Dawn Reader

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 356

It was a brain tumor that killed her.
Throughout 1850 she had not been able to do much—a few short visits here and there. One of her last social events was a dinner with Thomas Love Peacock, who’d first met and befriended Bysshe in 1812 (when Mary was about fifteen).
But Mary was suffering from headaches—weakness. And everyone knew. In January 1851, her girlhood friend Isabel Baxter Booth arrived at Mary’s home on 24 Chester Square to help care for Mary. But it was all palliative care at this point.
On January 23 Mary lapsed into a coma. And on February 1, she died. She was fifty-three years old.
Her death certificate said it was a supposed tumour in the left cerebral hemisphere of long standing.[1]
In “Mary Shelley’s Death,” an Appendix to her masterful, three-volume collection (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), the superb scholar Betty Bennett adds this information: The symptoms and duration of her illness suggest that she may have died of meningioma, a tumor in the covering of the brain that can spread into the brain itself. Bennett notes that the disease is three times more prevalent in women than in men.[2]
And so another of life’s horrible ironies: the destruction of the mind in an intellectual, a writer, a woman who lived by reading, thinking, writing, imagining. Why, such a fate seems almost fitting for the plot of a novel …

[1] Seymour, Mary Shelley, 538.
[2] Vol. 3, 389.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Even Plan.

Edna St. Vincent Millay has a sonnet I first stumbled across when reading Judith Guest's 1976 novel Ordinary People (and the successful film in 1980 (it won four 1981 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Redford)). Some of it was filmed in Lake Forest, IL where Joyce and I had gone to teach at Lake Forest College during the 1978-79 academic year, so there was a bit of a thrill when we saw the film and recognized the places. (Link to film trailer.)

Anyway, the novel. I had my freshmen at Western Reserve Academy read it* in the 1979-80 school year (as part of their "outside reading"--one book/marking period), and I recall being struck by Millay's epigraph (see entire sonnet below):

But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

I remember thinking (I was in my mid-30s), Gee, that's true, you know? 

But what did I know then? Not a lot. (Though, of course, I believed I knew Every Damn Thing.)

The arrogance of making plans. The assumption that all will be well--that you will be able to execute those plans when the time comes. Now in my early 70s, I smile ruefully when I overhear people use phrases like next year or in a few years. Or even later this fall. We just assume that this Cup of Life from which we're drinking will never really run dry.

(I know that I shouldn't paint with too broad a brush here: Many people, even very early in their lives, learn the dark truth of Millay's lines--know the truth of them in the most intimate and painful ways.)

Since I've been struggling with cancer the past dozen years or so, I've realized the fatuity of my earlier thinking. Making plans, for me, is now an exercise in folly. I've learned in fairly harsh terms that whatever plans I make are about as stable as a pile of leaves in a fall windstorm. 

So many times in recent years I've had to cancel things I very much wanted to do. I just could not do them.

In late April this past spring, I found myself in the ER--faint--barely able to stand--profoundly dizzy. Joyce and I realized that this meant--if things did not improve (a lot!)--we could not make our annual journey to Stratford, Ontario, for a week of plays at the Stratford Theatre Festival--a trip we've made for fifteen consecutive years.

But I gradually got better, and at the last minute we decided to give it a try (we'd had our room and ticket reservations for months). And we did okay.

And promptly made plans (!) for next year--reserving the room we love at Mercer Hall Inn.

And just now? I have made some firm-as-can-be plans to go to Massachusetts in early September to celebrate my mom's 98th birthday. 

There's a chance--a good (bad?) chance--that I won't be able to do it. Between now and then are some medical tests and visits with physicians, etc. And--as I learned to my sorrow last spring--I could wake up one day between now and then and find I am incapable of carrying out the simplest tasks.

But I guess I remain a shining animal in some ways, daffily biting my thumb at the Grim Reaper, flipping him off, letting him know in every foolish fragile human way that I can laugh ... even plan.

And so I memorized that sonnet, certain that there would be countless occasions for me to recite it. In the future ...

*Which I can not find right now. (Curses! Foiled again!)

Read history, thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos — in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face, —
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 355

And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre*), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[1]  
The play opened on December 26, 1849, ran for fifty-four performances (a lot for those days), earned positive reviews, and closed on February 27, 1850.

