Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 84



Not a lot remains from Mary’s girlhood. When I was in Europe in 1999, scurrying around England, Wales, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy looking for her footprints (and those of her intimates), I saw virtually nothing that dated from her girlhood. The places she lived in London as a girl are all gone—some thanks to urban renewal, some to Nazi bombers in World War II. One remaining site is the cemetery associated with London’s St. Pancras Church on Euston Road, once threatened by the arrival of St. Pancras Station, now a busy train station.
When her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, died shortly after delivering the baby Mary, Godwin had her remains buried at nearby St. Pancras. The story goes that Godwin often used to take little Mary there. Here are the words of biographer Emily W. Sunstein, the first account I read of those visits, generally occurring after lunch:
Godwin then took the children for a walk. Often they crossed the meadows to nearby ancient, stubby St. Pancras church and its quiet graveyard, and stood at her mother’s pedestal-like tombstone between a pair of weeping willows Godwin had planted. He taught Mary to read and spell her name by having her trace her mother’s inscription on the stone.[1]


And here’s what that inscription says:
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Author of
A Vindication
Of the Rights of Woman:
Born 27 April, 1759:
Died 10 September, 1797.
For her entire life Mary Shelley would idealize and idolize her lost mother. She was proud of her Wollstonecraft heritage, her Wollstonecraft middle name. She read her mother’s books over and over again. And I continue to find heartbreaking the image of that little girl, that little girl who’d never known her remarkable mother, placing her small finger in the groove of the stone, tracing the M, the a, the r, the y—and on and on. Tracing her mother’s name, touching her mother, learning from her stone the rudiments of the language that would one day become Frankenstein.

St. Pancras Church still stands, looking much as it did in Mary’s girlhood; that grave marker is still there, as well (you can easily find photographs on Google). Later, the grave would accommodate Godwin himself—as well as his second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin. But when Mary Shelley died in 1851, her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, 31, transferred their remains to a tomb in Bournemouth (the southern coastal town of his residence), where they all remain today. Except for those of Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin. Mary’s son left those right where they were lying at St. Pancras. And that occasions another story …







[1] Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989), 26.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE Writing Process?



In ways, my wife, Joyce, and I are very different. She loves salads and veggies; I prefer bread and crackers. She likes to work late in the evening; I hit the sack (to read and watch films) by 7 p.m. She likes to exercise early in the morning; I prefer the later afternoon. I could go on--but won't because pretty soon I'll come to some things I'd rather not confess, things that don't reflect well on me (like preferences in movies).

Before I go on, I need to sketch a little background. Not long before I retired from public school teaching (January 1997), the World of English Teaching was falling in love with "the writing process." The thinking sort of went like this: Kids' writing pretty much sucks. Part of the problem--maybe a big part--is that kids often don't know how to proceed when they have a writing assignment. So ... let's teach The Writing Process ... teach kids how to create a piece of writing, from brainstorming to planning to drafting to revising ... 

Sounds sensible--unless you've ever read any biographies of actual writers (who differ wildly from one another in their writing habits) or unless you consider the case of Joyce and me.

Let's do that--consider Joyce and me.

Right now, Joyce is in her fourth full draft of her book about Abolitionist John Brown, a process that's taken her about seven years. I'm not going to say much about what she says in that book--for two reasons: (1) that's her job, not mine; (2) she hasn't yet allowed me to read any of her drafts, so I can speak only generally (even vaguely) about her text. But I do know this: From having watched Joyce write all of her other books, I know that her "process" is very unlike the one that we thought we could use with kids--and I know, also, that her "process" is very unlike my own. And that it works, for her, spectacularly well.

Here's what she does (I think): She gets an idea (I live in the town where John Brown grew up; I think I want to write about that), then starts writing, all the while she's reading everything she can about him (and the attendant issues--race, slavery, etc.), all the while visiting key sites in the John Brown story (from Kansas' Pottawatomie Creek to Harpers Ferry to Richfield, Ohio, to ...). Her book evolves; she revises continually; she figures out what she's saying as she's saying it. It's stunning to witness. (William Godwin, by the way (Mary Shelley's father), a prolific writer himself, once wrote (I'm quoting freely now) that he didn't write to say what he thought; he wrote to figure out what he thought.)

I'm very different. In my YA biographies of Jack London, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Poe, for example, I first read everything they'd written, all the other biographies, all the relevant social and cultural histories (with Poe, for example, I read biographies of all the men who were president during his lifetime, 1809-1849--Madison, Monroe, JQ Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, W. H. Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor )--and only then, when I felt I'd read everything (impossible, I know), did I start writing--and I started writing only when I'd made a sort of rough outline of where I was headed. (My plans do change: I take detours all the time.)

I think about the writing habits of all sorts of famous folk. Percy Bysshe Shelley liked to write his poems out of doors. Hemingway and Philip Roth wrote standing up. Proust and Twain (later) wrote in bed. John O'Hara wrote all night at his typewriter. Jack London wrote 1000 words, longhand, the first thing every morning, seven days a week. Emily Dickinson wrote during the cracks in the day. Scott Fitzgerald and Edgar Poe wrote in furious flurries of activity. And on and on and on.

So--in my view--the better thing is not to teach kids the writing process (there is none) but to help them figure out what their processes are. What works for you, Tom? Eleanor? Dan? Joyce? And what doesn't? (I remember that one of my own high school English teachers required us to turn in an outline with our "themes"; many of us wrote the outline after we'd written the paper.)

If we do this--broaden our scope, show kids numerous ways to approach a writing task--well, maybe then kids' writing will no longer live in the Land of Suckery.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 83



Mary’s Girlhood: “The Outlines of Intelligence” 

When little Mary Godwin was not quite three weeks old, her father, William Godwin, had his friend William Nicholson, a phrenologist, examine her. Nicholson wrote a report to Godwin in September 18, 1797, the same day that he’d examined the infant. “The outline of the head viewed from above, its profile, the outline of the forehead, seen from behind and in its horizontal positions, are such as I have invariably and exclusively seen in subjects who possessed considerable memory and intelligence. … The mouth was too much employed to be well observed. It has the outlines of intelligence.[1]

When I began eating my Frankenstein sundae (the metaphorical, not the actual one) in 1997, I knew nothing about little Mary Godwin—hell, I didn't even know who Mary Godwin was. I knew only the slimmest bit about Mary Shelley—nothing at all about her Godwin girlhood. I’d never even heard of William Godwin when I began nibbling. But that would soon change.
I've already written about my journey through all the Mary Shelley biographies, beginning with Emily Sunstein’s 1988 volume, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. As I look now at my copy of that book—which I read in January 1997, beginning it just days after I retired from the Aurora City Schools—I notice the myriads of underlinings, especially about Mary's girlhood. A simple formula, really: the more underlinings in the text, the less I knew.
As I’ve said, I subsequently read every other biography of Mary Shelley—and all the biographies of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, as well. But this story about the phrenologist stuck with me. Of course, the “science” of phrenology is right up there with astrology in its nonsense (both –ologies have mastered the technique of saying little while saying a lot), and Godwin’s friend knew very well that this infant was the offspring of two of the most remarkable and talented human beings of the era. So observing that the child looked as if she might be intelligent, affectionate, and of “quick sensibility,” and “surely not given to rage” was not exactly the riskiest prediction I’ve ever read.[2]


But my favorite line of all? The mouth was too much employed to be well observed. Gee, an infant with a busy mouth? What a surprise.




