steve arrived (we hadn't known the gender of our child until Arrival). But then ... there he was. In her arms. Where--literally and metaphorically--he has remained ever since.

Things got complicated. Steve got an infection and was transferred to Children's Hospital, to the neonatal ICU. The second time I saw my son, he was there, in that unit, with an IV in his scalp, and his doctor was telling us: "Sepsis is the great killer of children."

I refused to believe it would happen. Not our child!

And it didn't--though it had no relationship, I'm sure, to my refusal.

Joyce, meanwhile, had become ill herself, and for about a week I was driving back and forth between City Hospital and Children's, visiting my wife, my son.

She didn't read much of Wharton during all of this--though, I know, she finished the book later on.

We no longer have the copy she read (it was a Modern Library edition--just like the one in the pic atop this post)--we replaced lots of books when we joined the Library of America and began receiving titles from major American writers--including Wharton, of course.

Life went on--though never, really, in the same way (as all you parents out there understand).

Now our son is married (they had their 20th anniversary last summer); they have two sons, 14 and 10.

And the age of our innocence has seemed impossibly far, far away.

Until yesterday morning, sitting in Panera with Joyce, having coffee and a bagel, reading the Times, finding the essay ...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sunday Sundries, 249

1. AOTW: All those who devote themselves to dividing us.

2. I somehow finished three books this week, one of which I've been reading each night, ten pages or so/night.

     - The one I've been reading slowly was Steve Brusatte's written-for-a-general-readership book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World (2018.) And I learned a lot! (Now ... if I could just, you know, remember most of it!)

Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, begins pretty much at the beginning: continental drift, the evolution of some of the largest creatures this planet has ever known, the most recent discoveries about them (a surprise to me: even some of the largest had begun developing feathers, probably, he says, for display purposes--one result: all the birds now flying around on the planet).

There is a wonderful (but grim) three pages or so about what happened when that asteroid hit the earth and very quickly ended the lives of the dinosaurs and myriads of other species. Fortunate for us: our distant mammalian ancestors survived, and here we are.

Really fun (and enlightening to read)--full of pictures of people and bones and critters. One odd thing: For some reason Brusatte seemed intent on reminding us, over and over again, that he has a Ph.D. He must've mentioned it twenty times--or more. !?!??! I got the point the first dozen mentions.

     - The second was a terrific 2019 novel by Jeanette Winterson (whose work I really admire), Frankissstein: A Love Story.

The story shifts back and forth from the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (1797-1851), author of Frankenstein (1818), and Winterson does a wonderful job of telling those stories (the actual Frankenstein summer of 1816 is especially great) to the present, or near future, when robots and A.I. are all the rage. (Do we see a connection?)

A scientist/entrepreneur is trying to figure out a way to preserve the brains of people (never mind the bodies!), and another guy is interested only in developing, well, sexbots. The latter's name is Ron Lord, and here we see Winterson's playfulness. One of the principals in that 1816 summer was, of course, Lord Byron (not much to convert that to Ron Lord!)--Lord Byron was known for major-league hanky-panky and a boundless libido.

One other principal character is Ry Shelley, a trans figure (take away the Ma- from Mary's name, and what is left!). Ry gets sexually involved with Victor Stein (!), the guy who's trying to preserve brains. And on and on and back and forth we go.

Winterson has some things a bit wrong about the Shelley story. For example, she appears to accept the very questionable notion that Castle Frankenstein (along the Rhine near Darmstadt, Germany) was the source for the name of Mary's character and novel. Makes sense--only there's no evidence. Winterson says that the Shelleys saw the castle from the Rhine; not possible--I've been there. You can't see it, even when you know it's there and are looking for it!

There are a few other things, too--but who knows why she did it? Perhaps for narrative purposes?

But, hey, I cavil. I loved the book.

     - The final book I finished this week was Jacqueline Woodson's Red at the Bone (2019), a multi-generational story about an African American family. Each section focuses on a different person, and it takes a while to catch on to who all these people are. (Unlike Faulkner in As I Lay Dying, Woodson does not give each section a title that is the principal character's name.)

