Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 113

1. AOTW: This annoys me--drivers who stop at an intersection stoplight but ignore the broad white line across their lane, the white line that says "STOP HERE, DOOFUS!" Their failure to do so causes (a) problems for people turning left in front of them, (b) problems for large trucks trying to turn. There's a REASON for that broad white line, you AOTWs, you!

2. We finished the six-part PBS series (2015) called The Brain and very much enjoyed it, learning a lot (thank you, Netflix DVDs). The last episode got fanciful and wild: Although narrator (and writer), David Eagleman (Stanford Univ.), did not mention The Matrix, he did speculate about a "reality" that might be far more complicated than we think. Well worth watching.

3. We are big fans of Doc Martin (also PBS) and its star, Martin Clunes, who plays the Doc. So I ordered from Netflix (DVD) an earlier series with him in a starring role--William and Mary (2003-2005)--about a couple who meet online, fall for each other, and then begin to learn more about each other. We've seen only the first episode, but I think we're hooked. (Link to a portion of an episode.) It seems to be available as well on YouTube and Amazon.

4. Last night (Saturday) we drove to Montrose, where--after some binge-shopping at Mustard Seed Market--we saw Woody Allen's latest,  Café  Society, a film about the 1930s (Hollywood and NYC), a 1930s that was totally unlike the 1930s my parents experienced (Depression, very little money). Still, it was fun to watch (I loved the ending), though, of course, the story bore eerie resemblances to Allen's own life (something that can be said, of course, about artists of all stripes--Jack London did go on the Klondike Gold Rush!). It was about the dimensions of the human heart--about how it can encompass more than convention allows. I'm still amused to see Kristen Stewart in anything but a hot-vampire movie! (Link to trailer for the film.) Big crowd in a small theater.

5. This week I finished Straight Man (1997), Richard Russo's fourth novel. (Some of you know I'm working my way, pretty much chronologically, through his complete works.) It takes place at a fictitious state university, West Central Pennsylvania University, and is narrated by William Henry (Hank) Deveraux Barnes, Jr. (who often refers to himself in the 3rd person), who is serving as the temporary chair of the English Department. (His father, a celebrated academic, is nearing the end of his days.)

Hank has got a smart mouth on him (Russo-ian!) and alienates lots of folks with his cynical, ironic (and funny) reactions to what they say and do. His wife (whom he loves--a public school teacher) is out of town for much of the novel, though she returns at a key moment. He has two daughters, one of whom has a troubled marriage. And there are--as there are in all Russo novels (at least the ones I've read so far)--a collection of eccentrics, most of whom are academics. (Can you imagine?!!?)

In ways, the novel is eerily prescient about issues in higher education that have gotten only worse since 1997: budgets, legislatures using public education--lower and higher--as a soccer ball, the move toward more "practical" forms of higher education (rising near the English building in the novel is a huge new place devoted to technical studies).

There are, as well, the usual things you find in an academic novel: alcohol, sex, arrogant professors, kind hearts, cruel hearts, broken dreams, wacky students--there's a sad one here: a young man who wants desperately to be a writer but has no talent), et al.

There's a very funny scene when our hero, unable to urinate very much throughout the novel, goes to sleep in his office only moments before a department meeting to discuss his removal from his position, and he wakes to discover his full bladder has emptied itself while he slept. He's wearing khaki pants. So ... what to do? Because the university is doing asbestos removal (the English building is last on the list), he has, from his office, access to the ceiling (a tile has fallen), so he crawls up there and waits until the meeting is over and everyone is gone, though he also manages to vote at the department meeting by crawling over there and letting his ballot drift down from the ceiling, to the amazement of everyone.

Throughout are some of Hank's observations that make us pause to think--e.g., "... I came to understand that one of the deepest purposes of intellectual sophistication is to provide distance between us and our most disturbing personal truths and gnawing fears" (382).

Loved the book. I grew up in an academic family--spent most of my life in academic communities of various sorts--and much of Russo's novel has the look-smell-taste-touch-sound of truth.

6. Final word--a word I liked this week. I came across the word dicker in something I was reading this week, that word meaning "trade, barter, exchange." But what's the source? Here's what the OED says ... I put the source information in red ...

dicker, v.
Frequency (in current use): 
Etymology: ? < dicker n.1
Quotation 1848 refers to the barter traffic on the Indian frontier in N. America. As skins have always formed a chief item in that trade, it has been suggested with much probability that the verb arose, in the sense ‘to deal by the dicker, to deal in skins’, among the traders with the Indians, and has thence extended in U.S. to trade by barter generally. If this be the fact, it is interesting that a word which passed from Latin into Germanic in special connection with dealing in skins, and which has ever since in Europe been associated with this trade (see dicker n.1), should, in America, through similar dealings between a civilized and uncivilized race, have received another development of use.

 1. intr. To trade by barter or exchange; to truck; to bargain in a petty way, to haggle. Also in extended use (intr.): to dither, vacillate, hesitate.

1824   Woodstock (Vermont) Observer 15 June 4/5 (advt.)    The subscriber has for sale the following property which he wishes to dicker for.
1848   J. F. Cooper Oak Openings   The white men who penetrated to the semi-wilds [of the West] were always ready to dicker and to swap.
1947   D. M. Davin Gorse blooms Pale 78   Phyllis dickers a bit but of course she finishes by getting up and saying she's going to play.
1960   Sunday Express 6 Nov. 17/5   He withdrew it [sc. a play] angrily when A.-R. dickered over the production date.
1961   John o' London's 25 May 589/2   Dickering on the edge of adulthood.
1962   Sunday Express 30 Sept. 4/5   The large stores who dicker and dither before they take a cheque.
1963   B. Pearson Coal Flat ix. 159   Henderson, though he dickered, usually came round to the majority opinion.
(Hide quotations)

2. trans. To barter, exchange.

1834   C. A. Davis Lett. J. Downing, Major 47   ‘Here,’ say I, ‘Squire Biddle, I have a small trifle I should like to dicker with you.’
1864   G. A. Sala in Daily Tel. 7 July   The required needle was dickered for the egg, and the Yankee was going away.

1891   G. Smith Canada & Canadian Question viii. 185   Government, in the persons of the Parliamentary heads of departments, is on the stump, or dickering for votes.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

The thing about writing is ...

... it ain't never over. The more you learn about something, the more you discover there is to learn (the more ignorant you feel--the more inadequate), and so you read and travel and write some more and learn some more and feel more ignorant and ...

It can be endless.

