Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, December 31, 2016


The other day, cleaning up the Holiday pots and pans, I got to thinking about pots and pans. And what they mean ... what they represent.

When Joyce and I married in December 1969, we got soume assorted pots and pans from various friends and family members. It was in the days before wedding registries (well, for the likes of us), well before the Internet days. The pans we got were all of the latest "hot" brand for the middle class, a brand, of course, I can't recall.

[Pause for a Google search.]

[About a minute later.]

Farberware. That was the name. And as I looked at the online photographs, I realize that we do have a couple of pieces remaining from our "wedding set": an electric frying pan (which we still use now and again), a covered pot (ditto). See below!

[Pause while I go find and photograph them.]

[A couple of minutes later.]

Another odd coincidence: I'd forgotten that we stored the cooking pot on top of the electric frying pan in our crowded cupboards. (And I also found another wedding gift we still have and use--a hand mixer, green, a Sunbeam Mixmaster, a gift from my grandmother Osborn. Forty-seven years ago. Still works. Nary a repair.)

Nowadays we use the frying pan mostly to brown the turkey sausage we use on pizza--and in omelets. (My parents used theirs for about everything--from hamburgers to scrambled eggs, to buckwheat pancakes, one of my dad's specialties.) The pot we now use almost exclusively for mashing potatoes.

We had a lot of Farberware (and Corning Ware) back in the day (we still have a single piece of Corning--for nostalgia's sake). But times changed, and we began acquiring new cookware--All-Clad, which we love. They have a great exchange policy, too: If something fails, they replace it, free of charge--no matter how old. (We know this is more than mere words: We've done it a couple of times.)

Anyway ... back to what I was thinking about when I was cleaning pots and pans after Holiday events. We all reach a point--if we live long enough--when we no longer use such things. My grandmother Osborn (she of the green Mixmaster gift) had, at the end of her 80 years of life (May 1978), the same pots and pans that I remembered from my earliest boyhood. I don't know how much cooking she was doing by then (she lived in a multi-stage retirement community in Columbia, Missouri), but when we went out there for her funeral, there they were--spic and span, by the way (Grandma!)--and stacked neatly where they had been since she'd moved there. I think we donated them to Goodwill or something. All I know is that I don't have any of them.

When my mom moved into her stages-of-care place in 2000 (I think that was the year), she took her pots and pans with her, stored them in her kitchenette in her "independent living" apartment--and very, very rarely used them thereafter. I think we donated them all to Goodwill, as well, when she made her move into assisted living a few years later.

Now, at 97, she cannot remember how to use the microwave that's in her place. I don't think she ever even looks in her little refrigerator. When he visits, my younger brother often cleans it out, disposing of the leftovers and food-gifts that Mom's caretakers have placed there to turn green.

So ... the other day ... cleaning our own pots and pans ... I started to think about that day when we will no longer use them, that day which once seemed impossibly far away and now looms darkly on the near horizon, looms and leers with all the sneering cruelty of a playground bully, a bully who knows he can take you. And will.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 269

I mentioned a bit earlier that in the spring of 1997 I could not find a copy of Perkin Warbeck—well, not one that was reasonably priced (viz., a copy that I could afford). So I had to use inter-library loan. Times have changed. The advent of e-books and print-on-demand have now made so many things accessible that were inaccessible then.
I just searched on Amazon.com, using “Shelley, Mary” and “Perkin Warbeck”—and, immediately, up popped a wide array of formats—nearly twenty different “publications.” On Kindle, for example, I can get all six of Mary’s novels for 99 cents. And there are myriads of print-on-demand copies, as well. And on Google I just found an assortment of e-texts of the novel, as well. Free. (Link to one of them.)
But back in the late 1990s I was, like a junkie, buying actual books by and about Mary Shelley—books about her family, her acquaintances, her times, her culture. Hell, I have a thick book about carriages in the Regency era. Another about burial practices. Others about London. And on and on and on and on.
Let’s state the obvious: Money was surging out more quickly than it was trickling in. But, heedless, I realized in the late 1990s that I “needed” to buy the eight -volume scholarly set of Mary’s novels and travel books, published by Pickering & Chatto in London. (See picture below.) I just checked our home library database and discovered that I paid $819.99 for the set.[1] An irresponsible purchase. I was living on my teacher’s retirement and Joyce’s professor’s salary at Hiram College. Debts were mounting.
So by 2001 I knew I was going to have to do something. So I took a part-time job teaching English at Western Reserve Academy. And, yes, there was, at first, a mercenary motive (I can pay off my book debts!), but it was not very long before I fell in love with teaching all over again, and the next thing I knew it was June 2011, and I was retiring—again. And a decade had flown by like a songbird that lingered too long in northeastern Ohio and was winging his way south with all the desperate urgency of self-preservation. (I know: overlong and extended and forced metaphor. Tough.)