This play was a musical parody of it all—written in a rollicking iambic pentameter. Early on, one character says
You must excuse a trifling deviation
From Mrs. Shelley’s marvellous narration.[2]
The university was called Crackenjausen; the creature was called The What Is It. And Victor Frankenstein himself is aware he is both in and out of the story.
Blockheads, aren’t I the hero of the piece?
And haven’t I a right to clear the stage
When in soliloquy I engage?[3]
We see the creation of the creature, who, upon awakening, sings a song;
I’m a gent
I’m a gent. I’m a gent. I’m a gent ready made,
Sprung up in a moment, a parvenu blade.
I’m a regular swell from the top to the toe.
But how I became so, I’m hanged if I know.
I’ve got no connexions not even a ma,
And I’ve no recollection of having a pa.[4]
The foolishness ends with the creature totally socialized and looking for a situation in life (a job, a position), and Frankenstein assures him that this is more than possible.[5]
As we know this was hardly the last time Mary’s story would undergo a transformation; the versions continue to this day (as I’ve written about earlier). Not that long ago (June 9, 2017), in a newspaper cartoon The Argyle Sweater, cartoonist Scott Hilburn shows us Victor Frankenstein and Igor (who, of course, does not appear in Mary’s original story)—Igor, who has misunderstood some information about the creature’s desire to marry, about “asking for the hand” of the Bride, and he has transplanted the bride’s hands onto the creature’s arms.
Oh, what a creature Mary created—and how it has lived, on and on and on and on! 

[1] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.
[2] Ibid., 229.
[3] Ibid., 230.
[4] Ibid., 239.
[5] Ibid., 249.

*The Adelphi is still there--but it has been rebuilt several times since Mary's day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
University Hospitals
Beachwood, Ohio

Yesterday was The Day ... well, one of them anyhow. The Day for my three-month visit with my oncologist, complete with multiple blood tests the week before.

I've been dealing with prostate cancer since late 2004 when my biopsy came back positive (I've always thought that odd--"positive" for a bad result!), and since then I've had surgery (removal of the prostate gland), radiation (when the cancer returned), hormone therapy (when the cancer returned again).

I'm now on two drugs that kill testosterone--Lupron and Casodex (Google them if you're inclined), and the combination has caused my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) to stabilize at about 12. (Prostate cancer cells eat testosterone!) Of course, I should have no PSA at all since my prostate gland is gone--but the number indicates that prostate cancer cells are present and (in my case) are moving into the bones, a favorite spot for those nasty little buggers.

Yesterday, my oncologist was still encouraged by my body's resistance to the spread of the cancer (though bone scans have shown that the move is underway), and he told me that in a few months he will have me undergo a major blood-transfusion process involving something called Sipuleucel-T. (Link to some info about it.) Basically, they will drain my blood (Dracula, baby!), treat that blood with this stuff that will (we hope) strengthen my immune system, return the blood to my body, enabling my body to keep fighting This Damn Thing more effectively.

He told me the process will not affect my PSA score--just empower my body in other ways. (I think I'd rather be bitten by a radioactive spider, you know?)

The visit yesterday concluded with two injections: my quarterly Lupron shot (right butt cheek) and Xgeva (a painful damn thing) in the upper arm--a drug that works to increase bone strength (Lupron and Casodex can weaken bone mass).

So ... I drove home yesterday with sore butt, sore arm. But with Joyce beside me. I'll take that!

Feeling we "deserved" something more pleasant, we drove over to Aurora after supper and had a waffle cone at the Aurora Fantasy Delight (which used to be called the Aurora Dairy Bar when I first began sampling its treats in the late 1960s during the early years of my teaching career).

I can't do that kind of stuff all the time, though. Lupron and Casodex make it very hard to lose weight--and my oncologist has warned me that prostate cancer loves fat cells. Nice. Glad somebody does.

So ... it's been nearly thirteen years that I've been dealing with this damn disease. The medical procedures themselves (the blood draws, the surgery, the radiation, the bone scans, etc.) are nettlesome enough, but it's also the psychological burden that weighs heavily--the knowledge that it's always there. And ... worse--that it will eventually win.

