Dawn Reader

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 149

Leaving Geneva, Switzerland, to pursue the Shelleys in Italy ...

The next day—April 22, 1999—I was on the train, racing along the shore of Lake Geneva (as I wrote in my journal), thinking about how in some ways it looked like Yellowstone Lake, which, of course, does not have the city of Geneva sitting on its shores. I commented, too, about the beauty of the day (cursing my luck: Why didn’t I have this day at Chamonix!?). And on I rolled toward Italy, where the Shelleys had gone with such hopes early in 1818. Such vain hopes …

My first stop (a quick one to change trains): Milan, where I nearly got on the wrong one. (My ignorance of the Italian language biting me for the first time.) And then Bologna, which had a McDonald’s in the depot. And then Florence, where, as I wrote in my journal later that day, I was a little shaken. Here’s what happened, pretty much as I wrote it then, an account of a wee “adventure” when I stepped off the train:

I headed the wrong way out of the station (which is front? which is back?), and by the time I figured out I’d erred, I was in a [full streaming sweat], back at the station, in a crowd. A gypsy woman approached me—feigning the sale of cloth; I knew she was picking my pocket—and she did! I yelled at her, “Get away! Get away! No!” Then she offered me my own passport for $, indicating I’d dropped it. A sly smile. I grabbed it—& fortunately saw [virtually right in front of me] the Hotel Roma & signed in. … And so there are lessons to be learned: Avoid close contact; keep valuables even more secure; get a better city map than the one in my Michelin Guide; carry passport in inside pocket—keep jacket zipped in close contact & keep hand on wallet. 

It was the oddest thing (though oddest is far too pale a word): I saw her coming; I knew she was going to pick my pocket; she still slipped my passport out of my front pants pocket without my feeling a thing. And, as I said, I was “shaken,” so, feeling sorry for myself, I hung out in my room awhile, then recovering somewhat (oh, the buoyancy I could so quickly recover in 1999!), I took my camera and headed outside on a beautiful day to photograph one of the world’s most remarkable cities.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Sundries 64

1. AsOTW

  1. 8/25: We are heading north on I-77, near West Market Plaza; the guy entering from northbound on-ramp to I-77 refuses to yield, forces his way out; I have nowhere to go (a truck to my left). Slow. Honk. Hope he doesn't have a firearm.
  2. 8/25: A guy flies around me on Old Mill Road, double yellow line; I'm doing 40 (5 over the speed limit); we arrive virtually simultaneously at the stop sign at Aurora-Hudson Rd.; he has gained nothing by being the AOTW; I am ecstatic.
  3. 8/30: Joyce and I are walking across the Hudson Green; approaching us--a man walking a large poodle. We move to the side--the poodle leaps at us (and not in a friendly manner). Owner yanks (flashing teeth within inches of us), whimpers an apology, never knowing that only an hour later I will immortalize him here.

2. Last night--on a whim--Joyce and I played a game of double solitaire, a game we used to play back early in our marriage when money was only a rumor--those impecunious grad-student/public-school-teacher days. I would be less than a Man if I failed to acknowledge here that Joyce whupped me last night. (Rules for the game--if you're certain of the stability of your marriage.)

3. This week I finished a brief biography, Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living (2014), by Paul Collins, author of The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World (2009) and The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine (2005)--both of which I've read and enjoyed.. (Other titles--link to Amazon author page.).

Poe is part of the Icons series published by New Harvest (Houghton Mifflin) and is, as I said, very brief--Poe dies on page 98. I was glad to see that Collins did not embrace some of the wilder theories about Poe's death (see, for example, Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, 1998, John Evangelist Walsh) but instead said what ought to be said: "Nobody is quite sure ..." (97).

Collins sticks to the major works, for the most part, but he also talks about Poe's unfinished second novel, The Journal of Julius Rodman (which is pretty bad). He also deals with Poe's marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin, his drinking, his odd assaults on Longfellow (accusing him of plagiarism), and credits him--as did Arthur Conan Doyle--with popularizing/creating? the genre of the detective story.

Good place to start or reboot your Poe adventure ...

4. Joyce and I watched (via Netflix DVD) the Coen Bros.' 2008 film Burn After Reading (link to trailer); we'd seen it in the theater--and on cable--and it's one of our favorites, despite some critics' disdain for it. It's a savage parody of self-absorption and narcissism and has funny performances by Brad Pitt as a ditzy trainer at a health club (with Frances McDormand as a woman willing to betray her country to get money for some plastic surgery), George Clooney as a cheating spouse (with worries about his gut), and Tilda Swinton as Clooney's icy lover and the wife of John Malkovich, who does a great turn as an ousted CIA agent.

I think the critics Missed the Boat (to coin a phrase) (how's that? two cliches in seven words!) with this one--as they did with The Lone Ranger with Armie Hammer a few years ago.

5. This week the press has been hyping a new novel (The Girl in the Spider's Web--link to book on Amazon); it's based on the characters created by the late Stieg Larsson in his series of novels beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now, another writer has taken over the stories (see this New York Times story), and the reviews have been good.

But I won't read it.

I'm always a little put off by other writers taking over the projects of dead writers. I used to love Robert P. Parker novels (eating them like junk food), but when he died in 2010, I quit. But novels under his name (written by others) continue to appear with Parkeresque regularity. I hear they're pretty good--but I just can't do it. (Oddly, Parker himself completed an unfinished novel by one of my heroes, Raymond Chandler (Poodle Springs, 1988) and wrote another one, too--Perchance to Dream, 1991. I read them both. Didn't feel good about it.)

In the thrall of the Jason Bourne movies, I read a Bourne novel that the late Robert Ludlam had not written; it sucked.

And now--I swear!--I will never do it again. Unless, of course, I do.

6. Finally, Joyce and I, on a whim, watched (via Netflix streaming) a comedy special by Demetri Martin, of whom we'd never heard (Demetri Martin Live). (He's got another one you can see on YouTube) He looks fourteen but has a great stage presence, and although a few F-bombs detonate here and there (as well as a few fart jokes) we found him very clever. He notices little things (a la George Carlin); he has fun with the way we use words.

For example--he has a little bit about the difference between our use of no and nope. I like a comedian who makes me think--who surprises me.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My Study Photographs, 1

Not long ago, I did a little series of posts about the framed objects hanging in the little bathroom that adjoins my study. And now! Let's move on to the study itself.

What you see above is a framed poster of a production of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. I did not see this production (curses!), but I did acquire the poster during a visit to the RSC one summer when I was dashing around England trying to see as many Shakespeare sites as I possibly could, including, of course, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Bard's birthplace, a community that's now kind of like Shakespeare World (think: Disney World).

In this building (the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) there is quite a gift shop, and among the things they sell are posters from their productions. A close look at the poster will show you that it's advertising a production in 1986, and that was the summer I was in Stratford.