[1] C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, vol. 1 (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876), 289–90.
[2] Ibid.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 30



1. The local papers these past few weeks have had a number of stories about the 1964 NFL Championship Game (there was no Super Bowl in those days) when the Browns defeated the favored Baltimore Colts, 27-0. I was there. I was barely twenty years old, a junior at Hiram College, and--at the time--a Big Time Browns Fan. My fealty had been natural: The Browns used Hiram College as their summer training camp in those years, and around town I frequently saw Jim Brown and Lou Groza and other notables--including the doomed Ernie Davis, the Heisman-winner who would die of leukemia before he played for the Browns. I lost a Ping Pong game to halfback Ernie Green down at the old college student union. My waggish schoolboy friends and I had liked to game the out-of-towners. People would flock into town for the practices, and they would sometimes see us on the streets and ask, "Where's the football field?" And we promptly sent them over to the old Hiram High School field. (Weren't we clever?)

Jim Brown & QB Frank Ryan after winning the NFL Championship 
Anyway, I got to go to that '64 game because of an old Hiram School friend, Johnny Kelker (a year younger), who worked for the Browns as kind of a gofer each summer. They gave Johnny two tickets. And he offered one to me. No-brainer. I looked at the ticket: $8. Outrageous! (Cokes and candy bars were still a nickel; gas was below 30 cents/gallon.)

We sat near the end zone at the opposite end of the bleachers in the old Cleveland Stadium and greatly enjoyed the astonishing ass-whupping the Browns delivered to the Colts--Johnny Unitas and all!

2. This week I finished Philip Roth's 1993 novel, Operation Shylock: A Confession, a book which I admired but didn't enjoy all that much. As I've written here recently, I'm trying to "catch up" with Roth. I'd read most of his books at the time they came out--but not all. And Shylock was one that I'd missed--though I had bought it back in '93. (Just checked on ABE: 1st printings, unsigned, are worth about $50; signed ones, up to $450.)

Anyway, it's narrated by "Philip Roth," a character whose career is virtually identical to the actual PR. He learns, though, that there's someone in Israel who's impersonating him (I'll call him pr), who's advocating strongly for what he calls "diasporism," the notion that the Jews of Israel, now under continuous threat from their Arab neighbors, should return to the European countries they'd fled during the Nazi era. PR goes over to Israel to look for and confront pr--during the Demjanjuk trial, of course (is he the real Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka?), and we get all kinds of other questions of identity--reminding me of the opening (and terribly significant lines) of Hamlet: a palace guard calls out in the dark: "Who's there?" Indeed.

Anyway, it's admirable, as I said, what Roth accomplished in this novel--exploring identity (as I said), personal history, the fate(s) of the Jews, and so on. But it was a very cerebral novel (not that I always mind such fare), one that just never engaged me emotionally, which, of course, is mostly my fault. I never felt I was the audience for the book, and so I was kind of watching it from the outside--like a play--and was not pulled into it.

3. We had a busy Christmas Eve. Son Steve, his wife (Melissa), and their two kids--Logan (9) and Carson (5)--came over for supper and gift-exchanging. The boys were very excited (as their ages would indicate) and seemed to be happy with everything but the clothing they got (I'd felt exactly the same way at their ages). For supper, we had a beef tenderloin (a purchase that required a second mortgage), mashed potatoes (thanks for the brute force, Steve), green beans, homemade cornbread, homemade sourdough bread, cranberry sauce. For dessert--my grandmother Osborn's steamed pudding, which has, oh, about 2,000 calories per spoonful. We eat it once a year--but I would eat it every meal if my body could process it. Logan, by the way, seemed very happy with the fountain pen that we bought him (Joyce's great idea). I love my own fountain pen--purchased on impulse in the Portland, Ore., airport years ago--and use it all the time, mostly for notes on the books I'm reviewing.

4. Christmas Day ... we recovered. We cleaned clutter in the morning, got paper and boxes ready for recycling, then, after lunch, drove over to Hiram College, where Joyce collected her campus mail (I spent my secondary school and college years in Hiram and always love going there--also taught a couple of years in Hiram's wonderful Weekend College). Then we drove over to nearby Garrettsville, where my mother taught at James A. Garfield High School (1956-1966) and where my younger brother graduated (1966). We drove by the school, thought about Mom ...

5. We were happy to learn from my younger brother, Dave (the Garfield grad--a "G-Man"), about an Amazon series called Bosch that's starting (one episode now available), a series based on the Michael Connelly novels about Harry Bosch, the veteran L.A. detective. I've read 'em all. Enjoyed that 1st episode--looking forward to the rest. The image says February 2014 for Episode One--not sure what that means. Connelly, by the way, is the Executive Producer.



6. Finally--an addendum to the post I did the other day about the film The Imitation Game about math whiz Alan Turing, who helped break the Nazis' Enigma code in the early years of WW II. In the fall of 1987, on Harmon School's annual 8th Grade Washington Trip, I took a few kids to the Kennedy Center to see that wonderful actor Derek Jacobi in Breaking the Code, a play about Turing (Jacobi), a play written by Hugh Whitemore in 1986. I just looked in my "Whitemore" file and found a study guide that the Kennedy Center had sent me back then, a thick publication that includes information about Andrew Hodges' biography (Alan Turing: The Enigma, 1983), about Turing's work (there is a copy of one of his key articles,"Computing Machines and Intelligence," an essay that begins with this: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'"), about Whitemore's life and career. A gold mine. I remember that the kids really liked the production, but, of course, I can't for the life of me remember who those young men and women were ... dotage!

