Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Sherlockian Thing

Basil Rathbone as SH
I woke up this morning, sweating and thinking about Sherlock Holmes. I don't think I'd had a dream about him--at least, I don't remember one. But it just occurred to me in the gloaming of sleep that he is ubiquitous these days. Everywhere. I just checked the Oxford English Dictionary, where I see that there are words like Sherlockian (noun and adjective), Sherlocking (verb and gerund), and Sherlock (noun and verb--a detective; detecting). And there's Holmesian (noun and adjective).

The images of Holmes and Watson continue to appear in what we used to call the "funny pages" in the newspaper (remember newspapers?). Right now there are two TV series I know about that feature Holmes: BBC/PBS Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch and and Martin Freeman, a hobbit playing Dr. Watson!) and CBS' Elementary (with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Watson). Both these shows have moved Sherlock, et al. into the present--though the PBS series has played with time a little bit. In Elementary, Sherlock and Watson are consultants to the NYPD.

And then those films by Guy Ritchie--two of them (Sherlock Holmes, 2009; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2011). And the Internet word is that a third film is on the way. I love (almost always) Guy Ritchie's work, so I will be there, wearing my deerstalker. Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson. Sherlock: an action hero--a martial arts nerd.

I actually had a deerstalker hat for a while ... not sure what happened to it. A closet/ Goodwill? My son? Ah, dotage ... nothing quite like it.

And there was another recent film--Mr. Holmes, 2014--with Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf!) as the aging, retired detective and Colin Starkey as Dr. Watson). Holmes, living in the countryside, tending to his bees and flowers, finds himself drawn into a case that takes him back to London.

Okay: comics, TV, movies. And the publishing industry continues to grind out Sherlock-related books--from scholarly works, to new adventures by a variety of authors, to tangentially related topics--like the recent (and very fine) Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation, by Brad Ricca.

I just entered "Sherlock Holmes" into the title line on the search page on Amazon--and got nearly 16,000 hits. Of course, some of those are duplicates--and in foreign languages--etc. But still ...

Of course, there's a museum on Baker St. in London (Baker Street--Holmes' address was supposedly 221B). Link to museum site.

Okay--I'm getting tired. And, besides, there's a whole book about this--Arthur & Sherlock (2017), a book I read and even blogged a bit about not too long ago. Written by Michael Sims.

I'm getting tired; I bet you are, too.

So ... what does all this mean? Well, we, of course, like to think that someone can solve all mysteries; many of us don't like thinking that things happen and that we can't figure out what they are--in other words, the kinds of things that happen all the time in our lives.

Today--in a time of virulent anti-intellectualism in the country (and, I fear, in our government)--I find the Holmes stories and the Holmes character reassuring. There are answers out there!. And, sure, intellectuals are, you know, weirdos; people who study are losers; people who know things don't really know them (Fake!); people who believe in a liberal education are elitist ... you know?

Sherlock Holmes, to me, is a reminder of what study and learning can do. And I grieve for a world that disdains those things ... our world, in other words.

Which is probably why I woke up this morning in a sweat ...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 348

I finished reading Mary’s final book on August 12, 1997. I’m just now taking a look at my journal/diary to see what I was doing that day. It seems it was a somewhat busy time, I find. We had an inspection of our home in Aurora that day—we were about to sell it. I was preparing to teach (part-time) in the fall at Hiram College—its Weekend College program, aimed at older students, people working; my course, required for all, was called Writing in the Liberal Arts (I); there was a II later in the year. All I wrote in my journal about Mary Shelley that day was that I finished typing my notes on Rambles, notes that reached twenty-eight single-spaced pages. And the next day I began reading her father’s great novel Caleb Williams (1794).
I’m a bit surprised that I had nothing to say about completing Mary’s final book. But it was fairly early in my research, and I was moving on to read the works of her father, her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft), her husband, her friends (Byron, Coleridge, et al.). I didn’t realize at the time—not in the summer of 1997 (twenty years ago as I type this!)—that I had reached what should have been a very emotional milestone in my work.
I wonder now if Mary knew that this was the end of something. By this time (the early 1840s) she was no longer writing much in her journal. Very few entries remain from these years—a tiny handful. And the final extended one—from February 26, 1841—is deeply moving, sad to read. This sentence, for example, continues to dampen my eyes: That I might live—as once I lived—hoping—loving—aspiring enjoying—[1]  And, of course, as I advance in years, decline in health, I find that my rages against the dying of the light in many ways harmonize with Mary’s.
Her few surviving letters about the book display a lack of confidence about it. Writing to long-time friend Leigh Hunt in the summer of 1844 (the date is not certain), she says I am really frightened when I think that you are reading my book critically—It seems to me such a wretched piece of work—written much of it in a state of pain that makes me look at its pages now as if written in a dream. … I fear I shall be very much ashamed of it—[2]
But—as we shall see—despite her health, despite her insecurities, she clung fiercely to her intellectual life. Until she simply no longer could.