I was particularly smitten with Merry Wives at the time because I'd decided to direct the play at Aurora (Ohio) High School; it would be--as far as I could determine--the first production of a full-length Shakespeare play in the history of the school (students had performed the "Pyramus and Thisbe" segment from A Midsummer Night's Dream a few years before). And in the spring of 1989 I did so.

In ways, Merry Wives was one of the highlights of my career. I had a wonderful cast, many of whom remain in my life (courtesy of Facebook), and they did a splendid job. I was disappointed only with the poor turnout for our four performances. The community didn't exactly swarm to the high school gym to see Shakespeare. We had fewer than 150 each time.

About a year later (spring 1990), I took some cast members to Washington, D.C., to see a production of the play at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and that was a great experience as well. It was the first time I'd ever seen a production other than our own, and I have to tell you that I was happy (justified?!) when I saw that the director had made some of the same cuts and adjustments that I had. (It was an odd production in one way: A woman (Pat Carroll) played Falstaff.) (New York Times review of production.))

Meanwhile, I was buying Wives-related things like a junkie--posters, films, antique prints. The passion subsided as the years went on, but I still feel quite a rush when I see a production of the play--none of which, of course, rivals that 1989 one at Aurora High School, March 9, 10, 11, 12.

And now? I have my memories ... a lot of things hanging on my wall ... and, looming wonderfully over me and my desk, Falstaff, sprinting away from Master Ford,a jealous husband of a merry wife.

**BTW: I just discovered that you can still buy that poster from the RSC online!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 148

Mary's fascination with the glacier near Chamonix, France ...

The Mer de Glace had dazzled Mary when she’d seen it in the summer of 1816. Here’s what she wrote in her journal on July 24: It is the most desolate place in the world – iced mountains surround it – no sign of vegetation appears except on the place from which [we] view the scene – we went on the ice -  It is traversed by irregular crevices whose sides of ice appear blue while the surface is of a dirty white -  We dine on the mountain – the air is very cold yet many flowers grow here …[1]
In Frankenstein (published about seventeen months later) Mary chose the glacier for a key encounter between Victor and his creation. She begins with a more elaborate description of the site:

For some time I sat upon the rock that overlooks the sea of ice. A mist covered both that and the surrounding mountains. Presently a breeze dissipated the cloud, and I descended upon the glacier. The surface is very uneven, rising like the waves of a troubled sea, descending low, and interspersed by rifts that sink deep. The field of ice is almost a league in width, but I spent nearly two hours in crossing it. The opposite mountain is a bare perpendicular rock … I remained in a recess of the rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy; I exclaimed, “Wandering spirits, if indeed ye wander, and do not rest in your narrow beds, allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life.”

And, sitting there, Victor (who is narrating) sees something surprising.

As I said this I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution; his stature, also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of man. I was troubled; a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me, but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains. I perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarcely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.
“Devil,” I exclaimed, “do you dare approach me?”[2]
And then the creature begins to speak—not, of course, in the grunts and groans that composed his language in the 1931 film (and many thereafter) but in graceful and literate English—and he explains what has happened in his life since his “birth.”

And so, as I type these words, I once again regret (and curse!) the rain and snow in Chamonix in the spring of 1999, conditions that prevented me from seeing the glacier that—some 183 years earlier—had animated the imagination of young Mary Godwin.

                [1] The Journals of Mary Shelley, 119.
                [2] “Frankenstein,” in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, Vol. 1, 73. This is the original 1818 version.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

With Casey (at the Bat)

There are three poems I remember from early, early in my childhood. The earliest is Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow," which I remember my grandmother Osborn reciting to me in her rocking chair at 1609 E. Broadway Ave. in Enid, Oklahoma--late 1940s. (That rocking chair, by the way, now sits in our living room.)

Many years later--teaching a section of sixth graders at Harmon Middle School (early 1980s)--I asked (okay, required) my students to memorize "My Shadow"--and I did, too. And more years later (February 2005) I held Logan, our newborn grandson, in my arms in the delivery room and recited "My Shadow" to him. He of course does not remember. But I do. I still recite the poem to myself several times a week--keeping it in my fading memory for a bit longer.

The second poem I remember from early on is "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (or "The Night Before Christmas"), which I had to memorize for a program at Adams Elementary School in Enid. (I've written about this before--try Google if you're interested.) Back then (early 1950s) I never really got that stuff about "dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly"--but I do now. Again, I recite it to myself several times a week, keeping it. At Christmas dinner with our son's family I always recite it for the kids (Logan 10, Carson 6), and last year they started doing stanzas, too--as did their father.

I'm not counting, by the way, such things as nursery rhymes and playground doggerel--some of which I still remember--e.g., "Ooey Gooey was a worm. / Ooey Gooey loved to squirm. / He squirmed up on the railroad tracks. / Toot! Toot! / Ooey Gooey."

The third poem from childhood that I remember well was "Casey at the Bat," a poem that I both liked and hated (it's about baseball--my favorite at the time; the hero strikes out--Why?). It's a poem that has kept coming back throughout my life. We still hear the clause "There is no joy in Mudville" from time to time, and Mighty Casey has remained an emblem of  pride going before a fall. (We recently saw Oedipus Rex up in Stratford, Ontario, and I, of course, thought of Casey, who at least got to keep his eyes after his tumble!)

And in 1989, Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford published (in the magazine and, later, in a book) Casey on the Loose, which fleshes out the story--giving background. (We are selling our copy on ABE Books right now!)

But I never got around to memorizing "Casey." It's kind of long (thirteen lengthy stanzas) ,,,

The last week or so ... I got around to it. It's the 156th poem I've memorized. (Get a life!)

I used my customary technique to learn it.

  • I print out the poem on regular sheets of paper, which I carry around with me, learning, reviewing continually.
  • Once I've learned it, I print a smaller copy that I then cut and paste onto a 3x5 index card. In my back pocket I carry several such cards--the most recent poems I've learned.
  • When I'm certain it's firmly in my head, I transfer the 3x5 card to the stack of all 150+ poems, a stack that (secured by a blue rubber band) I keep in my backpack for those times when memory fails me--times that have become annoyingly more frequent as the years go on.
  • I review each poem at least three times a week--more often for the recent ones (lest they, unheeded, flee).
The pictures below illustrate these stages.

A final thought. I've noticed over the years that most people don't want to hear a full poem recited. (Perhaps I don't recite well?) Oh, they don't mind a few lines (especially famous ones, which they kind of know--"miles to go before I sleep," that sort of thing), but if I decide to launch into "The Raven" or "Dover Beach" or "Birches" or some other longish work, I soon see eyes glazing (and/or rolling), smart phones coming out, watches being consulted. I've even had people walk away. Family members.

