Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 112

1. AOTW--This week I'm giving a collective award to an unknown (though large) number of you who seem to have formed a pact--or an organization: Let's Make Dyer Brake Hard This Week (LMDBHTW). It seemed to be once a day--or even more--that a member of LMDBHTW pulled out in front of me from a driveway or side street, turned left right in front of my face--often with no one behind me as far as the rear-view mirror could see. So, you unknown members of LMDBHTW, congratulations on being the first group AOTW (I think).

2. Last night, Joyce and went to Kent to see Star Trek Beyond, a film we both enjoyed (mostly). (Link to film trailer.) Both of us have become ever-more bored with the explosions, the Enterprise breaking apart, the endless battles and shooting and killing, but we like the interplay among a really engaging group of characters. I noticed that the script was co-written by Simon Pegg, whose films we've always loved (and laughed at). Pegg, who plays Scotty in these recent Trek reboots, is known for his Hot Fuzz and other wacko films that we love watching.

3. This week I finished the final novel published by John A. Williams (1925-2015), whose obituary last year in the New York Times alerted me to this very fine writer, of whom, I'm ashamed to admit, I'd never heard until that death notice. Anyway, I set out to remedy this by reading some of his work--ended up reading almost all of it. I did read all of his novels--as well as a couple of his nonfiction works. I may read more of the latter in the coming weeks/months, but now I'm hooked on Richard Russo and am plowing through his considerable pastures.

Here's a list of the ones I read (edited from his Wikipedia entry):

The Angry Ones (1960)
Night Song (1961)
Sissie (1963)
The Man Who Cried I Am (1967)
Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969)
Captain Blackman (1975)
Mothersill and the Foxes (1975)
The Junior Bachelor Society (1976)
!Click Song (1982)
The Berhama Account (1985)
Jacob's Ladder (1987)
Clifford's Blues (1998)

This Is My Country Too (1965)

Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing (1973)

There are also some TV show and movies based on his work (I've got copies), and when I watch them, I'll write about them here.

Meanwhile, his final novel (Clifford's Blues), takes place almost entirely in the Nazi camp at Dachau, where the eponymous Clifford Pepperidge, a gifted black jazz pianist (Williams loved jazz, wrote about it often), is confined in 1933 because of homosexuality. While he's there, Clifford keeps a secret journal, whose entries compose virtually the entire text. There is a frame story: The journal has been found, and in two letters (one at the beginning, one at the end) a character named "Bounce" writes to a friend, telling him (and us) about the journal, which "Bounce" has enclosed.

The entries begin on May 28, 1933, and end on April 28, 1945 (Dachau was liberated about that time).

While Clifford is there, a bi-sexual Nazi officer takes him into his household. Clifford plays piano for the Nazis (and provides other required services for his horror of a host). But he is able to avoid the far greater horrors suffered by the general camp population.

We learn about survival, race, sexuality, jazz, hope and hopelessness.

I won't tell you the end.

By the way, I visited and toured the site of Dachau, now a memorial and museum, during a trip through Germany in the spring of 1999. There's a McDonald's across the street.

I loved reading Williams' works, loved discovering the wide dimensions of his talent and interests. There's an NPR story about this (after his death) that says he "might be one of the most prolific writers most people have never heard of." This was certainly true for me. But no longer. (Link to NPR story.)

As far as I know, there is no full-length biography of Williams--a couple of short scholarly ones (I have them both--and will read later and report)--but I trust someone is at work on a fuller treatment of the life and writing of this most remarkable writer and man.

4. We're nearly finished (thanks to Netflix DVD) with the six episodes of The Brain, which ran on PBS in 2015. Episode 5, which we watched last night, deals with a disturbing capacity of our brain: to categorize and hate. David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist and writer and host, takes us to Nazi Germany and to Yugoslavia to see the disastrous results of this neurological phenomenon. He shows us studies that reveal how people (we!) categorize and condemn and consider less than human so many others--and we do it, often, below our awareness. Prof. Eagleman says it's "propaganda" that can solidify this capacity, can make us join together with others to ostracize and/or slaughter those who are not like us--something we've done throughout our existence on the planet. Genocide shows no signs of abating. Eagleman says that psychology and politics and history and philosophy and sociology are very helpful ways to look at the issue--but we need to look at the neuroscience, too. We can do something about it. The answer lies within.