To date, there is no cure for metastatic prostate cancer. Just delays. So ... each time I go see my oncologist (whom I greatly respect and like, by the way), there's this fear (no other word) that this will be the time I hear the Dark News.


I write these periodic posts not for sympathy--but to give me the illusion of control. There's something about words--about a sentence. Sometimes, a sentence can capture a fear, hold it for a while, somewhat tame it. And this can be a most comforting self-deception.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 354

In September 1849, Mary headed to the Continent for what would be her final time. Her son and daughter-in-law had preceded her, and Mary joined them in Paris. They moved then to the French Riviera, to Nice, where Mary, who was not well, sometimes nonetheless rode a donkey into the hills.
A donkey. And as I type that word, I remember how Mary and Bysshe and Claire—back in August 1814, the elopement—had sometimes traveled by donkey through France. They had run low on money fairly quickly and could no longer afford to travel by coach. We resolved to walk through France, wrote Mary in her account of their elopement, but as I was too weak for any considerable distance, and my sister could not be supposed to be able to walk as far as S*** [sic] each day, we determined to purchase an ass, to carry our portmanteau and one of us by turns.[1]
It seems that Shelley and Claire, on August 8, had gone to the ass market and purchased an ass.[2] Okay, I’m smiling as I type this. In some ways I’m still a fifth grader, I know.
But things didn’t work out. The ass seemed incapable of doing what they’d wanted it to do, and so, writes Mary, Finding our ass useless, we sold it before we proceeded on our journey and bought a mule ….[3] This doughty creature did better—bearing both their portmanteau and one of the women.
Then a few days later, Shelley twisted his ankle and ended up riding the mule himself, full-time. And in one remote village … As we prepared our dinner in a place, so filthy that the sight of it alone was sufficient to destroy our appetite, the people of the village collected around us, squalid with dirt, their countenances expressing every thing that is disgusting and brutal. They seemed indeed entirely detached from the rest of the world, and ignorant of all that was passing in it.[4]
And so I wonder … as Mary was riding through those Riviera hills, feeling ill, knowing that whatever malady had afflicted her was not going away—knowing that she never again would sit at her desk and imagine and create and feel the hours passing as briskly as a breeze—did her mind drift back to 1814, to that year when hope and love and life itself seemed eternal?
And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[5]

[1] History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 8: Travel Writing, ed. Jeanne Moskal,19.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Ibid., 22.
[5] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 153

1. AOTW: I can't really think of anyone this week, so I always return to the Default Choice: Daniel Dyer, who, pretty much every day, does something ... regrettable--something AOTWable.

2. This week we finished streaming the Brit series Suspects, which we loved. We had actually stopped the series at one point (when a favorite character departed in most sanguinary fashion), but we eventually picked it up again and were glad we'd done so. Such fine acting and writing and tension. Can't find out if there's going to be another season, though the final we saw certainly paved the way for one.

3. Friday night we went to the Kent Cinema to see Detroit, the latest film by Kathryn Bigelow, who did The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. (Link to trailer for the film.)

The film is based on the Detroit riots of 1967 (was that really fifty years ago?), riots which occurred about the time I had finished my first year of teaching at Aurora Middle School. The film was wrenching to watch--most notably because it's very evident that not much has changed. Far too many people in this country live in poverty--in hopelessness. And when you are hopeless, you will do about anything. (Evidence is abundant, all over the world.) I was surprised to see that the Bad Cop (the worst of them) was played by Will Poulter, whom I first noticed as the sort of likable goofy young man in the 2013 Jason Sudeikis/Jennifer Aniston comedy We're the Millers. Took a bit of getting used to, seeing him play someone so dark and heartless.

To Bigelow's credit, quite a few of the cops (and other law-enforcement professionals) were not the cliched shoot-first-ask-questions-later type. Some were compassionate, determined, professional. (And what an irony at the end when three cops, on trial for murder, etc., raise their Constitutional rights as a defense--the very rights they'd denied the characters whom they brutalized for half the film).

Anyway, it was a good film (not great), very troubling, very disturbing. Don't want to see it again. But glad I saw it once.

A Star Wars character, John Boyega, plays one of the conflicted black security officers.