So I rarely reel off a complete poem now--only to Joyce, who, bless her, likes to hear them--and knows what it's taken for me to learn (and keep) them. If someone asks (virtually never), I'll comply. But mostly all those poems are for me, for Joyce, for my sanity.

Note the coffee stains!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 147

Seeing the house where Frankenstein was born--and traveling to a key setting in the novel, the vast glacier near Chamonix, France.

As I said, there were workmen present at Byon’s former villa (site of the birth of Frankenstein), so—emboldened—I walked down the driveway as if I belonged there. But soon chickened out (something I rarely did on literary visits back in the States). I started thinking about Swiss law: Will they lock me in a dungeon until I’m, like, you know, seventy? (I’m seventy as I type these words. Think: I would just now be getting out of that Swiss dungeon!)

But I did take a number of photographs, which, fortunately, came out well—mostly. And remember—this was the time (1999) before digital cameras were really widely available, so I was shooting standard 35mm slide film and would not know the fates of the photographs until I had the film processed. (Oh, we had it rough back in them thar days!)

The weather—for one of the few times on my entire journey—became my enemy during the trip to Chamonix. On the morning of April 21, I wrote this in my journal: the rain is coming down, and the skies are low. If the visibility is zero, it would be pointless to go, but you never know what might happen this afternoon.

Oh, such youthful optimism …

An hour later, I was sitting on the tour bus with a half-dozen other disappointed people. The rain continued to pour. (Had another Mt. Tambora erupted?)

Two hours later I was in the coffee shop at the top of the ski lift at Chamonix. The snow is blowing, I wrote in my journal then, [and] I can’t see a thing.

Two hours later—12:30 p.m.—I was sitting in another restaurant, writing in disappointment about the day. The weather is truly terrible—with very low visibility … but the little village here [Chamonix] has some older buildings. I will go out later & get some drippy photographs. (I did.)

And then we learned the little train would not be running out to the glacier that day—no real surprise. I was profoundly disappointed that I would not get to see one of the key sites in Frankenstein—and one of the world’s wonders (though now greatly diminished by climate change).

Naturally, as we were on the bus heading back to Geneva, out came the sun, illuminating Mount Blanc in all its splendor. It reminded me of an experience I’d had a few years before out in Seattle, where I’d gone to the library at the University of Washington to see some of their wonderful photographs from their Klondike Gold Rush collection. (I was in the final stages of my Jack London research.) I’d arrived at the library in a cliché of Seattle fog. Could not see a thing. But hours later, when I emerged, the sun was blazing, and I saw—seemingly right in front of me—Mount Rainier in all its splendor. I nearly fell over with surprise. And gratitude.

Final words from my journal about our journey back to Geneva: The shadows of clouds—now gliding, now racing across the gleaming high glaciers, are so gorgeous that I almost forget that I saw so little for my $160 today.

IMAGES: Scenes of (and around) Villa Diodati in Geneva, followed by a photograph of the giant glacier, the Mer de Glace, which I did not see (see above) in Chamonix, France.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not a Favorite Sort of Day

In a few minutes I'll be heading out to Akron's west side, where I will meet with ... my dermatologist. This is not my favorite thing to do on a fine August day. In fact, it's among my least favorite things to do.

But after I sailed to the opposite shore of the River Fifty, I found myself in his office a couple of times a year--or more. It's generally painful, though moderately so (say, on the Waterboarding or Medieval Scale). Rarely--rarely, I say--I get nothing but a "See you in a few months."

And then there are those other times involving aerosol cans of frigid spray (I think of cop shows: Freeze!), scalpels, needles and thread.

I had a mild skin cancer back in the mid-2000s (squamous cell), a gift (right between the eyes) from the sun that involved surgery, stitches, a Frankenstein-creature's look for most of the summer. People no longer stare at me (for a variety of reasons), and even I have to look closely to see the scar. The surgeon did a wonderful job--far better than, oh, Victor Frankenstein did.

And I also have had numerous visits involving the aforementioned spray can (today, I fear, will be one of those--at least). Most of the targets--of course!--have been in prominent locations on my face (are there any subtle places on the face?), places that take a week or so to begin looking "normal," and I admire the workers in the coffee shops I patronize: All do a wonderful job of pretending I don't look as if I've just been shot in the face with a b-b gun.

Lately, I've been on a six-month cycle with my dermatologist. But it seems I end up going back to see him before the six months expire. Such is today's visit. I'm due to see him in late September, but I've got some Uninvited Visitors on My Face who need a cold reminder that I don't really want them.

And so ... at 10:45 this morning (or so) ... I'll be in his office, waiting for the frigid whoosh! from the can. And for a week or so I, sans glasses, will squint in the mirror and pretend that, You know--it doesn't look all that noticeable! And Joyce, bless her sweet soul, will say she cannot even tell.

And little children in the grocery store will stare and ask, Mommy, who shot that man in the face with a b-b gun?

Monday, August 24, 2015


And--somehow?--I've reached 1300 blog posts today. I've posted something nearly every day since I commenced back on January 6, 2012 (link to that first post). So ... either I have a lot to say, or I have nothing to say--and have proved it 1300 times now.

As is my custom, I check my stats only on these "anniversary" posts (each 100 of them), and I see right now (10:37 a.m.) that I've had 239,256 "hits" on the site--an average of 184 per post. But, looking at the stats, I recognize that some days I have far fewer, other days far more. It depends on the topic, of course, and whenever I write about politics or education, the number spikes a bit. So it goes. One hundred eighty-four sounds like a lot, but, of course, I am no celebrity blogger who gets that many hits per hour (or minute), so I remain (justifiably) humble.

But (as I probably have said before?) I write these mostly for myself--and for whatever posterity will ensue. I'm hoping that my son--and his sons--will one day page through them and learn more about their father and grandfather. (By the way--my grandsons, early on, began calling me "Silly Papa," a name they have recently shortened to "SP." I have no idea how I could have earned such a name!)

When I began this enterprise, I assumed I would post something Now and Then--maybe once a week or so? But my Puritan work ethic has transformed Now and Then to Every Damn Day, and I can hardly describe to you the anxiety I feel when it looks as if I'm not going to be able to post something on any given day. Self-imposed tasks have all (and maybe even more of) the authority and gravity of tasks that others impose upon me--not that there are too many of those these Days of Retirement.

Among the blessings (for me) of doing this--It forces me to write, and writing, of course, forces me to think (or at least it should). And so--by writing I figure out what I think about things, just as William Godwin (father of Mary Shelley) said some two hundred years ago.

And so ... while I'm able, I'll keep this little vessel afloat and see where winds and currents carry me. So far, they've taken me places I never would have expected--and brought me pleasures I did not know existed.

And perhaps one day a grown grandson will read and say, "Silly Papa wasn't always silly, was he?"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Sundries 63

1. AOTW ... I don't really have someone this week. Oh, sure, we saw lots of wack jobs on the highways between home and Fallingwater over in Pennsylvania--but nothing that really stood out--or reeked with a special fetor. Just the usual: failing to use turn signals, speeding in work zones, passing and then nearly hitting us when returning to our lane ... the usual.

