Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 259

Anyway, The Last Man
In my file on the book I have fifteen pages (stapled) of notes I typed when I read the novel back in 1997. My custom then was to read 100 pages of some Shelley-subject in the morning (at a local coffee shop), then go home and type notes on what I’d read. Thank goodness—because now, nearly two decades later, I don’t remember much about the book.
But as I look now at my notes, I’m reminded that there is a bit of a frame story involved. In the Introduction to the first volume (it was the custom then to publish novels in two or three volumes), the “author” says that she visited Naples in 1818. Mary Shelley herself also did that (the same year, lingering on until 1819). The narrator says that on December 8, 1818, my companion and I crossed the Bay to visit the antiquities which are scattered on the shores of Baiae [Baia].[1] We know that Mary and Bysshe—on the same day in the same year—visited these same sites in the same fashion. (They lie about forty-five miles northwest of Naples on Italy’s southwestern shore.)
I don’t want to slog through Mary’s text and point out all the autobiographical aspects—few things annoy novelists (and poets) (and readers) more than this sort of thing. But I do want to reaffirm a point I’ve made earlier: Each of Mary’s novels, as imaginative and as original as it could be, was a singular tree rooted deeply in her own experience. Her reading, research, travels, gains and losses, hopes and disappointments—all composed the soil that nourished the mysterious, tangled wood of her fiction.
Anyway, on this sight- and site-seeing excursion (in the novel) the author tells us that in a cavern (to which they subsequently often returned) she and her companion found items on which appeared written characters … in a variety of languages.[2] The author subsequently translated and organized these texts, arranging them into the story that is The Last Man.
Our narrator is a shepherd boy named Lionel. He has a sister, Perdita (whose looks are remarkably like those of Mary herself!). Recall that Perdita is also the name of a principal character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a character who her royal father believes is not his child but the offspring of his wife and a lover. Accordingly, her father orders her to be killed—then relents and settles on abandoning her in the wilderness to die. Much ensues before their emotional reunion, many years later.
Is this name relevant? We’ll see!
In the second chapter we learn that it is the year 2073, and England now has its last king. When he dies, the queen increases her preparation of her son, Adrian, to take over. (And Adrian’s physical description matches that of Bysshe Shelley.) Adrian befriends Perdita and Lionel. They hang out, have young-people fun.
Then … the darkness begins.
the copy I read

[1] (Oxford UP, 1994), 3.
[2] Ibid., 5–7.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Plea for the Public School, Part 1

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
I'm not a fan of for-profit schools. Far from it. Our son, Steve, who works for Innovation Ohio (link to their site), is an authority on charter schools and has little good to say about many/most of them--though he is also quick to praise those that actually do the job they claim to do. But most of them, his research shows, fail to perform as well as the public school districts wherein those charters operate.

I am a product of public schools. Adams Elementary (pictured above) is the school my brothers and I attended in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Enid, Oklahoma. My mother also went there (when it was brand new!). In 1956, we moved to Hiram, Ohio, where we all attended the tiny public school (the high school consolidated with a nearby district in the fall of 1964). All three of the Dyer boys graduated from public high schools.

My mother taught in public schools during the early decades of her career. First, it was Emerson Junior High School in Enid (I love it that Enid named its two junior highs for Emerson and Longfellow)--then at James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville, Ohio, only about three miles from our Hiram home. (Later, she earned her Ph.D. and taught Drake University students how to become good teachers. She would know. She was a superior teacher of English.)

My father was a career teacher. Although he had only a short period of time working in public school classrooms, he (like my mom) was a product of public schools and spent most of his career as a professor of Education--helping prepare students for careers in classrooms. (At Hiram College, I took a class from him--Education and Society--but that's another story!) (Yes, I did get an A!)

I taught in a public middle school for most of my career--about thirty years, off and on. Aurora Middle School--then, with the new Aurora building, Harmon Middle School. I started in 1966, retired in January 1997--though I'd taken a few years off to try teaching in a private college (Lake Forest College), a nearby prep school (Western Reserve Academy), a nearby state university (Kent State).  But I found I missed the middle-schoolers--so back I went to Aurora. I taught in a public middle school from 1966-1978, then from 1982-1997. Some wonderful years for me. (And the vast majority of my Facebook friends are from those Aurora years.)

I've also had stints of teaching at Hiram College and, for a very happy dozen years, at Western Reserve Academy (where I returned in 2001 after I'd retired from Aurora; I retired from WRA in the spring of 2011). I loved those years, as well. I taught English to eleventh graders.

Along the way, I earned my master's and doctorate from Kent State University.

So ... these, my credentials, my experiences. As you can see, I spent most of my adult life in classrooms. I learned a thing or two (hundred) along the way. And here are two of the main points I want to make, points I will explore more thoroughly in two subsequent posts:

1. The profit motive is a terrible, destructive idea for human-service enterprises--like health-care and education.

2. We need public schools--but we also need a fundamental change in the way we finance them; we need to make substantial and staggering investments in them--in infrastructure, in supplies, in curriculum design (get rid of all this insane standardized testing); we need to attract into the profession large numbers of bright, creative, committed, and caring teachers. There are plenty of such folks working in public schools now, but we need many more.

To be continued ...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 258

I begin reading Mary Shelley's 1826 novel, The Last Man.

But by January 1826, Mary had finished and published the novel—and it remains one of her most interesting to read today, especially in this time when threats from infections and biological warfare and end-of-humanity plagues have become more and more real. And possible. Perhaps even likely. (Not to mention the stuff of countless novels and films and TV shows!)
I just consulted my file on The Last Man (a file I’ve not removed from its drawer and opened in a very long time). I see that I read the book back in the spring of 1997—April 7–May 2. Very early in my Mary Shelley research. I had retired from my public-school teaching career only three months earlier. We were still living in Aurora, Ohio (about thirty miles southeast of Cleveland)—a convenience for more than one reason: I had been teaching in Aurora (we lived only blocks from the middle school); Joyce was teaching at Hiram College—just eleven miles away with a single stoplight between our house and Hiram; Joyce’s mother, who had died from Alzheimer’s-related complications on February 5, 1995, had been living for some time at a local nursing home (one of the principal reasons for our move to Aurora). Joyce visited her virtually every day.
I had begun keeping a journal when I retired in January 1997, and as I look back at the entries, I see the evolution of my post-retirement daily routines. I was getting up a bit later than I had been when I was teaching. I was always one of the first to arrive at school—around six a.m.—but now, I see from that journal—that seven (and even later) was my new custom. (Ah, retirement!)
On April 8, for example, the second day of my reading of The Last Man, I wrote the following in my journal (somewhat abridged):
8th: Up early (7:30), fussed with computer, then to Heinen’s [a local grocery store with a coffee shop] to read more of The Last Man; Saywell’s [a coffee shop in nearby Hudson, Ohio] for coffee with [a former Western Reserve Academy colleague] and to return Leigh Hunt’s autobiography to the [Hudson] library; … [at home] ran 5 miles; worked on index [to my forthcoming YA book Jack London: A Biography] all afternoon; index after supper (finished 100 pgs.); typed notes on chaps 2–3 in The Last Man; read Lawrence Block [Even the Wicked, a detective novel] in bed; started Tribe game in Seattle [I just checked: The Tribe won, 8–3, homers by Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar, winning pitcher: Charles Nagy]; finished Block novel—not very good, too predictable (he solves three cases in the book, one—the killer of a drama critic—is transparently the news writer; none of the usual grit and angst); began the new Spenser [Small Vices, by Robert B. Parker]; it starts well.
So … there I was: early April 1997 (I was 52 years old)—sleeping a little later, reading all sorts of things, writing, running, watching baseball games, drinking lots of coffee, still living as if my future were endless. And now—nearly twenty years later—I can no longer run (knees, ankles)—though I still ride an exercise bike and walk laps; I gave up watching sports several years ago. But I do still read thrillers and still spend much of my day reading and writing. And drinking coffee. Oh, and I usually get up around six now. Tempus fugit and all that.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 129