5. A couple of words/expressions:

a. In the Sunday newspaper, Joyce read the expression on the lam, and that got us both scratching our heads--and picking up our smart phones. Turns out: lam is based on a word from Old Norse that meant beat (think: Let's beat it!--meaning get out of here).  The OED says it entered US slang about 1896 (on the lam). Now, I think, it seems confined to old gangster novels and movies!

b. Propaedeutic was on one of my tear-off word-a-day calendars this week, and I love the word, but I'd never seen it before (as far as I can remember). Not sure how I'll find a way to work it into my own writing ... but I'm a-gonna try! But I'm so slow I may never get past the propaedeutic of reading the calendar?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's a Check?

I used to have a Friday night ritual--every other Friday night. I would sit at my grandmother's old desk (which we still have--it had once been my great-grandfather's), open the old checkbook, and begin writing checks to pay my bills. I also had, of course, a roll of postage stamps, a supply of envelopes (for those creditors too stingy to supply one), a built-in stamp-and-envelope licker, and the certain knowledge that nearly an hour would pass before I finished. Next morning, I would put all the envelopes in the mailbox to be picked up. Years and years and years of that.

(BTW: When Joyce and I completed our Ph.D.s in the late 1970s, we promptly ordered checks that said "Dr." on them. This impressed no one, confused many, so we stopped doing it. When my middle school students learned I was now "Dr.," they wondered what that meant; I told them I was the useless kind.)

And why alternating Fridays, you ask? (I know: You didn't ask--just a rhetorical device, you know? Yes, I know: Maybe you don't know it's a rhetorical advice, in which case you ought ... never mind.) Well, for much of my teaching career I got paid every other Friday, thus assuring me that I would (probably) be able to pay my bills. Direct deposit shortened the process, too--no trip to the bank to make an after-hours deposit, dropping the endorsed check and deposit slip in the "night deposit" slot. (No ATMs, not in those dreary days.)

Anyway, by the 1990s things were beginning to change. I bought one of the earliest forms of Quicken--still a DOS (disk operating system) program, not Windows--and was soon using Quicken Billpay to send checks and/or electronic payments for me. My Friday nights changed--and dramatically so. We actually went to a movie now and then, a bookstore (remember them?).

Soon, banks were offering their own bill-pay services (I use mine for a few things), and many creditors/suppliers were offering online payment options, sometimes automatic (I use some of them).

And nowadays, I very, very rarely write a personal check. Instead, Quicken (I'm now using Quicken 2016) and the bank and the online companies do it all, and Grandma's desk stands at the head of our stairs (see picture), where I could not really use it even if I needed to.

It has become, more or less, an artifact. A horse-drawn buggy tied up outside a computer store.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"This body that does me grievous wrong ...."

Coleridge said that.* And he should know. By the time he died at the age of 61 in 1834, his (body) was a mess--bloated, addicted to opium. No more could he walk for hours--or climb mountains (which he'd gleefully done earlier.) I've now outlived Coleridge. And Keats and Shelley (both the poet and his wife, Mary). And Lord Byron. And Stephen Crane. And all sorts of other celebrities, literary and otherwise, including Billy the Kid.

But as I arise each morning now, I wonder: What will go wrong today?

So many of my systems are in, well, stress that I sometimes feel like the Enterprise (the starship), under fire, things flying around all over the place, crew hanging onto things, hoping the filmmakers will get them out of it alive. Most of them will survive the attack; you and I ain't gonna.

Among the most annoying side-effects of my combination of age and illness and medication is the stunning loss of energy, a loss that commenced a little over three years ago when I received my first injection of Lupron (to retard the growth of my determined prostate cancer cells, loose somewhere in my body, bent on taking up residence in my bones).

It was only days--maybe weeks, not too sure--before I began to notice the dramatic appeal of The Afternoon Nap. And the abrupt decline of the energy I used to have in abundance. I'm not sure I can do even half of what I used to three years ago. And when I overdo it (behaving as if Lupron were just a rumor), I pay a dear price.

This week I tried/did too much. There were two family birthdays and some other events that I wanted so much to do. And so I did them. And when I woke up this morning, my body said, Just who do you think you are?!?!? Then snickered sadistically as I struggled to my feet, determined to get something done today before I surrender to Mr. Nap later on.

I have to learn to say "No"--but it's so difficult for me. There are so many things I want to do ...

I think now of the things I did as a younger man--husband, father, teacher, play director, writer, etc.--doing all of it with the dumb aplomb of someone totally unaware of age and mortality.

In one of her sonnets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, never so dumb as I, says ...

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.

I'll disagree only this far: We may, as she says, know that "worse than that must follow," but we don't really know it, many/most of us. We don't really feel it applies to us--until it does (at whatever age). Not until we begin waking up and feeling the difficulty of the struggle, today, to do the things we love to do, to be (again) the person we yearn to be. And once were.