2. I finished a few books this week--a few words about each.
  • Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson (1990). I've owned this book since 1990, but Joyce and I just got around to reading it this summer. It had earned a number of honors, back in the early 1990s, including the National Book Award (fiction). As Johnson acknowledges, it's a book heavily influenced by earlier seafaring tales, including Moby-Dick and Melville's great story "Benito Cereno." From the latter, Johnson actually borrows some of his own characters' names.
    • The novel's in the format of a journal kept by Rutherford Calhoun, a young recently freed slave who runs away to sea when his love life gets complicated. It's a ship involved in the slave trade, and soon there are two revolts brewing: one by the sailors, another by the slaves.
    • Rutherford had a somewhat literate background--he alludes to Chaucer and Shakespeare and some philosophers. But he's also a naive narrator at times, too.
    • I loved the book--until near the end when Coincidence arrived in full costume. It's not quite as bad as David Copperfield finding his old schoolboy enemy James Steerforth washed up on the beach after a shipwreck--but close.

  • The Meaning of Human Existence, by E. O. Wilson (2014). Wilson, who taught at Harvard for decades and has won two Pulitzer Prizes (On Human Nature, 1979; The Ants, 1991), writes vigorously here about a scientific and a humanities approach to viewing the world. Early on, he writes, "[W]e are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world" (26).
    • He is not a religious writer--does not believe--but neither is he a combative atheist like Richard Dawkins (whom he labels a "science journalist" (71)) or Sam Harris. Rather, he argues for the use of reason--for listening to scientists (and artists and novelists, etc.) to discover the truth of our nature--of why we are here.
    • What interested me most (among many things) is his recognition that we are a storytelling species. "We are devoted to stories," he says, "because that his how the mind works--a never-ending wandering through past scenarios and through alternative scenarios of the future" (43).
    • He sees tribalism as religion's "exquisite human flaw" (150). The more we align ourselves with limited groups, he writes, the more dangerous we become. This is the familiar argument about fearing/demonizing The Other.

  • The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Led Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, by Michael Shermer (2015), monthly columnist for Scientific American and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. This was one of my "bedtime" books (ten pages or so at night, now and then), so it took me nearly seven months to work my way through its 439 pages of text.
    • With a vast amount of research and reading, Shermer tries to show that we have grown as a species--to the extent we have grown--principally because of the discoveries and teachings of science.
    • He alluded to so many works I'd never heard of--but it's good to feel ignorant, now and then. Keeps you motivated as a reader. But I felt ignorant a lot of the time in this book.
    • Because news networks nowadays are so determined to focus only on what the most depraved among us are doing, it's surprising to discover that in so many ways we have become less violent, less cruel, less biased. (Many charts to show how/why this is so.)
    • I liked his discussion of what's called "the confirmation bias"--"where we look for and find confirming evidence for what we already believe and we ignore or rationalize away disconfirming evidence" (386). We are all, more or less, guilty of this, aren't we? We read op-ed writers with whom we're going to agree; we'll watch TV shows that feature people who say what we want to hear; etc. We friend/unfriend people on Facebook who disagree with us. (Proud to say I have not ever unfriended anyone--though the temptation now and then has been powerful!)

3. On Friday night, Joyce and I went to see the recent Guy Ritchie film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., (trailer for film). The original TV series (with Robert Vaughan as Napoleon Solo, David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin) began in 1964 (the fall of my junior year in college) and aired its final episode in January 1968 (midway through my second year of my teaching career--Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio). I watched lots of the episodes (maybe all?), and like many other fans (most) was most partial to Ilya Kuryakin. The show also featured veteran actor Leo G. Carroll (at the right in the poster), who'd starred in a TV show I'd liked as a kid--Topper (1953-55)--a series about a man who could see the ghosts of the people who used to live in his house.

  • The film was pretty calm for a Guy Ritchie film--think Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and the two Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Still, there some classic Ritchie touches.
    • Twice, for example, amusing/dangerous/violent things were going on in the background while the camera focused on an unaware character or two in the foreground.
    • There were plot flips and surprises I didn't see coming.
    • Split screens, multiple screens, funny music, etc.--all Guy Ritche touches.
  • The characters are somewhat different from their TV parents. Kuryakin on TV was a slight man, skilled in martial arts, etc. But not physically intimidating. The Kuryakin in the film (Armie Hammer--whom I really liked in The Lone Ranger, a film that is far better than the critics said) is a boiling cauldron--a temper, an intimidating presence. And Solo (Henry Cavill, fresh from the title role in Man of Steel) is a former thief, a slick guy, far more slick than even the TV Solo was slick.
  • The plot was fairly typical world-on-the-precipice-of-disaster stuff (a nuclear weapon on the loose, etc.), but it was fun to see Ritchie deal with the cliches and make them his own (in a good way).
  • Oh, the Leo G. Carroll part was played by Hugh Grant ... strange to see the Bad Boy of an earlier generation now playing the Older Dude.
  • Joyce and I both laughed a lot (where we were supposed to), and I was glad to see they left open the possibility of sequels.
  • This was sort of the "origin story" of the series--how Solo and Kuryakin met, how U.N.C.L.E. got formed (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement).

4. I got a surprise on the computer today. I inadvertently hit some keys, and suddenly a voice was narrating everything I was doing. (Windows 10)  Took me a bit to figure out how to shut off the guy, but I did. Here's a link if you want to turn yours on (and off!).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fallingwater with the Grandsons

Fallingwater, 8/21/2015
And, yes, I had forgotten how tired I could get.

We had a long day with our two grandsons (Logan, 10; Carson, 6)--a long and wonderful day with two remarkable boys. (I know, I know: Everyone's grandkids are remarkable.)

A couple of years ago (yes, years ago) we had given Logan on his birthday a trip to see Fallingwater (we had already given him books--and a Lego version of the house to build, too), and, as I wrote yesterday, time had just sort of flown by without our really doing anything about that gift. We were all too busy, you know?

But as we neared the beginning of another school year (he starts on Wednesday), we knew we'd better do it now before the whirl of school consumed him.

So Joyce made the appointments, and the Weather Gods were smiling because yesterday, the twenty-first, was one of the most glorious days of the summer: sunny, blue skies, upper 70s. No humidity.

We drove down to their home in Green, Ohio (about a half-hour south of us), to pick them up, arriving about 9 (our appointment at Fallingwater was for 2 pm). We talked a while with our son, Steve, and his wife, Melissa, who were about to surrender to us the two most precious things in their lives. There is always some unspoken anxiety in such moments--as I well remembered from my own days of young fatherhood--handing our son over to grandparents. Worrying. (After we left, Steve called us twice in the first hour, and texts went back and forth, too.)