1. AOTW--I'm tempted to mention the runners/joggers this morning (there was some kind of race in Hudson), runners/joggers who were loping down our street and would not move aside a bit to let me back out of our driveway. We sat there for a long, LONG time. On  the other hand--perhaps the race was for a beneficial cause, and so my complaints would make ME the AOTW. So ... I think I'll pass this week!

2. I finished three books this week, two of which I'd been--slowly--reading in the evening when I go up to bed. Let's deal with them first ...

     a. I've always loved Oscar Wilde--well, always is, of course, an exaggeration. But since I've been fairly sentient, he's been one of my favorites. His personal story, of course, is a horror (prosecuted and jailed for homosexuality, etc.: He lived a bit too early, didn't he?), but his plays (The Importance of Being Earnest, et al.) I never tire of seeing, and now I've read his lone novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), a story I've known for a long time--it's one of those tales whose details sort of drift into your mind from cultural allusions here and there. There have been quite a few films and TV adaptations of the tale (check 'em out on IMDB--I don't think I've seen any of them), the earliest a silent film from Denmark, 1910 (three years before my father was born!).

The story was like and unlike what I thought I knew. The dialogue is crisp, ironic, funny (when it's not heinous!)--just what you'd expect from Wilde; the story is dark, dark, dark, dark, dark. A handsome young man goes over to the Dark Side, likes it there, then, slowly, becomes virtually crushed with the weight of his own egregious acts. Meanwhile, he sat for a portrait as a young man, and (through a device I'll leave for you to remember or to read for yourself) he soon realizes that the portrait is aging, but he is not. Alarmed, he covers it and stores it in a remote room, checking it out later only a couple of times. Including ... the final time, an encounter that ends the novel.

So glad I read it. It's one of those I-should-read-this-sometime books, but no one ever assigned it to me in school, and the years drifted along ...

     b. I'm a long-time fan of Carl Hiaasen, a Florida journalist who also writes wacky novels about Florida wackiness. His newest one, Razor Girl, has a number of parallel plot threads that eventually weave together: a young woman (see title) who's involved in a series of traffic-accident scams, a former cop who's now a sanitation inspector but wants his old job back, a TV show like Duck Dynasty (but with another name) that loses one of its principal characters who freaks out and goes AWOL, a Super Fan of the show who decides he wants to be on the show (and does some kidnapping and gun-waving to try to realize his dream), a guy who wants to buy sand from Cuba to restore beaches in Florida, beaches being eroded by climate change. There is more.

I admired how Hiaasen twisted his threads around, how he dealt with some of what he sees as, well, flaws in the American character--but in a humorous, ironic, exaggerated way. Talented writer.

   c. This one I read during the past week or so, Richard Ford's third novel (I'm on the trail of reading them all, in order of publication), The Sportswriter (1986), the novel that propelled him to fame, the first of several to feature Frank Bascombe, who narrates this tale of love lost, of family fracture, of settling for what's easier rather than for what's best. Frank's marriage has broken; a young son has died; he is hanging with a young woman, a nurse named Vickie, whom he seems to love--but perhaps doesn't. Earlier in his life he published a well-received book of short stories. He then started a novel but could not finish it and turned to sportswriting, a career that has landed him a job on a magazine that resembles Sports Illustrated. He thinks it's easy--and is good at it. Easier than writing serious fiction. Throughout the novel, he mentions/complains a bit about his "dreaminess"--he can't seem, always, to stay in "reality" (whatever that is). He also has a (sort of) friend who admits his homosexuality to Frank. This does not turn out well. (It's 1986, recall.)

Ford is a ruminative novelist--often pausing to let his narrators/principal characters muse about what all of this means; he also--like Richard Russo (whose complete works I've recently finished)--can make a plotline seem invisible. Until it isn't. Until the story goes so dark that it's hard to see--or so bright that, well, it's hard to see.

3. This week we finished the Brit TV series William & Mary (featuring Martin Clunes, a favorite of ours--e.g. Doc Martin); the show originally ran from 2003-05. Clunes plays William, an undertaker; Julie Graham plays Mary, a midwife. Both have children from previous marriages (snarky teens--the part I disliked most about the series). But ... even in the episodes I didn't like overall (and there were more than a few), there were always moments of enormous emotional power, of great surprise and cleverness. I lived each episode for those moments--some of which, by the way, were unusual funerals that William had to arrange. Well worth watching. (We saw it via Netflix; it's also on Acorn TV.)

4. A wonderful experience at the movies last night ...  We went to Kent to see the new film by Warren Beatty (written, directed, starring!), Rules Don't Apply, a story set in the early/mid 1960s when the prodigiously talented Howard Hughes (played by Beatty--an Oscar performance, in my view), the billionaire has begun fading psychologically. Interwoven is a (fictional) love story between one of his drivers (who soon advances) and a young starlet he's brought to Hollywood and put on salary--but has given no film roles to. (That's an awkward sentence, but this is a blog: deal with it.)

Lots of 1960s' ambiance, detail, music, etc.--my young manhood!--and some wrenching emotional scenes. And a cast of all-stars, some of whom (Alec Baldwin) play only tiny parts but who are surely just thrilled to be in a Beatty film.

Some of his cast: Paul Sorvino, Matthew Broderick, Candace Bergen, Martin Sheen, Annette Bening, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Oliver Platt, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan (in a great turn as a frightened plane pilot).  The two lovebirds are great, too--Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins.