Back in May 1995, novelist Russell Banks spoke at Western Reserve Academy about his novel-in-progress, Cloudsplitter, 1998, a novel about abolitionist John Brown. I remember one thing he said very clearly--though I don't remember it verbatim. He said he'd done an enormous amount of research and still saw an enormous (endless!) amount ahead of him, and so he just decided one day: That's IT! I've got to start writing--or I never will!  And so he did, and the novel appeared a couple of years later.

In a much smaller way, I've had the same feeling a number of times--working with Jack London and Edgar Poe. There's just so much. At what point do you say, Okay, that's enough ... And by saying that, are you booking yourself a voyage on the Sea of Error?

I've had the same problem with my Mary Shelley research. I worked ferociously on her story for a decade (beginning in 1997)--read, traveled, corresponded, wrote ...  I couldn't find a publisher right away (I didn't try all that hard), so I set it aside, then decided to publish it myself on Kindle Direct and did so in 2012 (a decision prompted by advancing years and declining health).

Then ... I decided I'd write a memoir about my ten-year pursuit of Mary Shelley, and it was then I waded into (as I should have expected) the flood of research that's occurred since I put that book aside.

Here's a tiny "for instance": I'm at the point in the memoir when Mary Shelley made contact with Frances Wright (1827). I'd done a lot of work on Wright (I thought) back in the day, but then, recently, I found I'd somehow missed a very significant book--Wright's View of Society and Manners in America (originally published in 1821, six years before she corresponded with and met Mary). How could I possibly have missed this book?

So ... I ordered it recently (there's a 1963 edition from the Harvard University Press), and it came today.

And now I know what I'll be doing before I write much more about Wright's relationship with Shelley.

Sigh. And I feel, once again, that devilish mixture of disappointment in myself and great excitement about this new, unknown tributary of the River Shelley that I'm going to get to explore.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Finishing (Sort of) That FAT Book ...

This morning I finally finished the "autobiography" part of Mark Twain's massive three-volume Autobiography, a collection of memories and ruminations that he did not want published until 100 years after his death (which occurred in 1910). At that death, as Twain People know, Halley's Comet was in the sky--just as it had been at his birth in 1835. (Who says Coincidence is overrated?!?!)

The third volume, published last year, is, like the other two (2010, 2013), massive in size and weight. It includes not only his autobiographical writing but a lot of scholarly accouterments--introduction, an appendix (or twenty--okay, just 8 appendixes), comprehensive notes, etc. In fact, Twain's text ends on page 310; the last page of the index is #747. So ... I've got a bit of a way to go on my flight aboard this 747.

I'm going to blog about the contents a bit more thoroughly on Sunday, but I wanted to get these initial details "out there" first. Twain's text ends with one of the most horrible events in his life--the shocking death of his daughter Jean late in 1909--and I'll get into that a bit on Sunday, as well.

I had the privilege of reviewing the second volume in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on November 17, 2013 (online: Nov. 14), and here's a link to it.

So ... just a little preview of what's coming on Sunday ...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's That Time of Year ...

We're gettin' ready again to head north to Stratford, Ontario, for their amazing theater festival. This will be our fifteenth consecutive year up there (always the 1st week in August), and we will be seeing eleven plays in six days.

Many things to love: we park the car on Monday afternoon when we arrive--and don't drive again until the following Sunday when we head for home (everything is "walkable"); we see almost uniformly excellent productions (four by the Bard--I'll blog about all throughout the week); we get to forget a lot of our Ohio hassles (including health); we think--foolishly--that this will go on forever ...

There are preparations--finding passports (making sure they're current), arranging for mail and newspapers to stop, packing etc.

But this year, a truly annoying task: updating our "older" (a kind word, no?) laptop to take with us. Joyce writes on a desktop here at home, but we keep an "older" laptop around for our travels (I use another laptop exclusively), and this year the "older" one has lain around too long without sufficient affection and attention.

Yesterday, I booted it up (for the first time in months) and was greeted with the message that there were 134 updates from Windows (that took a bit of a while). Oh, and then I also had to update the anti-virus software, Microsoft Office (those took a bigger bit of a while), and right now it's decided to update to Windows 10 from whatever pre-lapsarian version of Windows had been "performing" for us before. Results:

My temper is fragile.

My psychological stability is more fragile.

My self-image is most fragile of all.
(Can you tell there have been ... "issues" with all of this?)

Oh well. Dotage and all.

I've been thinking, though: Despite all this hassle and anxiety and frustration and fury, wouldn't it be nice if you and I could just download some updates for our bodies and minds? Maybe walk in front of some sort of scanner that will quickly list our "needs"; then into another room where some machine out of Star Trek or whatever will provide the necessary updates.

I have more than a few that I could tell you about--everything from a gimpy* knee to, oh, some lifelong weight issues, to some more dire Dyer issues involving health.

"Wouldn't it be loverly?" asked Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. You bet your bippy.**


*The Oxford English Dictionary traces gimpy American, about 1925. Says the source is unknown--but that it might come from gammy, an expression in northern England:

 b. colloq. (orig. Eng. regional (north. and north-west.)). Esp. of a limb or joint: misshapen or crooked; (more generally) not functioning properly through deformity or injury; disabled. Cf. game adj.2
1861   Manch. Weekly Times 19 Oct. 6/4   Plaintiff said that Lockwood had a ‘gammy’ leg. Witness asked her how he got it.
1862   C. C. Robinson Dial. Leeds & Neighbourhood 310   ‘A gammy neck’ (when stiff).
1866   Ipswich Jrnl. 15 Dec. (Suppl.) 3/3   He was walking leaning on another gentleman as if he had got a kind of a ‘gammy’ foot.
1917   H. H. Richardson Fortunes Richard Mahony I. iii. ix. 301   Some'ow, Polly, I can't picture myself dragging a husband with a gammy leg always at my heels.
1938   G. Greene Brighton Rock vii. viii. 343   One leg was gammy, he moved it with a mechanism worked from his pocket.
1984   Times 20 Oct. 2/2   A gammy knee prevented me from running.
2007   K. James Greater Share of Honour 406   I'm not doing a lot with this gammy arm stopping me from doing any digging.

** The OED traces bippy back to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968) and says it probably is a form of butt or behind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 242

Mary and Frances Wright connect--but what did Wright want from her?