First stop: Starbucks in Green (Grandpa needed his Caffeine Fix), but soon we were on I-77, to I-76, then some rural roads that eventually got us to Fallingwater a little before one o'clock. The trip across was great. Logan (who sat in front with me) was fascinated with our Prius and its doodads; we told stories, recited poems, laughed, and the boys had questions: How were they like their father when he was a little boy? That sort of thing. We talked about Frank Lloyd Wright, too--and the house we were about to see. And all the fun the boys recently had in South Carolina with their parents. Time and miles evaporated.

We thought we would be walking around the site for a while before our 2:00 appointment, but when we checked in, the clerk told us she had openings at 1:15, so we decided to go then on our hour-long guided tour--only about fifteen minutes away.

The boys were great during the tour--attentive and respectful (far more than I would have been at their ages)--and Logan chided me softly when I asked the tour guide what the family had done about sewage disposal in 1935 (when the house was built). Seems that the Kaufmanns (the department store in Pittsburgh--later, a chain) simply sent things into the stream, Bear Run, directly. Later--septic tanks. Now, they pump it out to ... the guide wasn't sure where.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house--you need the two-hour tour for that--but you can easily find hundreds of them online.

Of course--worried grandparents!--we were certain the boys were going to fall into the creek, and I pictured myself diving in, fully clothed (thank God!), to rescue them. But nothing that alarming occurred (in fact, nothing alarming occurred, if you don't count Carson's spilling some red soda water on his white shirt! I got the clear message from him that I was to say that I couldn't even tell where it happened--and so I complied/lied ).

Joyce bought the kids some souvenirs in the gift shop (T-shirts, some pencils, etc.); I paid for lunch in the little cafe in the visitors' center (after the tour).

And then--all too soon--we were back in the car. Just before we got back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, however, we had to stop at a woodcarving place we'd seen earlier, where they had a Bigfoot out in front. (Our son loves Bigfoot, and as a kid had a board game involving the creature; he's actually gone on Bigfoot hunts.)

So ... the boys paused with the Creature, who was kind enough not to eat them during the process.

I doubt, by the way, that we were the first tourists to stop at both iconic sites ...

The trip home was more of the fun we'd had on the way--with Weariness (the boys', ours) becoming a new companion in the car. But except for one "adventure" finding a men's room "in time" (we did), the trip back to Green was more of the cruise of pleasure we'd been on since nine in the morning.

We got back a bit before seven, chatted some with Steve and Melissa, then roared for home (well, insofar as a a Prius can roar) ... and bed.

Oh, our weary bones! Oh, our gratitude for the health to do this--for the gorgeous weather to accompany us--for the two little boys who energized us all day--for their wonderful parents who, for nearly ten hours, entrusted their treasures to us. Trusting us even in the face of Bigfoot!

The Old Man looks a little weary here!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Just Time for a Brief Word ...

We're going to be heading out in a few minutes to take our grandsons (6 and 10) to Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house over south of Pittsburgh. I've seen the place several times: a class field trip at Hiram College (American Art, spring 1966), twice I took middle school students to see it, Joyce and I have been at least once. We think the boys will love seeing it.

We couldn't have dialed up for a better day. Supposed to be sunny and moderately warm today.

We actually gave our older grandson, Logan, this trip as a birthday present. Two years ago. But, somehow, we never seemed to get around to it. And he enjoyed reminding us, coughing into his hand "Fallingwater!" Pretending. (I deserve the blame for his coughing strategy, by the way: I taught it to my son, who has passed it along. Oh, the legacies we confer on our young!)

Anyway, on Saturday I will do a more complete post about the journey.

It's almost time to uncircle the wagons and head out ...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fauna Foolery

A little bit later today, Fauna Foolery, a collection of Facebook verse from the past few months will appear on Amazon. Massive cost for purchase: $2.99.

You do not need a Kindle device to read it--just a Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet or computer. (Free download for the app!)

Anyway, here's the Foreword to the little publication:


We don’t really like to think of ourselves as animals. So a lot of our social behavior attempts to distinguish us from other species—from our clothing to hairstyles to symphonies and novels and reality TV and drone weapons, most everything about us declares: We are not like those other species, many of whom, of course, we actually eat.
But the archetypal “observing alien” would notice right away all the myriad ways we are animalic. Eating, sleeping, micturating, defecating, fornicating, competing, killing, aging, dying—these and so many other activities we share with … The Animals. (Not to mention our fur and claws.)
It’s not all that surprising, then, that our language (our servant, our master) both confirms our membership in the Animal Kingdom and serves as an aquifer of metaphors and allusions to that Kingdom, words and locutions we employ every day.
Our four principal parts of speech include words about animals that we use to talk about ourselves and other human beings. Nouns (we call someone a gorilla, or a tiger), verbs (buffaloed, skunked), adjectives (piggish, bovine), adverbs (sheepishly, waspishly)—all help us write and speak more humorously, graphically, ironically, cruelly.
In May 2015 I began writing a doggerel series for my Facebook page. Every day I would post a silly ditty involving our use of one of these words and expressions. I would eventually write fifty noun poems, then fifty adjective poems. I did not stop the series because I’d run out of words—far from it. I just decided to … move on. “Times wingèd chariot hurrying near” and all that
Along the way I made some mistakes of various sorts, and I’ve placed the “mistake poems” in a section of their own—a small section, thank goodness. These errors were of two types: (1) I’d already used the animal word but, forgetting (galloping dotage!—hmmm, an animal participle!), had used it again; (2) I’d thought the word was an “animal” word, then, after posting the poem, discovered that it was not. Two prime examples are carp and fawn, both of which come from non-animal words. Go figure.
Along the way, I was also writing (and posting) other sorts of doggerel, little poems about this and that, and I have included them here in a section called “Desultory Doggerel”—the term I also use on Facebook for such verse. (Readers might think of a more … accurate term for the lines.)
Let’s elevate the discussion …
In The Merchant of Venice, Portia says to Bassanio (to whom she’s declaring her love): “You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand / Such as I am” (3.2). (No one’s surprised when Bassanio screws up after this scene in Act III—there are five acts in a Shakespeare play!)
             Portia goes on to elaborate about what she means by “Such as I am,” but I won’t. (No Shakespeare, I.) 

            But here these lines are, such as they are. Snarl at your leisure!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 146

From France to Italy--but first ... Switzerland ... where it all had begun ...

But before Italy … Switzerland. Geneva, of course, was the First Cause of all of this reading and traveling I was doing, for it was the place where, in the summer of 1816, Mary and Bysshe and Claire Clairmont arrived to meet Lord Byron, the father of Claire’s unborn child. It was there that the weather, affected by the massive eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia, was cold and dark and rainy and forced the players in this tale to be inside much of the time.

