Dawn Reader

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Poe in Pages

Yesterday, I wrote a few words about how Poe's stories have made it into film; coincidentally, in the mail yesterday came a gift from my older brother, a DVD of the 1915 silent film The Raven.  (After I watch it, I'll write a bit about it, as well.)

But today I wanted to write a little about Poe's appearances in the pages of others--especially in recent years.  Below, a list of some of the ones I've read--and I'm betting there are others I don't know of.

1999: Harold Schechter, Nevermore.  This one unites Poe with ... Davy Crockett!  Poe's journal, the Southern Literary Messenger, has panned Crockett's book; Davy wants an apology.  Soon, they've joined forces to solve a mystery.

2004: Andrew Taylor, An Unpardonable Crime, takes place while Poe, a boy, is in England with the Allans. And back into his life comes his father, David Poe, who disappeared shortly after he was born. (We have no idea whatever about the fate of  David Poe, a minor stage actor; he has vanished from history.)

2006: Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye, a mystery story involving Poe while he was at West Point.  Poe joins forces with a retired NYC constable to solve a hanging, a missing corpse, a heart removed from a body.  (Sounds appropriately Poe-ish, doesn't it?)  I enjoyed this one a lot.

2006.  Matthew Pearl, The Poe Shadow.  Pearl deals with the mysterious death of Poe (and actually unearthed a few factual things about it that had escaped academic researchers).  Into the story comes one of Poe's fictional creations, the detective C. Auguste Dupin, star of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Poe's other two detective stories. Pearl imagines Dupin taking on the case of Poe's death.

2007.  Joel Rose, The Blackest Bird, a novel about the murder of Mary Rogers, the case that Poe later transformed into "The Mystery of Marie Roget."  (There is another recent book--nonfiction--about that case: The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder, by Daniel Stashower, 2006.)  There's also the actual case of J. C. Colt involved here.  Joel Rose did a tremendous amount of research on Poe, on 19th century NYC--a good book.

2008.  In Joyce Carol Oates' story collection (Wild Nights!) is a story "Poe Posthumous; or, The Light-House."  Oates imagines Poe waking up at a lighthouse, where he gradually figures out his situation--and fate. Maddened by loneliness, Poe says "I have become, in this infernal place, a coil of guts with teeth at one end, and an anus for excretion at the other" (29).  Appealing images!  By the way, "The Light-House" was an unfinished short story Poe was working on when he died.  It, like Oates' story, uses diary entries for the narrative.

2011.  Mat Johnson, Pym: A Novel.  A recently fired professor discovers a manuscript that suggests that Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was based on fact.  So off goes the prof (as profs are wont to do) to check it out.  He and crew go to the South Pole, down in the abyss, where--amazing!--they find Pym, still carrying on ... and some surprising stuff going on down there under the ice.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quoth the raven ...

The new film The Raven (with John Cusak playing a sort of action-hero Poe) opened this weekend, and how could I not go see it?  After all, I am one of Poe's myriad biographers (link: Poe Biography), and I often taught Poe to students both in middle and high school.  I've memorized "The Raven" and a handful of other Poe poems.

Poe's great stories have had a hard history on the screen.  Usually, they're low-budget and even lower quality.  IMDB lists about 200 titles.  Many I've seen; all are forgettable and regrettable for one reason or another. And here's one idea: Although blood and gore do occasionally decorate Poe's fiction, it's what's going on in the troubled mind that most interests him.  In "The Tell-Tale Heart," for example, Poe does not show us the murder of the old man; we do not see the beating heart under the floorboards (if, indeed, it's even there).  Instead, we wander around in the mind of a madman.

The same is true in any number of the other stories.  In "The Cask of Amontillado" we don't see the body behind the wall years later.  Again--we're inside a most interesting (and mad) intelligence.  There are exceptions.  In his last story, "Hop-Frog," we do see the screaming, roasting royal party.  And I'm sure you can come up with other exceptions.  But Poe was most interested, as I've said, in charting our psychological geography.

Which is hard to show in a movie.  And so the films tend to focus on the viscera--and usually have to add quite a lot to what Poe provided.  For example, in The Raven there's a killer running around committing murders that mirror those Poe has written about.  (The same plot device as The Dante Club, by the way.)  One killing is similar to "The Pit and the Pendulum"; the filmmakers show us the workings of that device (and its effects on the human torso) far more graphically that did Poe--for in his story, the nameless victim escapes.

The filmmakers of The Raven did a lot of research.  They knew that Poe went to West Point (where he was court-martialed and dismissed); they knew about the enmity of Rufus Griswold (who gets his in the film--though he actually outlived Poe and trashed his reputation); they knew about Poe's bitterness toward Longfellow (whom he accused over and over of plagiarism, bemusing Longfellow, who later helped Poe's family with a financial donation); they knew about the death of Virginia Poe.  They seemed to know, as well, that Jules Verne was an admirer (Verne wrote a sequel to Pym, by the way.)  And on and on.

So any deviations from fact in the film (and there are many) are intentional, not careless.  I wondered why they altered Poe's facial hair for the film?  Why they didn't give him a Virginia accent?  Why did they show the name "Edgar Allan Poe" on one of his books (he never used that name on publications)?  Why did they show him firing down drinks with abandon when, in all likelihood, he was a "quick drunk"--a little alcohol hurting him grievously?  Why they had Poe declare he'd never written a story about a sailor?  (He has several sea stories--including his only completed novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.)

And, of course, the character of the young woman is totally fictional.  After his wife, Virginia, died, Poe freaked--pursuing/proposing to three different women--simultaneously.  None worked out.

The film shows him slumped on a Baltimore park bench.  Nope--that didn't happen.  But other details about the death are accurate.

So, what does all this mean?  Well, filmmakers can do what they want.  Their principal goals are to entertain and thereby make money.  The Raven is not really all that frightening; there are some ludicrous moments; there are some plot problems (where does our killer get his money? how does he know what Poe will wear to the masked ball? etc.?).

But it was kind of fun to watch just to see what they would do with history, with biography.  They clearly had some fun.  But I'm guessing that audiences will not flock like ravens to see it.

And I also am guessing that filmmakers will continue using his stories for a long time--or, as the Raven said, "Evermore."  (I know--it's Nevermore ... just chill.)

PS--Poe has also inspired all sorts of written, not just cinematic, fiction.  Some information about that tomorrow ...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

And at the movies ...

I've always loved the movies.  Always.  Can't remember when I didn't.

Chief Theater in Enid
In Enid, Oklahoma, where I grew up, there were four theaters downtown (the Chief, the Sooner, the Cherokee, the Esquire) and two drive-ins (the Trail, the Enid).  All are gone now.  Downtown, the buildings stand but are used for other things; the last time I was in Enid (oh, a half-dozen years ago), the Trail was disintegrating, neglected, waiting for a Shelley to arrive and give it some lines to elevate it to the significance of Ozymandias.  (Ain't gonna happen.)

Saturday mornings were for the movies downtown.  Our parents would drive us down--or we would hop on the bus across from my grandparents' house (10 cents), and off we'd go.

For a while, one of the theaters had a special: free admission for two Royal Crown bottle caps, so my friends and I would check the ground outside the local J & J Grocery for them.  People often just popped off the cap, let it lie where it fell.

The Saturday morning movie-trip was no minor thing.  For those two bottle caps (or, if no special, for 10 cents), we would see the filmed news highlights, a bunch of cartoons, many previews, a serial (Don Winslow of the Coast Guard is one I remember; Flash Gordon, of course), then a double-feature.  By the time we emerged, it was afternoon and hot and so bright our poor eyes struggled mightily to restore the visual purple (see, I paid attention in science class one day).

By the way, there were no commercials before the movies--not like now.  No product placements that I can recall.  I mean, I don't think Hopalong Cassidy was wearing Nikes--or drinking Diet Pepsi.  (No diet drinks when I was a kid!)

I loved the front row, the sticky floor, the box of popcorn and Coke.  Even the headache afterwards caused by leaning back for four hundred consecutive hours.  Over the exit was an illuminated clock with an ad for an insurance agency.

I first fell in love at the movies.  I was in elementary school.  And the object of my ... desire? ... was not a classmate or some older girl.  It was an actress.  The lovely ... Mona Freeman--not a name with much resonance today.  But, oh!  Mona!

It was probably The Lady from Texas (1951) that won my heart.  I now have it on DVD, thanks to my waggish older brother, who remembers everything I wish he didn't.  (And, no, I don't watch it over and over and over ... just, you know, now and then?)

It was not long before I broke up with Mona.  She--I don't know--just didn't seemed interested in me.  She kept falling for other guys up there on the screen.  So I figured I'd better move on.

And by then I was starting to notice another woman on the screen, one I thought was really hot.

Tinker Bell.  Now her I had a chance with!

Friday, April 27, 2012

By TLC and WHOM?

This is weird.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided not to go to the health club but do do something far more salubrious--take a nap.  Sleep is good for you, you know?  Better, even, than riding a bicycle-to-nowhere out at the health club.  (Or so my Lazy Self convinced my Industrious Self yesterday afternoon.)

I fell asleep immediately--something at which I'm quite skilled--and soon found myself in one of those dreams that feature geography and people who have no business whatsoever being together. And in this dream ...

First, some background.  I've been reading a good little book called How to Think Like a Neandertal.  Two scholars have some fun making inferences from the data we do have about those folks about the things we don't know (are you confused? I am).  Anyway, one of the very interesting sections deals with the dreams of Neandertals.  Did they dream?  If so, what about?

The authors then pause to talk about dreams and identify four of the generic human dreams that have been recorded everywhere.  Falling (especially just as you are about to drift into sleep), being chased, being naked (in an inappropriate place), being unprepared (a test you didn't know about; I still dream about finding myself backstage about to go on in a play whose lines I don't know).

I offer a fifth: Being in some weird-ass place that sort of looks familiar and is populated by people from all parts of your life--and some creepy strangers, too.

Okay, so yesterday afternoon, sound asleep in my bed, teddy bear nearby for protection (this is not funny but necessary), I was transported to the Hiram High School building--sort of.  That building was razed some time ago.  Dreams don't care.  But this version of it was a bit more complicated--labyrinthine hallways and dungeons and all kinds of stuff that I'm pretty sure wasn't really there.

There is some kind of reunion going on there.  Not my class.  I apparently have provided some kind of service for these people because they have invited me.  (What did I do?  Who are they?  No idea.)

At some point an African American man (who is he? no clue) says to me, I remember a TLC and Willie Misby song.

And then some lighthouse-keeper part of my brain said Wake up--and I did.

But I was deeply troubled.  Here's the sum of what I know about TLC: Their lyrics were a running gag in the recent film The Other Guys.  That's it.  I know nothing else about them.  I couldn't hum a tune, name a title--nuttin!  All I know is what I saw in that film.

Next: Willie Misby?  Who the hell is that?

I've known very few people named Willie, none named Misby.  Google doesn't even like the name Misby: When I type Willie Misby in the search window, I get the following:

Did you mean:
willie mabry

Willie Tasby I know.  He was a bad outfielder for the Tribe in 1962 and 63 (I was at Hiram High School for some of that!), but as far as I know, he does not write songs with TLC.

So what does all of this mean?  Nothing.  Other than the obvious--the human mind is a most unusual place, part dictionary, part Oz, part camera, part digital recorder, part garbage pail, part porn theater, part mirror, part haunted house, part blender--a Cuisinart of experience.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shunning Reality, 46 Years Later

11 June 1966
Yesterday, I took a look at my Hiram College yearbook (my senior year, 1966), and this clipping fell out (with a few other things I may write about later).  It's an account in the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier of the commencement speech I heard that June day I graduated.

I had no memory whatsoever of that speech--or who had delivered it.  And this is humbling news since I have spoken a couple of times at WRA's baccalaureate service.  And it was just last year that I discovered--also quite by accident--that the speaker at my own high school baccalaureate had been Mr. Brunelle, my former teacher (he'd retired just the year before), an event I also had absolutely no memory of.  Mr. Brunelle's son Norman later gave me a copy of his father's sermon that day.  I read it, didn't remember a single word.

All of this is rather alarming.  I suppose it should not be surprising, this evanescence of the spoken word.  We don't know what Henry V actually said at Agincourt, but I bet his words didn't much resemble the speech Shakespeare later crafted for him.  And we know what Lincoln said at Gettysburg only because he wrote it down.
But think of all those other words, aswirl in the mists of time, words we will never know, will never read or hear.  We don't know what Shakespeare's voice sounded like.  Or Dickens'--although both of them were actors and must have had compelling presences.  What would you give to hear Jane Austen read some passages--maybe from one of the recent vampire novels spun off from her work?  Now that's an event I would pay to attend!

Or Mary Shelley read from Frankenstein?  Or appear on a talk show to react to Young Frankenstein?  Or that classic film Frankenhooker?

Wouldn't you like to hear Custer expatiate on judgment?  Or Billy the Kid on what it feels like to get shot in the back?  Or Lincoln on what he thought of Our American Cousin before, well, you know ... ?

I recently ordered some recordings of John O'Hara from Penn State Special Collections.  He had a reputation--a reputation he almost cheerily embraced--of being a very bad speaker.  I just listened to O'Hara speaking at the Library of Congress on 14 January 1957 on the topic "The Novel as a Social Document."  Lewis Mumford introduced him and made only a couple of small factual errors.

O'Hara had just published a novella I really like, A Family Party.  But he began by talking about the recent banning of Ten North Frederick in Detroit.  "Almost completely ill at ease on the platform," he described himself that evening.  But it didn't sound that way to me at all.  He was reading a text, but he spoke clearly--stumbled a few times, but who doesn't?  I don't know if he didn't look at the audience.  Though they laughed and applauded and seemed to enjoy themselves--early on.  But as the speech ran along, they seemed to drift away from him as he sort of rambled on about his reading and how he writes, his grumbles about critics, his self-congratulations about his sales and popularity, then more grumbles about critics.  (O'Hara did have an ego issue or two.)  The applause afterwards was generous, not thunderous, but not embarrassing, either.

But still ... before I listened to that  recording, I had read all of O'Hara's work--had "listened" to his voice in a much different, silent, way.  And so I was unaccountably moved to hear him in an actual rather than a metaphorical way.

But as for Dr. Harold Enarson, president (at the time) of Cleveland State, I cannot hear his voice. I cannot remember what he said at my commencement.  And as for shunning reality (his topic for the day), maybe it's not that we shun reality.  Maybe it's that we just plain can't remember it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grandfather of the Monster

No, I'm not writing about myself.  And, no, my grandsons are not monsters in any sense whatsoever.  It's another grandfather I have in mind.

I've made a sad discovery in this yellow wood of my life: The more I read the less I know.  Just about every book I read points me toward other things I ought to read, toward vast unexplored oceans of ideas I did not even know existed.  Toward writers I never heard of.  Books I never knew.  It's as if my shelves were constructed by some waggish wizard who wandered in from Harry Potter: When I remove a book, a dozen somehow appear in its place.

And even when I think I know something, well, that's when I get a little reminder from the Other Side that all is vanity.

For example ...

When I was working on my Mary Shelley biography (The Mother of the Monster--available on Amazon/Kindle; as you've noticed, I can be crass and commercial any time or place), I read as well the complete works of both of her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

Godwin, who lived much longer than his poor wife, who died shortly after delivering the child that would become Mary Shelley in 1797, wrote a lot.  Novels, essays, scholarly works, biographies, monographs.  And children's books.

He had enjoyed a brief celebrity, then tumbled from favor when the political/religious climate changed (he was anti-government and an atheist--not always the most popular combination in any time or place) and had to scrape and scramble for cash, borrowing substantial sums from Percy Bysshe Shelley, who, though married, eloped with Godwin's teenage daughter.  But that's another, far more famous story.

One venture Godwin attempted, as I've said, was writing books for children (little Mary was often the guinea pig for his projects).  But he knew he dared not use his real name as the author ("William Godwin" was not a name that would cause young parents to cry, "Let's see what the anarchist/atheist wants to teach our children!").  So he adopted some pen names.

Edward Baldwin was one.  William Frederic Mylius was another.  (Mylius was a son of Priam, the Trojan king.)

A third was Theophilus Marcliffe--a name you gotta love.  The first name, in Greek, is "lover of God."

Well,I thought I'd read all of Godwin's children's books (a task that sent me to some distant libraries).  Nope.

The other day--for a reason I can't recall--I was looking at a Godwin bibliography and saw a Marcliffe title I didn't recognize: The Looking Glass,  a book that has a subtitle that's nearly as long as the text: A True History of the Early Years of an Artist; Calculated to awaken the Emulation of Young Persons of Both Sexes, in the Pursuit of Every laudable Attainment: particularly in the Cultivation of the Fine Arts.

In today's wondrous world of print-on-demand and online texts, I was able to acquire a print replica of the book (from Amazon: $14.99).  It came on Monday.  I read it in a single sitting.

It is a sort of inspirational tale, a biography of the boyhood of artist William Mulready (1786-1863), a Godwin friend and illustrator.  Here's his painting, The Sonnet (1839).  Not bad.

Godwin was so impressed with Mulready's rise from obscurity--his determination to succeed--that he wrote this little biography without mentioning Mulready's name at all.

The story is one of determination, of "emulation" (Godwin's focus), of a young man who will become an artist despite his humble background (his father, in Ireland, made leather breeches).

The book is almost entirely narrative, Godwin/Marcliffe popping up in the batter only occasionally to remind young readers that there's something to be learned from this life.  I love this line: "Let me give you however one caution: imitate whatever he did that was best; you will have faults enough of your own" (56).  Oh, will we!

And my favorite: "One of the great gratifications of an ambitious mind is to create surprise in the minds of others" (91).

Godwin did that with me, over and over and over in his writing.  So did his wife.  So did his daughter.  And it remains one of the principal reasons I read--to be surprised.

Even when that surprise means I've got another dozen books to read.


By the way, I think this is blog post #100.  How can that be?

And don't forget: I've got some titles available on Amazon--some as actual books, some in Kindle format only.

Click here for my books on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blank Tablets

The word-of-the-day on my tear-off calendar yesterday was tabula rasa.  I'm sure I first learned the significance of that phrase while reading John Locke (who else?) in Philosophy 104 at Hiram College with (I think) Dr. Gene Peters.  But I'm certain, as well, that I first learned it at Hiram School in Latin I (or II) with Mr. Brunelle, who had us memorize all sorts of Latin phrases that he knew we would later find use for (in vino veritas--that sort of thing).

I liked that idea of a "blank tablet"--though, of course, science has demonstrated that instead of being born blank, many of us devote ourselves to making ourselves blank throughout our lives by ignoring hard truths, by failing to educate ourselves, by neglecting to question, by ... you know.

But tabula rasa has yet another meaning for me.  At the dawn of my career (teaching seventh graders in Aurora, Ohio) I was responsible for the school newspaper.  I had no journalism experience, really, other than reading the sports pages of the Plain Dealer (and the comics) with a devotion I never really could muster for, oh, the Bible.  Or my homework.

I had written for the Hiram High School paper my senior year--aptly titled The Panic and ably edited by Marcia Rosser, who still has all those issues.  At the end of my senior year, I wrote a piece about how Hiram High would never amount to anything in basketball (because, you see, I was graduating).  The next two years they were awesome, very nearly made it to the state tournament (without me).  So much for my prescience and basketball prowess.

We produced The Panic the old-fashioned way--by typing on those long blue mimeograph masters (any typos required the application of a blue fluid to the error, a re-typing).  Hand-cranking the mimeograph machine.  Hand-collating and -stapling.  Then walking home with snow up to our armpits, all year round.

Anyway, for the 1968-1969 school year, I was the Aurora Middle School newspaper adviser.  And at our first meeting, we were deciding on a name.  I suggested (okay, insisted on) Tabula Rasa.  I'm not sure why.  I mean, "blank tablet" seems an odd name for a newspaper.  Maybe I thought it sounded ... literary.  I'm smiling now as I think of all the little fifth and sixth graders getting their first copies of the paper and seeing Tabula Rasa perched at the top.  And wondering, What the hell ...?

For some pack-ratty reason, I kept a copy of each issue.

final issue
Our first was on 15 November 1968 and bore the huge headline: SCHOOL YEAR STARTS.  This was news!?!?  It was almost Thanksgiving!!  Who the hell is the adviser of this mess?

We did manage twelve issues that year.  Some of the page-one headlines were awesome: STUDENT COUNCIL PLANS ACTIVITIES! (17 January 1969)  STUDENTS PREPARE FOR SPRING BREAK (28 March 1969).  8TH GRADERS TO INVADE NATION'S CAPITAL (2 May 1969).

I see in the issue of 28 March that there's an op-ed piece by Paul Bowers, now on the staff at Hiram College.  DOWN WITH LUNCH is the headline.  He wasn't happy with the lunch activities.  He suggested different classrooms be devoted to different activities--like chess.  (I don't think it happened.)

My favorite feature was a serial written by seventh graders Jill French and Andrea Martin, "The Adventures of Oznel and Iksnituk and Their Travels of the Universe."  Jill and Andrea had simply spelled backwards the names of our principal (Mike Lenzo) and the wonderful science teacher (Eileen Kutinsky).  One memorable sentence about some baddies they were battling: "They stood in the doorway with their evil faces with smoke blowing out of their evil noses."

I love those evil noses!  Makes far more sense than naming a publication Tabula Rasa!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Need a wig for your ear?

Reading this morning in the coffee shop, I came across a mention of the earwig.  I knew several things about it already: (1) it is not a wig for the ear; (2) it is a bug; (3) I remembered reading about earwigs somewhere in Dickens.

So, I withdrew my trusty Google from its holster and fired away.  And, yes, my Dickens memories were right.  In chapter 45 of Great Expectations, Pip, spending a night in a fleabag sort of place, says,

What a doleful night! How anxious, how dismal, how long! There was an inhospitable smell in the room, of cold soot and hot dust; and, as I looked up into the corners of the tester [canopy] over my head, I thought what a number of blue-bottle flies from the butchers', and earwigs from the market, and grubs from the country, must be holding on up there, lying by for next summer. This led me to speculate whether any of them ever tumbled down, and then I fancied that I felt light falls on my face -- a disagreeable turn of thought, suggesting other and more objectionable approaches up my back.

And in chap 55 of Nicholas Nickleby, the narrator is describing the Dibabses' cottage and mentions: where the earwigs used to fall into one's tea on a summer evening, and always fell upon their backs and kicked dreadfully ....

He uses the word elsewhere, too ... but you get the idea.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists a citation from 1000 A.D.--and tells us that the bug got the name because it supposedly could wiggle its way into the ear--to what end, I'm not certain.  Does it crave earwax?  Does it like to bang the eardrum slowly?  Or dine on gray matter?  An odd bit of advice from 1601 in the OEDIf an earwig‥be gotten into the eare‥spit into the same, and it will come forth anon.  I'm not sure how you're supposed to spit into your own ear, but maybe that's what good friends--or spouses--are for?  But I know that if I were an earwig and someone spit on me, I would certainly move right along.

As the picture shows, the earwig is not a prepossessing critter.  It seems to have evolved to pinch things.  And I never liked being pinched.  But it doesn't want to pinch our brains.  Or even purloin our hammer, anvil, stirrup.  An urban legend website says this: ... there's no dispute among entomologists as to the insect's fabled fondness for entering the human ear and boring into the brain, causing insanity and/or death — it's balderdash.  (Balderdash, by the way, was a frothy liquid.)

Earwigs like plants.  And other insects.  They will hide but not reproduce in your house (that's comforting).  They'll pinch you only if you stick your finger between their pincers to see if they'll pinch you.  But they won't break your skin.  So give it a try.

And--this is cool: Unlike most other mommy insects, the mommy earwig cares for her eggs (she licks them, changes their positions) and for her young.

They fly very badly. They prefer to hop aboard other moving objects.

A few final earwig-ian notes: The OED records that the word has a metaphorical meaning, too: An ear whisperer, flatterer, parasite.  (I wonder: What other kind of whisperer is there?  Can you whisper into someone's nose?  I guess.)  The word can be a verb, too: it can mean to pester or to influence or to insinuate oneself into the confidence of (a person).

Need an adjective?  There is one--earwiggy, which means infested by earwigs or resembling an earwig.  So in your next novel, you could write: The clerk had an earwiggy aspect.

And finally--an obsolete word from the 16th century that, by now, surely applies to me: earwig-brain: one who has a ‘maggot’ or craze in his brain.  Like wanting to know what an earwig is.

So ... have you had enough ear-wiggery for one day?  (I made that one up.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shopping, anyone?

I've never been much of a shopper.  As a boy, I sometimes had to tag along with my mother and grandmother when they went "downtown" to shop in Enid, Oklahoma, occasions that called for dressing up (which I've always hated).  My mom and grandma looked as if they were going to church--hats, gloves, their Sunday dresses.  Must have been pleasant for them in that prairie furnace of a town.

I shopped (and shop) like my dad: wham bam.  When I was teaching, I bought all my clothes for the coming school year a day or so before classes started.  Did it all--shoes, socks, underwear, pants, shirts, blazer--in about ten minutes.  Somewhere, Dad is smiling.

He wasn't the most patient shopper, either.  Later on, weary of it all, he would sit out in the car in the parking lot and stare while Mom was inside.  Joyce has sometimes asked me if I'd like to wait in the car, but I'm not quite there yet.  A significant part of my brain very much wants to; the other part (the part that considers consequences) issues a veto.  And off I go ...

Last night, for example, on the way to see The Hunger Games, we made a stop at a department store.  Joyce needs some new black shoes.  I wandered around in the men's area looking at belts and wallets.  Called my mom and chatted a bit.  (Asked her if she was proud of me, not being out in the parking lot.  She was not.)  Then drifted over to the shoe department where ... well ... you can imagine ...

Later, shoeless, on the way out I commented that some entrepreneur (do any of you know that word? are you as sick of it as I am?) ought to find a more appealing way to attract American shopping couples.  I proposed a new line of stores--SHOES & GUNS.

While Joyce shopped for the black pumps, I could, you know, look for a new pump-action shotgun, maybe pick out a derringer for those days when I have to dress up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hanging out with Jay Parini

Writer Jay Parini spent the day on the WRA campus yesterday--and had dinner the night before with the WRA English Department (active members + one ... uh ...  retiree).  Parini is a novelist (The Last Station, about the death of Tolstoy, was a fine film with Christopher Plummer a couple of years ago; his novel about Melville, The Passages of H. M., which I really liked, is at the pre-production stage of a film), a poet, a screenwriter, a biographer (Steinbeck, Frost, Faulkner, and--forthcoming as an Amazon e-book--Jesus), a critic (he reviews regularly), an essayist, a professor (Middlebury).  He makes me feel downright lazy!  A sluggard!  Oh, and he's a husband and father, too (his youngest is now a junior in high school).

He's just one of those extraordinarily productive people--and I'm getting an idea for an essay!  Or book!  (But I'm too lazy to write it.)

I'd approached him last year about coming to WRA--before I'd decided to retire.  I'd planned to teach the Melville novel with my students.  I've done that the past decade--have my students read something brand new and invite to campus the author--visits supported wonderfully by the parents' organizations, especially the Pioneer Women.

But it didn't work out.  I retired.  A colleague, Jeannie Kidera, took on the heavy lifting of making specific arrangements, etc.

And on Thursday night he arrived.

We met for dinner at a local restaurant, and everyone seemed to like him a lot.  He was totally unpretentious--though, obviously, he lives in a world we do not occupy--knows Hollywood stars, literary legends (he's Gore Vidal's literary executor) and the like.  He told a great story about meeting Vidal in Italy when he (Parini) was a young man.  He'd gotten the word to Vidal that he'd like to meet him; that night GV pounded on his door--invited him to a meal!  (That hasn't happened to me recently ...)  Vidal, by the way, is not doing well, medically ... sad news for long-time fans like me.  (My middle-schoolers used to read his Visit to a Small Planet.)  Coincidentally, on Broadway right now is a revival of Vidal's political play The Best Man.

On Friday, I went up to school (wearing a tie for the first time since last year's commencement!) and heard him read a few poems and have a brief Q&A in the Chapel.  The students laughed a lot, especially when he told them that his favorite day in church as a boy was when the missionaries would come and show their slides of naked natives.

Later, I picked him up after lunch and walked down to Caribou to chat about common interests--including the novels of Anthony Trollope (about whom I'm going to chat with the WRA community on May 4).  We stopped at my house afterwards, briefly, so that he could sign a bunch of books for me (ever the mercenary, I).

After school was a reception at Wilson Hall--a number of students and faculty stopped by to chat one more time ere Sasha, a colleague, whisked him off to the airport.

I've loved these personal encounters with writers.  A quick (inaccurate?) list: Ursula K. Le Guin, Lee Smith (both via teleconference), Matthew Pearl, Tobias Wolff, Sharon Olds, Robert Sullivan, Brock Clarke, Dan Chaon, Brian Hall, Jay Parini.

I experienced nothing like it as a student (Hawthorne did not sit in my classroom and discuss snotty little Pearl).  But can you imagine?  Reading a book, then sitting in a classroom with him/her and asking whatever you want?  "Mr. Faulkner, why do you drink so much?"  "Ms. Millay, is it true that you're promiscuous?  And if you are, what are you doing after class?"

And: "Mr. Shakespeare, what were you smoking?"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some Final Vocab Stories ...

I know: We're spending too much time on Vocab these days.  But I have just a few more classroom adventures to share with you about vocab quizzes over the years.

As I wrote earlier, I always asked students on quizzes to use the words in original sentences--ones that clearly revealed the meanings of the words.  Some students saw this as an opportunity ...

1. One girl a couple of years ago wrote five sentences, every week, about a boy named Johnny who had a disobedient, willful toaster.  Each week she wrote a little five-sentence self-contained story about Johnny.  Violence was often involved.

2. Two girls a few years--the best of friends who sat next to each other--wrote humorously vicious sentences about each other, week after week ... Vocab Wars I called it.  (Sample [with new names]: Suzie was such a libertine that her parents pulled her out of college.  That sort of thing.)

3. Some students--in middle and high school--took the chance to write sentences that went after me.  It sort of serves me right, though, because I put dotage on my list--and that invited all sorts of creative activity on vocab quiz day.

4. I had students who wrote continuing stories that lasted all year long, twenty installments, five sentences each.

5. I always enjoyed the students who tried to fool me--who weren't quite sure what the word meant and spent a lot of creative effort crafting a sentence that would sort of sound as if it were right.  Sometimes I admired these efforts so much that I just plain didn't have the heart to mark them wrong.

And all of this reminds me of something I did very early in my career, back in the late 1960s.  On grammar and usage quizzes, all year long, I wrote a story about the armadillo versus the aphid.  Example: The armadillo sent the aphid a bomb for a birthday present.  Or The aphid had a party and invited all of his uncles and ants.  Students had to find the subject, the direct object, and the like.  I told the kids that on the very last quiz of the year I would resolve the year-long feud between the two.

aphid giving birth ... TMI?
It culminated in a big party.  At one point, the aphid arranges to have the armadillo hauled up into the air and used as a pinata.  But when the "pinata" is broken, out flies a gorgeous (female) aphid trapped inside.  Love breaks out ...

Some of my students hated this ending--they were armadillo fans and did not like finding out, thirty-six weeks later, that their beloved armadillo was really only a home for another aphid.

And years later, now and then, I run into one of these armadillo fans (now in his/her mid-fifties) and hear that I am still not forgiven.  Maybe one day ... but not now!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

And the bandstand falls silent ...

The sad news yesterday of the death of once-ageless Dick Clark returned me to yesteryear, to afternoons in the late 50s and early 60s watching American Bandstand and feeling, while doing so, like a loser.  Here's why ...

I was a short kid (my height mark on the kitchen door frame has not crept upward a bit since, oh, 1959, a coincidence: I'm 5'9" ... okay, 5'8").  I desperately wanted to be taller, principally because of basketball (I knew that if I were 6' or taller I would soon be in the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.; instead, I stayed short, became an English teacher, and married a woman who attended college in Springfield, Ohio--a far better deal, as I think of it--except on paydays).

But I also wanted to be taller because I was afraid.  Lots of guys were bigger than I--could kick my ass easily--and many of the shorter ones were just stronger than I--sometimes, like Virgil Rowe, a teammate, much stronger.  I tiptoed through high school avoiding fights, befriending behemoths, looking over my shoulder, taking punches to the shoulder in the halls, punches I could do nothing about--if I wanted to live, that is.  So I smiled when they landed, as if to say, Nice one!

So what does this have to do with American Bandstand?

As I watched that show, I learned a few things about myself--things I really didn't want to know, things that I found great difficulty accepting in adolescence.

Lesson 1: I can't dance for shit.  This was somewhat evident already at the Hiram School dances, although I did win a jitterbug contest in junior high, mostly because I'd taken (required! by Mom!) dance lessons back in Oklahoma and was one of the few kids who even knew how to jitterbug.  But everyone caught up with me, surpassed me.  The last popular dance I learned was The Twist--it was the last popular dance I could learn, I fear.  Joyce discovered right away what a bad dancer I was/am (she had taken years of lessons--can still tap) and "danced" with me at our wedding, probably wondering--not for the last time--what on earth she had gotten herself into.

Anyway, the Philadelphia teenagers dancing on Bandstand were just much better than I.  Pathetically better.  I would scan the dancers, looking for someone to whom I could feel superior.  It didn't work out.

Lesson 2: Not one of those pretty Philadelphia high school girls would go out with me.  This I knew with a certainty I felt for little else in my life.  For I knew already--from my experiences in school, at summer camp, and elsewhere--that there were just some girls (i.e., very attractive ones) who did not look on me with, uh, desire ...  A pathetic case in point: In college, some (male) friends and I drove one Saturday night over to Kent to one of the bars.  We stood in a little sad cluster around one table, noticed a table of girls not too far away.  Who would approach them?  I don't know how we decided, but I lost.  I walked over to them.  They looked up, their eyes glazing when they saw me.  I tried my most persuasive line: Uh, you guys mind having some company?  I gestured back to my "friends," who were feigning ignorance of what I was doing.  The Leader of the Pack (of girls) spoke for all: Yes, we would mind.  Back I crept to my own impotent pack, and we headed back to Hiram immediately, where we flopped in someone's dorm room and talked about the Evil Women of Kent.

So imagine my disbelief in 1969 when I spoke to Joyce ... and she listened ... and smiled ...  (Later, married, we went to Philadelphia a number of times, saw no Bandstand alums.)

Lesson 3: Every one of those Bandstand boys could kick my ass.  (Now to you see the connection!?)  Some had sullen, dangerous looks on their faces as they danced; some seemed to be looking right through my TV screen at me, words of dire warning (Dyer Warning!) projecting from their eyes: If you ever are in Philadelphia, punk, we will know it; we will find you; we will kick your little Hiram Ohio Ass!

But by then I had changed channels and was watching The Three Stooges.  Feeling at home ...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vocab Jokes, Part II

As I wrote yesterday, while I would dictate vocabulary words to my students for their weekly quizzes, I would occasionally offer a sample sentence that used the word in all of its punny possibilities--like Ensue.  Jack the Ripper stuck his knife in Sue.  Good for laughs early in the year, groans as the year went on.

Yesterday, I shared some Top Hits from the Eighth Grade Vocabulary List; today--from the Eleventh Grade Vocabulary List.  Laugh and/or groan as the spirit moves you.

1. truculent: The truck you lent me broke down.
2. vitiate: The fish he ate made him sick.
3. fastidious: My stupid friends ran a race to see who the fast idiots were.
4. sojourn: So, d'ja earn that money or steal it?
5. palliate: The cannibal felt guilty about the pal he ate.
6. purport: The immigrant kitties arrived at the purr port.
7. satiate: Say she ate your candy ... would you be mad?
8. choleric: You can call her Rick but she prefers Rickie.
9. saturnine: The woman sat her nine children down and yelled at them.
10. tractable: The farmer tracked a bull through his field.
11. protocol: If the amateur doesn't work out, here's a pro to call.
12. jaded:  Did you hear what Jay did?
13. descry: I heard Dez cry after class today.
14. servile: If you serve, I'll try to return the ball.
15. timorous: Are you going to the game with Tim or us?
16. petulant: The pet you lent me died.
17. sedulous: You said you lost your book, but I think you just forgot it.

Enough?  Ready to cry?  Scream?  Never click on Dawn Reader again?  (Me, too.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vocab Jokes, Part I

As the years rolled along at Harmon (Middle) School, where I taught seventh and eighth graders, I sought new ways to keep myself sane while teaching vocabulary.  One of the ways--making up stupid jokes about the words.  Puns.

When I would dictate the words on the weekly quizzes (students had to spell the word, write a definition, use the word in a sentence that revealed the word's meaning--no One-of-my-favorite-words-is-sojourn kinds of sentences), I would sometimes, when I could think of something, make up a pun by using the word in a sample sentence.

Here are some actual examples from the eighth-grade list:

1. lucid: Did you hear what lucid? (what Lou said?)
2. implore: The man was implore health.
3. amiable: Is Amy a bull or a cow?
4. alacrity: Alacrity, but I love her coffee. (I like her tea ...)
5. cremate: The cremate the cow.
6. pious: The Three Stooges tried to pious. (pie us)
7. ensue: Jack the Ripper put a knife ensue. (in Sue)
8. sordid: I sordid my homework. (sorta did)
9 assent: The workman didn't charge assent.
10. qualify: The Australians rounded up all the little bears, built a fire, and had a qualify (koala-fry).  This one caused me a little trouble when a student, Shannon, a lover of koala bears (they adorned her folders), gave me a (feigned) shocked look and told me it wasn't funny.  (Everyone else was laughing.)
11. tyrant: Instructions for killing a runt: Tie runt to railroad tracks.
12. detain: Detain went down de tacks.
13. confound: The con found a way out of prison.
14. ascertain: Ascertain pulled out of the station, she waved good-bye.
15. assail: Assail my boat on Saturday. (I sail ..)
16. pampered: Pam purred when I gave her flowers.
17. misdemeanor: Miss, the meaner you get, the sadder I get.

Well, they're horrible, I know--but they elicited groans from generations of eighth graders--so that's good, right?

More of this from my eleventh-grade list tomorrow ...

LINK: my books available on Amazon.com

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vocab Quiz on Thursday!

I had very few schoolteachers--just one I can think of--who made a routine out of vocabulary study.  He was Mr. Augustus H. Brunelle, one of my English teachers at Hiram High School; I had "Gus" (a name we never uttered in his presence--though, later, I learned from his college yearbook that his friends called him "Gussie," and all his adult Hiram friends called him "Gus"; my generation never addressed adults by their first names: it was a capital crime in our house) for English II and English III--and for both courses we had regular vocabulary lists.  (By the way, did you notice how the long parenthetical stuff in the previous sentence pretty much ruined its flow.  I'd like to say I did it on purpose--just to show you--but I didn't.)

I'm not sure where Mr. Brunelle found the words he gave us--from our reading?  From a prepared list somewhere?  But I already knew a lot of them, mostly because my parents were teachers and my older brother, Richard, had/has a huge vocabulary, a vast portion of which involved insulting words he learned, I'm sure, to apply to me.

In college, our professors expected us to learn words from our reading and our participation in class.  Dr. Ravitz sometimes used words I'd never heard before (apotheosis, proem, and my favorite--lycanthropy), and I would scurry back to the dorm to look them up in my Webster's Collegiate--no dictionary.com in those days.  But I was not assiduous (!) about looking up words I came across in my reading.  If I couldn't figure out their meaning from context, I pretty much just skipped them, figuring they weren't all that important if I didn't know them.

Later, a teacher myself, I didn't start doing regular vocabulary work for, oh, ten years or so.  And then it became a part of my weekly routine the rest of my career.  I always tried to take words from the literature we read during the year: I was able to tell the kids, "I know you will see this word at least one more time."  And so it was that my eighth graders, who would read The Call of the Wild, learned populous, prowess, arduous, and others.  And my juniors, later on, learned eldritch and preternatural and panoply from The Scarlet Letter.

We reviewed the words throughout the year; by the end, they were responsible for all 200 of them.  I have no daffy hope that all my students remember all of them.  Like everything else in school, we remember what we want to--or need.  So I'm guessing a lot of my former eleventh graders have hung onto libertine and have let lacustrine loose.  Just a guess, mind you.

I remember reading Sailor on Horseback, Irving Stone's fanciful biography of Jack London, when I was in school, just for the fun of it.  And Stone repeated therein a story that London had told himself--about the young man's obsession with words.  He wrote down unfamiliar ones on little slips of paper, carried them in his pocket, fastened them to his mirror--all in an effort to improve himself.  (He'd dropped out of elementary school; later, he tried high school for a year, college for a year.)

My own interest in vocabulary developed much later.  My parents, worried in my adolescence about my infantile vocabulary, dominated as it was by words about baseball, TV Western heroes, bicycles, slang, and sesquipedalian insults learned from my brother, bought me a paperback, 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary; I lasted two days.  And my grandmother--Scrabble player nonpareil--would urge me to do the vocabulary feature in Reader's Digest--WordPower.  I preferred the jokes.  Told them to my friends as if I'd composed them.

In college, I picked up a little--mostly because my friends were smart and could see the vacant look in my eyes when they used words I didn't know.   And I knew I wanted to know lycanthropy--a word that has come in very handy since the advent of the Underworld films.

But my passion for vocabulary ignited in graduate school.  It was then that I began doing what Jack London did--writing words down, memorizing them, using them in my essays and papers (much to the chagrin of one prof, who told me to cut it out).

Nowadays, I subscribe to several word-a-day services online; I have word-a-day calendars around the house; I always look up unfamiliar words in my reading.  And I've worked with editors who've told me to back off a little, though I have managed to get callipygian (having beautiful buttocks) in the pages of the Plain Dealer.  Perhaps my life's grandest achievement.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Spread Out!" My Education with The Three Stooges

In 1962, a old Hiram Schools friend, Johnny Kelker, and I went to the Midway Drive-In between Kent and Ravenna to see The Three Stooges in Orbit--a feature-length film (with Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe).  Johnny and I had watched the Stooges a lot at his house when we were in junior high--he had a little black-and-white set, with rabbit ears, in his room) but not as often as my younger brother, Dave, and I did.  I remember that the Stooges seemed to be on just about every schoolday afternoon, and there sat Dave and I on the living room floor in Hiram, laughing ourselves ill while my mom grieved in the other room.  She couldn't stop us from watching for one simple reason: Dad was often watching and laughing with us.

Dave and I learned all the Stooges' moves--the pokes in the eyes (and how to block them--and how to defeat the blocks), the Curly-jumping-up-and-down, the slaps in the face, the Curly-rotating-spaz-on-the-floor, the sounds (woo-woo-woo!)--all of which deepened our mother's grief--her despair that either one of us would ever amount to spit.

The Stooges were popular at Hiram High School, too.  My friends made the sounds, talked about the shows, did the Curly-laugh/snicker/chortle (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!), and, by so doing, generally annoyed most of the girls and all of our teachers.  I don't remember many (any?) girls in our class who liked--or admitted to liking--the Stooges.

Last night, buying tickets in Kent for the new Stooges' film, I asked the young ticket-seller if she'd been selling many that evening for the Stooges.  "Not many," she said.  "I'll bet you didn't grow up watching them?" I offered, being careful not to cross the line between Friendly Old Man and Creepy Old Perv.  She looked at me as if I had just escaped from The Home.  "No!" she snorted so hard I almost offered her a Kleenex.

I suppose I should have been reading Tolstoy all those Hiram late afternoons.  Or at least The Three Musketeers, whose story I knew only via the movies and Classics Illustrated.

But I didn't.  I preferred Moe to Athos.  I watched The Stooges smack one another, destroy property, behave inappropriately, and--in one of my favorite moments--drive a tractor through a picnic for no reason that I can summon from my fading memory.

Did I like them because they got away with stuff and I didn't?  Because they were dumber than I?  (Who knew dumb, by the way, better than Shakespeare, who used the dumb=funny equation throughout his plays?) Because they were more socially clumsy than even I, a most clumsy adolescent?

No.  It was much simpler.  They were funny.

And last night, in Kent, Joyce (yes, she went, though she'd never been a Stooge-o-phile) and I were surprised at how many very young children (early elementary grades) were in the audience.  Oddly, almost all of them were with Dad only.  And not oddly: They were all laughing themselves ill.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nailed by My Bread!

similar to the container I use now--
My sourdough has bitten me more than once now.  I've written (in Alaska magazine, Sept. 2008) about the first time, a few years ago--when I dropped the starter in its crockery container and feared I'd just ruined this pasty substance I'd kept alive and productive since the summer of 1986, when son Steve and I bought it in Skagway, Alaska.

The paste was spread out on the kitchen floor like the gob of goo it is; mingled with it were shards of crockery.  But I cried, like a TV paramedic pounding on the chest of wounded character: "LiveLiveLive!" and scraped together some of the paste that looked shard-less, fed it with water and flour, baked with it the next day--though I would not allow anyone else to eat any until I was sure the experience would not be fatal.

Very, very carefully I ate the next few batches of bread, all by my lonesome.  And in one of my first bites I crunched on a piece of crockery about the size of a quarter.  How did that get by me?!?

Well, eventually, it was safe again.  Until yesterday.  When, eating a piece of this very round loaf, I bit into a nail.  Fortunately, I hadn't bitten hard; I sort of felt it before I bit it.  What the--?

I pulled the thing from my mouth, looked at it.  A nail!?  What's a nail doing in my bread?!!?

I looked with dark suspicion at Joyce, seated innocently beside me, then felt immediate shame.  She would not kill me with a nail in a slice of bread (though, to be fair, she hadn't eaten any of this batch?!); I'm sure that she--like most wives--has devised something far more appropriate, for when the time comes.

Then I figured it out.  And it was Joyce's fault.  Sort of.  Some years ago (5? 6?) after one of her Appalachian sojourns, she returned with a homemade flour scoop--tin and wood.  (Here's another one she brought later--a bigger one.)  The little one had recently died because the tin had finally separated from its little wooden handle, held there by ... nails.

(An alarming thought: The bigger scoop has BIGGER NAILS!)

I'd used it for the last time, the little feller, when I'd made this current batch of multi-grain bread.  And during one of my scoops of, oh, spelt flour, a nail must have fallen out into the mix as I was stirring it.

Here's the little weapon, in all of its one-inch glory ...

I'm going to resist the temptation to wax philosophical here--to talk about the little nails in our lives, out of our sight and expectation, just waiting to hurt us.

Instead, I'll leave with the words of Hamlet, who's stumbled across murdering Claudius at prayer and is debating whether to take him out, right then and there:

He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May ...

I now think of that nail as the he of Hamlet's speech--and I'm imagining my son, dropping by for a visit, finding me, expired,  on the floor, crumbs all around, nails littering the rug.  He picks up one of the nails--addresses it ...

Friday, April 13, 2012

And the owl cried, "Whom?"

Some of you may remember this cartoon from awhile back?  I was reminded of it yesterday when the Plain Dealer, on page one, offered this:

I always smile when I see a whom (or whomever) related to a sports story: Somehow whom seems anomalous in that context, doesn't it?  Like finding fine silverware at Mickey D's.  Or wearing a tuxedo while mowing the lawn.  Whom, nowadays, is fading fast, soon to join the possessive apostrophe and its kin in the linguistic junkyard.

Whom--despite the cartoon--is not really some sort of elitist affectation.  The OED shows it's been around for over a thousand years.  The King James Bible loved it.  So did Shakespeare.

I never got the damn difference between who and whom until my mother, an English teacher, explained it to me in ninth grade.  She had a simple formula, one that I passed on to my students, most of whom have surely forgotten.  It's a way that doesn't really require any grammatical knowledge--all that nominative/objective case stuff.

Here's her grammar-free way: When deciding between who and whom (or whoever and whomever), go through a few quick steps.

1. Look only at the clause it's in; ignore the rest of the sentence. (I know: what if you don't know what a clause is?  So sue my mom!)  Consider the sentence (Whoever, Whomever) wins the race gets a cookie.  Ignore everything after race.

2. Substitute he for who(ever), him for whom(ever).

3. And what do you get?  He wins the race.  Or: Him wins the race.  Let's go with He, shall we?  So the correct answer is Whoever.  Simple eh?

Some people get confused when a naughty preposition gets in the mix: Give the pizza to (whoever, whomever) asks for it.  That troublesome little to there makes some want to go with whomever.  That would be a mistake.  Use the Mother Dyer Formula: If you isolate just the clause, you have whoever/whomever asks for it.  Substitute: he asks for it or him asks for it   So ... Give the pizza to whoever asks for it.

Sometimes you need to shift the word order in a sentence to the conventional S + V + Obj or Pred Noun.  Example:
(Who/Whom) did you invite to the dance?  This might confuse.  But if you put the subject first: You did invite he to the dance.  Or: You did invite him to the dance.  So ... Whom did you invite to the dance?

So, simply, do a he/him substitution--but make sure you IGNORE everything outside the clause in which the who/whom appears.  Otherwise, you'll make a boo-boo. 

In this anti-intellectual environment, whom and whomever come off as pretentious and elitist to some ears--mostly because we really don't hear them too often in ordinary speech.  (I'm guessing that the cast members of Jersey Shore do not observe the distinction?)  Politicians can't go around saying whomever if they want to maintain their just-plain-folks image.  I don't expect that Katniss cares for it: At whom should I fire my next arrow?  Or Edward Cullen: Bella, whomever you wish to bite is fine with me; I'm for an open marriage.

So, as I said, I think the distinction will gradually evanesce, and there are not many who/whom will grieve its passing.  Maybe a few fastidious owls?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lake Bimidji, 1960

Edward Dyer, Lake Bimidji, August 1960

I just found this picture the other day ...

In the summer of 1960, my dad was attending some sort of educators' conference at Bimidji State University in Bimidji, Minnesota.  Here you see him, standing on the shore of Lake Bimidji, looking well.  He, like me, had a life-long battle with his waistline.  We Dyers have well-banked metabolic fires.  I've said that I have the metabolism of a rock.  But Dad, that summer, was winning one of his perpetual skirmishes.

Dad smoked pipes in those days--lots of professors up on the Hiram campus did.  He had a pipe rack someone had given him, his dozens of pipes lined up in a row (most were gifts; most were unused).  Mom would tolerate pipe smoke in the house, but he had to take his cigars outside.  And cigarettes were Evil.  Satan's Smoking Sticks.  (Which is why, I suppose, all three sons were smokers, for a time.  I quit shortly after I was married--after huffing-and-puffing on the basketball court with some Aurora colleagues.  I was only 25 and was breathing like some consumptive character in a Poe story.)

I recall that week in Bimidji as a very placid time in my life. I was about to commence my junior year in high school and had not yet fully descended into the Slough of Sloth.  Every morning--while Dad was at meetings--I would go to the university tennis court, where I met the son of another conference attendee, and we took turns beating each other.  It was odd, meeting someone whose skills were about at the same abysmal level as mine.

In the evenings, we would drive around and look at the local sites, most notable, of course, the huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, statues built in 1937.  Paul used to have a shotgun leaning beside him, but Father Time rotted it (just as he does the rest of us).  (Here's some more information about it: Bimidji and Paul Bunyan.)  We also went to the nearby headwaters of the Mississippi River; somewhere is a photo of me out in the middle of that tiny stream, perched on a rock like a dim bird with nothing to eat.

"Bimidji," by the way, comes from an Ojibwe word meaning "lake that traverses another body of water"--or so, at least, says Wikipedia, whom I trust as I will adders fanged.

I look at that photo of my dad now ... and I think of what a time that was for all of us, 1960.  My mother was working on her Ph.D. at Pittsburgh while teaching full-time in Garrettsville; brother Richard had just completed his freshman year at Hiram College; brother Dave would enter seventh grade in the Hiram Local School.  We were all healthy.  We were hopeful.  The future still glistened out on the lake.  And everything was still possible, even a kindly giant of a man with a blue ox name Babe.  And a gentle father smoking a pipe at the edge of all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Insulting Weather

When I was an adolescent, my mother sometimes got sick of me.  Hard to believe, I know.  Like all other adolescents, I was invariably respectful, neat, moderate, mannerly, appreciative--and wise, really.

But now and then I would get annoyed at the weather.  And I would complain about it in my customary restrained adolescent tone in a voice that, at the time, was deciding whether to be a soprano, alto, tenor, or bass.  (Throughout my high school years it settled for a mixture, I fear.)

"The weather is not a personal insult," Mom would say.  And I would think dark thoughts of things I would say right then if didn't really want to live any longer.

"The weather is not a personal insult."

Yes it is.  Obviously.  It often rained on days we had little league baseball games--that's insulting.  Back in Oklahoma, in elementary school, it was hot as hell (I do not exaggerate) in the fall and spring in our un-air-conditioned brick schoolhouse.  (Why on earth would you build a prairie schoolhouse out of brick--did you plan to have it double as an oven?)

Or the western sky would turn a boiling red as a dust storm approached.  That's an insult.  Though not always--we sometimes got sent home early when it looked really bad.  I would fasten my Cub Scout bandana across my face like a border outlaw and fight the wind all the way home.

At Hiram College, we were snowed out of a tennis match on May Day.  Insulting.

Later on, we had an ice storm the night of our marriage in December 1969.  My grandmother fell and broke her wrist.  (That's not insulting?)  And on our honeymoon, we drove on the ice, mostly sideways, all the way to New Orleans.  That was insulting.

This past Thanksgiving, we drove in an all-day downpour, Ohio to Massachusetts (ten freaking hours!), to be with family.  Insulting.

And this morning?  In mid-April?  I walk outside to head to the coffeeshop.  And nearly fall on my prat because the porch and stairs are coated with snow--as is Joyce's car.  Halfway there, my tennis shoes are soaked.  A major insult.

I remember a story in an elementary school reader--about a contest between the sun and the wind.  They bet who is the more powerful--and they use as a test case a random pedestrian walking below.  (See?  The weather plays with us!)  They want to see who can make the man remove his cloak.  Well, the wind blows like mad--like an Oklahoma dust storm--but the guy just wraps it more tightly about him.  Then it's the sun's turn.  He waxes warmer and warmer and warmer.  And, gee, guess what happens?

I'm not sure what moral the teacher wanted us to extract from that story.  But what I learned is that the weather is a personal insult--if not assault.


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