The only sad thing: only about a half-dozen in the audience on a Saturday night ... doesn't bode well.

Beatty. Bonnie & Clyde, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and so many others. A towering talent who has been quiet for quite a while--nearly twenty years (a sort of Hughes figure himself!). Joyce and I loved the film--and both of us confessed to having forgotten what a remarkable talent he was/is--in front of, behind the camera. (Link to trailer for the film.)

5. Last Words--some words I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers:

    - from the Oxford English Dictionary

pluviose, adj.    Of, relating to, or characterized by rain; rainy.
Origin:A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin pluviōsus.
Etymology: <  classical Latin pluviōsus rainy <  pluvia rain (see pluvial adj. and n.2) + -ōsus -ose suffix1. Compare earlier Pluviose n., pluvious adj., and also pluvial adj., pluvian adj.
In quot. 1824 fig.: tearful.
1824 Examiner 30 May 337/1, I was moved to vent my pluviose indignation.
1854  D. Lardner Hand-bk. Hydrostatics, Hydraul., Pneumatics iii. 33 A vertical section of the strata of the soil, which is penetrated by the pluviose waters.
1954 Geogr. Jrnl. 120 314 Thus these maritime and mountain areas have the greatest extent of the pluviose zone.
2000  J. Barnes in  J. Shepherd Writers at Movies 9 Normandy is, after all, one of the most pluviose provinces of France. 

     perhapser, n.
1. A person who says ‘perhaps’ with regard to a particular issue (in quot., the attribution of certain characteristics to Satan).
1909  ‘M. Twain’ Is Shakespeare Dead? ii. 24 The Supposers, the Perhapsers, the Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-Beeners..and all that funny crop of solemn architects who have taken a good solid foundation of five indisputable and unimportant facts and built upon it a Conjectural Satan thirty miles high.
 2. Cricket slang. A risky or unintended stroke.
Forms:  19– perhapser,   19– p'rapser nonstandard.
Origin:Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: perhaps adv., -er suffix1.
Etymology: <  perhaps adv. + -er suffix1.
In form p'rapser after p'raps adv.
1954  J. H. Fingleton Ashes crown Year xxiii. 247 Morris somewhat luckily got Bedser fine for 4... It was what cricketers know as a ‘perhapser’.
1957  D. Stivens Scholarly Mouse 86 Did you ever see such a p'rapser—he pushed a yorker away for four!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Confession

Okay, so I got a D in a college class. Big D(eal)!

Let's rewind ...

As you may know, Joyce and I now have an online bookshop--part of the vast network of Advanced Book Exchange. We are D. J. Doodlebug Books (one of Dad's nicknames for me, sans the "Books," which is not a word he often associated with me, I fear); here's a link to the 1500 or so titles we have currently listed. Joyce--who is doing the Lion's Share of the work--adds a few books a day to the list; they add up.

Anyway, yesterday she was preparing to list the book you see at the top of the page--a paperback collection of Wordsworth's poems, an Oxford University Press paperback, 1961 edition. She was flipping through it--as is her wont--looking for marks and annotations, factors she would mention in her sales description.

In the evening, she came in the bedroom, where I was lounging, reading, and she was laughing. She said, "Wasn't this one of your Hiram College textbooks?"

I, looking: "Yes."

Joyce: I don't see any markings in it--whatsoever.


I: Uh, I memorized them all--no need for marks. [Joyce is unimpressed.]

Joyce: Oh, I see some underlinings in "The Prelude."

I: I liked that poem.

Joyce: Here's what you underlined: "... I sought / For present good in life's familiar face, / And built thereon my hopes of good to come" (579).

I: That's the key to the whole thing--why underline anything else?

Joyce: Hmmmmmm. Isn't this a book in that course ...?

I: Yes, Romantic Poets. Hiram College. I got a D.

Joyce: If I'd known that when I met you ... [No, she didn't really say this, but I bet she was thinking it!]

Yes, Poetry of the Romantic Period. (I just checked my transcript to get the official title.) Hiram College. Spring Quarter. 1965 (my junior year). I was also taking Masterpieces of World Literature II. And 20th Century English & American Literature II.  In those two courses I did much better. C.

Two C's and a D. Spring term. Junior year. Do I need to add that my parents were not impressed? Or happy? What had they just paid for?!?!

   a. Extenuating Circumstances: I had those three courses, right in a row, four days a week: 10:20, 11:30, 12:40. And, of course, you can see that those times permit NO LUNCH. Lunch. One of my favorite meals in college days (often the first meal for which I was awake). My good friends were all there. And friendship, of course, is far more important than mere grades! And so ... I routinely cut my 11:30, my 12:40. (The latter was the seminar about the Romantics.)

I also had realized by that term that I was in love with American literature (as I still am), so, you know, why bother with those boring Brit Romantics?

I was also on the tennis team, and it was important that I keep myself fresh (and well-fed) so that I would not let down my teammates! (Actually, I routinely let them down; I have suppressed my won-loss record that year, but I'll bet I could count my wins on one hand.)

In fact, I was so committed to tennis that one weekend when we had a match (away), I neglected to turn in my term paper (something about Keats; it sucked) until I got back. In those days, the routine was that professors would return graded papers in a pile in Hinsdale Hall on a bench. If you got there early, you could see what other people got on their papers, though I would never have done such a thing. I delayed my visit. I knew the news would not be good.

It wasn't.

F. No comments whatsoever--just a bright red F.

I grabbed the paper, took it back to the dorm, tore off the cover sheet (which bore my name), and threw the rest down the trash chute (I was living on the third floor). I shredded, by hand, the title page. And promptly forgot about it all. (Until, of course, the grades arrived in the mail ....)

And, finally, I was trying to create a Love Life. I failed. End of comment.

     b. Consequences

My parents were annoyed--but generally silent. I think they figured I was old enough to lie in a bed of my own making. I did recover the next year--all A's and B's (okay, one little C), but it was not enough to earn me any scholarship money when I was accepted in the American Studies program at the University of Kansas--the lone grad program I'd applied for (ambitious, eh?).

So ... thank God ... I relied on the teaching certificate I'd earned, and after I graduated, I headed off to teach in the Aurora Middle School, just eleven miles from our Hiram house. And I had there some of the most wonderful years of my life.

In the summer of 1969 I was taking my second course in my master's program (English) at Kent State. I'd gotten serious now. Was working hard. And in that class ... a young woman who'd just graduated from Wittenberg. Joyce Ann Coyne.

So ... had I not messed up at Hiram College that 3rd quarter of my junior year, I might have ended up in Kansas. And would never have met Joyce.