And, of course, it was in Geneva that Byron proposed that they all write a ghost story, a proposal that sired yet another child, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, so, in a way, Byron has sired all sorts of other children—films, TV shows, books, spin-offs, postage stamps, and … memoirs.

I wanted to see a couple of things specifically in and near Geneva. One was Villa Diodati, the estate where Byron was living during that summer of 1816, the lakeside retreat where the group had gathered and had decided to write ghost stories. It’s still standing—though in private hands. The nearby (much smaller) place where the Shelleys had resided that summer—Maison Chapuis—is long gone. It was down the hill a bit and stood between Byron’s mansion and the lakeshore.

I also wanted to go to Chamonix, up in the French Alps (just across the Swiss border), where the Shelley party had gone in late July 1816 to see both Mont Blanc and the massive glacier known as the Mer de Glace (sea of ice), a site that had so impressed Mary that, later, she set there a significant scene in Frankenstein; the Mer de Glace is the place where the creature tells Victor Frankenstein what his life has been like since he fled the scene of his creation.

Here’s a bit from my journal, April 20, 1999:

I’m on a bus out to Cologny, where I hope I can see the Villa Diodati a little closer than I was able to in the boat today [I’d gone on an hour-long lakeshore cruise]—I could see it fairly clearly, but the day is dark, so I’m not sure how well the photographs I took will turn out. The A bus runs only once/hour, so I’ll need to be brisk in my hunt.

[An hour later.] I’m sweating L.A.P. [like a pig], but I’ve just had a major success. I found and photographed in Cologny the Villa Diodati, the Frankenstein house, where the ghost stories were told in 1816, the villa of L. Byron overlooking Lake Geneva. I took a #8 bus from the train station, changed to the A bus at Rive, got off at Cologny-Mairie, then walked down into Cologny and took some shots, but bearing toward the lake (I know the villa is ½-way up the hill), and there it was, a lovely building with the gate swung open—remodeling crews were there. I’m S.L.A. Pig because I sprinted (well … insofar as I can sprint!) back to the bus stop, for if I missed it, there would be an hour’s wait. I almost wish I’d waited an hour; now I’m in an  F.S.S. [full streaming sweat] as a result.

As I read this today, I’m angry at myself for worrying so much about time, for writing more about my perspiration than about the Villa Diodati, but I actually remember more about it than I wrote in the journal.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dad and the Moonwalk, 1969

It was Joyce's birthday when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon. July 20, 1969. She and I had met only a week or so before, and I already knew: She is the one! It would take her a somewhat longer while to think something similar about me.

We had decided to marry early in our relationship, and we had spent some of our summer weeks (after the end of the summer session at Kent State, where we'd met) running around meeting relatives on both sides of the family. We went to Indianapolis to meet my aunt Naomi and uncle Ronald (he would deliver the meditation at our wedding on December 20 that year), to Des Moines to meet my parents and older brother (who was teaching at the University of Iowa at the time), to Stanfordville, NY, to meet Joyce's aunt Kathy and uncle Gene Gilhuly.

We were in Des Moines when the launch of Apollo 11 occurred on July 16, which, coincidentally, would be the birthday of our son, three years later. Dad was watching religiously--a word I don't use lightly. Although he was working now at Drake University (they'd moved from Hiram College in the fall of 1966) and would not retire for a few more years, he had already begun watching lots of television (football, mostly), but the moon shot caught his imagination.

He had always been fiercely patriotic. A combat veteran of World War II (he'd been in both theaters, Pacific and European), he'd been called back to active duty during the Korean War but was sent to Amarillo (Texas) Air Force Base to be the chaplain there. No combat this time.

Throughout my boyhood, when he watched sporting events on television, he zlways stood up, came to full attention, and saluted during the National Anthem. He was not kidding around.

Anyway, Dad was doing a lot of standing and saluting during the Apollo voyage to the moon--not because of the National Anthem but because of his pride in what his country was doing.

My father died in November 1999, but I still think about him, every day. And I think, too, about the changes he lived to see. Born on an Oregon farm in 1913, he sometimes rode a horse to school. Outdoor plumbing at home. No telephone.

As technology swept along, Dad kept up for a while, but I think the last device he learned to use with some dexterity was a TV remote. (His sons had grown up in the era when you had to walk across the room to change the channels.) It was also one of the last things he was able to use.

He did not learn to use an ATM, to use self-serve gas. Self-serve grocery scanners and smart phones were in a future he wouldn't see, but his grandson, Steve, in the mid-1990s, had the first cellphone in the family, and Dad seemed dazzled by it. Or puzzled. Why would you want to be available always?

Mom had one of the first computers in the family, an Apple II. And she became pretty adept with it, and, many computer generations later, was still using email into her 90s. But then her memory began to fail, her fingers wouldn't do what she wanted them to, and she gradually had to give it up, late in 2009. I've been writing snail-mail to her ever since.

Dad had no interest in computers. I think Mom tried to get him interested, but he just wasn't--though I must add that the choreography between them had become so intricate that it's hard to tell exactly what went on there.

But one of the enduring images of my father remains. He stands at attention, saluting the Apollo astronauts, while Joyce and I, commencing our own remarkable voyage, watch in wonder.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 145

Preparing to travel to Italy to chase the Shelleys some more ...

I was a little worried about traveling alone in Italy—much more so than the other European countries I would visit. I, of course, speak English and thus not worried about England (although I would have some problems with the slang and accent). And I knew that my high school and college German would help me find train stations and restaurants and restrooms in Germany and Switzerland. I was going to travel across France, via train, and was not worried about my ignorance of French, save oui and French fries. I would not get off the train at all. But, of course, I got lost in a Paris train station and had a devil of a time finding out where I was supposed to go. The French whom I stopped for help regarded me as an Idiot. (Which I was/am.)

But Italy? I was going to be there for a week or so, and I knew no Italian (other than words for popular Italian food and a few swear words I’d picked up by watching Mafia films). So I decided I’d take the introductory Italian course at the University of Akron. I’d first checked Kent State University (closer to our home in Hudson), but I figured it was going to cost me about $1000—not good, especially since I was now living on my pension from the State Teachers Retirement System (adequate but not bountiful). Akron was more reasonable. So I registered.

Early in August 1998, I went to the Border’s (remember them?) out near the Chapel Hill area north of Akron and bought an Italian dictionary. First things first! And I bought online an Italian visual dictionary, too. (Just in case!) And on August 31 I drove down to Akron for my first Italian class at the University of Akron.

But I was late to class—a traffic jam on Route 8 (the main north-south freeway through Akron). I was the last one to enter the room, where class had started about five minutes earlier— did I deserve a detention?—and where everyone else in the room looked fourteen years old. (I was fifty-three.)