Today, so far, I'm "winning." I might even make it out to the health club this afternoon (maybe not--NAP, NAP, NAP?). And I am surpassingly grateful for what I can still do--and be. And I will, for the nonce, continue to try to silence the terror that's shouting in my face.

To help me, I'll think of poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and John Updike, both of whom wrote and edited on their hospital death beds. That, my friends, is the courage I seek. And that we all need.

*in his poem "Youth and Age" (link)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When a fancy word fits ...

The word-of-the-day from the Oxford English Dictionary today (see below) rang too many bells in my memory today. No, I have no memory of ever having seen this word--autoschediastic (pronounced aw-toh-skid-ee-ASS-tik)--but its meaning(s) hit a bit too close to home. The foundation shook; the furniture trembled; Mr. Guilt emerged from the dark basement where I try (and fail) to confine him; Satan smiled his I'm-waiting-for-you smile--all of that stuff.

When I was in secondary school--beginning in 7th grade (Hiram Schools; Hiram, Ohio)--I somehow slipped from caring (a bit) about my schoolwork. I had found other interests; sports, girls, sports, girls--a lengthy list. And even when I (my physical self) was not at some sort of athletic practice--or in the presence of girls--my mind was. I was picturing heroic ninth-inning hits (and/or defensive plays); with girls, I was imagining ... never mind ... this is a family-friendly blog.

These activities and obsessions consumed most--okay, all--of my energy, leaving little (none) for schoolwork.

And so I rarely read the assignments, did math problems until they got too ... cerebral (this did not take long), wrote my themes (the word we used then for essays) with word-processor speed in the era before word-processors (we all turned in handwritten themes; I don't remember anyone who deigned to type). For me, rough draft and final draft were synonyms. We once had a teacher (I think it was Mrs. Browning in 9th grade) who required us to turn in an outline with our themes; I wrote my outline after I'd done the writing. (It was only then that I'd figured out what I was doing/had done.)

And plagiarism?

Well.  In 7th grade geography class (bless dear Mrs. Nichols) we had, from time to time, to turn in reports on countries. I remember I did Ecuador for South America (I was stunned--stunned--to learn that it's Ecuador where Panama hats were made), and my report on Ecuador--as did the others I wrote for that class--bore a striking resemblance to the text in the World Book Encyclopedia. This was no coincidence, I will confess. I actually wrote "like" the World Book throughout junior high; no teacher ever said "Boo"--though I was sometimes alarmed to discover that the World Book authors got a B on my report.

As I began high school (I had signed up for the "college-prep" classes: Latin I and Algebra I--that's right: We did Algebra I in 9th grade then, not fourth), I started doing a little more work, so much so that Mrs. Nichols (yes, the same geography teacher, who also taught math courses) told me after a month or so that she'd heard I was doing "twice the work" I'd done in 8th grade. I was happy about that--until some years later when I remembered that 2 x 0 = 0. Still, it was nice of her.

Aside: When I began my own teaching career at the nearby Aurora Middle School in the fall of 1966, Mrs. Nichols, near the end of her career, was teaching at Aurora High School. She was extraordinarily nice to me (feigned ignorance of my secondary-school ways), and I could NEVER call her "Esther"; she remained "Mrs. Nichols" for me.

Gradually, over the years, my work became less and less autoschediastic--due to the influence of some wonderful college professors (yep, I'm talking about you, Professor Ravitz!) and grad-school profs and, most notably, my wife, Joyce, who's never for a second in her life been autoschediastic (she still isn't).

Now, I'm quite the opposite of my junior-high self. As I noted on FB last spring, I wrote more than twenty drafts of a speech I delivered up at Western Reserve Academy (about three blocks form my house). So, I see, I have made the transition from one who is autoschediastic to one who is, well, anal and OCD.

But, in the basement, in a box, is a set of the World Book, a set dated in the 1950s. Temptation remains close at hand ...

autoschediastic, n. and adj.
Pronunciation:  Brit.       /ˌɔːtə(ʊ)skɛdɪˈastɪk/ , U.S.  /ˌɔdəskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɔdoʊskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɑdəskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɑdoʊskɛdiˈæstɪk/
Forms:  16 autoschediastick, 16 autoschediastique, 18– autoschediastic.
Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Partly a borrowing from Greek. Etymons: Latin autoschediasticus; Greek αὐτοσχεδιαστικός.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin autoschediasticus...
†A. n. Something done on the spur of the moment or without preparation; an extemporized piece of work. Obs. rare.
1641   Bp. J. Hall Surv. Protestation Protested To Rdr. sig. A2,   The birth how mean soever was nigh strangled in the cradle: Take it as it is, an autoschediastick.
1658   T. Flatman Naps upon Parnassus sig. B5v_ (heading)    An autoschediastique.
 B. adj.  Written, composed, etc., on the spur of the moment; extemporized, hastily improvised.
1809   Gentleman's Mag. July 616/2   There is an autoschediastic poetry, which may be regarded as the mere natural product, and the effusion of an inspiring passion.
1823   S. Parr Wks. (1828) VII. 159   Remember, the verses are merely autoschediastic.
1838   T. De Quincey Brief Appraisal Greek Lit. in Tait's Edinb. Mag. Dec. 765/1   The manner of the combat is autoschediastic or extemporaneous, and to meet a hurried occasion.
1979   C. James Pillars of Hercules i. vii. 93   He conjured from the gold strings of his harp An autoschediastic lilt of love.