So ... messing up can pay off--Big Time!

   c. Epilogue

Years later, in the mid-1990s, I became obsessed with Frankenstein, with Mary Shelley, and I read all about Wordsworth, Byron, Keats (!), Percy Bysshe Shelley--read all their works--and often thought about that 1965 Me who was plainly incapable of all of it.

So, William Wordsworth, you had a good point ...

"... I sought / For present good in life's familiar face, / And built thereon my hopes of good to come" (579).

Friday, November 25, 2016

One of My First "Big Words"

When I was in junior high, my parents were so worried about my puny vocabulary that they got me a copy of 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary, a self-help text that I tried for a day (or two--nowhere near 30!) before I gave up and returned to comic books and the sports pages and the Cheerios Kid on the cereal box.

In my reading of books, I had a sure-fire system when I confronted new words: I tried context clues, and, failing to find any, merely skipped the word and raced on.

Not many of my teachers taught vocabulary per se. One did, though. Mr. Brunelle. Hiram High School. I remember one word he taught--tacit--a word I still use in tacit tribute to him. (And a word I always put on my own vocabulary lists--another tacit tribute.) In college, our professors assumed that if we didn't know a word they used in class (or we encountered in our reading), we would look it up. Which I often did, even though it involved a dictionary book and not a quick consult with dictionary.com.

As my education and life scrolled along, however, I more and more became obsessed with words and now look up any and every unfamiliar word I come across. I don't, of course, remember them all, but some I do. That old rule about using it or losing it applies with new words.

Which takes me back to one of the first "big words" I ever learned--propinquity--a word I thought about this week because it popped up on my word-a-day tear-off calendar (see below). I heard it on a TV show, one of those programs involving teens and public school, but I can't remember which one: Mr. Peepers (1952-55)? Our Miss Brooks (1952-56)? The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63)?

It involved, as I remember, a high school boy who was interested in a girl who didn't seem to notice him. Someone (teacher? friend?) told him to try propinquity, a word that, thankfully, the suggesting character defined for his friend (and me). As I recall, the friend tried it (sitting near her in class); it worked. (I think.)

I just this minute typed into Google the titles of the shows, one at a time, along with the word propinquity. And I got some hits--Dobie Gillis!--which, to be perfectly honest (can you be imperfectly honest?), had been my first guess.

It's from an episode called "Love Is a Science" (from 1959). And my memory failed me. It involved a character named Zelda Gilroy, who always sits near Dobie Gillis (alphabet!) and who tells him that they're attracted to each other because of ... propinquity. Here's a link to the actual dialogue--written--that informs Dobie about the concept.

 And here's a link to the episode on YouTube!

**PS--Later, a teacher myself, I taught vocabulary all the time, later on figuring out that it made sense to teach kids words they were going to encounter in our reading assignments. But that's another (boring) story for another (boring) time ...

***PPS--In Latin I, encountering propinquitās (nearness), I had an epiphany!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 1952

There we are, the five of us. November 27, 1952. Amarillo Air Force Base. Thanksgiving Day. My dad had recently been called back to active duty (the Korean War--he'd already served in both theaters in WW II), and so we'd moved to Amarillo (in the Texas Panhandle) from Enid, Oklahoma.

Oh, were we younger then! Dad was 39; Mom, 33; Dickie, 10; Danny, 8; Davi, 4. (I'm the one with his mouth full ... and the wicked smile.)

Dad was a chaplain (I think he was a major then; he retired as a Lt. Col), and we've just attended his Thanksgiving service on the base. I have no memory of it at all. Dad, who had a booming speaking voice, liked to tell a little joke now and then in his sermons, sermons that I now confess always seemed interminable to me. (They were probably about ten minutes or so.) I knew that when church was over, several really good things were going to happen: (1) Food! (2) Change out of my cursed Sunday clothes! (3) Play outside! So who can blame an 8-year-old for urging his preacher-father to speak more quickly, more briefly.

Here's the sort of joke he told in his sermons--I remember this one (though, of course, this is not word for word):

Some men were paving a sidewalk. One of them said, over and over, that he liked children. Later, the sidewalk complete, but wet, they took a break. When they came back, they could see that some kids had left their little footprints on and in the new sidewalk.

"Darn kids!" barked the child-liking guy.

"I thought you said you liked children," said another guy.

"I like them in the abstract," he replied, "not in the concrete."

I heard him tell that one quite a few times. Back in Oklahoma, my dad, who was now a college professor as well as an ordained minster (Disciples of Christ), would "fill in" at local churches, often for weeks on end. (He did the same when we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in 1956, though not nearly so often.) We almost always went along.

As I look at this photograph now, I am of course saddened. Dad died on November 29, 1999, just five days after Thanksgiving. We had all been there in the Berkshires, where Dad was dying in a nursing home (they'd retired out there some years earlier). When we visited his room, he would perk up now and then, but we knew he could not last much longer. When we left for home on the 27th (Saturday), we stopped to see Dad for what I feared would be the last time. It was. Here's some of what I wrote in my journal that day ...

... drove over to see my father for what may be the last time; he was very, very weak this morning, unshaven (for several days) and with a wracking, wrenching cough; conscious only infrequently; but during one of those moments I told him that he has been a wonderful father; he smiled and tried to say something but for the life of me I could not tell what it was; then I added, “Even though you hit Dave in the face with a fastball”; he smiled again; “Better him than me,” I tacked on—eliciting another smile; then he drifted off into a morphine sleep ...

He lived through Sunday, died on Monday morning.

And now? Mom is 97; my older brother will turn 75 in December; I just turned 72; my younger brother is 68. Health is iffy for all of us.

But the gratitude I feel for my parents when I look at this picture is overwhelming. What a life they gave us ... what opportunities ... what affection for all three of us, even though we are three very different human beings. At my wedding, just before Dad and I walked out to take our places to await the bridal procession, I thanked him for making me worthy of a woman like Joyce. He just smiled. His eyes got wet. (I don't think I ever saw him cry--but, oh, his eyes would dampen and redden.)

I wrote "overwhelming" a moment ago. Whelm means "to submerge." And when I think of my family, the water that washes over me is impossibly sweet--but has as well a hint of salt. Like tears.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Day Before

In the coffee shop. About half-full right now (nearly 2 pm). Most appear to be college students home for the holidays. Some seem to be gathering with high-school friends. They talk about the "old days"--and about their new experiences away at school. They seem unaware (or, better, unconcerned) that an Old Guy is nearby. Listening. Typing. (Surely not about them!)

When I got to college in 1962--Hiram College, a block from our home; my dad was a professor there)--I felt a surprising loneliness at Thanksgiving. Sure, I enjoyed being with my family, relatives (sometimes), and our parents' friends; I enjoyed seeing again those high-school friends who had gone away to school.