my set of Shelley novels

[1] I cannot find the exact date I pulled that expensive trigger. Sigh. Also, I just checked on ABE.com and could not find a complete set currently for sale (December 30, 2016). You can still buy them directly from Pickering & Chatto: $116 per volume!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Richard Adams, RIP

The Adams' books still on our shelf
I don't remember exactly how Richard Adams' Watership Down (1972) entered my life, but as I sieve the runoff of memory today, I think my mother told me about the novel--my mom, a secondary-school English teacher who'd only recently (1966) given up that career and moved out to Des Moines, Iowa, where she and Dad had taken positions at Drake University.

I'd just emerged from an adolescence-long refusal to listen to my mom (after all, what do adults know?!!?). I was married late in 1969, and in July 1972 we had a son. (Watership Down appeared in December 1972). The following summer we visited my folks in Des Moines, and by that time I'd read--rather, devoured--the novel, the fantasy about a group of rabbits and their amazing world. But in the summer of 1973, in Des Moines, my younger brother, Dave, who was also visiting, had not yet finished reading the book. Sibling Heaven! Unlike the actual heaven, Sibling Heaven is a place of eternal torment!

I still remember this exchange: He was out on our parents' sun porch at their home (3500 Wakonda Court), lying on a chaise lounge, frantically trying to finish the book. I wandered out and said, "Let me tell you how it ends."

He looked up at me with a pure ferocity and said, "If you do, I'll kill you."

I detected not the faintest whisper of irony or facetiousness in that remark. I didn't tell him the end; I'm still alive.

In later years, Dave, my wife, and I (and, even later, my son) used terms from the novel--like silflay (eat) and hraka (droppings)--in our everyday conversations. I just found a website with many of the terms and their definitions: link to site. I still use silflay now and then ...

And for a while, Watership Down was a huge publishing success--all over the world. His subsequent novels--most of them--did all right but nothing like the rabbit book. I bought most of them, read most of those. In the picture above you can see them, still high on a shelf.

(Missing, however, is Watership Down, which we recently sold. Sigh.)

As I look now at his Wikipedia entry, I see Adams wrote quite a few books that I've not heard of. I had sort of drifted away, I guess--found other downs to roam. But I did read the ones you see pictured above.

And then, on Christmas Eve this year, came news of his death at 96--news that was absolutely overwhelmed by the death that same day of Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame. I do not in any way wish to diminish her cultural importance, but in his day, Adams was quite a phenomenon. (Link to Adams' New York Times obituary.) But these days it seems there are few things more evanescent than literary fame. Most of my high school students in my later teaching years had never heard of Norman Mailer, Thomas Berger, James Purdy, Philip Roth--among the literary heroes of my young manhood. And as the novel-reading population continues to diminish, even wildly popular writers of an earlier day--like Adams--fade into invisibility.

So it goes (as another soon-to-be-forgotten literary hero of mine, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., said throughout his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five).

So ... RIP, Richard Adams (1920-2016), a year younger than my mother, who introduced me to his exciting novel.

When I got the news of his death, by the way, I rapidly composed a bit of doggerel in his honor, doggerel which I promptly posted on Facebook. In the lines I tried to get the running of rabbits in the rhythm, but, hey, it's doggerel, so let's not dignify it too much!

For Richard Adams

There was news from the rabbits on Watership Down—
And it spread through the country, through city and town—
Then it spread through all countries—through all of their parts—
And it spread most of all through the world’s broken hearts.

The creator is dead! Richard Adams is gone!
In the houses of readers dark curtains are drawn—
In the woods there were eulogies—rabbits and bears—
And poor Lee’s sentient horse soon unloaded his cares.

Oh, it’s true that he lived a long time—ninety-six!
And it’s true that he’d lost his bright narrative tricks.
But he doesn’t live only on library shelves—
No, he lives in our memories—inside of ourselves.