And just what did Fanny Wright write to Mary Shelley on August 22, 1827? She addressed Mary (whom she’d not met) as the daughter of your father and mother (known to me only by their works and opinions) and the friend and companion of a man distinguished not by genius merely, but, as I imagine, by the strength of his opinions and his fearlessness in their expression [Bysshe!]. These associations alone, wrote Fanny, make of Mary an object of interest, and—permit the word, for I use it in o vulgar sense—of curiosity.
Throughout her post-Frankenstein life, Mary would often receive such letters, letters written by admirers of her parents (Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin), of her husband (Percy Bysshe Shelley), admirers who were hopeful--maybe even confident--that Mary surely would support the leftist, even radical, causes that her parents had written about (and practiced). I mean, it just makes sense, doesn't it?
We'll see.
Fanny write made this very explicit in her letter: She said that she assumed from these relationships—and from Mary’s own writing—that you [Mary] share at once the sentiments and talents of those from whom you drew your being. And if so, she wrote, that was enough to make her wish to travel far to see you. And then Fanny went on to explain some details about her endeavour to undermine the slavery of colour existing in the North American Republic.[1]
And just what was that plan? And what did Fanny want (hope for) from Mary? Well, it was a bold, humanistic plan—a plan to begin the end of American slavery—and she elicited help and support from Robert Dale Owen (whose father, recall, along with Robert Dale himself, had begun New Harmony, the utopian community in Indiana) and from Lafayette (yes, that Lafayette, who’d been an important factor in our American Revolution half a lifetime earlier). Lafayette had enjoyed, and the invitation of President James Monroe and Congress, an elaborate tour of the former colonies from 1824–1825. And Fanny Wright was then in America, promoting her anti-slavery program.

[1] Shelly and Mary, IV, 1092–95.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hiram High School--Fifty-four Years a Grad ...

Hiram School (now razed)
Last Sunday (the 16th), I drove up to Welshfield, Ohio, where all the classes of Hiram High School (which closed at the end of the 1963-64 school year) gather the 3rd Sunday each July to celebrate HHS (Go, Huskies!) and, I guess, our survival. We are fewer every year.

My class, 1962, had only a few present--but we were such a small school that all of us knew kids far above and far below us in age, so I had a good time talking with classmates, near-classmates, and others whom I've not seen in a year--or, in some cases, much, much longer.

The agenda each year is fairly simple where we gather--at the Troy Community House (Welshfield is in Troy Township): a potluck late lunch/early dinner (we have a word brunch--how about we add dinch (dinner/lunch)?), some news about our classmates who have passed away this year, some updates on our financial situation (we're in pretty good shape, thanks to those HHS folks who have made it their business to keep all of this going), various announcements.

I made one this year--my recent discovery (thank you, Internet) that our former English/German/Latin teacher, Augustus H. Brunelle, had, during World War I, co-written a musical called A Buck on Leave while he was serving in France. Mr. Brunelle wrote the lyrics. Later, a fellow alum sent me this image, which he'd found on eBay--unfortunately, the item is now gone, but this is a program for the show, which toured around the USA after the war. My task now: find a copy of the script (surely it's in some library somewhere?).

But most of our time we were just catching up and laughing (and maybe lying) and trying to forget the jerkery of our adolescence, hoping memories of our cruelties and clumsiness and cluelessness are forgotten in the swirl of words and food and fun.

(BTW: I brought scones with me to the feast--maple-pecan, made with Ohio maple syrup. They went away pretty fast, I'm happy to say.)

We were a tiny school, Hiram High, a fact I concealed (for a bit) from my students later on when I told them I graduated 10th in my class. (Hey, it was still the top 3rd, sort of!) At the time, I was somewhat less than an assiduous student, more interested in sports and girls and sleep and comic books than in much else. So it goes in Testosterone Land.

I got there a few minutes late and was surprised to see such a full parking lot behind the Community Center. I had to scout around to find a place. That was encouraging.

And the place inside was packed, as well. More good news. And so, along with the others, I laughed, fell silent at the fairly long list of those who had died this year, felt enormous gratitude for the good fortune that allowed me to make to it Welshfield for yet another year.

I loved Hiram High; I mourn its passing; I regret all things regrettable that I did there (and there were far too many); I am grateful for the fading memories of my classmates (maybe they don't remember that time I ...); I hope dearly I can drive north again in the summer of 2017.

PS--A couple of days later we got the news that one of our classmates--a man who had attended the reunion, had enjoyed himself greatly--had passed away the very next day.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Fanny's Back!

Last week, I did a post about this book, a book I've had for nearly twenty years, a book which I could always find. Until I needed it. Last week. Much searching of logical and illogical places--with no result. Some gnashing of teeth and inappropriate language.

So I hopped online (we always hop there, have you noticed, just as we hop on the freeway?--oh, we are such techie/high-speed frogs, aren't we?), found another copy (for $24.02), ordered it, and it arrived this weekend. Now I can get to work on Fanny ...

There was a time--when I was young and very immature--that work on Fanny would have made me laugh, for fanny, in our family, was the "polite" way we said "butt" or "ass"--neither word permissible in my boyhood home. ("Behind" was okay. As was "derrière"--which showed some culture.) But Dad would say "Fanny." So it was okay for the rest of us. When we were on long drives, for example, he would rise up (in the driver's seat!) and announce that he was "just cooling my fanny." Mother didn't smile. But I (and probably my brothers) thought it was the funniest thing since ... well, since the previous times he'd said "fanny."

As I aged (but failed to mature), I was dazzled to learn that there were people named Fanny. Women, of course. I don't think I know of a man named Fanny, though I am now remembering that some bullies on the playground would call me "Danny Fanny" back at Adams Elementary School in Enid, Oklahoma. Some of them even waxed poetical: "Danny, Danny, / Big fat fanny!" Clever. (BTW: I have a fanny that is neither big nor fat. Just saying.)

Anyway, Fanny Wright--Frances "Fanny" Wright--got into my life because she was involved for a bit with Mary Shelley in 1827 (almost a decade after Frankenstein, but only five years after Bysshe Shelley drowned in Italy). Fanny was heading off to America (for a reason I'll write about next time) and wanted Mary Shelley to go with her. And why not? Wasn't Mary the daughter of political radicals William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft? Why wouldn't young Mary (still only 30) join her on her optimistic enterprise in America?

Another Fanny did. Frances "Fanny" Trollope--the mother of the celebrated novelist, Anthony--a woman who would become a best-selling writer herself ...

So ... two Fannys and a Mary ... why not?

We'll see ... now that I can get back into my Fanny book ... Should I carry it in a fanny pack?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 112

1. AOTW--This week I'm giving a collective award to an unknown (though large) number of you who seem to have formed a pact--or an organization: Let's Make Dyer Brake Hard This Week (LMDBHTW). It seemed to be once a day--or even more--that a member of LMDBHTW pulled out in front of me from a driveway or side street, turned left right in front of my face--often with no one behind me as far as the rear-view mirror could see. So, you unknown members of LMDBHTW, congratulations on being the first group AOTW (I think).