Oh, there was a TV movie of Breaking the Code in 1996 with Jacobi reprising his role. You can see the whole thing on YouTube now: link to Breaking the Code.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movies about Smart Guys


No, not Wiseguys, that 1986 Brian DePalma blood-bath film. Smart guys. Really smart guys. 'Tis the season, it seems.

In recent days we've seen both The Theory of Everything, the film about physicist Stephen Hawking, and The Imitation Game, about mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing, whose efforts accelerated the end of World War II. Oh, and we also saw Interstellar, a film that required of its audience a bit more than Algebra I.

We liked all three films, but in both Theory and Imitation we were a tad disappointed that the filmmakers didn't trust the intelligence of the audience a little more. In neither film did we really learn too much about Hawking's or Turing's ideas--and what they mean (only in a cursory, superficial way). Now, I don't pretend to be able to understand much about what I just mentioned (I was an English major, remember? And for good reason!), but I've read, over the decades, a lot of popular books about the sciences--from Stephen Jay Gould to Hawking himself--and I could have handled more--a lot more--than these films provided. Both of them focused, more or less, on the personal lives of their protagonists, which, to me, were a lot less interesting that what was going on above their eyes.

Yes, Hawking has ALS and has persevered to a degree that most of us can barely comprehend; yes, the Brits persecuted Turing for his sexual orientation (forcing him to suicide)--and those are stories of importance and significance. But they also pale beside the intellectual lives of those guys.

Yet in Imitation, for example, we really learn nothing about Turing's early computer design. We see a bunch of complicated charts--and wires--and gizmos. But we don't really know what he's doing. What's behind it all. That, I think, is a major failure--and a lost opportunity to educate as well as entertain.

As Joyce pointed out to me as we were leaving Imitation, a film like Interstellar demanded far more of its audience than either Imitation or Theory.

And one final thought: As I've gotten older, I've become far more interested in the the lives of Nerds* than in those of Big Guys with Guns. Yes, I'll still go see Mark Wahlberg and kin in a thriller now and then, but a far more thrilling sight to me was Alan Turing, realizing he'd found the key to the Germans' Enigma code, sprinting with his fellow nerds back to the lab, where they discovered he was right--that they'd found the pathway leading the world out of yet another global conflict.

We do need to feature nerds more in the films (and in schools and in every other damn venue--and not in the Revenge of the Nerds fashion). But we need not just to recognize the gifted among us but we need to celebrate them; we need, in a way, to fall to our knees and to cry out our gratitude.

*Nerd, by the way, goes back to 1950 and Dr. Seuss ... If I Ran the Zoo.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Letter


We received this letter the other day ... I don't know the person who wrote it (delivered to incorrect address?) ... but thought I'd share it ...

Happy Holidays to All!

It’s so hard to believe another year has passed, and here I sit, once again composing our annual letter to bring you all up to date on our busy, busy lives. I’ll do what I usually do—go person by person, right through the family. Sound like a plan?

·         Husband Leon remains so committed to his job—it’s a wonder! The Latte Lounge should nominate him for some sort of Loyal Employee award. Such time he commits to them—especially to the new girls they’re always hiring (one of his jobs is new-employee training—and he is so devoted to that, often staying late in the evenings—even on weekends!). During his free time he continues volunteering at the Home for Runaway Girls, where he apparently has quite the reputation! They’re always calling to see if he can come over to help out—and he never declines … well, only if he has to train a new Latte Lounge worker. And one more thing (just to show you his character): For the tenth year in a row he declined his two-week vacation! I’m not sure he’ll be here on Christmas Day …

·         Son Ahab remains at sea, remains a dancer on a cruise line … I’m not really sure which one it is: Every time I ask, he is very vague in his reply. I don’t blame him. I mean, it would really be embarrassing if his parents showed up for a cruise on the very ship where he is dancing in the evening shows. It’s a real testament to his character, you know, being a dancer. He lost that leg (remember our letter last year?) when he went along with some passengers to go whale-watching. And that awful whale that tipped over their boat and swam away with our son’s leg in his mouth. (I oughta write a book!) Anyway, he thought his career was over, but his fellow dancers would not let him quit, and with their love and support he returned to the job, wooden leg and all, only months later. (I bet he’d love to get even with that dick of a whale!)

·         Daughter Antigone remains … well, Antigone. You remember her? Always believing she’s right? Doing what she wants even though her father and I are very much opposed? I’m not really sure where she is now, and if any of you have seen her—or heard from her—would you let us know? The last we knew she was off somewhere working for some organization devoted to burial rights. What a grim thing to do …

·         Daughter Hester … well, she’s always been an A student, you know? But lately … she’s been going over to the church, all the time, Sunday or not, where she’s become a devoted follower of that new preacher, Arthur … Something. (Can’t remember his name. Just getting dim in my age, I guess.) That's got to be a good thing, right? Going to church? But I’m also concerned that she seems to be putting on weight. That is not like her, not like her at all. Maybe it’s just all the holiday food …?

·         Finally, our youngest—Huck—the adopted one—is nowhere to be found, either. He’s always loved to hang around down by the riverfront where he sometimes forms the most … unusual … friendships. He’s just the adventurous type, you know? I just hope he’s gotten over all that lying and cross-dressing and cursing and smoking and … We do love him. Really. Especially on Christmas. We heard a rumor that his drunken father has been seen lately. We hope that’s not true. Whenever Huck spends time with him out at the island cabin, he like runs away and stuff, sometimes for weeks on end. What a free spirit! One day he’ll come back … won’t he?

·         And as for me? Well, I’m kind of sick of being a mother. I’m not very good at it. And—since we must always be honest, especially at Christmas time—I’ve begun a “friendship” with a young man I’ll just call “A.” He’s very attentive—especially considering husband Leon is gone so much of the time. I’m thinking about heading down to Louisiana--to Grand Isle--one of these days—maybe with A., maybe by myself. I know you shouldn’t go swimming all alone, but it’s so beautiful in the warm, embracing Gulf waters …

Have a Happy New Year (whatever that is).

Edna




Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Dyer Boys' Christmas: The Briefest of Memories



Christmas morning couldn't officially begin until Dad had shaved. That was the rule in the Dyer house when I was growing up. We--my two brothers and I--could run downstairs and look at the gifts spread out under the tree (which we did), we could cry out for Dad to hurry (which we did, which he never did), we could pick packages up and guess (and shake and wonder and hope), we could plead with Mom (which we did), we could hope for her intervention (which never happened), we could run back upstairs a score of times, checking the bathroom (Dad out yet? Has Dad finished shaving yet?)--and then ... that most magnificent Christmas sound of all.