4. I finished a couple of books this week.

     - The first was (via Kindle) the initial novel about Jack Taylor, The Guards, a novel that initiated a Brit TV series (we've streamed them all), Jack Taylor. Taylor once was a cop (in Ireland--the Garda Síochána in Galway), but was bounced for alcohol problems (problems that continue in The Guards). He's sort of an unofficial private cop now--gets involved in a case here involving suicide, finds out it's not suicide ...  The end reminded me a bit of the end of Farewell, My Lovely, but, hey, not a bad model to follow. (Link to some series footage.)

I enjoyed Bruen's style--and was interested in how he displays conversation on the page. Take a look at this screen shot from the book.
Notice how Bruen puts the dialogue tag (the "he said") part on a separate line from the actual words the person said. Took some getting used to--but I managed! Ended up kind of liking it.

     - The second book I finished this week was The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel, a writer I'd always heard wonderful things about--but had not read all that much. Now I've read them all. She is a talent. Geez. She can write a sentence that just changes things--Karen Russell is the same.

How about this sentence: "In the desert I like to drive through binoculars" ("Going," 53).

I will say, though, that I enjoyed her earlier stories more than her more recent ones. I don't know--it just seems that in the later ones she's become more ... obtuse? Less interested in narrative flow than in moments. This is not a sin, mind you. But it's a matter of a reader's preference. And my preference is for more of a narrative arc ... Old Guys, you know?

BTW: Some of the stories are only a single-sentence long!

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

     - from dictionary.com 

noun [sey-pee-oh-sek-shoo-uh l]
1. a person who finds intelligence to be a sexually attractive quality in others.
1. noting or relating to such a person.
Of course, many people seek an intellectual connection with their partners. But people who identify as sapiosexual often say intellect is the first or most important factor that draws them to another person ...
-- Anna North, "The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual, It's the Brain," New York Times, June 2, 2017
Sapiosexual is modeled on words like homosexual and metrosexual, i.e., it has a short first element that ends in “o” (two syllables for homosexual and metrosexual, three for sapiosexual). The trouble is that for some intelligent people, sapiosexual is an “incorrect” formation: the word “should be” sapientisexual or at least sapientosexual, which are correct but pedantic and unlikely to win many dates for oneself. Some people in the 19th century objected to the new-fangled word scientist because it had a Latin root (scient-) and a Greek suffix (-ist), an objection no longer made. Sapiosexual entered English in 2015.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 353

And perhaps the most moving of the notes I took. In that same letter from her father, Godwin replied to a question from Mary about having, perhaps, some physical memento of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. He said he had reserved for you a ring of hers, with Fanny Blood’s hair set round with pearls.[1]
A couple of things to recall: Fanny Blood was the youthful friend—the best friend—of Mary Wollstonecraft; it was common practice to give to friends a ring made of your own hair. And after death a “mourning ring” was a common token, as well—a ring fashioned from the hair of the departed one. Look online: There are still places that will create them for you; there are scholarly and general-interest articles on the subject.[2] We don’t know what Mary did with this ring … did she wear it? Place it in an honored position?

Mary’s son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, married Jane St. John on June 22, 1848. And the family wealth increased: Jane had £15,000 to contribute. They honeymooned in the Lake District, long associated, of course, with the Romantic Poets. Off and on the Shelleys stayed at Field Place, where Bysshe was born, the family manor which I saw on April 15, 1999 (a visit I recorded earlier in this endless account!).
And then … a most awkward event. Clara Clairmont (the family called her “Clari”), the daughter of Charles Clairmont (who, recall, was Mary’s foster brother—the son of Godwin’s second wife, Mary Jane), came to stay with the Shelleys at Field Place in May 1849. There, Clari met Alexander Knox, one of Sir Percy’s friends from university days. A romance promptly blossomed, and in mid-June the couple married.
Clari’s aunt, of course, was Claire Clairmont, who had joined Bysshe and Mary on their 1814 elopement and had been in and out of Mary’s life ever since (a presence Mary was often not pleased about). Clari and the others had not informed Claire about the wedding, and Clarie was living in Kent, only about sixty-five miles from Field Place. And soon Claire was writing angry, bitter letters. And downright nasty at times, suggesting, even, that Mary and Knox had been lovers![3]

[1] Ibid., 904C
[2] See, for example, this piece from the online National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/
[3] An accusation for which there exists no evidence. See: Seymour, Mary Shelley, 535.