[1] Journals, 572.
[2] Letters, vol. 3, 146.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Really?!!? 55 YEARS Ago?

There we are ... the mighty class of 1962, Hiram High School, Hiram, Ohio. All that's left of the once formidable early-60s' Huskies! There weren't all that many of us to begin with. A tiny school (my older brother's graduating class, 1959, had about a dozen), Hiram added some kids in the 1958-59 school year when nearby Streetsboro had a problem with its high school and had to send their youngsters around to various other schools in the county. I think we about doubled in size when they arrived. Our class graduation picture from 1962 (see below) shows forty-one of us (if I count correctly). Years later, a teacher, I used to tell my students that I--working so very hard--had graduated tenth in my class. They were impressed--until I added a little fact to the Fake News.

BTW: If you're curious, I'm at the far left. Toward the top. The dork with the National Honor Society pin gleaming on his lapel.

We gathered on Saturday afternoon at the home of Ronnie (now "Ron") at his home in Hiram Township--down near Camp Asbury, once accessible only by a rough dirt Asbury Road, since paved. Oddly in later years, when I was a middle school teacher in nearby Aurora, our sixth graders would spend a week at Camp Asbury. One year, one of those sixth graders was my own son ...

It was a gorgeous afternoon--sunny, mid-seventies. Ronnie and his wife had arranged tables outside in their sprawling yard, and there we gathered ... pretending (in some cases) to recognize one another, eyes straining for the name tags ... (Is it bad if even the name tag doesn't help? Not a sign of imminent dementia or anything, right?)

It was potluck. But I didn't eat--I'd promised to take Joyce out to dinner when I got home--but I sat and sipped coffee and caught up with old friends--and with people I wish I'd been smart enough to know better when I was Young and Stupid (is this redundant?). Bob, a good friend back then who became a prof at Case-Western was there); I hadn't seen him in five years (the previous reunion), and we laughed about ... well, you know. Always good to see Ralph, who's become a good friend on Facebook.

Not many of us, by the way, are on Facebook.

Carla and I have been teasing each other for more than a half-century now (and on it goes!), and Linda was kind to me, as always.

We talked and laughed on through the afternoon--wondered about classmates we haven't seen since the 1960s, told stories about those who couldn't be there, told more stories about those no longer alive (and there are too many of them). We especially talked about our former Coach, Bob Barnhart, who passed away this year. He was a big influence on a lot of us, and I have to say that he changed my high-school life in so many ways--all for the better. He was the Real Thing.

And then it was selfie-time. And pictures and more pictures and more pictures.

And then I drove off toward home, my heart once again throbbing with pleasure, sorrow, regret, nostalgia.

BTW: One of the reasons for the success of such events? No one talked politics. No one--at least in any of the conversations I had. We found, instead, that common community park we share. Where we played ...

On Sunday afternoon, it was Round Two. All the classes of the Hiram Schools (the high school consolidated with nearby Crestwood for the beginning of the 1964-65 academic year) gather each year in July up in Welshfield (five miles north of Hiram) at the community center. There were only a few of us there this time from the Class of 1962 (see below), but I got to talk with some others I'd known pretty well back then. Jim--an older guy I'd played basketball with; Paul, younger, with whom I acted in the musicals his mother directed.

I had to leave quickly, though. It was our son's forty-fifth birthday, and he and his family were coming over later in the afternoon ... had to get home to help.

So once again I drove into the west, Memory seated beside me, whispering ...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 347

Mary also returned to the Vatican; she and Bysshe had been there in March 1819. And now once again, in 1843, she went to the Sistine Chapel to see the ceiling paintings of Michelangelo. They have, she writes, that simple grandeur that Michael Angelo [sic] alone could confer on a single figure, making it complete in itself—enthroned in majesty—reigning over the souls of men.[1]
Then it was on south to Naples, about 135 miles down the western coast of Italy. There, she would again see the ruins of Pompeii. A greater extent of the city has been dug out, she writes, and laid open since I was there before [December 1818], so that it has now much more the appearance of a town of the dead. You may ramble about and lose yourself in the many streets.[2]
“A town of the dead.”
Mary does not say so, but she must have had this feeling in Rome itself—where lay the remains of her husband, her children. Indeed, every place she visited in these journeys—in Germany, in Switzerland, in Italy—must have seemed to her entirely haunted by ghosts of Bysshe, of her youth (and health), of the hope that once reigned in her life, only to sink in a storm-ravaged boat off the coast of Viareggio.
Rambles ends in Naples, ends with these comments: … it is a joy … to see the calm sea spread out at our feet, as we look over the bay of Naples—while above us bends a sky—in whose pure depths ship-like clouds glide—and the moon hangs luminous, a pendant sphere of silver fire.[3]
And thus ends Mary Shelley’s Rambles in Germany and Italy, 1843—the final sentence in the final book she would write. A quarter-century earlier her career had begun with a travel book, History of a Six-Weeks Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, 1817, a year before Frankenstein. And she ended with another travel book, an account that tells of her return to the places that she had adored, the places that had shattered her heart.