But, as I said, I also felt lonely. The stories rushing from the mouths and memories of my friends-who-had-gone-away seemed so much more interesting and even more exotic than my own. The names of their new friends and experiences salted their sentences. So my stories about ... Hiram ... seemed, by comparison, so prosaic. Boring, even. So I mostly listened--enviously so.

Because my dad taught at Hiram, I could go tuition-free there. And--to be honest--I hadn't worked hard enough in high school to merit much else. I had a B average, did so-so on the College Boards. I was immature (far more than some of my former classmates), ignorant (ditto), unfocused. I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself now that I realized I was not going to be playing pro baseball or basketball. (Oh, the daffy dreams I'd thought were forecasts!)

My love life was hopeless, by the way. That first Thanksgiving in college (1962) I was seven years away from meeting Joyce. Seven years is a long time when you've just turned 18. (Seven years earlier I was 11--the age of my older grandson right now!) My high-school romance was imploding (she'd gone Elsewhere--had met Another), and I saw no real possibilities anywhere. At 18 I was already figuring in my foggy heart that I was never going to find someone to love me. (I was wrong--but that's another story!)

As I said, we usually got together with our parents' best friends--the president of Hiram College (my folks had known him and his wife back in college) (I knew their three children well--they were the approximate ages of the three Dyer boys) and a chemistry professor, whose daughter was a good friend and Hiram High classmate. There was something very comforting about our Thanksgivings together. I felt a sort of continuity because of them, and one of the most moving moments in my life occurred the first Thanksgiving after I commenced my teaching career in the fall of 1966. I had expected I'd have a lonely holiday (my parents had moved to Iowa, and I could not get out there and back in the time allotted for our brief school holiday), but then the phone rang: It was Mrs. Rosser (the wife of the Chen professor), inviting me to have Thanksgiving dinner at their house. I wept with gratitude. A thanksgiving.

And now--tomorrow--our son, daughter-in-law, and two grand grandsons (7, 11) will join us in Hudson for dinner. We've already done much of the preparation--the baking, the cranberry sauce, etc.--and just Tom Turkey and the "smashed" potatoes remain.

So I will not be alone. I have not been alone since July 1969 when Joyce Coyne saw something in me that was somehow, mysteriously, more attractive than repellent. Oh, how her love surprised me! And how it continues to do so!

And so--for her--for my family--for her family--for my career that I loved--for friends--for former students who have been so kind--for all of it I will, tomorrow, as I do, I confess, every day, celebrate a profound and deeply humble thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2016

School Pix

In the dentist's chair today. Waiting. I notice nearby a few school pictures of young children belonging to someone who works here. The kids are smiling. Hopeful. About ten years old or so.

And I'm quickly thinking about how the whole school-picture thing has changed in my lifetime. It was always a Grand Event when I was a kid (We get to get out of class!). And, of course, it was one of the few pictures taken of me exclusively the entire year. People in our family had Kodak Brownie cameras that would come out on holidays and special occasions, cameras that recorded in black-and-white (until later) the doings of, generally, groups of us. Not just of Little Old Me.

It was a bit of a hassle then, taking a picture. Buy the film. Load the camera. Take the pictures. Remove the film from the camera. Take the film to the camera shop or drug store. Wait a week. See if any of the pictures "came out." There were always a few--or more than a few--that didn't.

Later, I (an adult!) had a roll of film that I inadvertently loaded again in the camera. When it came back from processing, I realized I had a roll of double-exposures. One bizarre photo showed my wife and son and me in Rugby, North Dakota, standing at a monument declaring this was the Geographical Center of North America. There we stood, smiling, superimposed on a picnic picture in Washington (state), a picnic with my uncle John and his family in Walla Walla. That was weird. Wish I'd saved it.

Anyway, in "my day," school pictures were, as I said, black-and-white. One take only. (Re-takes were far in the future. Didn't like your picture? Tough! Don't buy any!)

As a teacher, I found School Picture Day to be every bit as enjoyable as I had in boyhood. We get out of class! I would accompany a class down to the gym/Commons/wherever, get my picture taken first, then "monitor" the kids until all in my class had finished. Then ... the long, slow Death Walk back to the classroom, where we would return to the differences between who and whom, the intricacies of a Shakespearean sonnet, the delights of writing an essay.

And then, somewhat later, much excitement (surprise, delight, disappointment, horror) when the pictures arrived. There were kids who would show no one what the camera had caught; others were merrily signing them to friends as soon as they opened the packages. As a kid I was not allowed to do that (not that I wanted to) until I'd taken them home. Mom wanted to make sure we saved a couple in an album, gave some to Grandma and Grandpa. Then and only then could I exchange some with friends.

Below are four photographs that show my first school picture (1st grade, Adams Elementary School; Enid, Okla.; 1950), my final school picture (Hiram High School; Hiram, Ohio, 1962), my first photo as a teacher (Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio, 1966), my final photo as a teacher (Western Reserve Academy; Hudson, Ohio, 2011).

I've changed a little.

As, of course, has the whole process of picture-taking. The ubiquitous cellphone camera--and, before that, the digital camera--has made it ridiculously easy to take pictures of yourself, myriads of them, and, within seconds, to share them with the entire world--a world  whose servers are now jammed with selfies--overflowing with selfies--servers no doubt yearning for a younger world when the Self was a smaller figure, quivering in a dim corner.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 128

1. AOTW--A frightening one this week. At the coffee shop. A father with two young daughters (3-ish? 4-ish?). It starts to snow, lightly. The younger girl runs outside and begins dancing around on the sidewalk, trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue. She is only a few feet away from moving traffic--to which she pays absolutely no attention. Which is about what her father pays to her. Sometimes, his back is turned. Other times he looks outside, to check. If something happened--oh, say, if she ran into the street for a snowflake--he would have no chance of stopping her. Fortunately, nothing happens. She tires. Comes back inside. Alive. 

2. I managed to finish two books this week.

     * This week Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award for Fiction with his novel The Underground Railroad (which, as I've posted here, features an actual  URR!). I enjoyed that book (as I posted here not all that long ago), and I realized I'd not read his previous novel, Zone One, a post-apocalyptic novel about the Walking Dead (characters in the novel call them "skels"). Our main character, called "Mark Spitz" by his teammates (because he can't swim--irony/sarcasm remain on earth!), is part of a team of "sweepers," whose job it is to work on Zone One (part of New York City), cleaning up the skels still remaining after the military has been through doing most of the slaughter. Time is fluid in the novel--flowing here, flowing there, flowing forward, reversing course--but Whitehead makes it all seem natural--which, of course, it is. (Keep track of your own thoughts for, oh, twenty minutes: see what happens.) The novel veers DARK near the end, but I will not ruin your experience by telling you that Mark Spitz faces, near the end, ...

Whitehead is a talent--fiction, nonfiction, memoir, whatever.

     * I also finished what I think is one of the best books--if not the best book--about Emily Dickinson I've ever read (and I've read quite a few). Some years ago, Jerome Charyn, known principally as a novelist, wrote a novel about Dickinson, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, 2010, a novel I enjoyed quite a bit.

Anyway, as Charyn says in his Author's Note to his new book, A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century (2016), "I couldn't let go" (7). He became obsessed--reading everything, going everywhere, interviewing all sorts of folks, thinking about her in what I think are fresh and original ways.

To say that he is a fan of her poetry is an understatement. The book is chockablock with praise for her--and with wonder, even astonishment. He goes after what he calls "the myth of the reclusive" and looks closely at her dazzling use of language. Necessarily, Charyn includes more than a bit of biography (it's all connected), but his focus is on her words, on her "building her own labyrinth, with the finest silken cords" (194).

Loved it.

3. Friday night, we went to Kent to see Arrival, the latest aliens-are-here film, this one with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as, respectively, a world-class linguist, a world-class physicist. This casting, I fear, required much willing suspension of disbelief on our part, but I liked the premise--that language is what defines us--and our world and even time itself. Adams works to decode/translate the aliens' visual language before, you know, the H-bombs and missiles start flying. An okay film--but very predictable in some ways. (Link to trailer for the film.)

4. This week I was memorizing "The Gettysburg Address," the 191st literary passage to go into the storage vaults of my mind. I'm not quite there--but close. (After looking at Garry Wills' fine book on the speech--Lincoln at Gettysburg, 1992--I had to change some words: I'm trying to learn the text he actually delivered, a text that remains debatable--but Wills includes what he thinks is the closest).

Years ago, in a show I directed at Harmon Middle School, we included a skit that (if I remember correctly) involving a kid running for student council. At the assembly he delivers this "Address," which he had actually memorized some years before. I do remember this: The audience loved it!

As for memorizing ... I'm trying to reach #200 by New Year's, at which time I will take a break for a bit, then, probably, start heading off in the direction of 300 ... what else is there to do?

5. Some last words: words I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers ...

     * from dictionary.com (with a Jack London connection!)
pleonasm  \PLEE-uh-naz-uh m\  noun
1. the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy.
2. an instance of this, as free gift or true fact.
As the standard of mentality has risen, just so has the dictum of man gone forth that he must and will do his own thinking. He no longer wishes to have the thought iterated and reiterated and hammered in upon him again and again. Pleonasm is repellent to him.
-- Jack London, "Phenomena of Literary Evolution," The Bookman, Volume XII, September 1900–February 1901

Origin of pleonasm

Pleonasm stems from the Late Latin noun pleonasmus, from the Greek pleonasmós "superabundance, excess," in rhetoric "pleonasm," from the Greek adjective pleíōn meaning "more." It entered English in the early 1600s.

     *from wordsmith.org
coulrophobia (kool-ruh-FOH-bee-uh)  noun 
The fear of clowns. 
From Greek kolobatheron (stilt) + -phobia (fear). Earliest documented use: 1980s. 
“They all share my coulrophobia with Congressional clowns and presidential hopefuls.”
Fred Pfisterer; Which Came First, Clowns or the Politicians?; The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia); Mar 6, 2016.

     *from wordsmith.org
ambisinistrous  (am-bi-SIN-uh-struhs)
adjective: Clumsy with both hands.
Modeled after ambidextrous (able to use both hands with equal ease), from Latin ambi- (both) + sinister (left). Earliest documented use: 1863.
An ambisinistrous person has two left hands, literally speaking. You’d think it would be rare for such an uncommon word to have a perfect synonym, but there is one: ambilevous, from Latin laevus (left). A similar express is “to have two left feet” (to be clumsy, especially while dancing).
“When Palinuro accused him of being ambidextrous, he protested he was actually ambisinistrous which was more or less the same thing, but not quite, and went back to peeling his second orange.”
Fernando Del Paso, Elisabeth Plaister (translator); Palinuro of Mexico; Dalkey Archive Press; 1996.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Okay, So I'm Back on Facebook ...

I'm a really strong person, you know? Last week, I vowed I would leave Facebook forever. And I stuck to it ... for four whole days! What character I have! What resolve!

Anyway, I left it for the same reason (apparently) that many others did in recent days: the rancor over the election that had long-time friends (FB-types and otherwise) lunging at one another like roosters about to get it on in a pit.

I hated it. I hated what I was reading--and, even worse, what I was feeling. In recent years, as I've been (slowly, I hope) descending into the Valley of You-Know-What, I've clung to Facebook as if it were a handrail on a particularly steep staircase that, impossibly, managed to go only down. I loved re-connecting with former students, former classmates, old friends; I loved sharing things I'd learned or read or was thinking about. (And--I'll confess--I enjoyed being, again, something resembling a teacher. After all, I spent about forty-five years of my life in the classroom. In ways, I can never leave that profession--or abandon its routines.)

There were always things on Facebook that I didn't like to see or read. Scrolling by without much of a pause is a help. But not a cure. Some of those things would gnaw at me for a long time. (We've all had this experience, right--the how-could-that-person-think-that? experience?)

But for the most part ... I coped. (I'm mature! An adult!) Several times, in a self-righteous huff, I've shut down my Facebook account, but for never more than a day or two.

This time, though, it was different. This time, it was going to be forever.

(You see the for in forever? Well, it's a homophone with four, which is how many days I was most recently estranged from Facebook!)

For a few days it was easy. I felt virtuous. Focused on things that matter. Discovered I suddenly had a bit more time in the day to do things that were useful.

Then, late yesterday ... this morning ... I began to realize (to my chagrin) that ... I ... was ... missing ... Facebook.

I'd actually started a new blog when I Quit Forever (Stained with Variations--link to blog), a blog that, basically, was just a place to collect the things I would have posted on Facebook had I still been that weak, sniveling wuss who'd posted there so much.

But I found that posting on the blog site was not nearly so much ... fun. I didn't get instant replies to things. And because I didn't post the blog until the end of the day, I didn't have the--what?--thrill (?) of posting/sharing things the moment I thought of or saw them.

So ... at the coffee shop this morning ... as I saw the first flakes of winter floating in and falling through the Hudson air, I took out my smartphone, then realized there was no point in taking a picture. The moment was now. And was fast fleeing.

So I got home and told Joyce I was going to activate my account again--this same Joyce to whom I swore, as recently as yesterday (!), that I was through with it. Forever. She nodded. Did not show the slightest hint of I knew you would!

So ... my account is now active again. I've posted/shared a few things. I'm feeling both a little ashamed of myself and very happy. A little bit like a kid who just stole some candy. Shouldn't have done that, he thinks. But, oh, does it taste good!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 257

We begin to look at Mary's post-Frankenstein fiction.

We’ve looked—much earlier in this account—at Mary’s early writing: Frankenstein (1818) and her anonymous travel book about her 1814 elopement with Bysshe (History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, 1817). I’ve written, as well, about her dramas, her children’s story discovered and published long after her death (Maurice, or The Fisher’s Cot, 1820; published in 1998), and her first post-Frankenstein novel, Valperga, Or The Life of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823).
But one of her most startling novels, published in 1826, was The Last Man. (It was originally published semi-anonymously: By the Author of Frankenstein, it says on the original title page.[1]
Scholars speculate that Mary might have had the idea for this apocalyptic novel as early as the fall of 1823, not long after she had returned, bereft, from her long sojourn in Europe. It is not hard to imagine why her thoughts at the time would have been … dark. She had lost her husband, some children; her reputation in England was permanently stained; father-in-law Sir Timothy Shelley was behaving poorly … you know.
But by January 1826, she had finished and published the novel—and it remains one of her most interesting to read today, especially in this time when threats from infections and biological warfare and end-of-humanity plagues have become more and more real. And possible. Perhaps even likely.

[1] The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 4, eds. Jane Blumberg with Nora Crook (London: William Pickering, 1996). All subsequent references to this novel, The Last Man, unless otherwise noted, are from this edition.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Old Holiday Recipes

For years--decades--Joyce and I kept a clutter of old family holiday recipes (and other recipes for more mundane days), well, in a clutter.

Then one day ... a year or so ago ... a flash of insight! We realized we could put each one in a plastic sleeve, put each sleeve in a three-ring binder! Eureka! No ancient Greek discovering the principle of water displacement in his own bathtub could have been more excited.

We have a section in the notebook (yes, we are nerds; yes, we use dividers) devoted to holiday recipes. Among them are the white fruitcake and steamed pudding recipes my grandmother Osborn used. I make them every Christmas, varying only slightly from her instructions. I've also patched together a recipe I use to make the sourdough Christmas-tree bread we have every Christmas morning. A fruit-filled bread shaped like a tree.
Christmas, 2015
But there's one recipe for bread--cornbread--that I make by following strictly the instructions in an old cookbook--The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I can't remember if this was my mom's copy--or if it's one we acquired early in our marriage (December 1969), but I do know that we've had that book a long, long time (the stained, faded, fragile pages bear mute witness).
The cornbread recipe is basic and quick: white flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar, oil, milk. Bake 20-25 min in 425 oven. Simple, simple, simple.

Except when it isn't.

Every now and then I have a mild cornbread disaster (seems a contraction, I know--but it's definitely a disaster, but on the Hindenberg scale? mild). Like yesterday.

I made a double batch, baked in two Pyrex cake pans that I had sprayed with oil until they dripped.

But the cornbread didn't care.

It stuck. Clung to the pans with the reluctance--no, ferocity--of a kid to his mom on the first day of kindergarten.

Finally--temperature soaring near the boiling point--I simply scraped out one pan, knowing that the resultant mess didn't really matter: We were going to use it for the turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving. No biggie.

The other one? I sliced it in eighths. Tore out one of the slices (put its ruined self in the other sad bag for stuffing), then was able to use a spatula to remove the others in more or less decent shape. (I tasted some; it was great.)

But I wanted to have some slices to serve on Thanksgiving, too. Slices that looked, you know, unabused. So ... today ... I baked another (single) batch in one of those non-stick metal pans (I still sprayed the hell out of it), and ...

... success! It slipped easily out of the pan, as if it knew, otherwise, that it had a date with the disposer.

Now, the only problem: Keeping our hands offa it until Bird Day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 256

An observation I will insert somewhere later.

November 16, 2016—to insert somewhere later on
This reminds you of that. Not all that profound an observation, I realize, but I’ve noticed over my years of writing about various literary figures—Jack London, Shakespeare, Poe, and now Mary Shelley—that when I’m pretty well submerged in the seas of their lives, all the marine creatures that swim into my view when I’m doing other things (reading a newspaper, a detective novel; seeing a film; just randomly ruminating), these creatures somehow metamorphose into something that reminds me of … London, Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley, et al.
This morning, for example, I was reading a Colson Whitehead novel (Zone One, 2011). I love Whitehead’s work, but I’d somehow let this one slip by me—or, rather, let it slip down in my pile of things I want to read until I’d pretty much forgotten about it. But after I read his latest novel (The Underground Railroad, 2016), I remembered the forgotten one, extracted it from the Tower-of-Pisan pile in our family room and started to read it.
It’s the ultimate post-apocalypse, zombie novel. Literate, funny, horrifying, illuminating—even dazzling at times. It’s about a guy—known to his teammates as “Mark Spitz” (because he can’t swim)—who’s part of a group of “sweepers” who are dispensing with the “skels” who remain after the plague has devastated humanity. The skels eat people. Better to, you know, kill them first. The sweepers leave the bodies for other crews to pick up and incinerate.
Well, today, I was reading about the device they employed to incinerate the remains of the skels:
Here, it burned the bodies of the dead with uncanny efficiency, swallowing what the soldiers fed into it and converting it to smoke, fly ash, and a shovelful of hard material too stubborn to be entirely consumed. Hearts, mostly. That thick muscle (187).
And, of course, reading, I immediately remember that day in August 1822. On the beach near Viareggio, Italy. The cremation of the drowned Bysshe Shelley on August 15. And how his heart had refused to burn thoroughly. And how his friend Trelawny had snatched the heart from the fire (burning his hand in the process). And how the Shelleys’ friend Leigh Hunt claimed the heart. (Mary was not present.) About how Mary, learning of the heart’s existence, asked Hunt to give it to her. About how he refused. About how Mary got Lord Byron to intervene. About how Mary kept that heart the rest of her life. About how her son, Percy Florence Shelley, discovered it after her death with his poem “Adonais.” About how he arranged to have it buried with her in Bournemouth. About how I stood at the Shelleys’ tomb in 1999. And thought about all of this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A New Blog on the Block

Later today, I'll be launching yet another blog--my third--on Blogspot. I have decided to divorce myself from Facebook (for the nonce? forever?) and will be using this new blog--Stained with Variation (a line from the Bard's Henry IV, Part One)--to be the new home for some of the stuff I used to put on Facebook

  • ruminations on words
  • observations about the birthdays/death days/achievements of writers who have meant something to me (with help from Writer's Almanac)
  • links to news stories that interested me
  • photos of various things--from family to travels, etc.
  • snippets of thoughts, from quirky to ridiculous
  • brief memories
  • things that look like poems
  • etc.
I've been "under the weather" in recent days (a nearly week-long battle with a Determined Enemy), but I'm feeling a little better the last day or two ... so ... here we go.

Stained with Variation will generally appear at the end of the day, after all the clutter has settled. Hope you find it amusing/interesting/ whatever.

Here are the links to the other two blogs I'm writing:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 127

1. AOTW: Parking lot of the health club. I have finished my workout. Am in the car. Ready to back out and go home. I pull partway back. See a car coming along the lot driveway. Pause to let the AOTW get by. But. The AOTW stops right behind me. Sits there. Can see me. Can see my backup lights. Sits there. Waits. Here comes her daughter (?), a girl about 10, sauntering across the lot to get in Mom's (?) car. She gets in. They chat a bit. Then slowly move on, allowing me--at last!--to finish backing out. Cursing the AOTW all the way home.

2. Despite an illness later in the week (during which I did nothing except sleep and stagger to the bathroom and kitchen now and then), I did manage, earlier in the week, to finish a couple of books.

     * Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach (2016). I'd actually begun the book in late August, but then put it aside to do some necessary research on Frances "Fanny" Wright for my endless book about Mary Shelley, which I've been serializing here since, oh, 1998 (Frankenstein Sundae). I picked Roach up again in mid-October and finally finished on November 7.

I love Roach's work. I had the opportunity to review her book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013) for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and, to prepare, I read her other books about the human body. She is a fearless researcher--seemingly unembarrassed about anything (and I mean anything).

Grunt deals with research conducted (mostly) by the military on such things as clothing, diarrhea at the battlefront (!), perspiration, the effects of explosions on the human body, and so on. She went around, interviewed, participated, ruminated, waxed wise (she can be very funny), and generally, as always, explored territory that other writers prefer to avoid.

     * The Ultimate Good Luck (1986) is the second novel by Richard Ford, whose complete works I'm now reading, in order of composition. It's a thriller that takes place in Mexico, where the brother of our protagonist's former wife has gotten himself in prison for drugs. Worse: The drug-dealer's source believes that Sonny (the brother) has been skimming. Enter our "hero," Harry Quinn, who agrees to try to bribe folks to get the brother out of prison. Twists. Turns. Surprises. Violence. It reminded me a bit of a raw Elmore Leonard novel. Quinn is a vet of the Vietnam War and--to quote Liam Neeson--"has some skills." Don't want to say how it turns out, but--let's say--not everyone emerges in good shape by the end.

Rapid, exciting prose.

3. We've been streaming the latest season of Luther, the Brit TV series about a hard-nosed Brit detective (played by the amazing Idris Elba). This (short) season is grim--about a serial killer cum cannibal whom the cops are relentlessly pursuing, hoping to interrupt/prevent his next meal.

The Luther series is so intense that Wussy Dan can watch only about 15-20 minutes at a time before shifting to something less ... stressful (like an episode of The Rockford Files, a series I've seen in its entirety about a dozen times--or more). Link to trailer for Luther.

I find I'm having the same I-can't-take-the-stress experience with the Hulu series based on Stephen King's 11/22/63, a novel about the Kennedy assassination that I recently finished. Even though I know what is going to happen, I still get hyper-diaper as I watch and have to switch to Rockford after about fifteen minutes. Link to trailer for series.

4. Lousy birthday this year. On Thursday morning (the day before) I took our 2010 Corolla in for service at Don Joseph in Kent, felt a little weird, and by the time I was home, I knew a Sibling of Death had arrived to take over my life. Down in bed I went, and down I stayed the rest of Thursday, all of Friday (my birthday!), most of Saturday, until the Sibling of Death finally got bored with The Rockford Files and left in despair.

We'd had to cancel a dinner at Dontino's with our son and his family (grrrrr), and, I suppose, we'll have a make-up date down the road. Though Thanksgiving is approaching, so we'll probably not. I had let everyone know, by the way, that I want no presents for the rest of my life (and I mean it), and all generously acceded to my wishes. Except for Joyce. Who ignores me. Spoils me. Gives me things I didn't even know I needed/wanted.

5. Some Last Words from the Various Word-a-Day Online Services I Subscribe To.

     * from the Oxford English Dictionary 
opuscule, n.    A small work; esp. a short or minor literary or musical work.
Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Etymons: French opuscule; Latin opusculum.
Etymology: <  Middle French, French opuscule small work (1488) or its etymon classical Latin opusculum opusculum n.; compare -cule suffix. Compare later opuscle n. Compare Italian opuscolo (14th cent.).
c1530  R. Whitford(title) Here foloweth .ii. opuscules or smale werkes of Saynt Bonauenture.
1656  T. Blount Glossographia, Opuscule, a little work, a little labor.
1777  T. Twining Let. 30 Aug. (1991) I. 137 Have you heard any more of Mr. Mason's projected opuscule about Music?
a1851  in  Thackeray Christmas Bks.(1872) 127 To put forth certain opuscules, denominated ‘Christmas Books’.
1885 Bookseller July 649/1 His customers refused to pay a shilling for a tiny opuscule which should have been sold for sixpence.
1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 550/2 The opuscule (4th century) known as Alexandri magni iter ad Paradisum, a fable of Eastern origin directed against ambition.
1975 Times Lit. Suppl. 19 Dec. 1508/3 Frederick Forsyth has taken a rest from his blockbusting semi-documentaries to throw off this pleasing opuscule about a young RAF pilot flying home from Germany at Christmas.
1991 Jrnl. Islamic Stud. 2 191 In various fragments and opuscules Pascal outlined two different ways of reaching the truth.

    * from dictionary.com

syncretism (noun): noun  \SING-kri-tiz-uh m, SIN-\
1. the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.
2. Grammar. the merging, as by historical change in a language, of two or more categories in a specified environment into one, as, in nonstandard English, the use of was with both singular and plural subjects, while in standard English was is used with singular subjects (except for you in the second person singular) and were with plural subjects.
This artful procedure was known as syncretism, from a Greek word meaning something like "joining together." One of the champions of syncretism had been Mahatma Gandhi, who never went anywhere without his three sacred books: the Koran for Islam, the Gospels for Christianity, and the Bhagavad Gita for Hinduism.
-- Catherine Clément, Theo's Odyssey, translated by Steve Cox and Ros Schwartz, 1999 
Origin of syncretism
Syncretism comes from New Latin syncrētismus, from Greek synkrētismós, "union of Cretan cities against a common foe" and first appears in Plutarch's Moralia in the first century A.D. It entered English in the early 1600s.