After a couple of exchanges dealing with merely quotidian matters, there was a two-week silence while I was out on the West Coast.
I look now at my journal from early October 2000 and see that I arrived in my room near the San Francisco airport about 11:15 p.m. I had, I see, a fairly typical flight: there was a crying baby in the seat in front of me and an obnoxious recent college grad behind me who talked full voice and who thought the in-flight film, Big Momma’s House (no, I didn’t watch it), was the funniest thing she’d ever seen. I wanted to punch her.
I see that my thoughts about my fellow passengers in life have not really changed all that much in the past fourteen years.
I see, too, that I was reading a Trollope novel on the plane (The Duke’s Children)—so superior am I!—and that I sent a quick email to Joyce before going to bed. Why didn’t I call? Well, it was three hours later in Hudson—about 2:15 a.m. Not a good idea to call.
Early the next morning, in my rental, I zipped up to northern California, to Redding, where I spent the night, then up early the next day to drive to my cousin Gail’s in Pendleton, Oregon. I spent the next couple of days visiting with my myriads of relatives out in the area—and learned that my late uncle Clark, a former police chief in Milton-Freewater, had been buried in his full policeman’s uniform, Sam Browne belt and all.
By the eleventh, I was driving back south to the conference, where, if I may trust my journal, my slide show/talk about The Call of the Wild went pretty well. On the fifteenth, I took a leisurely drive over the mountains from Glen Ellen, California (site of Jack London’s ranch), back to Rohnert Park, where I’d attended a transformative Jack London seminar for teachers in the summer of 1990. I don’t think JL is in my future, I wrote that day; it is time to move on. Which, of course, I’d already done, by then fully immersed in the story of Mary Shelley and her circle.
After a day of reading and relaxing at Half Moon Bay, I took an early flight on October 17. I read now that I had an entire row to myself on the flight from San Francisco to Cleveland. Luxury. Landed at 2, I wrote, with the lovely sight and presence of Joyce there waiting for me.
By October 19, I was back fully in the flow of Shelley, reading more about that famous “Frankenstein summer” of 1816 when Mary was in Geneva, Switzerland, and found the idea for her most famous story.
I had written a note to Betty when I got back on the 17th; the time, I see, was about 8:30 p.m.—near my bedtime nowadays. I basically summarized what I’d done out on the Coast.
She wrote back the next morning with some concerns about the reviews of Miranda Seymour’s new biography of Mary Shelley (2000). The competition was unnerving for her—it giveth a queasy feeling, she wrote.
I wrote back a long (and, as I view it now, presumptuous and maybe even condescending) email, reassuring her. The good news: Once your book appears, I wrote, the ball game (as the saying goes) will be over. Yours will immediately become the standard against which all other once and future biographies will be measured. … I went on and on—I’m blushing now—until … Well, this is sounding like a pep talk, isn’t it? Uh, yes. (I’m blushing some more.)
Betty replied twelve minutes later.