[1] Ibid., 232.
[2] Ibid., 279.
[3] Ibid., 296.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 150

1. AOTW: An easy one this week. Some dude--in a hurry--going the wrong way down a one-way street in Hudson. Right at me. How I avoided him I have no idea? Must have been, you know, the consummate driving skills I learned at Hiram High School under the tutelage of Mr. Barnhart--Coach--who, sadly, passed away this year. Coach would have dragged the AOTW out through the window and explained to him--most abruptly--what a ONE-WAY sign means!

2. Yesterday afternoon was a gathering of the mighty Class of 1962 of Hiram High School (RIP) at the Hiram home of classmate Ron Etling (a retired middle-school teacher, just like ... you know?).

You can see the Old Man lurking in the back. I'll write more about all of this later in the week--for there's a come-one-come-all HHS reunion this afternoon at Welshfield--and I'll be heading up to that, too.

3. A couple of movies this week--one on DVD (Netflix), the other at the theater.

     a. Via Netflix we watched Stranger Than Fiction (2006), a film we'd seen back then--but had pretty much forgotten. Will Ferrell--very much under control--plays an OCD IRS agent who begins hearing a voice narrating what he's doing--and that voice turns out to belong to Emma Thompson, a novelist, who is, at the moment, writing his story--a story, Ferrell learns, that will end with his death. Meanwhile, he falls for a baker, Maggie Gyllenhaal, whom he is auditing. Also along for the ride: Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah. Written by Zach Helm , directed by Marc Forester. Link to film trailer.

Both of us loved this film: a bright script--great performances--many surprises (something I love in a film!).

     b. On Friday night we went to the Kent Cinemas to see The Big Sick, which we also both liked a lot. A whole lot. It's a story about inter-cultural love (based on a true story--in the closing credits we see some photos of the "real" people involved) and about how love just doesn't always conform to what others want for you. Again--a bright and clever script (that was a bit too long, I fear) and some excellent, understated performances by the principals. Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, who also plays the male lead. Link to film trailer. Great to see Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play the parents of the woman in the lead, Zoe Kazan.

4. I finished a couple of books this week.

     a. The first was a collection of essays by Jonathan Lethem, a writer whose books I've really enjoyed reading over the years (he's principally a novelist). This collection he's called More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers, 2017,  and includes pieces that date back to the late 80s--though most are more recent. Lethem enjoys fantasy (more than I do), so a number of these pieces are about writers I don't know very well, but I was particularly affected by his essays about Thomas Berger (1924-2014), whose novels I've loved since I first read his Little Big Man (1964). There are more than twenty other novels--and I've read them all! (Joyce taught LBM way back in her earliest years as a grad assistant at KSU.) Anyway, Berger and Lethem never met--but they carried on a long and increasingly affectionate correspondence, and when Berger died, he left instructions that allowed Lethem to go through his library and take what he wanted. Lethem's account of this was a highlight for me.

There are other essays on Bob Dylan, Rod Serling, Steven Millhauser (another great favorite of mine), and numerous others. So glad I read this ...

     b. The second was a dense but enlightening collection of essays by Siri Hustvedt--A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women (2016). I've read a lot of Hustvedt's works (not all)--and I've greatly enjoyed the work of her husband, Paul Auster (one of my favorites). Hustvedt, who also writes novels, has a Ph.D. in English from Columbia U and lectures on psychiatry. These pieces--many of which were originally lectures/speeches she gave at various academic conferences--are textually very complex and rich (and, okay, beyond me at times!).

The subjects range from gender issues, to the workings of the brain, including memory and emotions and rational thought. Though many of the pieces are academic in nature (numerous quotations from the work of other scholars, etc.), Hustvedt has a graceful, powerful way of stating her principal points. Here are a few I liked ...

  • "The Patriarchs disappoint us. They do not see, and they do not listen" (32). 
  • "Every book that changes me becomes me" (78).
  • "... the literate brain is very different from the illiterate brain" (102).
  • "Good ideas regularly go missing, and bad ideas often win the day" (159).
  • "Reading is as close as we get to being two conscious people at once" (310).
I could go on and on. I had to read this book slowly--and accept that I just wasn't going to get everything. But what I did get? Illuminating moments--even thrilling at times.