2. Last night, Joyce and went to Kent to see Star Trek Beyond, a film we both enjoyed (mostly). (Link to film trailer.) Both of us have become ever-more bored with the explosions, the Enterprise breaking apart, the endless battles and shooting and killing, but we like the interplay among a really engaging group of characters. I noticed that the script was co-written by Simon Pegg, whose films we've always loved (and laughed at). Pegg, who plays Scotty in these recent Trek reboots, is known for his Hot Fuzz and other wacko films that we love watching.

3. This week I finished the final novel published by John A. Williams (1925-2015), whose obituary last year in the New York Times alerted me to this very fine writer, of whom, I'm ashamed to admit, I'd never heard until that death notice. Anyway, I set out to remedy this by reading some of his work--ended up reading almost all of it. I did read all of his novels--as well as a couple of his nonfiction works. I may read more of the latter in the coming weeks/months, but now I'm hooked on Richard Russo and am plowing through his considerable pastures.

Here's a list of the ones I read (edited from his Wikipedia entry):

The Angry Ones (1960)
Night Song (1961)
Sissie (1963)
The Man Who Cried I Am (1967)
Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969)
Captain Blackman (1975)
Mothersill and the Foxes (1975)
The Junior Bachelor Society (1976)
!Click Song (1982)
The Berhama Account (1985)
Jacob's Ladder (1987)
Clifford's Blues (1998)

This Is My Country Too (1965)

Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing (1973)

There are also some TV show and movies based on his work (I've got copies), and when I watch them, I'll write about them here.

Meanwhile, his final novel (Clifford's Blues), takes place almost entirely in the Nazi camp at Dachau, where the eponymous Clifford Pepperidge, a gifted black jazz pianist (Williams loved jazz, wrote about it often), is confined in 1933 because of homosexuality. While he's there, Clifford keeps a secret journal, whose entries compose virtually the entire text. There is a frame story: The journal has been found, and in two letters (one at the beginning, one at the end) a character named "Bounce" writes to a friend, telling him (and us) about the journal, which "Bounce" has enclosed.

The entries begin on May 28, 1933, and end on April 28, 1945 (Dachau was liberated about that time).

While Clifford is there, a bi-sexual Nazi officer takes him into his household. Clifford plays piano for the Nazis (and provides other required services for his horror of a host). But he is able to avoid the far greater horrors suffered by the general camp population.

We learn about survival, race, sexuality, jazz, hope and hopelessness.

I won't tell you the end.

By the way, I visited and toured the site of Dachau, now a memorial and museum, during a trip through Germany in the spring of 1999. There's a McDonald's across the street.

I loved reading Williams' works, loved discovering the wide dimensions of his talent and interests. There's an NPR story about this (after his death) that says he "might be one of the most prolific writers most people have never heard of." This was certainly true for me. But no longer. (Link to NPR story.)

As far as I know, there is no full-length biography of Williams--a couple of short scholarly ones (I have them both--and will read later and report)--but I trust someone is at work on a fuller treatment of the life and writing of this most remarkable writer and man.

4. We're nearly finished (thanks to Netflix DVD) with the six episodes of The Brain, which ran on PBS in 2015. Episode 5, which we watched last night, deals with a disturbing capacity of our brain: to categorize and hate. David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist and writer and host, takes us to Nazi Germany and to Yugoslavia to see the disastrous results of this neurological phenomenon. He shows us studies that reveal how people (we!) categorize and condemn and consider less than human so many others--and we do it, often, below our awareness. Prof. Eagleman says it's "propaganda" that can solidify this capacity, can make us join together with others to ostracize and/or slaughter those who are not like us--something we've done throughout our existence on the planet. Genocide shows no signs of abating. Eagleman says that psychology and politics and history and philosophy and sociology are very helpful ways to look at the issue--but we need to look at the neuroscience, too. We can do something about it. The answer lies within.

5. A couple of words/expressions:

a. In the Sunday newspaper, Joyce read the expression on the lam, and that got us both scratching our heads--and picking up our smart phones. Turns out: lam is based on a word from Old Norse that meant beat (think: Let's beat it!--meaning get out of here).  The OED says it entered US slang about 1896 (on the lam). Now, I think, it seems confined to old gangster novels and movies!

b. Propaedeutic was on one of my tear-off word-a-day calendars this week, and I love the word, but I'd never seen it before (as far as I can remember). Not sure how I'll find a way to work it into my own writing ... but I'm a-gonna try! But I'm so slow I may never get past the propaedeutic of reading the calendar?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's a Check?

I used to have a Friday night ritual--every other Friday night. I would sit at my grandmother's old desk (which we still have--it had once been my great-grandfather's), open the old checkbook, and begin writing checks to pay my bills. I also had, of course, a roll of postage stamps, a supply of envelopes (for those creditors too stingy to supply one), a built-in stamp-and-envelope licker, and the certain knowledge that nearly an hour would pass before I finished. Next morning, I would put all the envelopes in the mailbox to be picked up. Years and years and years of that.

(BTW: When Joyce and I completed our Ph.D.s in the late 1970s, we promptly ordered checks that said "Dr." on them. This impressed no one, confused many, so we stopped doing it. When my middle school students learned I was now "Dr.," they wondered what that meant; I told them I was the useless kind.)

And why alternating Fridays, you ask? (I know: You didn't ask--just a rhetorical device, you know? Yes, I know: Maybe you don't know it's a rhetorical advice, in which case you ought ... never mind.) Well, for much of my teaching career I got paid every other Friday, thus assuring me that I would (probably) be able to pay my bills. Direct deposit shortened the process, too--no trip to the bank to make an after-hours deposit, dropping the endorsed check and deposit slip in the "night deposit" slot. (No ATMs, not in those dreary days.)

Anyway, by the 1990s things were beginning to change. I bought one of the earliest forms of Quicken--still a DOS (disk operating system) program, not Windows--and was soon using Quicken Billpay to send checks and/or electronic payments for me. My Friday nights changed--and dramatically so. We actually went to a movie now and then, a bookstore (remember them?).

Soon, banks were offering their own bill-pay services (I use mine for a few things), and many creditors/suppliers were offering online payment options, sometimes automatic (I use some of them).

And nowadays, I very, very rarely write a personal check. Instead, Quicken (I'm now using Quicken 2016) and the bank and the online companies do it all, and Grandma's desk stands at the head of our stairs (see picture), where I could not really use it even if I needed to.

It has become, more or less, an artifact. A horse-drawn buggy tied up outside a computer store.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"This body that does me grievous wrong ...."