I didn’t miss much: Here’s what my journal says— little lecture from prof to class on neatness, effort, etc.; filled out form & told her I was retired & a freelance writer—hope that’s enough. I was, you see, trying to stay anonymous—another reason (besides the financial one) that I’d picked Akron (some people at KSU knew me). I didn’t want it known I’d been a teacher—one with a Ph.D. I just wanted to be some other student—perhaps an interesting Old Guy who could tell stories about the 1950s. You know, Davy Crockett and Elvis.

The next morning I woke up with a firm conviction: I was going to drop the class. The teacher had spent the entire period the day before showing us how to organize a notebook and talking to us as if we were … fourteen. Or four. So I whizzed down to Akron, paid a $20 drop fee, and headed home. I figured I’d just study on my own. I would teach myself. Hell, Mom had taught herself Greek before going to Greece. Surely I …?

Couldn’t do it.

I just didn’t ever get around to it.

And the next thing I knew I was flying through France on a high-speed train, heading for the Alps. For Italy. Where would be confirmed my worst fears.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Sundries 62

1. AsOTW--Plural this week. On Friday, in the men's locker room of the health club where I exercise, I heard two old men (my sort of age!) "explaining" why some folks whom they know are on walkers, etc. They just won't get up and walk! says one. The other: If they'd just exercise more .... In recent years I've found this sort of thing--blaming people for their infirmities--more and more offensive. Why are we so quick to judge? To blame? And so slow to feel empathy? Compassion? No one wants to be on a walker, in a wheelchair. Sometimes, though (and, if you live long enough, eventually), the body just says, That's it! And there you are. And once you go down (or partway down), Depression often floats in on the wake. Oh, the arrogance of the healthy! The sound of body! The lucky!

2.Back in the years when I was teaching The Taming of the Shrew to my 8th graders (1986-1992), there was a line that always made my students wonder if Shakespeare had been crazy. (Actually there were a lot of lines like that!)

In 2.1, the famous "battle" scene between Petruchio and Katherine, they exchange a variety of insults and replies to insults, and at one point Petruchio, responding to Katherine, cries: O slow-wing'd turtle! I was reminded of all of this when Joyce and I saw Shrew last week in Stratford.

Shakespeare used turtle more than once--but he was not talking about that thing with a shell on its back that moves slowly (until it's racing a hare). No, he meant a turtledove. I checked the OED recently and learned there that it dates back to about 1000 A.D. Latin to Old English to Middle English--a Latin word turtur, a word that arose because it was imitative of the dove's call.

3. This week, I finally finished Rick Moody's amazing novel Four Fingers of Death (2010), an inventive, funny, bizarre, and extraordinarily moving novel by one of my favorites in contemporary American fiction. I'm not sure why I'd not read it sooner (could it be because it's 725 pages long--big pages, too!?!) But I admired this book as much as anything I've read since, oh, John Irving's The World According to Garp.

It's almost impossible to describe Moody's technique here. Here's just a taste: A writer, Montese Crandall, is going to write the novelization of a film, and in the first 60 pp or so he tells us his own story/biography. Then ... Book One, which takes place in 2025, a manned mission to Mars. One of the astronauts (Col. Jed Richards) is keeping a blog (edited heavily by NASA, but we see all of it). Bad things happen on the mission. And after some time on Mars, a return has to occur--and quickly, too (I'll not tell you why--or much more about it).

Book Two--We're back in the American Southwest, a small desert town, and we meet another cast of characters. The Mars return capsule is about to enter the earth's atmosphere. A sad genetic scientist who's lost is wife has kept some of her tissue and is trying to bring her back (think: Victor Frankenstein!). SPOILER ALERT: I'M GOING TO TELL YOU A LITTLE ABOUT THIS, SO SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH, IF YOU WANT.  He transplants some of her tissue into the brain of a chimpanzee named Morton, who, soon, becomes more and more human--almost supernaturally so (learning quickly, becoming amazingly articulate). Morton falls in love with one of his keepers ... but after he tries being human for a while, he can no longer tolerate it. And on p. 701 we get one of the great moments in the book ...

Morton had made his choice. He'd tasted civilization. And he'd found that it consisted of large helpings of desperation, petroleum by-products, fat substitutes, sweeteners, sewage storage issues, stolen and stripped automobiles, vapor trails, good intentions, bad follow-through, selfishness, red itchy eyes, sentimentality, mold, poor logical reasoning, halfhearted orgasms, advertising, household pests, regrets, mendacities, thorns, haberdasheries, computer programming, lower-back pain, xenophobia, legally binding arbitration, cheesy buildup, racial profiling, press-on nails, the seventh-inning stretch, roundtable discussions, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, perineal pain, individually wrapped slices, road rage, and unfounded speculation, and he decided that it was completely reasonable that he would turn his back on civilization.

4. I also finished the fourth novel in the Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson--Another Man's Moccasins (2008). I got hooked on the Longmire TV series--now moved (thank goodness!) to Netlix for a new season--and had begun reading the books, and I have to say I'm not too crazy about the four early ones I've read. I like the relationships Longmire has with his colleagues and friends, but I just haven't gotten too hooked on the stories, the way I do with other mystery/thriller writers like Jo Nesbø and Robert B. Parker and so many others. But I'm going to keep reading ... how can I not?

5. And, finally, while Joyce was attending high-school reunion activities in Akron this weekend, I watched (again!) the very fine film of Michael Chabon's 1995 novel Wonder Boys, a film starring Michael Douglas (as a blocked novelist teaching at a college in Pittsburgh), Tobey Maguire (as his gifted but tormented student), Frances McDormand (as the chancellor of the college; Douglas is having an affair with her); Robert Downey, Jr. (as Douglas' worried editor), and Katie Holmes (as another of his students who's boarding in his house). And some good minor roles played by Rip Torn and by Richard Thomas (John Boy!).

It is a complex, funny, wrenching, amazing film. I see that I read the novel in February 2010, but I had to flip through it right now to remind myself of the ending. Because the ending, I thought, was the weakest part of the film.

Too sunny and Hollywoodish (at its worst) for me. Douglas has had horrible problems in the film--dissolving marriage, inability to write, drugs. And at the end of the film SPOILER ALERT he's sitting in a sunny mountain-view cottage typing merrily away while he new wife (Frances McDormand) is bringing into the house some groceries--and their little child.

It's as if a man had walked through the funnel of a tornado, had come out the other side looking better than when he'd walked in.

Oh well.

Here's a link to the trailer for this (otherwise) very good film (which is currently on-demand on Cinemax).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Square Dance

This morning I was reading something that mentioned square dancing--and Memory began his promenade ...

I grew up in Oklahoma in the 1950s, and square dancing was part of our curriculum at Adams Elementary School in Enid. Our music teacher--whose name I cannot recall--taught us, and I found out a couple of things: (a) I was decent (no more) at it, (b) it would arouse in me a fifth-grader's jealousy that I didn't even know existed.