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

     - uptalk  noun [uhp-tawk]

1. a rise in pitch at the end usually of a declarative sentence, especially if habitual: often represented in writing by a question mark as in Hi, I'm here to read the meter?
Uptalk, the researchers found, could also serve a strategic purpose through a technique known as "floor-holding," in which the speaker, anticipating an interruption by the listener, tries to stave it off by using a rising tone at the end of a statement.
-- Jan Hoffman, "Overturning the Myth of Valley Girl Speak," New York Times, December 23, 2013

Uptalk is a linguistic term for an intonation pattern in which a declarative sentence ends in a rising pitch like a question. The phenomenon was first noted especially among teenage girls and young women, though it is used among the general population. Uptalk entered English in the early 1990s.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dyer v. E. E. Cummings

Not long ago--a couple of weeks?--I posted here about how I'd decided to memorize a LONG poem by E. E. Cummings, a poem that Joyce, via Facebook (!), introduced to me--and to her many "friends"--on Father's Day.

It's seventeen quatrains long. (See entire text below.)

I had never read it before--never heard of it before. But it is (duh!) about fathers--about the father of the speaker of the poem. And it's a gorgeous piece of work, one whose meanings gradually have emerged (and are continuing to emerge) the more time I spend with it.

It took me about a month of effort to shoehorn it into my memory, and just this morning I recited it for Joyce (a couple of stumbles, errors), but I got through it--and earned a kiss (always worth memorizing a poem!).

Edward Estlin Cummings. 1894-1962. (He died in my first freshman term at Hiram College.)

A few years ago (2014), I reviewed for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Susan Cheever's biography whose image you see below. And I'd also read the one you see at the top of the page (2004).

And in that biography I read this horrible story about the death of his father--November 2, 1926. Cummings' parents--Edward (a Harvard professor and minister) and Elizabeth--were returning home after a social event (in New Hampshire) when a blinding snowstorm swept in.

Rebecca was driving, but her visibility was impaired. Edward finally persuaded Rebecca to stop so that he could clear the windshield. He then got back in the car and Rebecca drove on. "Some minutes later," according to Cummings, "a locomotive cut the car in half (Sawyer-Laucanno, 305).

Edward died instantly; Rebecca survived.

So ... given those circumstances, the poem has an entirely new resonance. Even if the speaker of the poem is not in every sense E. E. Cummings, the affection for the father pulsates with loss in virtually every line.

The poem--named only "34" in Cummings' 1940 collection, 50 Poems--appears in a number of places, including Complete Poems: 1904-1962 (Liveright, 1983), where I found an error when I was making sure that the online text was accurate (I've been burned a couple of times by assuming the online version is!). The ninth stanza, in the book, is missing its ultimate line: His pity was as green as grain.

Anyway, I know it now--and I also know that I will have to rehearse it--silently silently!--pretty much every day so that it doesn't just blow away, like a yard decoration--or a life--in a blizzard.

And--again--I thank Joyce for showing me the poem. So many wonders of the world have first come to me on her breath, in her hands.


my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

Friday, July 14, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 346

In March 1843, Mary and her party sailed from Rome aboard a small but well-built and quick steamer.[1] Once again she was returning to a place she and Bysshe had lived—the spring of 1819, when she discovered that she was once again pregnant. I found it odd that when they passed Leghorn—on whose beach Trelawny and others had cremated the drowned remains of her husband, Edward Williams, and Charles Vivian in July 1822—she mentioned nothing, save this: The view from the sea near Leghorn is not sufficiently praised.[2] Perhaps her mild retreat here into the passive voice indicates her choice to withdraw?
Their arrival in Rome could hardly have been more portentous: She and the others noticed that the Romans all seemed to be looking heavenward. So Mary looked. A comet. According to observers, it was visible in broad daylight and it remained visible after nightfall for a while longer. Its brilliance earned a named—The Great Comet of 1843 or Great March Comet—and if you want to see it again, it’ll return some 513 years after Mary saw it.[3]
Mary was very impressed with the comet’s appearance in Rome—although it was already past its prime. She writes of a long trail of glowing light … it is bright, yet the stars shine through its web-like texture, which, composed of thin beams, is stretched out, and you may see delicate sea-weeds—or aquatic plants in a stream, though a large space of the heavens.[4]
In Rome, Mary and the others toured, again, the most popular sites, even today; she notes that the Coliseum remains a favorite, especially the view from it of the Pyramid of Cestius, which, no coincidence, stands right outside the Protestant Cemetery, the place where lie Bysshe, their son (William, three and a half, who died in June 1819), and John Keats. (Trelawny’s remains would journey there, too, and he now lies near Bysshe.) Mary mentions none of this—only to say that this view is one I am never tired of contemplating.[5]

[1] Ibid., 213.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Gary W. Kronk, Comets: A Descriptive Catalog (Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1984) , 35–6.
[4] Rambles, 214–15.
[5] Ibid., 226.

Great Comet 1843
Pyramid of Caius Cestius, Rome