Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Millay Arrives ... Again ... 3

I've posted the last couple of days about this new (annotated) collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay (Yale UP, 2016), mostly riffing on my memories of learning about Milllay, reviewing some books about her, chasing her story here and there. Today (and finally!) a little bit about the book itself.

The volume features an introduction by Holly Peppe, Millay's literary executor, a good, concise account of her life and career. Following that is a short description of the "editorial method" that the editor Timothy F. Jackson employed--useful information.

Then follow the poems, arranged both chronologically and by the collection in which they originally appeared (from Renascence and Other Poems, 1917, to the posthumous Mine the Harvest, 1954); Jackson also includes a couple of previously unpublished poems and an essay--and some letters (one of which has not been previously published).

Jackson's annotations, which appear in the margins, are generally very useful--and (best of all for readers) neither obtrusive nor annoying. An occasional vocabulary word, some information about the creation of the poem, some literary analogues and parents, some suggestions for additional reading--these are what readers will find in the margins. Oh, and not all pages or poems contain them. Just when necessary.

My favorite Millay poems are here ("What Lips My Lips Have Kissed," "Only until This Cigarette Is Ended," the "Figs" ("My candle burns at both ends"; "Safe upon the solid rock"), "The Courage That My Mother Had" (which I recited at my dear mother-in-law's funeral), "Dirge Without Music" (which I recited at a memorial for a close friend), and others)--and there are plenty more I can now easily peruse and (probably) memorize.

Missing, however, is the sonnet that Judith Guest used as an epigraph (well, the final four lines of the sonnet) at the head of her 1976 novel Ordinary People, which later became a popular film. (Link to trailer.) That 1980 film won Oscars for Robert Redford (in his directing debut) and actor Timothy Hutton. Much of the filming was in Lake Forest, IL, where Joyce, Steve, and I lived during the 1978-79 academic year (Joyce and I were both teaching at Lake Forest College; Steve was in 1st grade), so it had some personal resonance, as well.

Here's that sonnet:

Read history, thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos — in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face, —
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

A lovely book to own is Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay--even better to read. And savor.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Millay Arrives ... Again ..., 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the arrival at our house yesterday of this new book--an annotated collection of the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Yale University Press). And I found myself on something of a riff about her rise and fall--and, now, return--in our cultural world.

Although (as I noted) her work was not exactly in the forefront of my education in high school and college, I was (dimly) aware of her. But my own interest in her accelerated considerably when I found I was going to be reviewing (for the Cleveland Plain Dealer) two new biographies of her in 2001--What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, by Daniel Mark Epstein, and The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford. (The review ran on September 16, 2001, five days after You Know What.)

I had known so little about her that both books were a revelation (I believe I said that Epstein was more interesting on her verse, Milford--who'd known her sister well--on her life). Despite my admiration for what Epstein had done, I was a bit predisposed, I guess, towards Milford because of her earlier biography Zelda, about the troubled life of Zelda Fitzgerald (1970)--and Milford had spent years on her Millay bio, coaxing from Millay's surviving sister Norma the documents and papers and information she needed. By the time Epstein was at work on her life, Norma had died, and all those papers were in the Library of Congress.

Anyway, Millay's life fascinated me, and soon I was requiring my students in English class to memorize poems by her, and my wife, Joyce, and I were whizzing around visiting relevant sites, particularly Millay's final home (Steepletop, named for the flowering steeplebush) near tiny Austerlitz, NY (and I mean tiny), a farmhouse up in the hills where she died after a tumble down the stairs, a tumble perhaps caused by drugs and alcohol (she had serious problems with both by then).

That farmhouse is now open to the public (link); it wasn't during our initial visits (though we were free to roam around the grounds)--and we've still not been inside, though we talk often of going there again, of touring. Anyway, here are a few pictures of the place we've taken--as well as the stones under which she and other family are buried (nearby on the property).

Tomorrow--I'll get into the new volume of poems and see what's going on ...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Millay Arrives ... Again ...

In today's mail came this volume--Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay: An Annotated Edition (Yale UP, 2016), edited by Timothy F. Jackson, who teaches English at Rosemont College (near Philadelphia). Yet another sign that Millay (1892-1950)--once a very popular and respected poet, once a fallen poet (invisible, nearly, in our literary culture)--is completing her resurrection. Yale University Press, no less.

Millay grew up in a kind of Little Women household in Maine--Mom, two sisters, absent Dad. Born in Rockland, she soon settled with her family in lovely Camden (she was about 9), where a statue of her now stands outside the public library, near the town's very picturesque waterfront. (Pics from our 2007 visit.) She loved poetry, early on, but the family's finances seemed to make college impossible, but she'd published her poem "Renascence" (link), and a patron was so impressed that she paid Millay's bills for Vassar. (Who says poetry ain't worth nuttin'!)

Later, by the way, I learned that when she was a schoolgirl, my wife, Joyce, memorized that poem and recited it in various public venues.

Near Camden, we visited the site that Millay used for that poem, high on nearby Mount Battle. (Not a bad day we were there, eh?)

But despite Millay's great popularity in the 1930s, it waned--among academics, at least--when she wrote some, well, doggerel in support of America's military effort in WW II. Seems inconceivable in our current "support-the-troops" days. But so it was. She toppled from favor (not that she'd ever held a terribly high rank with academics), and by the time I was in high school, I knew her name, but I don't think we ever read any of her poems in an English class.

(BTW: The "St. Vincent" part of her name is in honor of a hospital that saved her uncle's life!)

Well, check that. I have a copy of Adventures in Reading (1958), the literature anthology we used in 9th grade at Hiram (Ohio) High School (that was 1958-59 for me), and I see that Millay is in the index. Two poems are included: "Winter Night" (link) and "The Fawn" (link). There are a couple of questions afterward ("How Well Did You Read"). Here's one of them re: "Fawn":

The poet's summing up of this experience is one of regret. Can you explain why this chance meeting left her with regretful feelings? Has anything similar ever happened to cause you to feel as she did?

But I'll stick to my story: I do not remember that we read these poems ... but we could have--I was not exactly a fan of poetry in 9th grade, despite my respect for Mrs. Browning, our excellent young teacher. (BTW: One of the two editors of Adventures of Reading was Evan Lodge, who taught in the English Department at Kent State; I took a graduate course from him in the early 1970s. He told me he'd made a lot of money on that book.)

I don't recall reading any Millay in college, either--though she does appear (22 poems!) in an American poetry anthology (The Mentor Book of Major American Poets, 1962), a book we used in one class taught by my favorite Hiram College professor, Dr. Abe C. Ravitz. (Again, we could have; I don't remember--and I was still not much of a fan of poetry at that time.) Years later, I would use this same collection in my final ten years of teaching (at Western Reserve Academy, 2001-2011).

One amusing thing about that: Although the book remained in print, it had not been revised. So ... in 2011 we could read this in the "Notes on the Poets" at the end: ROBERT FROST (1874-) ... He is the most widely read of contemporary poets today (525-26).

Frost, of course, had died in 1963, nearly 50 years earlier!

PS--The book is still in print! (Link to book on Amazon.com.)

To be continued ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Snail Mail

These days I receive precious little of it, snail mail. Mostly oversized postcards urging me to buy stuff, junk, an occasional bill (most come via the Internet), a rare wedding invitation and very very rarely: a letter from a friend.

The mail's arrival used to be exciting. My dad, in fact, always wanted to do this job; it was one of the last things he could do on his own. When he and Mom were living in their last independent home (in a little community in Pittsfield, MA, called Salisbury Estates (their small, elder-friendly home was on Walchenbach Circle), Dad would drive down to the little collection of mailboxes (about, oh, 100 yards away), then drive to a local coffee shop, where the kind owner would see his car and carry the local newspapers out to him. Dad would then return home, and deliver Mom's mail to her, announcing to her what each piece was as he handed it to her: Letter from the church, latest issue of Newsweek--that sort of thing. I know this routine annoyed the hell out of her. But that was Dad and the mail.

I inherited a little of that--not the doling out to Joyce (who would not have endured it) but the bringing-it-in-from-the-mailbox stuff. Okay, so I was a little ... compulsive about it. We all have our quiddities and quirks, right?

But in these latter letter-less days, I don't really care. Only rarely is there anything in the delivery that I want to see.

But I still write snail mail, regularly (not counting holiday cards and the like). I have two recipients--my mom and a former teaching colleague.

Mom was once adept with her computer, and we kept in touch via email for quite a while. Then, declining, she could no longer remember how to turn her laptop on or off, how to find her email page, what to do if she did find it. So the email days ended, and I began (in late December 2010) writing a couple of newsy letters a week to her. I didn't really think this would last long--she was 91 in Dec. 2010. But she's still hanging in there (now 96), and I'm still writing. I try to call a couple times a week, too. She lives nearly 600 miles from us, and a trip like that is very daunting for me now. I don't get out to see her nearly so much as I used to.

The other person to whom I write regularly is Andy Kmetz, a former teaching colleague at the middle school in Aurora, Ohio. But he was far more than a colleague; he was a dear friend. He taught art; I, English. And we directed many plays together at the middle (and high) school--nearly 30. He was a splendid choreographer and artist, and without him I don't even want to think what those shows would have been like. Some of the most beautiful moments in every production emerged from Andy's imagination--no question about it.

When we were working on a show, we often had a Wednesday evening rehearsal (other days--after school), and we would drive over to a nearby Wendy's for an early supper (sometimes Joyce and son Steve would meet us there), then--back to school for a couple hours of practice. Andy attended our son's wedding in August 1999, and it was a great thrill for Joyce and me to take our two grandsons to meet Andy a couple of years ago. He's now in an assisted living unit in Kent--is hanging on (mid-80s)--and Joyce and I go see him on Wednesday evenings (most of the time--not always possible).

Andy was never too adept with technology (and proudly so, I will say); he's never had a cellphone or a computer and doesn't want to learn (so he's told me countless times). And so I write him via snail mail once a week, letting him know what's going on in my ever smaller world.

So, I can still look over beside my desk and see postage stamps, envelopes, return address labels--and I know--fear--that my days of using them will probably be far too few. If I'm still around when my mom and Andy solve the mystery, I will feel deep losses of many sorts. And among them--a very minor one, of course--will be the passing in my life of snail-mail writing, a form of communication that dates back to the very earliest days of writing itself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Trip to the Floor

Hooray for Robert Rumble!
He doesn't mind a tumble.
Ups he jumps
And rubs his bumps
And doesn't even grumble.
Hooray for Robert Rumble!

I think I've posted this little ditty before, a ditty I often heard from the lips of my dad when I was a little boy. I'd fall down. I'd start to cry. Then ... Dad's arms and "Robert Rumble." (I've passed it along to our son and grandsons.)

(Later, both Dad and Mom had balance issues. I figured, of course, that I never would.)

In the last couple of years I've been experiencing yet another of the Joys of Aging--vertigo. My physician tells me it's just one of those things: The fluid in the inner ear (which stabilizes, balances) thickens as you grow older, no longer guarantees your stability. I'd noticed some balance issues in recent years, but as I wrote another time--was it a couple of years ago now?--I was out walking with Joyce--a walk for exercise, fairly brisk.

As we reached a mile, we turned toward home again. We came to a stop street, where a car waved us on. I started jogging a little, and when I got to the other side of the street, I realized I could not stop myself. The lower and upper halves of my body seemed out of sync--and as I staggered over into someone's lawn, I gradually regained my balance. Did not fall. Joyce, concern creasing her face, caught up with me. I'm all right ... I didn't fall ... She kept her hand on me the rest of the way home. (Is there a better metaphor?)

But yesterday, I did fall.  And hard.

I'd not been out to the health club in about a week (the reason, oddly: health--I've not felt well, have spent a lot in time in bed). But yesterday I was feeling better. So out I drove. I did my usual routine of twenty minutes on the exercise bike (a bike that also allows some upper-body exercise).
I never smile when I ride this device!
Afterward, I began my next routine: 10 minutes of brisk laps around the 1/9-mile indoor track. Carrying weights. (I like to carry 15 lbs/hand--but those weights were gone yesterday, so I settled for 10, thinking I'd take a few days to work back to the 15.)

But on my 3rd lap I felt myself losing balance again--the familiar staggering sensation from the walk with Joyce. I realized what was up--did not dare stop immediately--and maneuvered myself toward one of the walls, which I hit--hard--with the right side of my cheek. And down I went, hitting my head on the floor, and lay, stunned, in an Old Man Pile, realizing, though, that helping hands were already rushing toward me.

The staff there were great. Took my BP (okay), gave me some OJ, questioned me expertly about what I'd felt--what had happened. Bandaged my knee (scrape), gave me some ice for my right cheek (which, today, looks as if it's had a close encounter with Mike Tyson).

Once I got to my feet, I slowly regained my balance and shuffled off to the shower ... and then home, where Joyce, worried (I'd called), was waiting.

I joked that I was going to tell people she'd punched me. (I knew everyone would believe it, not because Joyce is violent but because I've long deserved it.)

The rest of the day I felt sort of a combination of relief (no permanent damage it seems), alarm (why did I not realize more quickly what was happening?), and, well, stupidity. (I thought I knew that I had to accelerate and decelerate gradually in these Latter Days!)

This morning--I still have that punched-in-the-face look, and I had some stories prepared for the curious at the coffee shop. But no one said anything. Kept eyes averted. All probably figuring I finally got what I deserved.

Meanwhile, aging continues to dispense its blessings, and I realize now even more than before that I (aka Robert Rumble) must, for the rest of my life, watch every single step I take. Because, you see, I do mind a tumble ...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Messy Desktop

It's not just my actual desktop that's invariably a mess (I'm ashamed to take a picture and share it). My computer's desktop is often a disaster, as well.

I just spent an hour cleaning it up (the computer one). I wish I'd taken a screenshot to show you the myriads of icons competing for space. My grandfather Osborn would have been horrified.

Dr. G. Edwin Osborn was one of the most organized people I've ever seen. When I was a boy, I once looked in his main desk drawer in his study and found everything lined up by category: pens, pencils, erasers, and--this is hard to believe--even his paperclips were arranged by size and by which side the little loop was on--the pin side was always on the right, I think.

My mom retained some of that fastidiousness--a lot of it, actually--but it was one of the first traits that began to erode as she got older. My brothers and I were continually helping her with her Quicken files, which grew ever less accurate as she aged. It's almost as if she were willingly shedding this most troublesome of traits.

To various degrees my brothers and I share that Osbornian organization. My younger brother, Dave, is probably the neatest of us; I'm in the middle; older brother, Richard, is least compulsive of us all about having each thing in its place. Richard the Rebel!

Our son displays little evidence of the gene, though his older son, our grandson Logan (11), shows flashes of it.

Anyway, on my computer desktop were folders full of images I meant to place ... somewhere. Links to sites whose relevance I can no longer recall. Newspaper cartoons that relate to various literary subjects (waiting to find a more sensible home). Word files I'm currently working on--if by "currently" I mean "in the last five years." Shortcuts to programs I no longer use--or even have. And on and on.

As I said, I just spent an hour merging, deleting, copying, transferring, etc. And now--I am proud to say--I have only forty icons on my desktop.

And that, my friends, is progress!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 99

1. I finished two books this week ...

  • Michael Connelly's The Crossing (2015), his most recent novel featuring detective (well, former LAPD detective) Harry Bosch (subject of a TV series on Amazon, Bosch, starring Titus Welliver in the title role) and his half-brother, Mick Haller, an unconventional LA defense attorney, subject of some other Connelly novels and one film--The Lincoln Lawyer (2012) with Matthew McConaughey as Haller. (Whew! That's a lot for one sentence!) Haller convinces Bosch to help him clear his latest client, a man accused of a vicious murder. Bosch is not crazy about doing it--his old cop-colleagues hate few things more than ex-cops who work for defense attorneys--but he agrees to help only until he believes the guy is guilty, at which time, Bosch will walk. Well, of course, he does not walk, and the story is both intricate and clever. I had a lot of fun reading it, have no problem recommending it! (Oh, and there's a bit of playfulness in the novel: Haller talks about how he gets a hard time from some because Matthew McConaughey played him in a film!)
  • The second book (I Will Find You, 2016) is an investigative memoir by my final editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Joanna Connors, who was also (probably) the final books editor at that paper, which not too long ago began importing all of its book reviews from the wire services. Anyway, Joanna has written a powerful and wrenching story of her rape in 1984--of its devastating aftermath on her (and her family), of her decision, years later, to pursue the story in detail, to find people who knew the rapist (who died in prison), including family members, whom Joanna tracked down with a relentlessness worthy of, well, of a Michael Connelly detective. Once I started it, I stopped only once (Sleep commanded; I obeyed), finishing it in two sittings/reclinings. It is very difficult to read in places (she spares few, if any, details), and I admired how she played/wrote not for sympathy but for understanding. I was amazed at her courage: I don't believe I could have done a tiny portion of what she did to investigate her horrible story.

She'll be doing a presentation at the Hudson Library on Wed. evening; I will be there.

2. Last night, Joyce and I drove to Kent to see Eye in the Sky, the recent film (2015) that highlights the moral complexities of drone warfare (link to trailer). Starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman (in his final role), and the busy Aaron Paul, the film focuses on a decision to fire or not to fire a missile at a building where some terrorists are gathered (in Kenya). There is no doubt the Bad Guys are there (a bug provides a live TV feed to prove it)--or that they are bad (we see two of them donning explosive vests)--but the problem is "collateral damage"--a phrase personified by a charming little girl who is selling bread nearby and who, in her spare time, loves to play with a hula hoop. If the missile strikes, it is almost certain she will be injured--or killed. The characters all wrestle with this decision in many ways, from many perspectives, but I ain't tellin' what happens. Joyce and I were both very impressed with the film (moral complexity? what's that?) and with its performers.

3. Speaking of the Bosch TV series (see #1 above), we have watched all but the final episode of the second season (Amazon streaming). Maybe we'll get to the final one tonight? Welliver is not exactly the Bosch I've imagined as I've read all the novels about him, but ... he's good.

4. Finally, Joyce and I are big fans of the films by the Coen Bros., so we've decided to watch them all, in order. Friday night was Blood Simple (1984), a film I thought we'd seen, but I guess not. Remembered virtually nothing as we were watching its, well, grimness. So much of the Coens is in evidence: empty landscapes, people who aren't as clever as they think they are, stark violence, clever cameras, surprises galore. (Link to trailer.) Next--Raising Arizona.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Every now and then I do more than I should--given my health, age, etc. The last couple of weeks are the best evidence. On April 8, I delivered a speech (50 min in length) at Western Reserve Academy--part of their annual lecture series that honors former WRA student Keir Marticke, who died on a visit to Vietnam before graduating from Brown Univ. I remembered Keir from my first year back at WRA after a 20-year absence (2001-02 school year). Although she had not been in any of my classes, she was a real presence on the campus--in the classroom, on the athletic fields. Anyway, I wanted to make sure I properly honored her--and the occasion--so I worked very hard on that talk, printing out and revising 23 different drafts. Also, the tension of talking in public (for me) has intensified over the years. I felt enormous pressure--none at all from the school, all from Mr. Conscience and Ms. Insecurity--and I could feel myself weakening, physically, as the date neared.

It was only a few days after that when I drove to Hartland, Michigan (I've written in earlier posts about those experiences), where I spent a day and a half in their fine middle school delivering eight illustrated (PowerPoint) talks to groups of seventh and eighth graders, each group about 90 or so. Yes, I spent about 30 years working with middle school kids, but I'd not done so since January 1997, when I retired. So I was nervous. I'd also expended massive amounts of energy preparing for those presentations--all about writer Jack London. My obsession with London had sort of tailed off about the time I was retiring from teaching: I'd gotten interested in Mary Shelley, and her story would consume me for the next decade.

So ... what I'm saying ... I had to spend a lot of time "catching" up on London scholarship, on retrieving from the ever-darker recesses of my memory those facts and stories about his life that had once lived on my tongue. I was reading recent books about London, re-reading some old ones, re-reading The Call of the Wild, which was the subject of my talk my final evening there at the Cromaine Library in Hartland. I have published some annotated editions of London's classic novella, but those appeared back in the late 90s. So I had some additional retrieval and reading to do before I began my drive to Hartland.

I had a wonderful time there--kids and adults were great--but I could feel myself weakening, fading like an old photograph.

I'd been home only a few days when--as I recently posted here--I got to experience the joys of a colonoscopy: the preparation, the worries, the procedure, the worries, the relief afterward.

And by then--when all of that was over--my photograph looked fairly blank. Faded away.

I took to my bed.

But I had to emerge on Thursday afternoon because one of our grandsons (Logan, a fifth grader) was going to perform in a play at Green Intermediate School. I felt lousy--enervated, frankly depressed, sick--but I could not miss that. Joyce drove us down there (behind the wheel, I would have been a danger to all), and I had a good time seeing Logan act and sing and dance as an Elvis-wannabe in his role as a (failed) suitor to a princess, who's seeking someone less ... self-absorbed.

By the time we got home, I was ready for bed again, and there I've pretty much stayed the last couple of days, rising only to eat and to take a quick run to Kohl's for some new cross-training shoes and to get a much-overdue haircut.

I shut down Facebook, stopped blogging (both blogs--this one and Daily Doggerel), and lay around feeling sorry for myself and seeing Darkness in the brightest of lights (at which I'm very good).

Now I'm sort of up and about. I'm thinking about going to the health club later this afternoon. If I do, it will be the first time in a week--very unusual for me.

So ... what have I learned?

Probably nothing. As I gradually feel better, I'll once again grow overconfident, will do too much, will slide into darkness and bed, log off Facebook and bloggery ... then, later, emerging, write about it. Writing, for me, is the surest of therapies, the most effective of self-medications.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Too Many Semicentennials

The fifties are piling up in my life. And in some cases, fifty ain't nifty.

In 2012 I celebrated the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Hiram (Ohio) High School in June 1962. That was weird enough--though it was fun to see some folks I hadn't seen since that graduation. Even weirder: That tiny high school has not existed since the class of 1964 graduated. The district consolidated with nearby Crestwood Schools (Mantua, Ohio), and not too many years passed before the community razed the school buildings in Hiram. The last time I looked I saw only empty lots--no sign of the wonders that had once occurred there. (Perhaps I exaggerate--but remember: I'm reminiscing!)

Hiram High School, RIP
This spring (2016) is the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from Hiram College--June 1966.I go to reunions now and then--but not recently. Personal reasons. I had some great, great friends at Hiram College, and I'll long remember the fun on the tennis team, in the dorm, with my frat brothers and sisters ... some absolutely wonderful professors (and the other kind). I also remember horrible mistakes, cruelties (executed by and on me), missed opportunities, foolishness of every variety. The Me of Then sometimes haunts the Me of Now.

Hiram College Tennis Team, 1966
This fall will mark the 50th anniversary of the commencement of my teaching career--a career that would, off and on, consume some 45 years of my life. In most ways they were the best years of my life. I had wonderful administrators, amazing colleagues (from whom I routinely stole ideas), terrific kids (okay, a few of the other variety). Most of my career I taught at the Aurora (Ohio) Middle School (later, Harmon Middle School), and I have to say that despite the warning of my supervising teacher during my student teaching at West Geauga High School ("Don't ever get stuck teaching in a junior high!"), I loved my three decades of doing precisely that. Many (Most?) of my Facebook friends are from those years. Scary statistic: The first kids I taught in 7th grade are now in their early 60s.

Later, after I retired from public school (January 1997) I taught ten more years at Western Reserve Academy, just a couple of blocks from our house in Hudson, Ohio, and I had a great time there, as well. Wonderful colleagues, great kids, academic freedom (pretty much)--all these made the gig attractive--as did my part-time status, which freed me from many of the quotidian aspects of boarding school education. I walked (or biked) to class, shot off my mouth for 50 minutes, walked (or biked) home. What's not to love?

(Grading papers, that's what!)

Western Reserve Academy
And in just a few years--December 2019--Joyce and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Astonishing. I--by far--got the better of this particular deal, a statement with which all who know us both concur. I am the weaker vessel--in just about every way. But she has kept me afloat for nearly a half-century--afloat and sailing in some of life's most remarkable waters. I could not believe it when she agreed to marry me; I cannot believe it now.

With Joyce, my grandmother Osborn,
my uncle Ronald Osborn
December 20,1969
I should mention the age of fifty--but that occurred so long ago (November 1994) that I barely remember it. All I do recall is that I was already thinking about retirement then and was looking forward to some carefree years (decades?) to follow. Well, cancer interfered ten years later (2004), but I am still afloat, and still grateful for all--all--that I've experienced. The light, the dark, the gray. All have been my most effective teachers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fundamentals, 2

fundament, n., = the buttocks, etc.

All is well.

Let's begin with that. The results of my colonoscopy yesterday were fine--no polyps, no sign of cancer. A relief.

Now let's back up ...

In order to prepare for the procedure, I fasted all day Sunday (as I wrote in my previous post)--liquids only. Then at 6 pm I began consuming the Hellfire Potion (HP) designed to boil through my alimentary canal and remove all residents and residue. I had to mix water with the granulated mixture of the HP that they gave me, and then I had a choice: Do I leave it unflavored? Or mix in some dust of lemon or some black cherry they provided? I was leaning lemon, but Joyce advised the black cherry. I (almost) always listen to her, so black cherry it was. I'l say that about the only resemblance between that black cherry flavoring and actual black cherries involved two words: black cherry. Everything else was different. It was awful, but not unpotable, and I usually drank to assigned portion fairly quickly.

My instructions told me to drink half the HP--15-min intervals, 8-oz glass--beginning at 6 pm; then, I had to arise at 4 am and begin finishing the second half. I had to be at the University Hospitals facility in Bainbridge, east of Chagrin by 8; the procedure would begin at 9.

Last night--the day complete--I remembered that old tale from Norse mythology about Thor drinking from a horn, and despite his ferocious efforts, he cannot seem to diminish the amount of liquid in it. (We learn later that the horn is attached to the oceans!) Well, I felt like Thor on Sunday night and Monday morning: It seemed as if however much I drank, the plastic jug still looked full.

But it wasn't, and I gradually consumed all the "black cherry" HP.

With the expected results.

At the UH facility in Bainbridge, I first went to a prep room where I surrendered my clothing, donned a backless gown (hmmmm ... wonder why?), got an I-V started (they would soon add the sedative), and I chatted some with Joyce, who was allowed to be with me for this portion. A true relief.

Then the physician came and told me what was going to happen (as if I didn't know!), and a few minutes later they began wheeling me toward the procedure room. I told the nurse accompanying me that I had no memory of the actual procedure eleven years ago (I was out); he said I'd probably experience the same thing this time. I saw the room; I passed through the door ...

I woke up back where I'd started. I remembered absolutely nothing--not falling asleep, not the procedure. Nada.

A few minutes later the physician came in. Told me all was well. No polyps. No signs of cancer. Some expected scarring from the radiation I'd had early in 2009.

I was relived. You see, I'd been a bit worried--no, terrified--about the results. One of the places prostate cancer likes to travel (besides the bones) is into the colon. I have a dear friend who died of that precise metastasis.

So when I heard the news, I fought tears (somewhat successfully), saw Joyce beside my gurney. And realized--once again--that I am among the most fortunate of human beings.

University Hospitals, Bainbridge, OH

Monday, April 18, 2016


fundament, n., = the buttocks, etc.

As I posted yesterday, I will have a colonoscopy* tomorrow (Tuesday). And time, as they say, is flying. (As it always does when something you dread is on the horizon.) Today is my day of fasting--nothing but clear liquids (except for coffee, which I am imbibing today like nectar--even more than usual).

I'm actually used to fasting now and then--and not just for explicit medical purposes. As some of you know, I've had a long, long, long battle with weight control (oh, you fatty Dyer genes!), and throughout the years I've sometimes fasted for a day when I've been "bad" (too much popcorn at the movies, too much frozen custard at Stoddard's). Fasting has an added benefit: the overwhelming feeling of virtue, a powerful motive! Right now, my weight is decent, especially since I've been on Lupron for more than 2.5 years, a drug that makes weight loss heinously hard. (My oncologist actually shook my hand last time I saw him! I felt like a student-of-the-week in sixth grade, an honor, by the way, I never won.)

So, I don't mind fasting.

What I know I will mind is the Hellfire Potion (HP) I must start consuming tonight at 6--nearly a gallon of it--the most powerful purgative on the planet. It's cherry flavored. (I eschewed lemon, picked cherry; we'll see how bright a move that was.) That HP will require me to make very frequent visits to that special little room next to our bedroom. I will drink 8-oz glasses every 15 minutes from 6-8 p.m. (when half the stuff will be gone), then suffer the consequences. I will then arise at 4:00 a.m. and drink the remaining half (same routine). I must be at the facility (16 mi, about 30 min, says Google Maps) at 8; the procedure is at 9--and takes about an hour, more or less, much of which I will be in La-La Land--at least I was last time, 11 years ago.

Those of us of a certain age are supposed to undergo this elevating ritual every decade; I sneaked in an extra year, mostly because I changed physicians, and no one was too sure for a while what exactly had been done to me. (And I wasn't about to tell anyone.) Eventually, my records caught up with me, and I'll "celebrate" tomorrow morning.

I really don't remember much about last time--have I suppressed it all? Here's all my journal says for March 21, 2005 (the first day of spring was the day before):

... filled out forms, stripped to gown (J waited with me in pre-op); got IV; I have no memory of the procedure: I was looking at the monitor; they started the Demerol; next thing I knew, I heard a voice say “All done”; wheeled me into recovery, and J was with me; left after a bit and drove home; I was feeling pretty well; 

My doctor now assures me they have a great sedative; he'd better be right. I'm not at all above violence.

Oh, and be reassured: I'll be posting no selfies.

*It's no comfort that Blogspot's spellchecker does not recognize colonoscopy.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 98

1. AOTWs: All drivers (except me!) on US 23, southbound from Hartland, Michigan, Friday, April 15, 2016, 6:30-7:30 a.m. (See previous post for some detail.)

2. Funny moment: When Joyce and I were heading into the movies in Kent last night, she looked up at the marquee to see what other films were playing, Then she asked me: "What's Popcorn about?" Then she realized ... as did I (I was initially confused, too) ... that the marquee was merely stating the obvious: Popcorn is for sale inside!

3. Last night we were in Kent to see Criminal, a thriller with Ryan Reynolds (who makes a speedy exit), Kevin Costner (the best I've ever seen him), Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. (Link to trailer.) The Fate of the World is at stake (as usual), and some Bad Guys kill a a key agent (Reynolds), whose knowledge is crucial to the Fate of the World. So ... the CIA contacts a scientist/doctor (Jones), who has figured out how to implant the memories of dead mice into the frontal lobes of living ones. Might as well try it on a person--Costner, who plays an amoral, vicious criminal now in maximum security. And so it goes ...  A Little Girl also participates in altering the Fate of the World.

4. I finished a book this week, another title about Jack London. As I've posted here the past few days, I was in Hartland, Michigan, earlier this week doing some presentations on London and The Call of the Wild for middle school students--and for the community--as part of their participation in The Big Read, a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. So ... time to catch up on a couple of recent London books I'd not yet gotten around to reading. One was Cecelia Tichi's Jack London: A Writer's Fight for a Better America (Univ. of N. Carolina Pr., 2015), a book in which Tichi explains and analyzes London's social ideas in the context of his biography and writing. So ... we learn about the effects of his modest (or worse) economic childhood, his time in the Erie County Penitentiary (1894, not 1984, as it says on p. 25), his travels (and the consequent effects), his ranching, etc. Because it's a scholarly book (and will appeal mostly to London scholars and committed fans), you will not see it atop any bestseller list. But it is a very useful concentration of information about an aspect of his life that indeed affected many other aspects of that remarkable life.

I also re-read my own YA book--Jack London: A Biography (Scholastic, 1997)--only because I'd not had any recent occasions to talk about London's life, and I wanted a quick "refresher" on same since I was going to be doing eight presentations about him in Hartland. (Glad I did, too--the train of detail came roaring back into my depot.)

5. Tomorrow, I get to begin preparation for one of Life's Pleasures: a colonoscopy! (I've had one previously--eleven years ago; you're supposed to have them every ten; sue me.) Tomorrow, I'll be fasting all day (clear liquids + coffee only); then, tomorrow evening I commence drinking Hell's Potion, whose effect is ... well, you can imagine (or, in my case, remember). I have the procedure at 9 a.m. on Tuesday up at the University Hospitals facility in Bainbridge, across from the Chagrin Cinema. Be assured: I will post no selfies!

I remember nothing about the actual procedure last time: They wheeled me in; I woke up; it was over. I was grateful--very grateful--to have no subsequent flashbacks ... believe me.

6. Last Words: Some words from my various word-a-day sites on the Internet:
  • rhyparographer, n. From the OED: A person who paints or writes about distasteful or sordid subjects.
    Etymology:A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin rhyparographos, -er suffix1. <  classical Latin rhyparographos painter of low or sordid subjects (see rhyparograph n.) + -er suffix1; compare -grapher comb. form.
    1656  T. Blount Glossographia, Rhyparographer..Ryparographer.
    1676  E. Coles Eng. Dict., Rhyparographer, a writer (or painter) of base trifles.
    1694  P. A. Motteux in  tr. Rabelais 5th Bk. Wks. Prol. sig. A6v, That [office] of Puny Riparographer, or Riffraff-scribler of the Sect of Pyrricus.
    1885 Sat. Rev. 23 May 675 Our bodies..are ‘vile’, and he or she who paints them is a Rhyparographer.
    1891  F. W. Farrar Darkness & Dawn II. lvii. 242 The rhyparographer Pyroeicus.
    1924  J. B. Cabell Straws & Prayer-bks. i. 40 Mr. Theodore Dreiser and Mr. Sinclair Lewis, who can derive..comfort from considering persons even less pleasantly situated than themselves..and so turn rhyparographer, and write ‘realism’.
    1958  N. J. Jacobs Naming-day in Eden xi. 78 When he fell and lay groveling in the dust, rundown and half crushed, these rhyparographers (portrayers of low life) detect eccentricities and shortcomings.
    1998 Renaissance Q. 51 262 A matching discussion of Aertsen as a ‘Rhyparographer’, that is, a practitioner of the paradoxical encomium in his still-life paintings.
  • adlubescence, n. (OED)
    Pleasure, delight. (rare)
    Etymology:A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin adlubescentia. <  post-classical Latin adlubescentia (1543 or earlier) <  classical Latin adlubēscent-, adlubēscēns, present participle of adlubēscere (also allubēscere) to be pleasing, gratify ( <  ad ad- prefix + lubet (also libet) it pleases (see libitude n.) + -ēscere -esce suffix) + -ia -y suffix3; compare -ence suffix. Compare allubescency n.
    1656  W. Charleton tr. Epicurus's Morals vii. 38 That is..truly Evill, which produceth pain, as sincere, so also without any Pleasure or Allubescence to succeed upon it.
    1673  A. Marvell Rehearsal Transpros'd ii. 102 Such an expansion of heart, such an adlubescence of mind..that betwixt Joy and Love he could scarce restrain from kissing it.
    1977  S. K. Sperling Poplollies & Bellibones 78 Adlubesence means pleasure or delight. If consummate adlubescence is your only quest you might spurn the little pleasures of life and [etc.].
    1977 Verbatim Dec. 8/1 Your adlubescence at this romp through should be undiminished.
    1981 New Rec. Feb. 2/2 This album..will give you many hours of adlubescence. [Note] I am showing off. The word is an off-beat one meaning pleasure, delight.
  • Fuliginous \fyoo-LIJ-uh-nuhs\  adjective (dictionary.com)
    1. sooty; smoky: the fuliginous air hanging over an industrial city.
    2. of the color of soot, as dark gray, dull brown, black, etc.
    Each morning of her life, the City had been filmed in this airborne soot, a fuliginous mist that corroded even iron.
    -- Mary Novik, Conceit, 2007

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Hartland Sundries, 4

Final installment of little series about my experiences in Hartland, Mich., where I went earlier this week for a few days to talk about Jack London and The Call of the Wild.

1. Well, I'm back home safely--weary but generally happy with the experiences I had in Hartland, where the people were uniformly generous and helpful--at the middle school, at the Cromaine Library.

2. On Thursday evening at the library I did a presentation on Wild (PowerPoint and chat) for a very nice group of adults, almost all of whom, I'd say, were in the Ballpark of Age where I play. Probably not time for yet another comment (cliche?) about how reading as entertainment/education is more and more becoming an activity of the older? I know: Lots of kids read--I met some of them at the middle school. But ... overall? The digital, social culture is far too powerful for many of them, just as it probably would have been for me had I grown up in such a glowing-screen world as this. Of course, in my youth, the (reading) adults raged about comic books and TV and Elvis, about how they were destroying the Youth of America ...

3. The town of Hartland itself is very small. Having spent my early and later adolescence in equally tiny Hiram, Ohio, I felt right at home geographically. But out near the freeway (US 23) where I stayed at the Best Western (a mile or so away), it was all big box stores, chain restaurants, madness and speed. It looked like anywhere and everywhere in the USA. With all the advantages and disadvantages of same. (When you're traveling, it's nice to know what's available, you know? So I knew I could get a McD's parfait for lunch; I did. For supper, I knew I could get a decent turkey sub at Subway; I did (honey oat bread!). But one grieves for the great difficulty of independent merchants to compete in such an atmosphere.

4. And I must say that when I left early on Friday morning (after the "free" breakfast buffet at the BW), and when I drove out onto US 23, I was weary, yes, but soon frightened. I could not believe how fast people were driving, how rarely they used their turn signals, how recklessly they veered in and out of lanes when someone ahead of them (yours truly) was not driving at a speed sufficiently NASCARian to satisfy them. I saw only a few patrol cars--not nearly enough, in my view!

5. Anyway, I had a grand time (if enervating), and I want to thank librarian Mary Howard for coordinating it all. Hartland, I learned, has hosted nearly 10 Big Read events (sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts)--quite an achievement. And well deserved.

Some scenes from Hartland, Michigan ...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hartland Sundries, 3

Thursday, April 14

1. Afraid I'd oversleep, I didn't really sleep much between 4:30-5:30 a.m., but I got up all right (!), had a little Best Western breakfast (yogurt, bagel, OJ), then drove down to the middle school, where I did my final three presentations about Jack London, this time to three different large groups of 8th graders. Like the 7th graders yesterday, these youngsters were attentive and respectful, and I appreciated some of their kind comments (as well as some thoughtful words from the teachers in attendance). We had a little "tech issue" before the kids arrived--nothing too worrisome, just the projector and computer not cooperating with each other for a while.

2. I was whupped by the end--8 presentations in two days--but felt good that I'd gotten some of London's remarkable life story "out there" to another audience.

3. A beautiful school--in every way.

4. Afterward, I drove a short way to the Cromaine Library, where I'll be talking tonight to another audience--this time about The Call of the Wild--and the realities upon which it was based. It's a beautiful place, as well, and I'll share pictures and stories about it tomorrow.

5. Then it was to the BP for gas for the trip home, McD's for a parfait and a low-cal muffin (hah!), and a trip back to my room at the Best Western, where I dealt with an iPad issue (grrrr), did some writing, and, about 2:30, decided it was Nap Time!

6. Nearly forgot--As I was hurrying to get away this morning, my laptop decided it was time to download and install a gazillion updates; it took a half-hour. But I, of course, took it calmly. Maturely. No bad words or thoughts.

(Do I lie well?)