Once I figured out who everyone was--and what Woodson was up to--and what was going on--I had a great time. There are some wrenching scenes (a family break-up), some stories of struggles to "make it," some painful moments at Oberlin College, where one character discovers that lying to a lover is not really a good idea.

It's not at all "hard" to read; what's (moderately) difficult is to get the characters straight in your head. But once you do? Moving.

3. We didn't get out much this week (still slowly recovering from that Damn Infection that leveled me), but I did make it to the health club five days, started (slowly) back into my routines. Last night (Friday) was the first night we actually went anywhere--off to Books-a-Million near Chapel Hill Mall, where I dropped more $$ than I had intended to ... but they had a signed copy of Coates' The Water Dancer, so ... had to pop for that ... right?

4. We've been "winterizing" around here--storm doors, etc. Tomorrow, we will shut off the outside faucets, cover the A-C outdoor unit, creep under our covers and try to Stay Warm for the next six months (or whatever).

5. Last Word: A word I liked this week from one of my assorted online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from wordsmith.org

I picked this word because--many years ago, back when I was a wee lad living in Enid, Oklahoma--we had a cat that we named Scheherazade. (It was probably my older brother who did so?) Oddly, I can't remember any of the stories that cat told us--and one day ... she was gone ... don't remember in what fashion ...

PRONUNCIATION: (shuh-her-uh-ZAHD, -ZAH-duh, -dee)
noun: A storyteller, especially one who tells long, entertaining stories.
ETYMOLOGY: After Scheherezade, the wife of a king in One Thousand and One Nights. Earliest documented use: 1851.
NOTES:In One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of stories from the Middle East, the king Shahryar discovers his wife being unfaithful. He learns that his brother’s wife is unfaithful as well. He kills his wife and decides to take revenge on all women by marrying a virgin every day and having her executed the next morning so she never gets an opportunity to cheat. One day it’s the turn of Scheherezade, the vizier’s daughter, to be the bride. She asks the king if she could say farewell to her sister Dunyazad first. The king agrees and the sister, who has been prepared in advance, asks Scheherezade to tell a story. The story is engrossing and the king is awake listening. Scheherezade stops the story just before dawn saying there’s no time left to finish. The king spares her life to find out what happened. The next night she finishes the story and starts another, even more captivating story. And so it goes for 1001 nights and by that time the king has fallen in love with her beauty and intelligence and makes her the queen.

Sheherazade is the patron saint of television script writers, who decide just where to put commercial breaks in a TV show.

USAGE: “Yes, [Rachel] Cusk is a Scheherazade here, holding us fast with stories.”
Karen Brady; “Framework of Narrator’s Life Emerges Through Others’ Stories”; Buffalo News (New York); Jan 31, 2015.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Old Guy Paranoia

So, I'm reading along in this 2019 novel (a good one, by the way) (I should finish it this afternoon) (I'll blog more about it tomorrow in "Sunday Sundries"), and a character refers to a dude in a Brooklyn neighborhood as an "OG." (148).

"Paranoia strikes deep," sang Buffalo Springfield in "For What It's Worth" (1966--I was in my first year of middle-school teaching when that song came out, and I could already relate). (Link to song.)

And so, reading this morning, I immediately thought "OG" meant "Old Guy," and I was appropriately offended.

Then thought I'd check the Urban Dictionary. Turns out, it's "Original Gangster"--so this OG in the novel is a ... presence ... in the neighborhood Jacqueline Woodson is writing about.

But still ... old people comprise one of the few pieces of the human pie still somewhat safe to joke about. (Hell, Shakespeare did it ... remember old Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew? He also made fun of people who are, uh, intellectually challenged--think of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing.)

I just Googled "jokes about old age" and got--maybe you'd better sit down?--about 128 MILLION results.

Now, I'm not a snowflake--especially when jokes are not about me. It strikes me as odd (and maybe offensive!) that people who are not in a group sometimes remark that people who are in a group should not be offended by a joke or comment or image or whatever.

(I think, for example, of people who say Native Americans should not be offended by the Tribe's Chief Wahoo. Don't want to start anything--just saying.)

Joyce and I have been streaming the new Netflix stand-up special with Arsenio Hall (about 10 min/night or so), and in the portion we watched last night, he talked about how difficult it's become for comedians--the wrong joke, he says, can bury you.

Lots of people in recent years have condemned snowflakes, have said that people shouldn't be so sensitive about identity, shouldn't be so politically correct, etc. Of course, most of these folks are talking about other people in groups to which they do not belong. Easy to do that.

Somewhat less easy? Hearing a joke--laughing at a joke--that makes fun of some aspect of your identity. Your weight, your religion, your race, your age, your gender, your height, your  region of the country, your whatever.

So I guess what I'm saying is this: Most of us need to back off a little. Relax. Laugh.

I say "most of us" because there are groups of people in this country who have endured such historical belittlement and humiliation that they don't need to hear any more jokes about their status--maybe not for another century or so.

Meanwhile, I was annoyed with myself this morning when I got mildly huffy (ignorantly so) about "OG."

Time to practice what I preach. Never an easy thing to do ...

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What Are You Going As?

I can't remember the last time I dressed up for Halloween. I think it was probably in high school--for a school dance. I dressed as a "bum," which turned out to be sort of ... predictive. But I think I won a prize. I wore a pair of baggy jeans (probably my dad's), one of his old flannel shirts (stuffed with a pillow), and an old pirate mask I'd used another year--complete with eye patch and sneer. I must've worn a hat, too--but I can't remember what it was. I do remember that people didn't know who I was--generally, a good thing in life, right?

In earlier boyhood I'd gone as a pirate (see above), a cowboy (my favorite), but I can't remember any others. I probably did the cowboy year after year after year, for a cowboy, you see, is what I desperately wanted to be back in those days. There were many cowboy shows on TV; cowboy movies were a staple at the theaters; I was living in Oklahoma (and Texas for a couple of years)--definitely Cowboy Country. And now and then our family drove to Oregon (where Dad was from), traversing the very land I often saw on cowboy TV shows. I would stare out the window ... imagine.

I also do not remember when I quit trick-or-treating. Probably in high school--for it's in high school that you realize that, you know, you're (almost) an adult. Time to put away childish things.

Later, while I was teaching middle school in Aurora, Ohio, we sometimes had costume days at school. Kids would dress up--as did quite a few of the teachers. I never did. When the kids would ask me, What are you supposed to be? I would reply, A boring middle-school English teacher. No kid ever said, You're not supposed to dress up as yourself, but I'm sure a lot of them were thinking that very thing.

Our own little boy (now 47) loved Halloween and went as a cowboy (!), a fireman (see pic below), Luke Skywalker, and about every other thing you can imagine. (And, yes, we "stole" some of his candy.)

His own sons (14 and 10) are coming over tomorrow night. The younger one, Carson, loves Halloween as much as his dad used to. I've seen him as the Headless Horseman, a costume I really liked because I used to teach that story. The older one, Logan, also likes Halloween, though I'm not sure what he'll do this year. He just started his freshman year in high school, so ... will he be like his grandfather (whom he calls "Silly Papa") and eschew the costume--or will he give it one more whirl.

We'll find out tomorrow night.

Last year we had an adventure on Halloween. Earlier in the day we had noticed a deer was lying down in our back yard, in the very back corner by the fence. Hiding? Sick? Occasionally, she would rise, but not for long. Back down she'd go. She stayed there all day, and as evening (and trick-or-treating) approached, we began to get nervous. What if she ran out among a group of little kids? What if she sprinted across the street and got hit by a car?

So I slowly moved into the back yard, calmly. I was hoping to see her rise and trot off sedately into safety (for everyone). But I reached, I guess, her Magic Line--the one separating Stay and Get the Hell Out!--and she leapt to her feet, and with the speed of a superhero(ine), she ran out toward the street, did not stop to look both ways (no cars, thank goodness), crossed into a neighbor's yard, soared over his fence like an Olympic athlete, and disappeared into our past.


Tomorrow night, we're hoping, will be calmer. We've seen no doe in the back yard--though the weather is threatening--perhaps even some snow flurries.

That bites, I just heard Dracula say.