2002   Age (Melbourne) (Nexis) 16 Dec. (Culture) 1   The closer you get to your deadline, the more autoschediastic..your work becomes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When I Can't Find That One Damn Book ...

I've never been too good at finding lost things. When I was a boy (10? 11?), I lost a Timex I'd gotten for my birthday. Gray band. I loved the thing (though apparently not enough to keep track of it). One day it was just ... gone.

Not long afterward, going through my parents' things while they were away (everyone has done that, right?), I found it in one of my mother's dresser drawers. Apparently, she'd put it aside for that day when I would be mature enough to remember how to keep track of important things.

I don't think I'm there yet, Mom.

Just yesterday I lost a favorite ballpoint pen. I checked my coffee shop hangouts (nope), the car (nope), assorted impossible places (nope). So I had to pop for another one.

But the thing that's really annoying me right now is the loss/misplacement of a key book that I need--and I need it right now.

It's called Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, a book I read a number of years ago (okay, nearly two decades ago) when I was smokin' in the Full Fire of my obsession with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. As I've been writing, now and then, on this blog, Mary and Fanny Wright met in 1827 (nearly a decade after Frankenstein) when Fanny tried to convince Mary to go to America with her (the reasons I will get into later in a subsequent blog post).

I've been writing in that blog series ("Frankenstein Sundae," a VERY ROUGH DRAFT of a memoir about chasing Mary, et al.) about this meeting, but for the life of me I cannot find that book, though I know it has sat on my Mary shelves behind me, staring at me for nearly twenty years.

And more annoying? I have notes on the book ... but, of course, I need the whole thing now to double-check some details.

After some desultory days of checking for it--all places possible and impossible--I've given up and have just now ordered the (damn) book from Amazon. So ... "Frankenstein Sundae" will be on hiatus until then.

And I know one thing with absolute certainty: Moments after I unpackage the new copy, the old one will announce itself and somehow re-appear in the most obvious spot I've checked a thousand times.

But I will handle that maturely, with the dignity befitting a 71-year-old man--a husband, father, grandfather.

And then I will scream naughty words that will bring Joyce running ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Off the Handle ...

On Sunday, I attended my fifty-fourth high school reunion (more about this on Sunday next), and a few of us from the classes of 1962 and 1963 were reminiscing about our old Latin, English, German teacher, Mr. Brunelle, who had a bit of a temper. I used the expression flying off the handle, and, later, thinking about that expression, I realized I wasn't quite sure where it came from.

The sources I checked all agreed: It refers to the head of an ax soaring away from the handle, an event I actually experienced back in the day when we had a wood-burning stove in our living room. Scary.

One of the first reference books I acquired as a young teacher was Why You Say It by Webb B. Garrison, 1955, an old orange paperback that I still consult now and again. Here's the entry for flying off the handle:

American pioneers had so few tools that they valued each highly. But apart from the rifle a frontiersman treasured his ax more than any other device he owned.

There were few blacksmiths on the margin of civilization, and most axes were shipped in from the East, where they were made by hand. Machine-made handles were unknown; each woodsman whittled his own from oak, hickory, or gum. Crudely fitted to the stock, a poorly balanced ax was hard to use. It had a way of working loose. Then, at the precise moment its owner made a particularly hard swing, it was likely to fly off the handle and into the underbrush.

Few occurrences were more vexatious. It is easy to picture an angry axman throwing down the handle, recalling his most vigorous profanity, and indulging in a grand display of rage. Such fits of anger were so commonly associated with the loss of an ax that a person showing such rage from any cause was said to fly off the handle (24-25).

Well, this is entertaining--a bit speculative--but probably generally accurate, as well. The earliest reference in the OED, by the way, is from 1832--a Cincinnati newspaper!


I got on a query on a recent post about the expression highfalutin'.  Here it is ...