There was some sort of school program coming up, and the teacher wanted to do a square-dance presentation for the parents. I was one of the four boys she picked from our class; I don't remember two of the other three, but the other one was a New Kid, a kid I'll call Lothario, a kid who was too damned good at square dancing for his (my?) own good.

The teacher took us out of class one day (there is no greater gift a teacher can confer upon a student) to get us organized for the presentation, and she asked the girls to pick their partners. I was positive that Linda C. was going to pick me because, well, I was in love with her. She liked me, too, I know (though Love had perhaps not occurred to her--but I could not have been more positive that it would--after all, I loved her, so ...).

There's a moment in the first Horrible Bosses film when the Jason Bateman character is sitting in a staff meeting; he is positive that he is about to receive the Big Promotion. But then the Horrible Boss (Kevin Spacey) declares that he has decided to add the position to his own. Bateman looks crestfallen,* shows Disappointment in its purest form.

Bateman is a great comic actor, but his display is but the faintest shadow of what I showed when Linda C., with first choice, picked Lothario to be her square dance partner. My first experience with Rejection (more would follow, believe me).

Some other girl picked me; I can't remember her name. But I do remember that I vowed to Dance My Heart Out--just to show Linda C. and Lothario that I ...

Made no difference. He was just a lot better than I. Linda C. knew it. So did everyone else (except me). Lesson learned (years later).

Square dancing was still somewhat part of the social scene when we moved to Hiram, Ohio, as I was about to enter the 7th grade. And here's a sweet moment ...

Just north of Hiram (not even a mile) lay the farm of the Pancost family. Father Roy was a farmer but also drove one of the school buses. His daughter, Joan, was in my class. And very, very early that year--perhaps after only a week or so of school--Joan invited me to a square dance in her father's barn.

I was touched. I didn't know anyone, really, and I was experiencing the fear all kids feel when their Cruel Parents yank them out of one place and take them to another (an experience I would "share" with our own son, later on). I really don't remember who else was there, but I remember having a lot of fun, surprising some of them with the "moves" I'd learned back in Oklahoma, and feeling an enormous gratitude to Joan Pancost for--as they say now--"reaching out" to the New Kid.

Postscript 1: When I was in high school, we went back to Enid over a spring break (I think I was in 11th or 12th grade). I had found out that Linda C. had been in a car accident and as a result had undergone surgery to remove one of her feet. I called her and drove to her house to see her (her dad, by the way, owned the major furniture store in Enid), and we had a wonderful talk. Lothario and the Square Dance did not come up. I would never see or hear anything about her again. We also did not talk about her foot.

Postscript 2: Near the end of my public school teaching career (1997), I taught a few terms in the Weekend College at Hiram College. One of my students was a Pancost, and, yes, he knew his aunt Joan very well. I told him, in class, what she had done back in 1956. He did not seem surprised by her kindness.

Postscript 3: When our son was in sixth grade (1983-84), he had such a lousy classroom situation in Hudson that we pulled him out of school after the first marking period. I paid his tuition to go to Harmon Middle School (where I taught 8th graders in nearby Aurora, Ohio)--one of our good decisions, by the way: He had a wonderful time there. Anyway, not long after he started (the 2nd marking period), a girl in his class, Kathy Piecuch (pee-ET-soo), invited him to a party at her house to meet other kids in his class. And when I heard about her invitation ... I wept ... remembering ...

*Crestfallen, by the way--I just looked it up--means a drooping head, crest meaning the head or top of anything; it dates to 1580, which means Shakespeare would have known it, a word his rivals surely knew personally; I just checked: The Bard used the word in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II, and Henry VI, Part Two.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Days (Years?) of Incompetence, 3

 Winter 1966. I'm doing my student teaching at West Geauga High School (Chesterland, OH). Eleventh grade English (American lit). In one of my college-prep classes, I skated quickly across the surface of E. E. Cummings' poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town," a performance that did not satisfy a very bright young man, Ed, who raised his hand and informed me there was a lot more to the poem than what I'd so superficially said.

He was, of course, right, but I didn't know what to say about the poem (other than it confused me--which I was not about to confess in class: I was supposed to be an authority, or so I thought).

So I lied. I told him that of course there was more to the poem--but, sigh, we just have to move on. Miles to go before we sleep and all that.

And, as I've written here for the past couple of days, Puritan Guilt has consumed me for nearly fifty years since that day. Throughout my long teaching career (45 years) I never taught that poem (though I did teach others by Cummings), and I guess I was avoiding it.

But last week, spending our annual week at the Stratford Theater Festival in Ontario, I decided, like the walrus, that the time has come. I took a printout of the poem along with me. I memorized it (three stanzas per day); I thought about it and talked about it with Joyce continually.

And now--a half-century later--I am ready to continue my conversation with Ed.

PS--I've pasted the poem below.

ED: There's a lot more to that poem than that.

DYER: You're right, Ed. There is. I'd planned to go on to some other poems--but since you're interested, let's stop and talk about this one. What do you see in it, Ed?

ED: It's a poem about love.

DYER: Anyone else see that? [Some hands, affirmative murmurs.] Well, Ed--or anyone--where do you see "love" in the poem.

ED: Well, noone loves anyone--even the children recognize it. A few of them, anyway.

STUDENT 1: And they get married, too.

STUDENT 2: And after they die, they're buried together, "side by side."

ED: And here's something else: They're living in a pretty town ... but the people in it are not too nice.

DYER: Explain.

ED: Well, they don't like anyone.

STUDENT 3: And they're all so busy, they don't seem to make much out of the deaths of anyone and noone.

DYER: What does Cummings say here about the dreams we have in life?

ED: They don't often come true.

STUDENT 4: I think that's true. In that stanza about marriages, he says that the people get married, are full of hope each morning, and then--

STUDENT 5: And then they say "never." They realize ...

ED: And from then on they "slept their dream." Their dreams and hopes ...

DYER: We see too, don't we, that as we grow older, we forget what we know. We become less observant. "and down they forgot as up they grew" Cummings says about children.

STUDENT 6: And--later: "how children are apt to forget to remember."

ED: This poem is kind of depressing, too.

DYER: What do you mean?

ED: Well, people are just repeating what they always do. All the time--all the seasons.

STUDENT 7: And not recognizing real love when it's right in front of them.

[This goes on for a while.]

DYER: What do you guys make of the look of the poem? The spelling, capitalization, spacing, and so on. If I'd turned this in to my English teachers, I'd get an F on mechanics!

ED: It's all on purpose.

DYER: What is, Ed?

ED: All of it forces you to slow down ... to read ...

STUDENT 8: To read more carefully.

[The conversation continues as we ... fade to black.]


Well, Ed, I hope this will do. I'm sure you would have had brighter things to say than I did here, but--wherever you are--I want you to know that I never forgot your comment.

It just took me a half a century to get around to dealing with it.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain