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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Afternoon's Drive into the Past

 the barn in 2011

Yesterday, after lunch, Joyce and I decided to take a drive east to look for a barn in Wayne Township (south of Ashtabula), a place where supporters of abolitionist John Brown had hidden weapons he and his followers would later use in the raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859. Joyce has spent nearly a decade working on a book about John Brown, and her research has taken us all over the place--from Bloody Kansas to Harpers Ferry to places in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. And there's a local connection, as well. Brown grew up in Hudson, Ohio, where we live--and he also lived in two other places Joyce has lived--Kent and Akron.

Anyway, it's been a thrill, visiting graveyards in Iowa cornfields and all the other places her research has taken us.

We've pretty much been everywhere now--with a couple of exceptions (which we will remedy this spring and summer, I hope); now we're looking for a barn in rural Ashtabula County.

She had found a 2011 newspaper article about the barn (link to the article), and it identified the location, so on a lovely Memorial Day, off we went to search for it--though as you can see from the 2011 picture, it was not looking too healthy five years ago.

We took the Ohio Turnpike east to Warren, then a variety of roads that got smaller and smaller (we did this without GPS, thank you!), until we reached Hayes Road (which we missed the first time--had to turn around), then south on Hayes to where it intersects with McClelland.

And there we saw ... the barn was gone. We did recognize the site because of the two silos (neither dates back to John Brown days) and because of some of the old barn's foundation stones, visible in the picture below.

 May 30, 2016
We took a few pictures of the rural site--very rural site--then drove home a different way, hooking up with Ohio 305, which we followed east clear into Hiram.

Along that road, whose eastern extremes I'd not visited in well over a half-century, I had memories going off like flashbulbs in my head. (Remember flashbulbs?)

In Champion, Ohio, I saw the Disciples of Christ Church where my father once preached (an ordained minister, he filled in here and there to supplement his salary as a professor at Hiram College, 1956-66).

In Southington, I saw Chalker High School whose teams I'd played against in high school basketball. (No offense to Southington, but our game with them was one of the few we had a chance of winning in my sad era.)

In Nelson, I saw the old community house where--was it in the building that's standing? or another one gone?--I played the first basketball game of my life. Seventh grade. Fall of 1956. The building had a pot-bellied stove and some wasps that enjoyed the heat. One of our players got a slight burn, another a wasp sting. The ravages of roundball.

 Nelson, Ohio
Then it was into Hiram, where I lived from seventh grade through college graduation (from Hiram). As I drove up the hill into the village, I passed the homes of former friends and classmates from yesteryear. And I was nearly overwhelmed by it all.

And then on east on Ohio 82, where, in Aurora, we passed the old middle school building where I began my teaching career in the fall of 1966.

More emotion.

Joyce and I have taken road trips--short, long, in between--since the earliest days of our marriage. In December 1969, we honeymooned in New Orleans, then stopped at Mark Twain's Hannibal, MO, on the way home. And it's been pretty much continual ever since. Even if we have only a free afternoon or so, we often hit the road to see something that's made us curious.

It's usually our literary (or writing) interests that propel us. Lately, John Brown has been our passenger, but he's sitting in a seat that's been occupied by many others in our decades together--from Hemingway to Hawthorne, Jack London to Kate Chopin, Willa Cather to Scott Fitzgerald, Melville to Longfellow, Edgar Poe to Sinclair Lewis, and on and on and on and on ...

May it never end ...

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 104

1. AOTW: No one really stood out this week--or (to put it another way)--no one behaved any more thoughtlessly and selfishly than I did, so ... no award this week!

2. A few weeks ago I posted some things about a film I saw years ago, a film that somehow popped into my head while I was on an evening drive with Joyce. 36 Hours (1964) starred James Garner in a World War II thriller about an important U. S. Army officer (Garner) whom the Nazis drug and kidnap; they take him to what looks like an Army hospital, where they convince him the war is over, etc. What they really want to know? When and where are D-Day? The film also stars Rod Taylor as a very convincing Nazi-pretending-to-be-an-American and Eva Marie Saint, less convincing as a woman released from a death camp to play along with the ruse. (Link to film trailer)

 scan from Harper's October 1944
Anyway, I ordered the film (Netflix) and was surprised in the film's credits to see that the screenplay came from an original story by Roald Dahl--yes, the chocolate-factory guy. So ... I did a bit of searching, found the story online (yes, it wasn't that much searching!), and read it. Then forgot to mention it here for several weeks. (Dotage.)

The story is called "Beware of the Dog" (link to entire story--which you can read in a few minutes). Originally published in Harper's in October 1944--just a month before I was born. And--no surprise, I guess--it bears only the most misty resemblance to the screenplay. In Dahl's version, an RAF pilot is shot down, and the Nazis, again, try to convince him that he's in England--but he catches on far more quickly than Garner did (oh, Jim Rockford!), and there's nothing about D-Day, or an Eva Marie Saint character, etc. A fairly simple story converted to a complicated film that I remember liking in 1964--and liking again only a few weeks ago.

3. I finished a book this week, Richard Russo's early novel Nobody's Fool (1993), a novel I'd not read before even though I have always loved the 1994 film--with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and an early appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays a, uh, mentally challenged local cop in the story.  (Link to film trailer.)

Anyway, Russo just recently published a sequel--Everybody's Fool (2016)--which I bought, using it as a prompt for me to read the original, which, as I said, I just did.

I loved it.

Much of the film dialogue comes straight from the novel about Donald "Sully" Sullivan, a sixty-year-old handyman living in the small town of Bath, New York, where all sorts of stuff is going on.

There are some very significant differences, too. Sully's son--who's just lost an academic position in West Virginia--appears in both, but his story in the novel ends in a much different (and very surprising) way than it does in the film.

There are some other complications in the novel, as well--additional characters, additional subplots--but the filmmakers (directed by Robert Benton) have kept the essence of the story, the humor.

I got a little laugh about one character. Sully's landlady, Miss Beryl (80), played by the wonderful Jessica Tandy in what I believe was her last film, reveals in the novel that she was an 8th grade English teacher for her entire career (and taught most of the principals in the story). She alludes to Dickens several times (A Christmas Carol and the "chains we forged in life" stuff) and some other literary things. I loved that! Especially since I taught 8th grade English for many years ...

One complaint I'd have if I were reviewing the book ... It was only Russo's 3rd novel, and he'd not yet learned good ways to distinguish the dialogue and the humor of his characters. They all sound the same--have the same dry, ironic wit. Take off the dialogue tags, and you'd be confused about who was talking to whom.

But, hey, I loved the book. Am going to rent and watch the film again. Then read the sequel, which will have to wait another week because I'm now reading yet another novel by John A. Williams, !Click Song (1982), as I continue my journey through his complete novels. Full report on that next week!

4. Final Words

• A word that looks "dirty" but isn't ...
• inspissate  \in-SPIS-eyt\ verb to thicken, as by evaporation; make or become dense (from dictionary.com)
• prosimetric, adj. Written partly in prose and partly in verse; = prosimetrical adj. (from the OED)
• succus (SUHK-uhs) noun: Juice; fluid. From Latin succus (juice). Earliest documented use: 1771. (from wordsmith.org)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Too Many 50s in My Life ...

Four years ago I celebrated my 50th high school graduation. Went to the events. Had a good time. Reconnected with some folks I hadn't seen in a half-century. Grieved for those who had not lived long enough to celebrate with us.

This year, it's the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Hiram College, but I'm not planning to go. Enough is enough.

But the other day, as Joyce and I were off on one of our wonted evening drives, I recalled that another 50 was upon me: the 50th anniversary of the commencement of my teaching career. Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio; fall of 1966.

And that conversation reminded me of one of the oddest nights I've ever spent.

But let's pause first. A little background ...

As I said, I graduated from Hiram in 1966, the same year my younger brother graduated from high school and was about to set off for Harvard to begin his own collegiate career. My dad, who had taught at Hiram since 1956, and my mom, who'd recently completed her Ph.D. (she'd been teaching English at nearby James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville), had accepted jobs at Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa), where they moved that summer of 1966. My older brother, already in grad school (Harvard), had left home a few years before.

So ... not only was I about to begin my own teaching career, I was about to be living without family for the first time in my life. It was some daunting combination of depression and elation. I'm on my own! combined with I'm alone! I was twenty-one years old.

Anyway, I'd originally planned to go to grad school at the University of Kansas and work on a Ph.D. in American Studies; I'd been accepted, but then ... no scholarship money (not that I deserved any). How could I manage? (I couldn't.) My parents made no financial offers (they already would be having two sons at Harvard ... the Bucks were Big for that, I'm sure). So ...

Along the bumpy road of my undergraduate studies (?), I had managed to become certified to teach English in Ohio's secondary schools, and, fortunately, I'd applied for two jobs (got two interviews, took the first offer--Aurora). And there I was in the spring of 1966, employed. And basically clueless.

Here's an image of my first teaching contract, dated May 18, 1966. Almost exactly a half-century ago. It's now framed on my study wall.  If you click on the image and enlarge it, you'll see my salary for that year (1966-67) was $5100. I thought I was rich--until, of course, I got my first semi-monthly paycheck:$168.42.

To be continued ...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 231

And there are other factors in Mary’s life that we should review before we proceed.
She had not stopped writing. In fact, in January 1826 she published another novel, The Last Man, a futuristic story about an epidemic that wipes out most of humanity. (We’ll get into that novel in a subsequent chapter.)
Mary soon discovered that Jane Williams—a woman she considered her dearest friend since both had lost husbands in that July 1822 boating accident in Italy—was in fact betraying her.
Mary was also seeing her father fairly regularly, a habit that did not sit well with Godwin’s wife, Mary Jane, with whom Mary had never been close, principally because of that common conflict (among our oldest?)—stepmother verses stepdaughter. It didn’t help that Mary Jane’s daughter, Claire, had also run off with Shelley in 1814, and Mary Jane laid much of the blame for that and for the ensuing scandal right at Mary Shelley’s feet.

But during these post-Washington Irving years there are several other compelling stories about Mary that I want to explore a little—her involvement with Diana Mary Dods and, in a separate episode, with the remarkable Frances “Fanny” Wright and, tangentially, with Frances “Fanny” Trollope, the mother of famed English novelist Anthony Trollope.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Late-Night Thoughts on Learnin'

I sometimes fail to write down a late-night, lights-off idea I have, convinced, of course, that the idea is so profound/beautiful/true that I could not possibly forget it.

Which I invariably do. Forget it, that is. In the morning's mist I discover that sometime in the dark the idea has mounted a nightmare and galloped away--usually forever.

Anyway, the other night, awake in the dark, I was thinking about schooling and education--two quite different processes, one terminal, the other continuous. And some of it lingered into the morning ... bad news for my readers.

Schooling, of course, is the terminal one. At some point in our lives we all stop going to school--taking classes and exams--borrowing money to do so. Shakespeare ended early--the equivalent of middle school; Mary Wollstonecraft had virtually no schooling--as did her famous daughter, Mary Shelley (though she had a wonderful tutor in her father, William Godwin); Jack London quit after 9th grade--then, later, a single year at the University of California Berkeley; Hemingway--high school; Fitzgerald, a bit of Princeton; and on and on and on. I have a friend who has multiple "terminal" degrees (a couple of doctorates), but I dislike that term--terminal degree. It implies an end.

But I fear that far too many of us equate schooling with education. As soon as we complete our formal schooling, we can begin suffering from the deception that it's over now. We've done it. We're educated.

No, we're not. No more so than an eagle just out of the egg is ready to fly. Schooling is our egg.

All school does--at whatever level marks the end for us--is provide the broadest of outlines of knowledge; in school we glimpse the blurry--and ever changing and expanding--horizons. That's all. The end of schooling is the bare beginning of our education.

The last couple of years I taught American literature at Western Reserve Academy (11th graders; I retired in 2011) I had students do lots of reading--the "canonical" writers, from Anne Bradstreet through some contemporary writer (whom I always tried to lure to campus to meet with students). Then, near the end of the year, I would remind them that we had read (in most cases) only one work by each of those significant writers. We read The Scarlet Letter, not The House of Seven Gables; we read The Great Gatsby, not Tender Is the Night; The Awakening, not Chopin's short stories; etc.

And then I would read a list of notables whom (and works that) we didn't read at all. A very, very long list that I never read all of--time's winged chariot, and all. (A few examples: Willa Cather, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, J. D. Salinger, Richard Wright, John Steinbeck--who won a Nobel Prize, Joyce Carol Oates ... don't make me keep going.)

I had a tremendous literary background at Hiram College (1962-66), where (duh) I was an English major. One professor especially--Prof. Abe C. Ravitz (now a Facebook friend!)--gave us very long reading lists for each course. This was good. It gave me a tremendous background. But Dr. Ravitz always reminded us--overtly, tacitly--that was by no means all; this was by no means sufficient. It was the beginning. The barest beginning. The implication: You are not educated. You are novices. You've seen only the previews of the coming attractions. But here is the tiller. It's your turn to sail... Etc.

Ignited by the fire of Dr. Ravitz, of many friends and colleagues, of my wife, I became more and more convinced that schooling alone--even at its best--is inadequate. It can not be the end.

I'm starting to sound like a commencement speaker (not that I would really know: I've never been one!), but rather than fight it, I'll just sail away on it into the sunset with some final thoughts.

School is the beginning; life is education. Of course you learn so many things once you're out of school--things about work, career, love, heartbreak, success, failure, family, health, illness, mortality, and on and on. You don't need classes on those things. Daily experience is sufficient, thank you. But these sorts of things--as critical as they are--are but one sort of education.

The rest must come from books, from study, from a commitment to learn as much as you can in the time that you have.

I'm seventy-one years old right now. I've been battling cancer since late in 2004. Time, to me, is the most precious thing of all--for it defines and limits all else. Every second with Joyce is critical--as is every second with our son and his family and other loved ones.

But I also want to sigh my last with the knowledge that (for as long as I've been able) I've kept at it--I've kept reading, writing, going to plays and good (okay, and some very bad) films, traveling to places of significance (historical, literary, whatever), visiting museums, talking with people who know more than I do ...

And hovering all above? The certainty that I will never read all that I want to, see and do all that I want to. (Oh, do I rue the years--years--when I neglected--or took for granted--that complicated organ that resides in the attic above my eyes!)

What worries (maybe even terrifies) me in our country today is the presence of so many people who seem perfectly satisfied with what they already know, who seem to value pleasure and entertainment above all else. Who are absolutely not interested in hearing other points of view, of imagining the lives and situations of people who are unlike them (in religion, race, economic status, gender identity, and on and on). Who have no questions, only answers--answers that are firm and fixed. Who see no complexity or ambiguity in any social or political issue. (There's my answer and the wrong answer.)

The arts--literature, drama, film, painting, sculpture, etc.--help us do that. Imagine. See complexity and ambiguity. Enter the lives of people unlike us. And to the extent we neglect our imagination--and our empathy and sympathy--we endanger ourselves, our very democratic way of life. Open minds, open hearts ... you know ...

I know: This is preachy, annoying. But remember--It all came from a late-night reverie partially remembered in the mist of morning, and you know what that is worth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 230

Mary had several other experiences—let’s call them “adventures”—following her return to England. We’ve just spent considerable time with her (failed) pursuit of Washington Irving, who left England in the midst of it all—about as clear a clue as a lover could have that love, in this case, was a narrow sidewalk accommodating only one.
But before we move on, we need, perhaps, to refresh our understanding of Mary’s current situation early in 1826 after the Headless Horseman had ridden way. She was twenty-eight years old, a widow, dependent almost entirely on the reluctant largesse of her father-in-law, Sir Timothy Shelley, who was purely bitter about the death of his son (five and a half years earlier) and about what he saw as the corrosive influence of Mary’s father, William Godwin. Bysshe Shelley had loved Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793, a long and radical (for the time—for any time, really) tract about the ways Godwin would rearrange things were he not King for a Day but King-in-Perpetuity.
The book is jammed with things that would have assailed the very foundations of Sir Timothy’s beliefs. A couple of examples.
• Writing about human equality: We should endeavour to afford to all the same opportunities and the same encouragement, and to tender justice the common interest and choice.[1] This is clearly a principle that annoys some people—many people—today. But for Sir Timothy? Who lived in a society highly organized by wealth and rank and privilege? The vilest heresy.
• Writing about marriage: The method is for a thoughtless and romantic youth of each sex to come together, to see each other, for a few times and under circumstances full of delusion, and then to vow eternal attachment. … The abolition of the present system of marriage appears to involved no evils.[2] Inspired, in part, by these words, Bysshe in 1814 had left his wife, Harriet, fled to Europe with two teenage girls (Mary and Claire Clairmont), and so horrified his father that he refused all direct communication with him.
Sir Timothy blamed Godwin for this. Showered more of his disdain on Mary, whom he viewed as a dark disciple of her father. He and Mary never in her life met—although, eventually, as we’ve seen, he began contributing some minimal sums for the care and education of his legal grandson, Percy Florence Shelley, Mary’s sole surviving child, who, at the dawn of 1826, had just turned eight years old.
And there are other factors in Mary’s life that we should review before we proceed …

[1] (New York: Penguin Classics, 1985), 184. This is from the 1798 edition revised by Godwin; he’d also done so in 1796.
[2] Ibid., 762–63.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Shorts and Sandals Return!

 picture taken today by Joyce Dyer

May 24, 2016

Today was the first day since last fall that I donned my shorts and sandals (new ones, thank you; Birkenstock, thank you; on sale at DSW, thank you; gift cards, thank you). I love this day--right up there with the first day of the year that I can get back on my bike and head off to mail a letter (remember them?), get a haircut, go to the coffee shop.

I did not have much of a boyhood history with shorts. Oddly, though I grew up in infernal Oklahoma and Texas (until I was about to turn twelve), my friends and I didn't wear shorts. The schools proscribed them, and it was just not fashionable for boys to wear them. Levi's were the mode. After all, we were all future cowboys (I knew that I would soon be riding alongside Hopalong Cassidy and/or my other TV heroes). So even in the fiercest heat--sometimes about 110--my friends and I were tough, like Hoppy, the Lone Ranger, the Ranger Rider, none of whom we ever saw in shorts.

I don't recall wearing them during later boyhood in Hiram, Ohio, either, though my cowboy dreams had faded by then, and I was now positive that I would be catching for the Tribe, playing guard for the Celtics (there were no Cavs then--unthinkable).

But later on, one of my father's most insidious genes (the Sweat Gene) declared itself ruler of my summer days, and soon I was wearing shorts pretty much every day in the summer. (And many days in the spring and fall.) Still do.

I can't say that my mom has been thrilled with my summer wardrobe choices. Two stories.
• Out in Oregon for a Dyer family reunion (1990?), we were all staying in a motel just across the Oregon-Washington border in Walla Walla (near where my dad grew up). There was going to be a family picnic at my uncle John's house--scores of Dyers would be there. (Dad had about a dozen sibs.) As Joyce, Steve, and I walked over to Mom and Dad's room, she saw me (be-shorted) and said, "You're not wearing that, are you?) Note: I was in my mid-forties at the time. Mom, it's a picnic ... I began, but I could tell that I was really annoying her. So back I went with son Steve (about 18 at the time) to change into jeans (also not my mother's favorite--but I have standards!). I was not happy and uttered some grievous execrations in our room. And, of course, at the picnic everyone was in shorts or jeans. Except Steve and me..
• When my mom moved into her stages-of-care place in Lenox, MA (Dad died in 1999), oh, 2006-ish, she did not like seeing me (or my younger brother) wearing shorts (or jeans) when I came to visit. She told me (a lie) that they would not seat me in the dining hall--they always do.
Okay, another quick story ...
• In the spring of 1999 I was in Naples, Italy, and one of my destinations was the summit of Mt. Vesuvius; the day I was going to do the hike, it was very warm, so ... shorts. I rode the train to the base of the mountain, having walked a ways through Naples first. And all along the way--on the sidewalks, on the train--Italian men pointed and snickered and made, I assume, jokes. I also assume they had something to do with my manhood. And I noticed that no other man was wearing shorts, not in the entire city? (Oklahoma, 1954?) But I, confident in my solid masculinity, strode on, right to that gorgeous summit, then endured more ridicule on the way home (grateful, of course, that I possessed only a few key words in Italian).
I suppose there will come a day when pride and modesty (and shame?) will prevent me from wearing shorts. There will come a time, I know, when I will once again feel I'm in Naples, only this time I will understand every single word of derision/disgust/etc.

But for now? I'm wearing shorts, damn it! Deal with it!

**PS--the light cotton sweater I'm wearing in the pic ... it was a little cool this morning; I'll get rid of it later today.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 229

On the evening of June 25, 1825, Payne and Mary went for a walk, and Payne, unable to endure the uncertainty any longer, declared his affections and desires. And Mary told him she liked him … as a friend—the words no man in the history of the species has ever wanted to hear. And then Mary (was she really so clueless about the workings of a man’s heart?) asked Payne if he would mind, you know, working as her agent to discover if Washington Irving might be interested in her.
And Payne, no doubt crushed, agreed.[1]

But Washington Irving seems to have felt about Mary Shelley the way Mary felt about John Howard Payne. Let’s be friends. Although Irving was truly not all that interested in friendship. As we’ve seen, he’d just had his hopes dashed by young Emily Foster, 18, who had dazzled fortyish Irving, whom testosterone propelled around the Foster family like a drone. As we’ve seen, she’d said OMG! No! when she’d realized in early April 1823 that his interests in her were not paternal nor avuncular nor mentorial. Actually, she responded, apparently, with much more tact and compassion, but she had clearly let the author of “Rip Van Winkle” know that she would have preferred the young version of Rip.[2]
And now, barely a year later, here was Mary Shelley knocking at a door he refused to open. As Jones says in his biography of Irving, the only words he ever wrote about her in his journal about this triangle that refused to ring when struck was this: Read Mrs. Shelley’s correspondence before going to bed.[3] Thoughtful Payne had let Irving read Mary’s letters, the ones alluding to Irving himself.
And so it ended. Quietly. Mary, realizing how the cards lay on the table, gradually grew silent on the whole thing, and we are left to wonder about what might have been—the author of Frankenstein, the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” joining lives, perhaps, later, moving to Sunnyside, Irving’s home near Tarrytown, New York—near Sleepy Hollow, New York—where, perhaps, Mary might have recovered some peace, might have, once again, found love.
I have this feeling that I’ve written about this before (I don’t look back: a failure, I know), but we also wonder why Irving “passed” on Mary. All reports of her in her mid-twenties are that she was a very attractive woman—obviously bright and gifted. Irving’s equal—maybe more.
Perhaps that alone was sufficiently daunting—her talents. (Some men can’t handle that). Or, perhaps (as I’ve written earlier, I know!), Irving preferred men (though, if that’s so, Emily Foster remains a mystery). Or maybe it was Mary’s reputation—damaged since 1814 when she’d run off with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man (a father!). Maybe Irving just couldn’t abide the faint odor of scandal.
Or maybe—simpler—he just didn’t feel anything in her presence. Love is not logic. The heart listens to no argument. Love happens; it doesn’t. End of story.

[1] Letters, vol. 1, 493n.
[2] See account of this in Jones, Washington Irving, 209-12.
[3] 230. The full citation from the journal: Tuesday, August 16, 1825. Appears in The Complete Works of Washington Irving; Journals and Notebooks, Vol. III, ed. By Walter A. Reichart (Univ of Wisconsin P, 1970), 510.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 103

1. AOTW: There's really just one exercise bike I like to ride out at the health club--and there are only two of this particular style; the one I don't like is so for good reason(s): It's a piece of junk. Monday when I got there, I saw that some guy was on "mine," but then ... he got off! I walked over, and when he saw me coming he got right back on. "Doing thirty minutes more," he said. There is a 30-minute limit. He'd just done thirty, had stood up, taken two steps, then gone back and hopped on again. Although some poor soul (I) clearly wanted to use the machine, he figured he would get two 30-minute stints; I, none. So ... he's the AOTW!

2. Finished a book this week, Don DeLillo's new novel, Zero K (Scribner, 2016), a powerful and grim story about a facility that preserves you--in some separate pieces--after your death. Or, in case of imminent death, that facility will sort of ease you a little more quickly along your journey. The facility preserves you with intense cold (cryopreservation) and with some other techniques. Later, when the technology has advanced even more, the place will revive you, boot you up again.

The novel involves a young man, Jeffrey, whose father, Ross, enormously wealthy, has established this state-of-the-art facility somewhere in one of the former Soviet Socialist Republics. Ross' wife is dying (the narrator's stepmother), and they are preparing her.

Well, other things happen: Ross considers going with her; Jeffrey has memories of his birth mother. The novel is a graceful, imaginative riff on mortality, technology, family, and the question: Should we do something just because we can do it? Technically clever (as DeLillo has always been).

I think the first novel of his I read was End Zone (1972), a football novel that was far more than that, and I'm pretty sure I've read all of his others (well, maybe just most of them?). One of our great talents.

3. Friday night Joyce and I drove down to the Hanna Theater in downtown Cleveland to see the Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of The Fantasticks, which I don't think I've seen in nearly fifty years. The first thing I remember about that show? The Kingston Trio recorded "Try to Remember" on their 1973 album The Kingston Trio #16. Bob Shane sang it; the other two (Nick Reynolds, John Stewart) played their guitars. Here's a link to that performance.

Anyway, the GLTF production was excellent--strong players (a small group), excellent singing, and I'd like to give a shout-out to the sound engineer, who kept the singers sounding more or less natural instead of so heavily amplified that they sounded like Bad Guys in a sci-fi film. I was very moved several times, especially (of course) with "Try to Remember" (beautifully sung) and "They Were You"--a song that comes near the end when the estranged lovers realize ... well, look at the title of the song! (Here's a link to that song.)

4. Last night (Saturday) we went to see the new Shane Black film, The Nice Guys, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe (a chunky Russell Crowe--he must have eaten all the meat on the Ark--surprised we have any animals alive on earth now) playing a couple of fairly dim-bulb investigators in 1977 LA (loved the period stuff in the film) who are tangled up in a series of murders that are far more complicated than they thought. The film will remind viewers (in a good way) of Black's earlier film Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) with Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer in similar roles. (I loved that film so much I bought it--rare for me.)

What I liked: I was surprised every few minutes--very surprised--and I laughed throughout, even when I was ashamed of myself for doing so. (Joyce loved it too.) (Trailer for film.)

5. Final Word--This one can sound like complacent (pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied).

Complaisant \kuh m-PLEY-suh nt, -zuh nt, KOM-pluh-zant\

1. inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant: the most complaisant child I've ever met.

Though I see an example of the horror facing people learning English: Definition 2 of complacent is ... complaisant. Read and weep ...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Ghost in the House?

This morning--as is my wont--I staggered downstairs about 6:15 to do a couple of my early-morning chores: unload the dishwasher, get my backpack ready to haul over to the coffee shop, clean off the dining room table (our family surface on which to place things we don't know what to do with).

And as I entered the dining room (on the way to the kitchen), I heard an odd, inhuman voice say, very precisely, There's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.

Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One. Falstaff is barking at the Hostess of the inn.

That rational part of me that recognized the line quickly fled (coward!), replaced by the part of me animated by my brain stem (that reptilian part), the part that hissed: What in the hell was that?

I looked around the room. Saw no ghost of Shakespeare. Saw no Falstaff going through our refrigerator.

The rational part of me crept a little ways back, uttered a line Macbeth hurls at Banquo's ghost: Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!

And then I remembered ...

Let's back up ...

Last night (Saturday) Joyce and I drove down to the Hanna Theater in Cleveland to see a production of The Fantasticks, the final show of our four-show package with the Great Lakes Theater Festival (formerly the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival). The Festival, sans Shakespeare's name, still mounts two Bard shows a year (this year it was Lear and Love's Labour's Lost), and in their gift shop at the Hanna are some Shakespeare-themed gifts: T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, coffee mugs, and the like.

Last night I found a sort of bobble-head doll to mount on my car's dashboard. Cute. And we also found a couple of wee gifts for the grandsons (7 and 11), and one of those gifts, as I eventually realized this weird morning, was the cause of my near-alarm, the source of the weird voice.

In the gift shop we'd found a small wallet, which employs the same technology as those talking greeting cards: You open them; they speak. The wallet, however, when opened, delivers various lines from various Shakespeare plays. Well, not just lines. Insults.

Let's go forward ...

This morning--my reptile self eyeballing the dining room--I saw that the wallet was lying on the table, and my bumping the table with my backpack had activated it. And the words of the long-dead Bard floated across the room, judging me, condemning me, cursing me.

Realizing what had happened, I went about my chores, feeling as dumb as ... well, as dumb as a stewed prune. And I hurried upstairs to share with Joyce this patent truth about myself.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 228

Payne pops the question ...

Reading over the letters among Mary, Payne, and Irving, I think it’s clear that Mary had no romantic feelings for Payne whatsoever. She liked him—he was a “friend”—but his principal value to her comprised two things: his friendship with Irving (in whom Mary was very interested); his ability to score theater tickets for her (and her friends) on practically a moment’s notice. Here’s a fairly typical example, Mary to Payne:
My dear Payne,—I shall be most happy to see you at the theatre this evening, though I hope to make such arrangements as to preclude your thinking it necessary to escort me …. I am extremely obliged to you for the trouble you take for me.
Ever yours, M.S.[1]
If I were, say, an eighth-grade boy who received a note (or, today, a text) from the Object of My Affection, a message that said, basically, Thanx for the tix—no need for you to take me, I think even I—dense, dense, dense I—would recognize that I was being, well, used—though abused is probably a more accurate term.
But Payne was so besotted that it took him a while—and something far more explicit and direct—for him to recognize the obvious. And surrender.
On the evening of June 25, 1825, Payne and Mary went for a walk, and Payne, unable to endure the uncertainty any longer, declared his affections and desires. And Mary told him she liked him as a friend—the words no man in the history of the species has ever wanted to hear. And then Mary (was she really so clueless about the workings of a man’s heart?) asked Payne if he would mind, you know, working as her agent to discover if Washington Irving might be interested in her.
And Payne, no doubt crushed, agreed.[2]

[1] Romance, 47; Letters, vol. 1, 485–86. Betty Bennett assigns a date for this letter: 21 May 1825.
[2] Letters, vol. 1, 493n.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Grandpa Moment(s)

Last Sunday, I had a few "Grandpa Moments"--all in a very short time. I need to preface this with a little description of our Sunday-morning routines.

On Saturday night I feed my sourdough starter, and the next morning I put some of it back in the fridge for the future and then bake something with the rest of it--bread, rolls, pizza, biscuits, waffles, whatever.

Then, cleaned up, we head off on our "rounds"--to the nearby Panera for breakfast, Sunday Times, laughing and talking.

Afterward, we make our two local grocery-story stops: Acme and Heinen's (neither store has all of what we want/need/crave).

Then, at home, we put stuff away, and both of us go to work until lunch. ... That's enough of a background.

Okay, last Sunday (the 15th) ... here are the "Grandpa Moments":
• Coming down the stairs, getting ready to head off to Panera, I realized, about halfway down, that I was still wearing my bedroom slippers. Not shoes. Which were back upstairs, nearly (but not quite) speechless with dismay (Where is he?!?!). An awkward mid-stairway turn and back to the bedroom for some remediation. (Where have you been?)
• In the car, talking animatedly with Joyce, I made a wrong turn and had to
• pretend I'd done it on purpose;
• figure out a way to get where we were going without making it obvious that my body language, soaked in insouciance, was a lie.
• At Panera, I realized I'd left the Times back on our dining room table. I dropped Joyce off and drove home, occupying that soggy emotional terrain between humor and depression.
This kind of stuff is happening much more frequently these days of dotage (okay, advancing dotage). Right now it's still in the Cute & Amusing stage. Most of the time ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 227

the love triangle ... Mary, Payne, Irving ...

Anyway, the book itself (The Romance of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington Irving) … what’s there? Well, there are some brief introductory remarks, followed by the texts of the letters among the principals identified in the title, with some brief commentary.
One (very) annoying thing: The editor, F. B. Sanborn (whose “remarks” accompany the letters), does not—for a reason I cannot fathom—give the dates of the letters, nothing beyond whatever the writer included. So, for example, on page 37, in a letter from Mary to Payne, we get only this: Wednesday, Kentish Town (in northwest London). Now, an assiduous scholar (not always an accurate description of me) could consult the three-volume published letters of Mary, check “Payne” in the index, and gradually catch up with who was writing what and when.
For the curious (or demented), here’s what I found about that letter—after about a ten-minute search. Mary wrote it in early May 1825 (the fabulous editor of her letters, the late Betty Bennett, has put a question mark by May 4, and—thorough scholar that she was—Betty also quotes what Payne had written earlier … and the source? The Romance. The “ambiguity,” by the way, that Mary mentions in that opening sentence concerns the production of the play Virginius, which, Betty notes in an earlier letter, was written by James Sheridan Knowles and first produced in 1820. Anyway, in that letter, Mary wrote, I have seen Virginius, but she had planned to go with her friend Jane Williams, whose husband, Edward, had drowned with Bysshe in July 1822.[1] (You may recall that Mary often acquired theater tickets from Payne, who was an actor as well as a writer.)
So, if you want to know the dates of these letters, you need to keep handy Betty’s volumes of Mary letters—and the volumes of Irving’s letters (and diaries) as well. I had to do all of that, originally, but now, as I page through the Romance again, I don’t need to. Instead, I’m just following the sad arc of the story. No one really emerged from this 1820s triangle feeling very good. And that, I suppose, is not really too surprising. Triangles—the love sort—rarely ring a clear tone.

[1] The Romance, 37; Letters, vol. 1, 481–82.

 The Romance of Mary ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Computer Meltdown

I'm fairly recovered now--the men in the white coats have pulled up in the driveway--but my madness frightened them, so they drove away. (Safety First!)

You see, I bought a new laptop a couple of days ago--a Dell, from Best Buy--and, initially, things went pretty well. Smiley faces.

Then ... Frownie faces.

MAJOR PROBLEM: Getting my two printers working. I have a small b&w printer that I use for quick, generally unimportant printing. (Only a couple of months old.) I have a larger, color printer-scanner (HP), a few years old, that I use for, uh, scanning and printing things I need/want in color. (I use this sparingly: ink cartridges are expensive.)

Neither printer worked.
• Little Guy
• I used the installation disk that came with the printer. (Nope.)
• I raged and swore. (Nope. But Joyce headed upstairs with alacrity.)
• I pulled out the USB cord. Waited. Put it back in. (YES!) Worked almost immediately, and I went to bed half-satisfied (the other printer could wait till Monday--yesterday).
• Big Guy
• I used the installation disk that came with the printer. (Nope.)
• I raged and swore. (Nope. But Joyce headed upstairs with alacrity.)
• I could not try the USB dealie from above: It's wireless.
• I got on an online chat with HP, and the tech guy took over my mouse and was nearing a conclusion when ... lost connection
• I could not recover it.
• Got on phone with a very helpful woman who, after about 45 min., got it working.
• But it no longer works with my scanner program (which enables me to do all sorts of things that the HP scanner program does not).
• More Rage.
• All of this Big Guy work took me hours! Subtracted chunks of time from my life!
Today, I'm more mellow (more like the contemplative Ahab than the raging, raving one). I still want that scanner program to work, but I know it will take phone calls, much gnashing of teeth, more cursing, more quick trips upstairs for Joyce.

But, later, I suppose I'll do it. Can't let technology win, you know? Entropy is doing quite a fine job of that, thank you! And, of course, I well remember the end of Moby-Dick.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 102

1. AOTW--A version of this happened another time, but here we go again ... At Starbucks ... Monday afternoon ... sitting in one of the easy chairs near the fireplace (Old Man stuff) ... the only surface I can use to place my coffee cup--or lay down my book--is a little table that sits between my chair and my neighbor's (a woman) ... the woman (the AOTW) has decided she needs the whole table for herself and has pulled it around in front of her to accommodate her laptop, on which she is earnestly dealing with an important issue on Facebook, forgetting, I guess, the very term laptop ... I have no surface ... but I do have rage, rage at this week's (selfish) AOTW ...

2. I finished two books this week.

• As some of you know, the Hogarth Press in now publishing a series of contemporary novels based on Shakespeare's plays (link to Hogarth and info). I read the first of them a few months ago (The Gap of Time, by Jeannette Winterson, based on The Winter's Tale), and just this week I finished the second, Shylock Is My Name (by Howard Jacobson). I loved the beginning--Shylock in a cemetery, talking with his dead wife (as he does throughout the novel)--and I liked much of the "modernization" (which includes an amusing take on the "pound of flesh"), but I can't say I was really moved until near the end, when Jacobson used some lines from the play to stab readers right in the heart.
• Shakespeare fans will have fun finding some of the Bard's lines (from other plays, as well) adorning some of the paragraphs. There's some Hamlet, Othello, others ... I'm sure I didn't catch them all.
• The "Shylock" in this story is the actual Shakespeare character--who has appeared in our day; the Shylock story, though, belongs to another character, Strulovich, a wealthy man whom Shylock joins for the remainder of the novel. He, too, has a rebellious daughter, some noxious enemies, etc. Very clever, this.
• I finished Tobias Smollett's Travels Through France and Italy, 1766. a book recommended to me in a Smollett biography I recently read. Some of it was very amusing; some, not so much. (Those interested in living conditions in mid-18th-century Europe will find it revealing.) Smollett has a vinegar tongue, and some of his comments about others (and others' ways) made me laugh aloud (a reaction that sometimes shamed me!). Some examples ...
• "...France is the general reservoir from which all the absurdities of false taste, luxury, and extravagance have overflowed the different kingdoms and states of Europe" (52).
• re: a hotel in Montepellier: "...a most wretched hovel, the habitation of darkness, dirt, and imposition" (85).
• re: French maids in Nice: "They are all slovenly,slothful, and unconscionable cheats" (152).
• I was interested in his visit to Lerici, near the spot where Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned about a half-century later.
• And here's what he says about Cannes: "a neat village, charmingly situated on the beach of the Mediterranean .... I would rather live here for the sake of the mild climate, than either at Antibes or Nice" (313).
• Those interested in art will have fun reading his sections about museums (and other structures) in Rome and Florence. He has some unkind words for "Michael Angelo."
• I have now read the complete novels of Smollett--and a couple of his other books, and ...
• ... I've moved on to Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), whose The Moonstone and The Woman in White I've already read. Have just started his early novel Basil (1852).
3. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to Macedonia to see Money Monster, a film starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts (who, respectively, host and direct the popular and eponymous TV show--patently based on CNBC's Mad Money). Directed by Jodi Foster, the film (link to trailer) also features
Jack O'Connell as an angry investor, a working class guy who lost all of his small inheritance because of the machinations of a company whose dealings prove to be darker than shady. With a gun, he storms onto the set of the show, takes Clooney hostage, and the story proceeds .... What we liked was the ambiguity, ambiguity clarified near the end by Dominic West (from The Wire), who plays the sleazy CEO of the company: West chastises greedy investors as much as greedy Wall Street. I loved, too, how this tenseness--all on live TV (the hostage-taker's insistence)--galvanizes the audience, world-wide, until it's over; then, quickly, people turn to other entertainment. Dark, dark, dark view of so many things ... and of us.

4. I enjoyed these words-of-the-day this week from Wordsmith, words whose positive forms are far less familiar than their negative:
• licit, peccable, clement, scrutable

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"And you're taking notes ...?"

So ... this morning ... sitting in Open Door Coffee Co. ... reading ... taking notes. And I become aware that someone has moved to stand by "my" table. I look up. A friend from English Teaching World. We have never taught in the same school--and he has not yet retired (poor guy)--but he lives in town; we see each other now and then; we are friendly; say hello; talk occasionally about books and writing.

"So what are you reviewing?" he asks. (He knows I'm a reviewer.)

"Oh, no review. Just reading this--it won a Pulitzer this year." I show him the cover of Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles.

??

"I've been a Custer Freak for a long time ..." I explain.

??

"Oh, not a fan," I add hurriedly (don't want him to think I admire what Custer did at the Washita). "At least, not since boyhood." When I did run around the neighborhood, escaping my Last Stand. (Which Custer--not nearly so clever as I--did not.)

"And you're taking notes ...?" he asks.

"Yeah." Pause. "Not sure why."

"Do you always take notes on books you read?"

"No. Sometimes there are books I just, you know, read." (I think of the thrillers and mysteries I routinely consume--and the books I read in bed at night; there, I generally do not take notes on sheets of paper--though I do make little (pencil) marks in the text and jot brief notes inside the dust jacket (also in pencil).)

"Well, he said, "maybe you'll want to write about Custer one day."

"And then I'll be glad I have the notes ..."

The conversation shifts to weather and the end of the school year, and he drifts away while I finish the 25 Custer-pages I've assigned myself for this morning, pack up, and head home.

Where I have a half-dozen file cabinets jammed with notes on books I've read--arranged by author, natch.

And as I float home, the rain splattering my umbrella, the temperature more appropriate for early November, I begin to wonder myself: Why?

And the only answer that makes any sense at all to me? Because.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 226

more about the book concerning Mary Shelley, John Howard Payne, and Washington Irving ...
The book—both copies of it—is a beauty to look at. The paper is thick and creamy and seems roughly trimmed at the edges; there are engravings of the principals involved in the triangle, each image covered with a piece of translucent lift-off tissue bearing, in red type, the identifying name of the person. One image shows The Payne Cottage of East Hampton, Long Island. This was one of the few Mary Shelley sites in the United States that I had not visited, and this very morning (May 13, 2016) I was feeling somewhat … inadequate about that egregious failure.

And then … redemption! Looking on Google for images of the house (still standing, a museum), I discovered a link to a 2005 story in a local newspaper, a story that says this: The report, prepared for the East Hampton Village Board by Robert Hefner, a historic preservation consultant, confirms once and for all that not only was Payne not born in this saltbox house on James Lane, but neither he nor his parents or grandparents ever lived there.[1] link to story about the Payne cottage-that-isn't
Oh, vindication! Something in the air, something in the stars, something buzzed to me by a bee—something told me I should not go to East Hampton, Long Island, to see the home of the man who had loved Mary Shelley, who had served as an intermediary for her with Washington Irving. I just knew it.
Not.
I was just lucky.
But I’d still love to see that house—and not just to gloat.

[1] Carissa Katz, “Home, Sweet Home—John Howard Payne May Have Slept Here, but Not for Very Long” (East Hampton Star, 30 December 2005), online. (See link above.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

There's Something about Baking Scones ...

I've written about this before. I don't care. I'm doing it again. Scone-baking. As I sit here (10:45 a.m.), I can smell them, just out of the oven, now sitting on a wire cooling rack in the kitchen. It's all I can do not to go in there right now and shove them--all of them, all eight of them--in my face. And then think up a lie to tell Joyce ...  I tossed them, Joyce--I forgot the egg ... ruined 'em ....

But no. I'm mature. I'll not do that. Instead, I'll just write a little about them.

I started baking my own scones a few years ago when I got tired of paying megabucks for them at coffee shops and bakeries. And I quickly learned something; I like my own scones a whole lot better. Not bragging, just saying.

I don't use any recipe dating back to the Ancient Egyptians--just some recipe I found online, a recipe that didn't look too troubling; I modified it a little: egg, sugar (I use local honey), 2 cc flour (I use 1/4 oat, 1/2 whole wheat, 1/4 white), baking powder, baking soda, salt, then ... the add-ins. The batch you see above has walnuts and dried cranberries. I sometimes use dried cherries instead.

But the most common items I use are Ohio maple syrup (instead of the sugar--with a dash of maple extract to make the flavor "bite" a bit more) and pecans.

What I really like about the process is how quickly it all happens: From I think I want scones today to Those are nice-looking scones it's only about a half-hour, including clean-up. This is vastly different from the regular sourdough baking I do each week (or more), a process that requires a decision hours in advance. My usual pattern: feed the sourdough starter about 9:30 on Saturday night--about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, put some of the starter back in the fridge--then bake bread (or whatever) with the rest of it--and this can take several hours (mix-rise-shape-rise-bake).

So scones are sort of the instant-coffee version of my baking: quick, pretty good, not as good as the Full Meal Deal.

I eat a scone every morning for breakfast--every day but Sunday, but that's another story for another time (a secular reason, by the way). After the scones are out of the oven and have cooled to room temperature, I bag them and put them in the freezer. Each morning when I come down to unload the dishwasher, etc., I take one out, wrap it in a paper towel, then return upstairs to make the bed, shower, dress, etc. (Joyce has long ago left for the health club.) Then I come down, pop it in the microwave for about 30 sec., then put in in my jacket pocket and walk over to the coffee shop, where the kind owners pretend they don't see me eating it while I sip their coffee, check email, Facebook, and begin my morning's quota of pages for the latest book I'm reviewing for Kirkus Reviews (about 100 pp/morning). I also pop a heavy-duty calcium/Vitamin D pill (necessary twice a day because the anti-cancer med I'm on has the effect of weakening bones; the pill retards that side-effect).

Joyce eats a scone occasionally, especially when they're right out of the oven. (She knows when they're at their best!)

Right now, she's already walked into my study to say they smell and look really good. That's Joycespeak for I'm gonna devour one at lunch!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 225

Back to the relationship among Mary Shelley, Washington Irving, John Howard Payne ...

And then, working on this section, I remembered a book that I knew I had (or did I?)—a book I’d read carefully when I was in the whirl of all my Mary Shelley research. The Romance of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington Irving was published in a run of only 470 copies by The Bibliophile Society in Boston in 1907. It includes the relevant letters among the principals.
I think I’d first come across the book in the Kent State Library back in the late 1990s, and my journal tells me I began reading it on December 27, 1999 (no mention of when I finished it), but the bibliographic card I still have on the book says that it is at “home”—meaning: I owned it; I’d bought it. And I see in the computer database I’ve been keeping for the books we own that I did, indeed, own a copy.

But when I started working on this section about Mary’s involvement with Payne and Irving, I looked but could not find that book. It was patently not where it should be. And so I began to doubt? Did I ever really own it? Did I lose it? Surely … no one stole it, right?
But I needed it, badly, so I got on Advanced Book Exchange and found another copy, and the day it arrived—March 17, 2016—I logged it in, then placed it on the shelf, where, of course, I saw its “lost” sibling, standing right where it should have been, seemingly happy to see that it would no longer be alone. (Family, you know?) What …?
I have no idea how that happened—how I looked at that very spot and failed to see that very book. So … I now have two copies of The Romance—and a flush of foolishness that flows through me whenever I look at that shelf, or even think about what happened.

 the 2 copies, on my scanner, where, obviously, they do not fit ... so ... iPhone photo

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Two Things ...

 Joyce's classroom Writing House Hiram College Just before the final class of her career

I didn't post anything yesterday--too busy (see below!). But here are two items, one of immense importance, the other ... just a curiosity.

1. Yesterday--May 9--my wife, Joyce, taught the final class of her wonderful career that began in the fall of 1969 when I saw her head up the hill to teach her first class in Satterfield Hall at Kent State University. She had started work on her master's degree in English and as part of her graduate assistantship at KSU she taught a section (two?) of freshman English.

We had met at Satterfield, only a couple of months earlier, July 1969, and had already decided to marry, which we would do on December 20. She was still living at home in the fall of 1969 (Akron's Firestone Park), but she used the new apartment I'd rented in Kent as sort of "home base" during her days at KSU.

She became a spectacular teacher--winning every teaching award Hiram College offered (some more than once), and she won, as well, a national award (from the National Endowment for the Humanities) and was honored with other winners (one per state) at the White House. Here we stand with Barbara Bush that day.
She worked so hard for her students--in class and out. (Her comments on papers were the most lengthy I've ever seen! By far.) She prepared thoroughly, taught intensely, dealt with students compassionately. She was a wonder, and during the past few days as her former students have become aware of her retirement, her Facebook page has sprung alive with love and gratitude.

Anyway, yesterday, without telling her, I sneaked over to Hiram, sneaked into her room (it was a moment or two before she saw me--she was so focused), interrupted things, told her final class some things about her, about us, then recited Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?), weeping the while. (I won't say what her eyes were doing, but--let's just say--they were not unaffected.)

I drove home, thinking about her astonishing career, her accomplishments, the love that flowed between her and her students ... for decades.

How can that all possibly be over?

But she is ready--more than ready. For nearly a decade she's been working hard on a book about abolitionist John Brown; she's nearing the end of her umpteenth revision; needs chunks of time to focus on it exclusively. And now she has it.

And I have a ringside seat ... no greater gift have I ever received ...

2. Followers of this site know that I've been reading my way through the works of John A. Williams (1925-2015), a writer I'd never even heard of until I saw his obituary in the New York Times last summer. Well, one of his recent books I finished (Flashbacks, 1973) was a collection of his journalism over the previous twenty years. He occasionally published in Holiday, so I thought it would be fun to own one of those old magazines, so I hopped on eBay, found one (not too pricey), and it just came the other day (see below).
 January 1967
And now ... one of those weird coincidences that rivals in gooseflesh production only one other experience I've had (later): In the table of contents, look what I found ... first photo is of the entire page; the second, of two names that jarred me with their close proximity.

The reason? Well, if you don't recall, the previous writer whose complete works I charged through was ... John O'Hara (you can Google the numerous entries I have about him--DawnReader O'Hara). So there they are, in the same magazine in 1967, one name below the other's. Too weird. Gooseflesh time.

O'Hara died in 1970, so this was near the end of his career; Williams was about midway.

The only other experience I've had that rivaled this occurred when Joyce was working on her book about Kate Chopin (1850-1904) some years ago (The Awakening: A Novel of Beginnings, 1993). She told me that Chopin's final story published during her lifetime (1902), "Polly," was in Youth's Companion, July 3, 1902. (See below.)

In that same issue is a story called "The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen," written near the beginning of his career by ... Jack London (on whom I'd done considerable research, considerable writing). Kate Chopin's final story; one of Jack London's earliest; same issue of same magazine ... weird. Joyce and bought a copy; it's framed on my study wall ...

Oh, and you want something even more weird about it? (I just checked.) London's story ends on the same page--p. 334--that Chopin's begins.