Dad opening the bathroom door. Starting down the stairs, bringing Christmas with him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Are You Here?


Regular visitors to this site know that I am, uh, something of a creature of habit. I’ve written before about my habits (both beneficial and deleterious, both virtuous and shameful). In the evenings, for example, I like to go to bed early and read a bit from the various books I have going up there. Currently, it’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (Tobias Smollett),  Romola (George Eliot), Twenty Years After (sequel to The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas), Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (Claudia Hammond), The Quick (a vampire novel by Lauren Owen ), Death Without Company (a Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson), and The Burning Room (the latest by Michael Connelly).


I don’t always read from every book every night—but, generally, at least three or four of them. Then, while waiting for Joyce to join me in bed, I usually watch a film or something else Netflixian that I know she wouldn’t really enjoy (think: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, anything with Jasons Statham or Segel—you get the picture?). The last few days I’ve been watching a Netflix DVD that is just about as bad a film as I’ve seen in a long, long time. (Link to trailer for the film.)

Just to show you my taste in films, I ordered this one because Netflix recommended it to me (fitting with my, uh, taste). And I thought it looked pretty good: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler--what could go wrong?

Everything.

Although it's putatively a comedy, I did not laugh a single time. Over the three evenings I worked my way through it (and I do mean worked!) I kept asking myself: Why are you watching this? But the next evening I would pick up where I left off (stopping immediately when Joyce arrived), ending the segment with Why are you watching this?  I wouldn't be surprised if Joyce were thinking the same thing--she's had a lot of experience with that over our 45 years together: Why is Danny doing that? Or ... Daniel, when she's really disgusted, disappointed, disenchanted--all those other dis- words.

Wilson plays a depraved TV weatherman; Galifianakis is his childhood buddy (who's bi-polar--surprised yet?); Poehler is G's snotty sister (definitely playing off-type in this disaster). They all live in Penn.; the father of AP and ZG dies--there's a sizable estate--sibling rivalry ...  Oh, and there's another woman on the scene, Melissa Rauch (I think), who pays the hot (but principled!) young widow (very young widow) of the father. Sexy-wexy with both OW and ZG.

Oh, and there's a nearby Amish family to provide the theological gravity--the little Amish boy tells ZG that God wants ZG to take his meds to treat his bi-polarity.

The New York Times called it a "willfully messy movie" (and some other things--link to Times review). It was more than that. It was in a special category.

See, there are good Bad Films (oh, anything in the Judd Apatow vein), and there are bad Good Films (serious films--I won't name any--that I thought sucked), and there are good Good films (classics that have remained affecting), and, of course, there are bad Bad films.

Are You Here is in the final category--though I think it may have earned a category of its own: a BAD BAD film.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cookbookery


Sometimes we all remember things that didn't happen. Sometimes they didn't happen at all; other times, they happened in a way whose specifics we've forgotten (for one silly or sick reason or another).

Take this cookbook--Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Before I looked at the copyright date just now, I would have told you a romantic story about how my mother had given this to us at the time we were married--her own cookbook, the one I'd seen around our kitchen at home for years. The familiar table-cloth cover ...  (I can hear the ain't-that-a-sweet-story Awwwwwwww even now from readers.)

But today--using the cookbook for a reason another picture below will supply--I looked at the date and saw, to my surprise: 1973. We were married late in 1969. So ... either my mother gave us a newer one later on (not the one she'd used) or we bought it ourselves or someone else gave it to us. Whatever. Of course, I deeply prefer the mother-story, but it just didn't happen--not in the way I remembered it.

Anyway. 1973. We've still had the book for a long time (more than forty years), and early in our marriage we used it all the time for all sorts of things in our very plain and pedestrian meals.

Nowadays, I drag it out only for nostalgic reasons around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I use it for cornbread (see below) and for the hard sauce that adorns the steamed pudding I make on Christmas Day (or Eve, depending on when the family's here), a recipe I have from my grandmother--and, yes, I'm sure about that: It's in my mother's handwriting, and the recipe says where she got it. So there!

Anyway, I kind of wish I had not looked at the copyright date today. I much preferred the fiction to the fact ... and isn't that often the case for all of us?

out of the oven,
5 minutes ago

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 29



1. Monday Night: My father is alive and is making some kind of political speech. His opponent has somehow managed to abscond with Dad's text (no teleprompter), so Dad is forced to wing it. He gives a talk about hard work--about how he grew up on a farm in Oregon, where he learned what hard work is. He talks about some chores he had on the farm--with animals, with crops, with his younger siblings (there were many). I am standing in the crowd of workers (they all seem to have come from a factory or something), and they are cheering for him. I am cheering for him. So proud of my dad. And then I wake and miss him, horribly, all over again. He's been gone now for more than fifteen years.

2. We had a quiet 45th wedding anniversary. Through most of the day we did what we usually do--read and write and exercise a bit. Then, after lunch, we exchanged cards (we buy no more things anymore), each containing a poem from the other. Many tears. Early in the evening, we drove to the Thai Gourmet in Stow for our din-din. We've patronized a number of places for our anniversary dinner: for years we went to the inn at Punderson State Park, then to the Reserve Inn in Hudson, then the Inn at Turner's Mill in Hudson, Downtown 140 in Hudson ... but this year we changed venues and enjoyed it a lot.  After dinner, we drove on into Kent to the Kent Plaza Cinemas.

3. Earlier this week--via Netflix streaming--we watched the PBS documentary Hawking, a film we both enjoyed very much. Many things I'd not known about him, though I'd read his A Brief History of Time years ago and have read a lot about him. Anyway, we were looking forward to seeing The Theory of Everything, the film about Hawking with the wonderful Eddie Redmayne in the title role. There were many things we loved about Theory, but both of us wished for more science, less ... love. I mean--to me, the most interesting thing about Hawking is his mind--his ideas--so I wanted more emphasis on those aspects of his story. Not that I object to a little romance, mind you. It's just the balance between the two that disappointed me. Still liked the film a lot, though.



4. A couple/few other wedding memories from 1969 ...

  • We realized, somewhere between Akron and New Orleans, that we didn't have a camera. So we stopped at a pharmacy in some little town and bought a Kodak Instamatic. Somewhere are slides of that trip--New Orleans; the Mississippi River; Hannibal, MO; the newlyweds. I'm going to look in some of our old Carousel slide trays.
  • One of the weird things about the wedding: I didn't know Joyce's bridesmaids; she didn't know my ushers. We'd met and married so quickly that we had to sort of catch up later with getting to know people.
  • On Christmas night in New Orleans, we went to a movie--the latest Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In that film Bond marries, and as they're driving away from the ceremony, a hit team kills his bride. Nice choice for a honeymoon film, eh?
  • One night--in our hotel room in New Orleans--hungry, hungry, hungry, we ordered from room service a "seafood gumbo"; a giant bowl arrived, and we ate greedily.
  • It was the first Christmas I'd ever spent away from family (same for Joyce, who is an only child), so it was strange--and lonely in ways. My mom had given us, though, a small Christmas tree with ersatz gumdrop ornaments. We set that tree up in our room and exchanged our wee gifts. Our first Christmas. We kept that little tree for years and years, but Time and entropy eventually took care of it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Some Things I Remember from December 20, 1969

In no particular order ...

1. I was incredibly excited. Joyce Ann Coyne and I had met in mid-July 1969 in a summer school course at Kent State ("American Transcendentalism," with Dr. Kenneth Pringle), both of us early in our Master's programs, a course neither of us had wanted to take at the time (each of us had been unable to get into our first-choice, which, naturally, was not the same one: high enrollment brought us together!), and our courtship had been, uh, rather swift--much to the alarm of our parents, whose alarm I could not understand. Why, I was almost twenty-five! What is the problem? Most of all I just could not believe that she loved me ... why? I've always joked that we married quickly so that she wouldn't get to know me too well until it was too late ... but there's a kernel of truth in that joke.

2. My grandmother, Alma Osborn (Osborn is my middle name--our son's middle name), had arrived from Columbia, Missouri (where, a widow, she lived in a retirement community). The night of our rehearsal, she fell on the ice and broke her arm--an accident she fiercely concealed from us; I did not know it had happened until, at the wedding, I saw the cast on her arm. She refused to discuss it--wanted the focus on us. That was Grandma ...  In the official wedding pictures, she covered the cast with a stole.

with Grandma Osborn and Uncle Ronald Osborn
3. My aunt and uncle--Ronald and Naomi Osborn--were having a very tough time. Their only child, daughter Virginia, had been killed only a couple of years before while she was heading home with friends over spring break during her freshman year at Stephens College. I'd asked my uncle--a distinguished seminary professor (and fantastic man)--to deliver the talk at our wedding, which he agreed to do--teasing me throughout, calling it an "oration." But Aunt Naomi was having such difficulty. She'd so much hoped for a day like this with Virginia, and now ...  I could tell throughout her time in Ohio (they were living in Indianapolis) that she was trying desperately not to break down. (See text of Uncle Ronald's "oration" below.) Aunt Naomi could not bring herself to be in the picture above. I understood--and understand.

4. We had the rehearsal dinner at the old Holiday Inn on Grant Street in Akron. The toasts were fantastic (older brother, Richard, I recall said that he used to beat me in races down the sidewalk, and now I had beaten him down the aisle); afterwards, I toasted everyone in the room--saying something about all the varieties of good people there are in the world.

5. My two brothers--Richard and Dave--and I wept throughout Uncle Ronald's "oration"--and through much of the rest of it.

6. The service was in Akron's Concordia Lutheran Church; some of Joyce's ancestors, stonemasons, had helped build the structure.

7. Our reception was at the carriage house at Stan Hywet. Many people there, including Aurora physician and friend Dr. Fred Bissell (whose children I had taught at the middle school). He took up a collection for us--money that helped us on our honeymoon journey to New Orleans.



8. Serving as ushers were my two brothers and my great college friends (with whom I'm still in touch) Don Bartlett and Claude Steele. Best man was Bill Smith, another college friend, who was already at Duke Med School. He would later spend his entire career in Wooster, OH, as a family physician. I was his best man, too.

9. Waiting with my dad to come out to commence the wedding, I tried to think of a way to thank him. (Such a wonderful father.) And all I could think of--swear, swear, swear this is true--was a line from My Three Sons, that old TV program (1960-72), when Robbie (Don Grady) is getting married. He tells his father (Fred MacMurray), just before they go out to commence the wedding, something like this: "Thanks for making me ready for (worthy of?) Katie [Tina Cole]." So, that's what I said to my dad, too, hoping he didn't remember the line, for he, the father of three sons, watched My Three Sons each week.


10. I was driving a 1969 VW Fastback (dark green), and we left for our first stop on our journey to New Orleans while the reception was still going on. Our first night together as a married couple--at the Holiday Inn North in Columbus, Ohio.



11. We have had thousands and thousands of days together since then. I greedily hope for many thousands more. But as I get older, I more and more know this is impossible, and I more and more appreciate those wonderful lines of the Bard that end his Sonnet 64:

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.






Friday, December 19, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 82


There’s a coda here. I had originally printed out all—well, most, it seems—of my correspondence with Betty, filing it all with my Mary Shelley things, knowing I’d probably need to refer to it now and then as I was writing and revising my biography. But then I went back to teach at WRA; I started working on Edgar Poe; I wrote to Betty only rarely; I forgot about that thick file.
Until I started working on this memoir. Going through my folders, I found it, was dazzled by its dimensions. But what to do with it?
In late October 2011 I found out that Betty’s papers were being handled by the outstanding Shelley scholar Charles Robinson—her dear friend on the faculty of the University of Delaware. I emailed him and told him what I had, and he thought it would be a good thing to add to her papers, which he was collecting for the Bennett archive—though its location, at the time, was uncertain. He told me there had been an auction of some of her collection—but many things had not sold.
On October 29, I drove to a nearby OfficeMax and photocopied the entire set of email exchanges (bought a thick notebook, as well, to stuff it all into); on Halloween—how fitting!—I mailed it all to Robinson in Delaware (saving a copy for myself, of course).
He and I exchanged a few more emails on the subject, and he sent me the texts of the remarks he’d made at her memorial service at American University on September 16, 2006, and of his tribute published in the Keats-Shelley Journal (an annual) in 2007. Everything he said about her resonated most profoundly with me. (I also learned from those remarks that her library had gone to the Byron Society Library at Drew University—not sure if our correspondence was among those items.)
After I read his wonderful tributes, I sent this note to him (excerpted):
I just finished those extraordinarily moving tributes to Betty—and I was not at all surprised to learn that she was as generous with others as she was with me (as the correspondence you’ll soon see reveals). I remember being so stunned that she would write to me—a middle school teacher (at the time) who knew, initially, so little about MWS et al. that it was, well, probably laughable. She didn’t laugh. She guided me all the way, shared things with me that I know she was planning to publish one day herself ... for me, she was a model of what a true scholar is. I come from an academic family (both parents were profs; both brothers, too, for a while), so I know how rare was her behavior in the groves of you-know-where.
I wish, as I’ve said, that I’d been a better friend to Betty in her final struggle. Although I am not part of her family, was not part of her inner circle of friends and colleagues, had met her only once, I know there was both a scholarly and a personal intimacy in our correspondence.
As I also said, when I was working on this (far too long) chapter, I intentionally did not “read ahead” in the correspondence. I wanted to reconstruct, insofar as such is possible, the novelty—and the excitement—of it all.
And, doing so, I rediscovered the wonders of Betty Bennett—and felt overwhelming gratitude for her generosity and kindness. They have been among the great gifts of my life.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Library of America--and a Coincidence



Joyce and I have been subscribers to the Library of America since it first began. (Link to LOA's website.) Actually, we joined a little bit after its inception, and, later on, discovering that some of the first volumes we'd bought from them were not first printings, I searched the Internet for used-book sites that offered 1st of those early volumes--and gradually acquired them all (about a dozen or so?). As the pix at the bottom of the page show, we now have quite a few (i.e., hundreds) of volumes. Joyce has quite a few upstairs, too, where she's working furiously on her book about Abolitionist John Brown.

We use the books a lot. A few years ago, for example, on a Henry James kick--a "kick" I could not have imagined back in college, when I could not read James, try as I might (okay, I didn't try all that hard!)--I decided to read all his novels in the order he published them. I didn't have to buy an extra damned thing: All were in the LOA.

And now, as I'm now trying to read the Philip Roth books I've never gotten around to, I have to go no farther than the LOA to find the volumes I don't own (just a few--I was pretty good at buying, if not reading, Roth over the decades).

Although the LOA volumes are edited by scholars, they are not flawless. In the Jack London volume, for example, the editor (who shall remain nameless) in an endnote declares this about London's spelling of the Alaskan coastal town of Skagway (its current spelling). London had spelled it Skaguay: "Since I have not found any record of a variant spelling of Skagway as Skaguay, and since London spells the town Skagway elsewhere in his Klondike fiction, I have assumed Skaguay a typographical error which slipped by in both publications [the novel, its serialization in The Saturday Evening Post] and have emended it to Skagway."

Well, "Skaguay" was indeed a common spelling during the Gold Rush of 1897-99 and earlier. Oops.

Anyway, a new LOA volume continues to arrive every month (and we also subscribe to the LOA's poetry series--and we also buy their occasional topical volumes; these are visible in the 3rd photo at the bottom--the volumes on the shelf below the "regular" ones). Just the other day--here came another new one, a collection of late writings by Louisa May Alcott.

But included with the shipment was another volume and a little note: "Dear Library of America Subscriber: We are pleased to enclose a copy of a special commemorative volume, Philip Roth at 80: A Celebration (Remarks delivered on the occasion of Philip Roth's 80th birthday), for you to enjoy free of charge."

Oh, yes! Happy coincidence!

The letter also says you can buy copies from the site for $5.

I read my gift book yesterday--a kind of a book for which the Germans have a word--die Festschrift (commemorative publication), a word that we've adopted into English--the OED lists 1898 as its earliest published use in our language.

But I'll postpone for a day or so my account of what's in that volume ... this has reached its reader-tolerance length, I fear.

To be continued ...




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 81


There are few pages remaining in the thick notebook of email that Betty and I exchanged during our four years of correspondence. I have not “read ahead” throughout this entire chapter—far too long, I know, for any chapter—and I do not recall how our exchanges ended. There are 383 pages in this notebook, and I am now looking at page 380. This part of the story will end today, I know.
On June 20, 2002, I wrote to her with a quick question about a trip Mary Shelley had taken to Paris in 1828. I added: Hoping each day brings you more strength. And I ended with our now-customary Fondly.
Page 381: Betty wrote back the next day with a thoughtful answer to my question. And … Fondly.
Page 382: I replied a couple of hours later. Thanks for the confirmation. I told her some more research and writing news, and then this: Let me know if you’re seeing visitors—for I will be in your area in the middle of July and would love to see you.  And … Fondly.
Page 383: Here’s the whole thing—Hi, Dan—Do let me know if you will be in the area in mid-July—Yes, I certainly am seeing friends—just a question of schedules—Fondly, Betty
And that’s the end.
What happened? I look at my journal for mid-July 2002, and I see that Joyce and I were indeed “in the area.” We were on an extended “literary” trip—spending some of the summer research money that Western Reserve Academy had given me. On July 16, our son’s thirtieth birthday, we were in Baltimore looking at and photographing Poe sites, but there is not a word in my journal about Betty, just the news that we drove on that day to Piedmont, West Virginia, hometown of Henry Louis Gates, the town he’d written about extensively in his wonderful memoir Colored People (1994), a book we were teaching to juniors at WRA.
Did I think about Betty that day we were so near to Washington, D. C.? I must have. Only a month before I’d written her with a promise, a promise that I’d patently broken. And in my journal for June I’d written this: sent e-mail back and forth to Betty Bennett, with whom I’ve not corresponded much this year (my fault); she’s had lung cancer and is now recovering fairly well; I’ll write more often now … But, of course, I didn’t.
I’m thinking some ugly thoughts about myself right now, about how I’d “moved on” to other interests, leaving behind a scholar and friend who’d been surpassingly generous with me. But Mary Shelley was more or less in my rear-view mirror; Poe lay before me (and I would indeed write a YA biography of him in the ensuing years). Although I would eventually upload the Shelley book to Kindle Direct Publishing in 2012, I hadn’t really dived back into the Shelley Sea—just updated some things. In fact, it wasn’t until I began this memoir that I rediscovered the pleasures of swimming (and diving) in that rich ocean of people and information.
But wait. Maybe I’m not as much of an ungrateful jerk as I think. I just did a name search for my 2003 journal—and found this from January 11: e-mail to Betty B to see how she’s doing and to let her know I’m thinking of her; I’m worried about her and have not heard from her in quite a while  I obviously didn’t print that one out—and it’s long gone (I’ve changed email accounts several times since then).
And this from December 29: replied to earlier e-mail from Betty B re: how I’m doing. Again—I have no copy.
May 18, 2004: e-mailed Betty Bennett to see what’s going on with her  No copy—just as there are no copies of any subsequent messages.
May 16, 2005: e-mail from/to Betty Bennett re: my health & some slides she’d like to use from the Shelleys in Italy. “My health”—I was nearing surgery for prostate cancer, just about a month away.
Christmas Eve, 2005: note from Betty Bennett (health problems from her, as well)—but warm & amiable … I must have written her about the results of my prostate cancer surgery in June 2005?
January 13, 2006: replied to e-mail from Betty Bennett re: the slides she borrowed from me (I’d forgotten she had them!)
February 7, 2006: wrote to Betty Bennett re: the new book (sigh)  The “new book” is a Mary Shelley title I’d recently reviewed. (It wasn’t very good—riddled with errors as I said in an earlier journal entry).
I can find no other references to Betty—or to BB (as I commonly referred to her in my journal)—after February 2006.
And then—August 12, 2006—Betty Bennett, 71, died of lung cancer at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D. C. Most of the obituary in the Washington Post is about her Shelley work (rightly so), and there’s an intriguing sentence near the end: She had completed work on a literary biography of Shelley, which is scheduled to be released by Harvard University Press. This can’t be true—I know she was not finished. I just checked the HUP site: no such listing.
The New York Times had only a brief “paid notice” about her death, posted by the Keats-Shelley Association. We shall miss, it says, her creative energy, her keen intellect, her kindness and her genuine friendship. Indeed.
The Post obituary ends with these touching words: Through her study of Shelley, Dr. Bennett said she learned what it was like for a woman to be on her own in the 19th century. “I gradually learned to be better able to be on my own in the 20th,” she said.
I flail myself with this thought: I’d not corresponded her her since that February exchange—even though I knew she was suffering. And worst of all? I did not even know she’d died until I began working on this memoir and checked the Post’s website. Can I ever hope to describe the rupture in my conscience—in my heart—when I found that obituary?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Back to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, OH
It was almost exactly a decade ago--December 13, 2004--that a urologist told me I needed to get a biopsy on my prostate gland. My family physician had noticed something during a routine physical, had referred me to the urologist, who then gave me the news. He did not seem worried--the test for Prostate Specific Antigen--PSA--had been in the normal range--but still, he said, we should check. And so, in January 2005, I had the biopsy (among the most unpleasant experiences of my life: I tried to recite "The Raven" in my head while it was happening, but he flew away very quickly). And then the news came: prostate cancer.