A quick question about the word "highfalutin:" could it be that rarely used words change meaning less often than commonly used words? I am thinking of words of my generation... Wicked, sick, nice, and savage. These words, undergoing semantic change, now remind us of how great something is rather than how negative it is.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

And it made me think, too, of words that live, then die, even within our own lifetimes--like (in mine) rabbit ears (to refer to a TV-top antenna), filmstrip projector (a device for showing ... filmstrips), and on and on. Most, of course, are related to technology, which, as we know, is now changing so rapidly that devices are in and out in a heartbeat--e.g., floppy disks.

One of the literary passages I like to use to illustrate the evanescence of such terms is from The Taming of the Shrew. The servant Biondello rushes in to tell everyone how Petruchio is arriving for his own wedding (late, of course) aboard a very bizarre horse, one that's diseased and otherwise ... troubled. Everyone in the Globe understood what he was talking about in the 1590s; only Elizabethan scholars could possibly understand this today; it's one of the most heavily annotated passages in modern editions of Shrew. Here it is ...

his horse hipped with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred; besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine; troubled with the lampass, infected with the fashions, full of wingdalls, sped with spavins, rayed with yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, swayed in the back and shoulder-shotten; near-legged before and with, a half-chequed bit and a head-stall of sheeps leather which, being restrained to keep him from stumbling, hath been often burst and now repaired with knots .... (3.2).

Few literary passages make me feel more ignorant ... annoys me ... maybe I'll fly off the handle?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to Seidman Cancer Center ...

Seidman Cancer Center
Orange Place
Beachwood, OH
Monday morning ...

Later this morning, Joyce and I will drive up to Seidman Cancer Center in Beachwood for my quarterly visit with my oncologist. We're a month late, though: He was out of town and had to cancel our scheduled visit in June; still, I did drive up then to "enjoy" my quarterly injection of Lupron, a drug that has been keeping my determined, relentless prostate cancer from metastasizing--from overwhelming my system.

I've been on Lupron for three years now, a drug that has some unpleasant side effects (emotions on the surface, weariness, periodic heavy sweating, depression, the killing of all libido), but for most of those three years it's done its job: kept my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) in the "undetectable" range. Pre-Lupron, the cancer had already begun its move into my bones, but the Lupron put that on hold for the nonce, so that has been worth the side-effects. Almost.

But Lupron is only a temporary fix, not a cure. Eventually, some cancer cells begin to resist the drug (which kills testosterone, the "food" of the cancer), and soon they're merrily reproducing again. My PSA became detectable again last September--a very low .01. From that point on I've been getting monthly (rather than quarterly) PSA blood tests.My doctor is monitoring me more closely. Of course, I should have no PSA because my prostate gland was removed in surgery back in June 2005. Still, right before the Lupron, it had soared to 22.9--this, after it had fallen to nearly zero after my 30 radiation treatments in January 2009.

Now, steadily, my number has been climbing again. My most recent test--last week--was 2.9. Nothing too alarming yet--but, of course, it's not going down. My oncologist at University Hospitals (a physician I like very much) has told me the next step is Bicalutamide, a daily pill whose side-effects are similar to Lupron's (Bi. also attacks testosterone). And I will remain on Lupron, as well. I'm not sure if these side-effects will intensify ... this is one of the things I'll ask my doctor later this morning. (Link to info about Bicalutamide.)

I'm not sure he's going to put me on that new drug just yet--another thing I'll learn later.

I'll post a little more when we get back this afternoon ...

1:40 p.m. 

At last we're back; we've had a little lunch; I'm feeling (not a little) like a NAP. We didn't notice any heavier traffic as we headed north on I-271, though there were state flags on a few of the bridges (RNC, I would guess).

They were very prompt this morning--got right in--though I then had to fill out some enormous online survey about how I was doing (psychologically, etc.). I was annoyed by the time it was over, for many of the questions I found impossible to answer (you know--On the scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate ...?).

My oncologist was encouraging, saying my PSA is low--though, obviously rising. But he's going to suspend the monthly PSA tests, and I'll go back to a quarterly cycle for a while. I'll see him again early in September. That was good news.

He also told me that the Bicalutamide might cause a few extra heat-suffusions (I don't use the term flashes--because it's not a "flash," not for me--just a steady realization that I'm filling with heat, like a sponge with water. Nothing flashy about it). But otherwise the new drug--when I start it--should not cause anything else too noticeable. That was good news.

It took another twenty minutes to schedule my next appointment ... then ... we were out of there.

So now I can relax a little until the last week in August or so--at which time I'll start worrying again about the imminent PSA test ... and about all of the rest of it. But, for now, a breather ...