Coleridge said that.* And he should know. By the time he died at the age of 61 in 1834, his (body) was a mess--bloated, addicted to opium. No more could he walk for hours--or climb mountains (which he'd gleefully done earlier.) I've now outlived Coleridge. And Keats and Shelley (both the poet and his wife, Mary). And Lord Byron. And Stephen Crane. And all sorts of other celebrities, literary and otherwise, including Billy the Kid.

But as I arise each morning now, I wonder: What will go wrong today?

So many of my systems are in, well, stress that I sometimes feel like the Enterprise (the starship), under fire, things flying around all over the place, crew hanging onto things, hoping the filmmakers will get them out of it alive. Most of them will survive the attack; you and I ain't gonna.

Among the most annoying side-effects of my combination of age and illness and medication is the stunning loss of energy, a loss that commenced a little over three years ago when I received my first injection of Lupron (to retard the growth of my determined prostate cancer cells, loose somewhere in my body, bent on taking up residence in my bones).

It was only days--maybe weeks, not too sure--before I began to notice the dramatic appeal of The Afternoon Nap. And the abrupt decline of the energy I used to have in abundance. I'm not sure I can do even half of what I used to three years ago. And when I overdo it (behaving as if Lupron were just a rumor), I pay a dear price.

This week I tried/did too much. There were two family birthdays and some other events that I wanted so much to do. And so I did them. And when I woke up this morning, my body said, Just who do you think you are?!?!? Then snickered sadistically as I struggled to my feet, determined to get something done today before I surrender to Mr. Nap later on.

I have to learn to say "No"--but it's so difficult for me. There are so many things I want to do ...

I think now of the things I did as a younger man--husband, father, teacher, play director, writer, etc.--doing all of it with the dumb aplomb of someone totally unaware of age and mortality.

In one of her sonnets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, never so dumb as I, says ...

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.

I'll disagree only this far: We may, as she says, know that "worse than that must follow," but we don't really know it, many/most of us. We don't really feel it applies to us--until it does (at whatever age). Not until we begin waking up and feeling the difficulty of the struggle, today, to do the things we love to do, to be (again) the person we yearn to be. And once were.

Today, so far, I'm "winning." I might even make it out to the health club this afternoon (maybe not--NAP, NAP, NAP?). And I am surpassingly grateful for what I can still do--and be. And I will, for the nonce, continue to try to silence the terror that's shouting in my face.

To help me, I'll think of poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and John Updike, both of whom wrote and edited on their hospital death beds. That, my friends, is the courage I seek. And that we all need.

*in his poem "Youth and Age" (link)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When a fancy word fits ...

The word-of-the-day from the Oxford English Dictionary today (see below) rang too many bells in my memory today. No, I have no memory of ever having seen this word--autoschediastic (pronounced aw-toh-skid-ee-ASS-tik)--but its meaning(s) hit a bit too close to home. The foundation shook; the furniture trembled; Mr. Guilt emerged from the dark basement where I try (and fail) to confine him; Satan smiled his I'm-waiting-for-you smile--all of that stuff.

When I was in secondary school--beginning in 7th grade (Hiram Schools; Hiram, Ohio)--I somehow slipped from caring (a bit) about my schoolwork. I had found other interests; sports, girls, sports, girls--a lengthy list. And even when I (my physical self) was not at some sort of athletic practice--or in the presence of girls--my mind was. I was picturing heroic ninth-inning hits (and/or defensive plays); with girls, I was imagining ... never mind ... this is a family-friendly blog.

These activities and obsessions consumed most--okay, all--of my energy, leaving little (none) for schoolwork.

And so I rarely read the assignments, did math problems until they got too ... cerebral (this did not take long), wrote my themes (the word we used then for essays) with word-processor speed in the era before word-processors (we all turned in handwritten themes; I don't remember anyone who deigned to type). For me, rough draft and final draft were synonyms. We once had a teacher (I think it was Mrs. Browning in 9th grade) who required us to turn in an outline with our themes; I wrote my outline after I'd done the writing. (It was only then that I'd figured out what I was doing/had done.)

And plagiarism?

Well.  In 7th grade geography class (bless dear Mrs. Nichols) we had, from time to time, to turn in reports on countries. I remember I did Ecuador for South America (I was stunned--stunned--to learn that it's Ecuador where Panama hats were made), and my report on Ecuador--as did the others I wrote for that class--bore a striking resemblance to the text in the World Book Encyclopedia. This was no coincidence, I will confess. I actually wrote "like" the World Book throughout junior high; no teacher ever said "Boo"--though I was sometimes alarmed to discover that the World Book authors got a B on my report.

As I began high school (I had signed up for the "college-prep" classes: Latin I and Algebra I--that's right: We did Algebra I in 9th grade then, not fourth), I started doing a little more work, so much so that Mrs. Nichols (yes, the same geography teacher, who also taught math courses) told me after a month or so that she'd heard I was doing "twice the work" I'd done in 8th grade. I was happy about that--until some years later when I remembered that 2 x 0 = 0. Still, it was nice of her.

Aside: When I began my own teaching career at the nearby Aurora Middle School in the fall of 1966, Mrs. Nichols, near the end of her career, was teaching at Aurora High School. She was extraordinarily nice to me (feigned ignorance of my secondary-school ways), and I could NEVER call her "Esther"; she remained "Mrs. Nichols" for me.

Gradually, over the years, my work became less and less autoschediastic--due to the influence of some wonderful college professors (yep, I'm talking about you, Professor Ravitz!) and grad-school profs and, most notably, my wife, Joyce, who's never for a second in her life been autoschediastic (she still isn't).

Now, I'm quite the opposite of my junior-high self. As I noted on FB last spring, I wrote more than twenty drafts of a speech I delivered up at Western Reserve Academy (about three blocks form my house). So, I see, I have made the transition from one who is autoschediastic to one who is, well, anal and OCD.

But, in the basement, in a box, is a set of the World Book, a set dated in the 1950s. Temptation remains close at hand ...

autoschediastic, n. and adj.
Pronunciation:  Brit.       /ˌɔːtə(ʊ)skɛdɪˈastɪk/ , U.S.  /ˌɔdəskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɔdoʊskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɑdəskɛdiˈæstɪk/ ,  /ˌɑdoʊskɛdiˈæstɪk/
Forms:  16 autoschediastick, 16 autoschediastique, 18– autoschediastic.
Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Partly a borrowing from Greek. Etymons: Latin autoschediasticus; Greek αὐτοσχεδιαστικός.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin autoschediasticus...
†A. n. Something done on the spur of the moment or without preparation; an extemporized piece of work. Obs. rare.
1641   Bp. J. Hall Surv. Protestation Protested To Rdr. sig. A2,   The birth how mean soever was nigh strangled in the cradle: Take it as it is, an autoschediastick.
1658   T. Flatman Naps upon Parnassus sig. B5v_ (heading)    An autoschediastique.
 B. adj.  Written, composed, etc., on the spur of the moment; extemporized, hastily improvised.
1809   Gentleman's Mag. July 616/2   There is an autoschediastic poetry, which may be regarded as the mere natural product, and the effusion of an inspiring passion.
1823   S. Parr Wks. (1828) VII. 159   Remember, the verses are merely autoschediastic.
1838   T. De Quincey Brief Appraisal Greek Lit. in Tait's Edinb. Mag. Dec. 765/1   The manner of the combat is autoschediastic or extemporaneous, and to meet a hurried occasion.
1979   C. James Pillars of Hercules i. vii. 93   He conjured from the gold strings of his harp An autoschediastic lilt of love.

2002   Age (Melbourne) (Nexis) 16 Dec. (Culture) 1   The closer you get to your deadline, the more autoschediastic..your work becomes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When I Can't Find That One Damn Book ...

I've never been too good at finding lost things. When I was a boy (10? 11?), I lost a Timex I'd gotten for my birthday. Gray band. I loved the thing (though apparently not enough to keep track of it). One day it was just ... gone.

Not long afterward, going through my parents' things while they were away (everyone has done that, right?), I found it in one of my mother's dresser drawers. Apparently, she'd put it aside for that day when I would be mature enough to remember how to keep track of important things.

I don't think I'm there yet, Mom.

Just yesterday I lost a favorite ballpoint pen. I checked my coffee shop hangouts (nope), the car (nope), assorted impossible places (nope). So I had to pop for another one.

But the thing that's really annoying me right now is the loss/misplacement of a key book that I need--and I need it right now.

It's called Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, a book I read a number of years ago (okay, nearly two decades ago) when I was smokin' in the Full Fire of my obsession with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. As I've been writing, now and then, on this blog, Mary and Fanny Wright met in 1827 (nearly a decade after Frankenstein) when Fanny tried to convince Mary to go to America with her (the reasons I will get into later in a subsequent blog post).

I've been writing in that blog series ("Frankenstein Sundae," a VERY ROUGH DRAFT of a memoir about chasing Mary, et al.) about this meeting, but for the life of me I cannot find that book, though I know it has sat on my Mary shelves behind me, staring at me for nearly twenty years.

And more annoying? I have notes on the book ... but, of course, I need the whole thing now to double-check some details.

After some desultory days of checking for it--all places possible and impossible--I've given up and have just now ordered the (damn) book from Amazon. So ... "Frankenstein Sundae" will be on hiatus until then.

And I know one thing with absolute certainty: Moments after I unpackage the new copy, the old one will announce itself and somehow re-appear in the most obvious spot I've checked a thousand times.

But I will handle that maturely, with the dignity befitting a 71-year-old man--a husband, father, grandfather.

And then I will scream naughty words that will bring Joyce running ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Off the Handle ...

On Sunday, I attended my fifty-fourth high school reunion (more about this on Sunday next), and a few of us from the classes of 1962 and 1963 were reminiscing about our old Latin, English, German teacher, Mr. Brunelle, who had a bit of a temper. I used the expression flying off the handle, and, later, thinking about that expression, I realized I wasn't quite sure where it came from.

The sources I checked all agreed: It refers to the head of an ax soaring away from the handle, an event I actually experienced back in the day when we had a wood-burning stove in our living room. Scary.

One of the first reference books I acquired as a young teacher was Why You Say It by Webb B. Garrison, 1955, an old orange paperback that I still consult now and again. Here's the entry for flying off the handle:

American pioneers had so few tools that they valued each highly. But apart from the rifle a frontiersman treasured his ax more than any other device he owned.

There were few blacksmiths on the margin of civilization, and most axes were shipped in from the East, where they were made by hand. Machine-made handles were unknown; each woodsman whittled his own from oak, hickory, or gum. Crudely fitted to the stock, a poorly balanced ax was hard to use. It had a way of working loose. Then, at the precise moment its owner made a particularly hard swing, it was likely to fly off the handle and into the underbrush.

Few occurrences were more vexatious. It is easy to picture an angry axman throwing down the handle, recalling his most vigorous profanity, and indulging in a grand display of rage. Such fits of anger were so commonly associated with the loss of an ax that a person showing such rage from any cause was said to fly off the handle (24-25).

Well, this is entertaining--a bit speculative--but probably generally accurate, as well. The earliest reference in the OED, by the way, is from 1832--a Cincinnati newspaper!


I got on a query on a recent post about the expression highfalutin'.  Here it is ...

A quick question about the word "highfalutin:" could it be that rarely used words change meaning less often than commonly used words? I am thinking of words of my generation... Wicked, sick, nice, and savage. These words, undergoing semantic change, now remind us of how great something is rather than how negative it is.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

And it made me think, too, of words that live, then die, even within our own lifetimes--like (in mine) rabbit ears (to refer to a TV-top antenna), filmstrip projector (a device for showing ... filmstrips), and on and on. Most, of course, are related to technology, which, as we know, is now changing so rapidly that devices are in and out in a heartbeat--e.g., floppy disks.

One of the literary passages I like to use to illustrate the evanescence of such terms is from The Taming of the Shrew. The servant Biondello rushes in to tell everyone how Petruchio is arriving for his own wedding (late, of course) aboard a very bizarre horse, one that's diseased and otherwise ... troubled. Everyone in the Globe understood what he was talking about in the 1590s; only Elizabethan scholars could possibly understand this today; it's one of the most heavily annotated passages in modern editions of Shrew. Here it is ...

his horse hipped with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred; besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine; troubled with the lampass, infected with the fashions, full of wingdalls, sped with spavins, rayed with yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, swayed in the back and shoulder-shotten; near-legged before and with, a half-chequed bit and a head-stall of sheeps leather which, being restrained to keep him from stumbling, hath been often burst and now repaired with knots .... (3.2).

Few literary passages make me feel more ignorant ... annoys me ... maybe I'll fly off the handle?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to Seidman Cancer Center ...

Seidman Cancer Center
Orange Place
Beachwood, OH
Monday morning ...

Later this morning, Joyce and I will drive up to Seidman Cancer Center in Beachwood for my quarterly visit with my oncologist. We're a month late, though: He was out of town and had to cancel our scheduled visit in June; still, I did drive up then to "enjoy" my quarterly injection of Lupron, a drug that has been keeping my determined, relentless prostate cancer from metastasizing--from overwhelming my system.

I've been on Lupron for three years now, a drug that has some unpleasant side effects (emotions on the surface, weariness, periodic heavy sweating, depression, the killing of all libido), but for most of those three years it's done its job: kept my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) in the "undetectable" range. Pre-Lupron, the cancer had already begun its move into my bones, but the Lupron put that on hold for the nonce, so that has been worth the side-effects. Almost.

But Lupron is only a temporary fix, not a cure. Eventually, some cancer cells begin to resist the drug (which kills testosterone, the "food" of the cancer), and soon they're merrily reproducing again. My PSA became detectable again last September--a very low .01. From that point on I've been getting monthly (rather than quarterly) PSA blood tests.My doctor is monitoring me more closely. Of course, I should have no PSA because my prostate gland was removed in surgery back in June 2005. Still, right before the Lupron, it had soared to 22.9--this, after it had fallen to nearly zero after my 30 radiation treatments in January 2009.

Now, steadily, my number has been climbing again. My most recent test--last week--was 2.9. Nothing too alarming yet--but, of course, it's not going down. My oncologist at University Hospitals (a physician I like very much) has told me the next step is Bicalutamide, a daily pill whose side-effects are similar to Lupron's (Bi. also attacks testosterone). And I will remain on Lupron, as well. I'm not sure if these side-effects will intensify ... this is one of the things I'll ask my doctor later this morning. (Link to info about Bicalutamide.)

I'm not sure he's going to put me on that new drug just yet--another thing I'll learn later.

I'll post a little more when we get back this afternoon ...

1:40 p.m. 

At last we're back; we've had a little lunch; I'm feeling (not a little) like a NAP. We didn't notice any heavier traffic as we headed north on I-271, though there were state flags on a few of the bridges (RNC, I would guess).

They were very prompt this morning--got right in--though I then had to fill out some enormous online survey about how I was doing (psychologically, etc.). I was annoyed by the time it was over, for many of the questions I found impossible to answer (you know--On the scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate ...?).

My oncologist was encouraging, saying my PSA is low--though, obviously rising. But he's going to suspend the monthly PSA tests, and I'll go back to a quarterly cycle for a while. I'll see him again early in September. That was good news.

He also told me that the Bicalutamide might cause a few extra heat-suffusions (I don't use the term flashes--because it's not a "flash," not for me--just a steady realization that I'm filling with heat, like a sponge with water. Nothing flashy about it). But otherwise the new drug--when I start it--should not cause anything else too noticeable. That was good news.

It took another twenty minutes to schedule my next appointment ... then ... we were out of there.

So now I can relax a little until the last week in August or so--at which time I'll start worrying again about the imminent PSA test ... and about all of the rest of it. But, for now, a breather ...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 111

1. AOTW--An easy one this week. We were turning left onto a one-way street in Hudson, and here came some dude (the AOTW) on a bicycle, heading the wrong way. He seemed so ... insouciant. As if Fate would guide him safely. Missed him by inches. Uttered some grievous execrations (a phrase from William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation--always loved it. He was writing about some dude who was always cursing aboard the Mayflower, then got washed overboard.)

2. We've been watching and enjoying (via Netflix DVD) the 2015 six-part PBS series The Brain, hosted by neuroscientist David Eagleman (link to trailer for series). We've been enjoying it more with each episode--and Eagleman appears to be "lightening up" a little, too--I thought he seemed a little stiff--forced--in the early episodes. We've seen three of the six now; the remaining ones are on the way. Stunning to see how little we really decide about what we do ...

3. This afternoon, I'm heading over to Welshfield, Ohio, where I'll join others for my 54th high school reunion. Hiram High School, which closed/consolidated in 1964, was a very small school, so the reunions in recent years (decades?) have been come-one-come-all. Not specific years. Always fun to see old (very old) friends and to reminisce about When We Were Kings and Queens ... I'll write more about it next week.

4. This week, I finished two books. The first, Coxey's Crusade for Jobs: Unemployment in the Gilded Age, I blogged about in full earlier this week, so I won't say anymore about it here. The other was Richard Russo's second novel, The Risk Pool (1988), which, like his first one (Mohawk), takes place in the crumbling, fictional town of ... Mohawk (upstate NY) ... during the late 50s, early 1960s, the boyhood and young manhood of the narrator, Ned Hall.

Ned does not have an Ozzie-and-Harriet home life. His dad, a town alcoholic, is rarely around; Mom has psychological issues. Ned, however, ends up spending significant time with them both as the novel unwinds. And unwinds, I think is a fitting word to describe Russo's fictional technique (I've now read four of his eight novels). There is no real "plot," not in an evident way, not until the end, when you realize what a remarkable journey you've been on. In this way, he reminds me a bit of the late Jim Harrison, whose novels also seemed to "unwind"--giant balls of twine whose ultimate shape is concealed beneath so many loops and lines. Things, in other words, just seem to happen, the way they do in Real Life, and it's not until you've read a lot of the novel that you realize what's been happening.

Also like Mohawk and the other two I've read, The Risk Pool contains a menagerie of small-town eccentrics (and wackos)--kindly people who don't appear to be so, people with secrets, people with inexplicable demons that drive them into horror--all occurring in a place where "nuclear family" has more than one meaning!

Ned ages, goes off to school, learns some secrets, appreciates some folks he didn't earlier on, realizes what his own fantasies and delusions were. "Risk pool," a term from the insurance industry, appears several times in the text--for Ned's father spends most of his time swimming in it.

I love Russo's technique--overwhelming us with story, with events, and it's not until later that those stories, by some rough magic, become our own.

Next on my Russo list--Straight Man (1997).

5. Saw the new Ghostbusters last night in Kent--a part of the celebration for two very important birthdays--our son's (July 16) and Joyce's (July 20). I can't say I was crazy about it--though I did like the off-type performance by Chris Hemsworth (who knew that Thor could dance?). Some of the lines were funny. Liked Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. But it was overlong, and I'm weary of seeing scenes of urban destruction--buildings smashed, etc. Over and over and over in superhero and sci-fi and other films. Z-z-z-z-z. Oh, enjoyed the cameos by some of the original Ghostbusters, too. (Link to film trailer.)

6. Last words ... some words I liked this week from my various online word-a-day services.

from Wordsmith.com
fane (fayn)
noun: A place of worship.
From Latin fanum (temple). Earliest documented use: 1400s.
“Here, in a fane of stone she ended her days, a shaved priestess of a grim unloving order.”