Well, as readers of these posts know, it was on to surgery (2005), radiation (2009), and then hormone-deprivation therapy (2013). The surgery had failed--as had the radiation. My PSA kept rising. But the quarterly injections of Lupron (which zaps my testosterone, the "food" of prostate cancer)--a temporary fix--have kept my PSA undetectable since my first blood test that came three months after the first injection in July 2013.

Last week I had my most recent blood test, and my PSA remains undetectable. Nearly a year and a half now. But I also know this is temporary: Lupron is not a cure; it's a delaying tactic. The cancer is clever. Figures things out. Adapts. Survives. (Curse you, Charles Darwin!)

Yesterday (Monday) I saw my oncologist up at the Seidman Cancer Center, and he remains encouraged. In fact, he held out the possibility that if my PSA remains undetectable in my next test (March 2015), he will try taking me off Lupron for a while. Just to see. He says my cancer is "behaving well"--which, of course, is a bit like saying that the invader in your home has been doing the dishes for you.

He also wants me to undergo a couple of bone tests (the cancer had been moving into my bones before Lupron interrupted that process), so after New Year's I'll be lying inside some scanners. I've done it before--several times--and it's more an inconvenience than a problem. Another hoop.

My symptoms remain fairly stable: no libido (no testosterone), periods of heat and sweating (though they seem more infrequent now--not the once/hour I have been experiencing), emotions near the surface (weepy, weepy boy am I), depression (why not?), much-diminished energy. And so on. I've also had some dizziness and instability lately, but I'm going to be seeing my family physician about those. Nothing too serious--just annoying. Could be Rx-drug related.

Before I left Seidman yesterday, I got my quarterly Lupron injection in the derrière. The only good thing about that? I couldn't watch--not that I wanted to.

Joyce remains my most potent weapon against all of this--holding my hand, encouraging me, holding my hand, holding my hand, holding my hand ...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 80


A few days later I replied, telling her I was so alarmed to receive your note—and am relieved your situation is improving. I told her I was thinking of her. Most of the rest of my fairly long email is, well, whining. I told her how hard I’d worked that first year back teaching; I told her how I hadn’t gotten much writing done as a result. Blah, blah, blah.
I ended with a promise: I will be a better correspondent now. I have been lousy. I think of you often, but I haven’t done a very good job of acting on those thoughts. Shame on me.
An hour later, Betty replied, thanking me for my note and thoughts. She added more about her situation: chemo every two weeks, and only part of the intruder is gone. I think about that term now—the intruder. It’s a perfect word for the arrival of death’s messenger.
And she added: It would be lovely to get back to the biography in anything but sporadic visits … but as my family & friends & doctors all point, first things first—
I wrote back a week later with news about my mother’s minor surgery and about my plan to return to teaching at WRA part-time rather than full. The offer was a good one. More whining, too, about the literary agency whose screeching silence was telling me that nothing was happening with my Shelley biography.
Betty replied briefly. She was continuing her treatments—most of my time involved in the healing process …
I replied the same day—was I really going to do better?—telling her that I had accepted the contract at WRA and that, yes, the agency’s silence had boded ill: They’d returned my manuscript, which, as far as I could tell, had not suffered from anyone’s actually having read it. I ended with something that from my position twelve years down the road seems surpassingly insensitive. I complained about a summer cold. How did this happen? I spent the entire school year in company with sniffling adolescents and suffered not a sniffle of my own. And now—two weeks after graduation—I’m hacking away …
Yes, a summer cold is awful, isn’t it? What a thing to write to someone struggling with lung cancer.
Many of us find such things difficult, though—knowing what to say to someone suffering from a dread disease. I obviously had trouble with it, and I know from conversations I’ve had about my own cancer that others have difficulty, too. I guess we must learn to accept the intended comfort rather than the words themselves. We learn to feel the balm of the sounds themselves, sounds borne by sorrow and hope. And we are grateful.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 28


1. We had a nice dinner last night at Dontino's in North Akron. Joyce and I met Steve, Melissa, Logan, and Carson about 6:30 and proceeded to eat all the bread in Summit County before the entrees arrived. I always feel so much better when I've seen them--an injection of energy, humor, love.

2. Okay, a confession. I did not see Sex Tape when it came out earlier this year. We saw the previews a few times but didn't go to see the film, featuring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz, whose self-made/iPad video of their three-hour romp (Lord! How is that even possible!?) ended up in the cloud where the world had access to it. (Link to trailer for the film.) Anyway, what I'm saying is: We did not see it. (We have standards!)

But then ... I had some room in my Netflix queue, and with, you know, an inadvertent "click" I scheduled it.

And this week it arrived. And I've been watching it while I wait for Joyce to finish her work and come to bed--I mean, I paid for it, so I can't, you know, just send it back. I must emphasize here: Joyce is NOT watching it. She has standards! Though those standards seem to have failed her in the husband-selection category.

3. I've been catching up on some writers whose books have come out faster than my ability to read them. I just recently caught up with Joyce Carol Oates, and now I've started with Philip Roth. I'm almost finished with his wrenching 2010 novella Nemesis, about a polio outbreak  in New Jersey during WW II. It's got an interesting narrative technique (one of the victims is telling the story, but, at least so far, he's not part of the story in many other ways; he's telling about others who were affected in one way or another). I'll not say more now, but will blog about it more comprehensively when I finish it.

4. Speaking of Netflix ... we've been delighted with the documentary Your Inner Fish (based on a book I recently finished) and, especially, with the new episodes now available of one of our all-time favorite shows: Doc Martin. He (played wonderfully by actor Martin Clunes) is one of the most unique characters in television history, I think--one of the most memorable--enjoyable--embarrassing (oh, does he have some issues!). Wonderful cast all the way through.




Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Basketball Memory



Yesterday, I was having lunch with an old college friend (Don Bartlett), and we were sharing stories about playing on the freshman basketball team decades ago at Hiram College. Don, a year younger than I, was a much better player, and, deservedly, got more court time than I'd had in my freshman year..

I had arrived at Hiram with Delusions of Athletic Grandeur. I had played on the Hiram High School varsity team for three years ("We are the Huskies, the mighty, mighty Huskies ..."), had been named to the All-Portage County Team (2nd team) in 1962, and thought--daffily--that I was going to star for Hiram College. It took only a practice or two to disabuse me of that notion. I played a few disastrous minutes early in the season, but by the end of all I was moving down the bench, farther and farther away from the coach, and eventually--as I've written elsewhere--became kind of a transitional figure, part player, part crowd member.

But the talk with Don reminded me of one of the moments in my high school career. We were playing Atwater (a southern Portage County school, which now, like Hiram High, no longer exists, having been absorbed into consolidation), a team with a superstar, Chick Campbell (who went on to star for Mount Union; we held him to 57 that night). The date: January 13, 1962. (I still have our schedule--see photo.)



I should say that the Huskies, in my era, did not win too many games, principally because, well, we sucked. (That changed in the the next few years, once I was gone.)  Anyway, about that game ...

In the first half, I missed my first shot (no surprise) but then made nine straight (surprise--big surprise). I don't think any of those shots even touched the rim. Once--to my embarrassment--I cried out "Short!" as I released the ball, then watched it nearly tear the net off as it passed through. (No one, so far as I can recall, laughed.)

I was dazzled at halftime. I'd already scored more points than my end-of-the-year average (17), and I was having dreams of 30 or so (see what a team player I was!).

It was not to be. Things changed in the second half, things I'd rather not get into. I made only one more basket.

Hiram High Huskies
Bob Waller--on the far left, #23


But there was a moment--a single moment--that remains to be told. One of my good high school friends was Bob Waller (who went on to get a Ph.D. in chemistry at CWRU). Bob didn't get to play much, but he was in the game near the end at Atwater that night. I was still obsessed with points and wanted more but hadn't had many opportunities to shoot (I'd rather not get into it), but near the very end, I knocked the ball loose from an Atwater guy, and started dribbling to the other end, envisioning an easy lay-up. Points.

But then I saw Bob Waller on my right, a little ahead of me, sprinting for the basket. Uh, oh. Pass? Or ignore him and take the easy lay-up and the points!?

Bob and I used to laugh about "getting your name in the paper"--i.e., scoring even a single point would get you into the box score (right term for basketball?) in the local Kent-Ravenna Evening Record-Courier. Yes ... name in the paper.

I kept dribbling. But also remembering Bob was my good friend. Who wanted to see his name in the paper. I was seventeen years old, profoundly self-absorbed, wanted points.

But there was Bob, on my right, nearing the hoop ...

And ...

I passed the ball.

And Bob scored.

Got his name in the paper.

Flash forward fifty years. I saw Bob Waller at our 50th high school reunion in the summer of 2012. I'd not seen him in a long, long time. I reminded him of that pass. And he smiled, said he remembered it too.

If you enlarge, you can see the box score.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 79


Not one word did I say in reply to her request for suggestions for her syllabus. Each letter of that previous sentence humiliates me. Was I truly so self-absorbed in 2001? I was fifty-seven years old.

Betty didn’t reply—unlike her, but I can’t say that I blame her, either. Early in December I sent her a little note—with an article I’d found online. How are you doing? I asked in my three-sentence email.
On December 2 she wrote to say that she’d seen the fairly recent New York Times review of Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley (October 7, 2001) and had a couple of comments about reviewers (I was a reviewer!) who don’t really know much about what they’re reviewing. (If she only knew!)
And then she dropped this tasty little appetizer on my plate: I am already thinking in terms of what extremely loyal friends will be willing to read through the very (& I mean rough) draft (after I have done some sandpapering first & spackling first) …
She didn’t really ask me, did she? But I leaped at the bait like a starving rainbow trout. A couple of days later I wrote: I hope your remark about “extremely loyal friends” looking at your early MWS draft includes me! I would be honored …. But if I’ve overstepped … let me know that, too. I have a pretty rough-bark ego and will understand. (Actually, I have a fragile ego, but I will STILL understand!) I went on and wrote a bit about her point concerning ignorant reviewers—then told her about some travel plans: another trip out to Oregon and a planned visit to Massachusetts to visit family.
Then … nearly six months of silence.

On May 31, 2002, Betty wrote this: It has been so long since we were last in touch. My reasons: I had a biopsy that was positive [lung cancer]. I am doing very well indeed—chemo plus lots of alternative treatments just about daily—to get the intruder out! And it is vanishing!! … I hope and trust your silence was not caused by any event similar …
No, Betty, my silence was caused not by a cancer diagnosis but by pure inattentiveness—perhaps even selfishness. And, of course, just about three years after Betty’s note I would have my own cancer diagnosis, would undergo my own surgery, radiation, chemical treatment. But that was in the future, and I was continuing to live and act as if I were immortal.

Oh, and Betty never did reply to my offer to read her draft. As I would learn, she had her reasons, and they were dark ones.