Tanith Lee; Night’s Master; DAW Books; 1978.

from Dictionary.com

Zoosemiotics \zoh-uh-see-mee-OT-iks, -see-mahy-, -sem-ee-, -sem-ahy-\
1. the study of the sounds and signals used in animal communication, as song in birds or tail-wagging in dogs.
The basic assumption of zoosemiotics is that, in the last analysis, all animals are social beings, each species with a characteristic set of communication problems to solve.
-- Thomas A. Sebeok, Perspectives in Zoosemiotics, 1972

from Oxford English Dictionary

backronym, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈbakrənɪm/,  U.S. /ˈbækrəˌnɪm/
Forms:  19– backronym,   19– bacronym.
Origin:Formed within English, by blending. Etymons: back adj., acronym n.
An acronym formed from a phrase whose initial letters spell out a particular word or words, chosen to enhance memorability. Also: a contrived explanation of an existing word's origin, positing it as an acronym. Hence: the phrase used to form (or contrived to explain) such an acronym.
1983 Washington Post 8 Nov. b8/3 A bacronym, says Meredith, is the ‘same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters’.
1999 Writer's Digest Dec. 43 Seasonal affective disorder (which yields the backronym SAD).
2000 Sydney Morning Herald(Nexis) 14 Nov. (Internat. News section) 10 Other readers thought these might be ‘backronyms’ invented after the word was already in use.
2004  S. Rivkin  & F. Sutherland Making Name i. 26 A bacronym that encodes meaning builds a marketing premise into it.
2006 Network World 7 Aug. 50/1, I wasn't enthusiastic when CAN SPAM (otherwise known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act, a laborious backronym if there ever was one) was made into law in 2003.
2012 Social Justice Oct. 112 Ned is falsely assumed to denote a ‘Non-Educated Delinquent’, a pejorative backronym that permits symbolic power to denigrate with impunity.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


So ... this morning ... in the coffee shop ... I'm reading along in a book and come across the word highfalutin'.

Now, I know what it means, as does Dictionary.com: pompous; bombastic; haughty; pretentious. But instead of reading on, I began to wonder: Where does that term come from? And what's "falutin'"? (Blogspot's spell-checker just wondered, too--as, oddly it just now did when I typed "Blogspot's.")

Well, Dictionary.com suggests this for the origin: 1830-40; high + falutin (perhaps orig. flutin, variant of fluting, present participle of flute)

I found that ... less than satisfactory, so I checked some other sources I have (am I starting to sound high falutin'?), and I found a few things.

My Dictionary of American Slang (2nd ed., Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975) says this: pompous; high class; ideal and sets the date ca. 1850. No speculation about the source.

My Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper & Row, 1977) offers a bit more: originally an American slang word, first recorded in print about 1850. It was part of our frontier language and was used to disparage high-flown, bombastic orators. As a matter of fact, some language students think highfalutin is simply another form of "high-flown" or "high-floating"--to refer to the puffed-up phrases used by old-time Fourth of July orators.

But my ultimate source for such things is The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, a publishing project which seems to have ended after the 1st two volumes (2: H-O). Not sure why. This reference book also says it probably came from high-flown--but traces it a bit earlier, to 1839. It then lists all sorts of quotations from writers who used it, including a New Yorker writer in 1990.

Okay, let's check the Oxford English Dictionary while we're at it. That venerable publication also places the expression in 1839 (1839   Spirit of Times 18 May 123/3   Them high-faluting chaps) and also finds some interesting users--including James Russell Lowell (1870). The OED also suggests it comes from the sources the other reference books had identified.

Well, I read the expression this morning in the 3rd volume of Mark Twain's Autobiography, which I am slowly reading. And, I now realize, this morning--like a dope--I neglected to write down the page number or the sentence. Oh well. Sometime in 1907 he dictated it for these volumes (3) that he had expressly forbidden to be published until 100 years after his death. (He died in 1910). And it's easy to see why. He fires all of his considerable weapons of bitterness. How about this one i read today?

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above a monkey's (3: 133).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 241

More about trying to recover details about Mary's story, details I'd lost in the years after I quit working full-time on her story ...

Shelley and Mary, privately printed in 1882, contains in its four volumes a number of letters and other documents relative to the story of Bysshe and Mary Shelley. Needless to say (an expression, by the way, which, needless to say, is almost always needless to say), the book is not easy to come by.[1] I see in my notes that I acquired volumes three and four in late 1999 through inter-library loan at Hiram College, a service I was able to use because my wife, Joyce, was a full-time faculty member at the time.
But to read volumes one and two, I drove over to the Lilly (Special Collections) Library at Indiana University in October 1999—a journey of about 350 miles. My journal for those days—October 5–7—reveals that I seem as much interested in food as in the Shelleys. I talk about a visit to a steakhouse (ate a steak (duh) and a bunch of biscuits), a stop at a CVS for some pop (diet, of course) and a Snickers (not diet, of course). Back in my motel room (a Comfort Inn) I used a phone cord to connect my computer to the telephone so I could get online and use AOL to write a note to Joyce—remember the buzzing sound of static while you connected to AOL or other online service back in the phone-modem days?
Here’s some of what I wrote in my journal:
Once I fell asleep, I didn’t really wake up till morning (I’d forgotten till last night that I was in Central Time), and then had the pleasure of knowing that my shower—with squeaking pipes—was annoying the people around me who had annoyed me last night. At the desk, I got some directions to IU and without any trouble found the Union (with its lone public parking lot—nearly full already). I went upstairs & found a little coffee shop, where I bought a coffee (duh) and a scone [more food news!] and waited till about 8:45 (reading my Kirkus book) for the library opening time (9). The Lilly Library is in fact very close to the Memorial Union, so I had a few minutes to wait in the lobby, then went through the usual routines for using rare-book libraries. I was the only patron for a while, and so they quickly brought me the two volumes of Shelley and Mary, and I was thankful I had this laptop: The books were, well, books, not microfilm, so I had to type the notes I took. Not a lot of stuff, but some was golden—especially the letters from Godwin to Mary (unpublished most other places). After about two-and-a-half hours of typing, I was ready to leave for New Harmony, so off I went.
So … that was October 1999. By this week—July 2016—I had completely forgotten that I had notes and photocopies from Shelley and Mary and was wondering how on earth I was going to find the text of that 1827 letter from Fanny Wright to Mary Shelley, the letter that initiated their brief relationship, that letter that appears in Shelley and Mary.
And then I thought … Hmmm … maybe in my files?
I looked. Found a file labeled Shelley and Mary (1882), found in it my notes and photocopies, including a copy of that letter I’d so much wanted to consult, the one from Fanny Wright.
If I could dance, I would have, right in my study, surrounded by books by authors, who, if they could have seen me, would have averted their eyes, wondering how they possibly could have wound up on the shelf of a guy who moves like that!

[1] The volumes are indeed very rare. On July 15, 2016, I found no copies for sale on either ABE or Bookfinder, two very comprehensive sites for antiquarian book collectors.