So fierce Shardik is weeping—such torrents of tears.
And poor Fiver and Hazel have such drooping ears.
While old Traveler is pawing the dark Southern ground—
And his neighing produces a deep mournful sound.

And so many sad readers—like you and like me—
Find ourselves on the Down with a fond memory.
We’re dismayed he is gone—but it’s my deep belief
That his words and his books will impoverish grief.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 268

Mary begins Perkin Warbeck at a high point (or low, depending on your politics)—the end of the Battle of Bosworth Field, 22 August 1485 (immortalized by the Bard—that image of the unhorsed Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse).[1] Three of the losers are galloping away. They split; others come together; they arrive in London, believing that the King’s two nephews in the Tower are dead. But! One of the boys has been rescued. And so the story gallops along—and Mary, remember, declares in her Preface to the novel that Perkin was, in reality the lost Duke of York.[2]
Through three volumes of Perkin we travel and encounter the internecine politics, the betrayals, the relationships-that-shouldn’t-be—the sort of stuff that’s now so common on popular television series.
After about 350 pages, Richard (“Perkin”) surrenders; his captors take him to the palace at Westminster. He escapes—for a bit. Is betrayed. Re-captured. Placed in the stocks. Right before he’s taken to his beheading, he meets with his beloved wife, Katherine: One long, affectionate kiss he pressed on the mouth of Katherine, and as her roseate lips yet asked another, another and another followed; their lives mingled with their breath.[3]
Years later, Katherine (in Mary’s “Conclusion”) speaks with an acquaintance. Call it love, charity, or sympathy, she says; it is the best, the angelic portion of us. It teaches us to feel pain at others’ pain, join in their joy. The more entirely we mingle our emotions with those of others, making our well or ill being depend on theirs, the more completely do we cast away selfishness, and approach the perfection of our nature. … I must love and be loved. … Permit this to be, unblamed—permit a heart whose sufferings have been, and are, so many and so bitter, to reap what joy it can from the strong necessity it feels to be sympathized with—to love.[4]
As I read these words again today—December 28, 2016—I am nearly overwhelmed by their enduring relevance. Feeling the suffering and joy of others (making it your own)—this is a human quality so absent in our polarized political world today. We seem to be sacrificing empathy for judgment, for censure and condemnation. Mary Shelley would be deeply disappointed in us. 

[1] Many of us were thrilled in recent years when, in September 2012, the bones of Richard III were found beneath a parking lot, a lot where once stood a church in Leicester.
[2] Perkin Warkbeck, 5.
[3] Ibid., 394.
[4] Ibid., 398–400.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Coffee, anyone?

I haven't always liked coffee. When I was a kid and my mom and dad (and their friends) drank it, I thought it was gross (though that word, gross, was not yet in my vocabulary of disdain). It smelled bad, and I bet that it tasted bad, too. (I was not one of those indulged children whose parents let them drive the car, sip wine, etc. before the Legal Age arrived. Coffee, they told me, was for adults.)

It was not until college that I drank my first cup of coffee. I realized, after only a few weeks in college, that I was now a sophisticated fellow--wise in the ways of the world, wiser, of course, than my parents or any other adult. I was nineteen years old. So ... a number of my friends drank coffee in college, looking very adult and with-it while doing so, so, of course, I, surrendering to Peer Pressure, joined them.

I did not, of course, consider it "Peer Pressure" at the time (probably didn't even know that expression); I considered it a decision, freely made by the new Adult Me.

And with my first taste, I thought coffee was horrible, an opinion I dared not share with my friends, who sucked it down like the nectar of the gods. I gradually grew more and more used to it, grimly forcing it down ...

... I should add that in college I also smoked my first cigarettes and drank my first beer--also decisions I made--adult decisions--not, you know, Peer Pressure. (I hated both of them as well, at first. And was beginning to wonder if all this Adult Stuff was not at all what I had imagined it would be.)

I smoked on through college and into my first few years of teaching, then quit (fairly easily, actually--no addiction, thank goodness) right before our son was born in July 1972. I quit drinking beer in the summer of 1993 when I was in training to go to the Yukon to climb the Chilkoot Pass. Again, it was easy for me (I'd never been a big drinker, though sometimes a stupid one--is that redundant?), and I haven't had a drop of alcohol since. Haven't missed it at all. And my brain cells have thanked me every day. I was lucky, not especially virtuous.

But coffee has remained.I drank it all through college, sucked it down throughout my 45-year teaching career (took it to class with me at Western Reserve Academy--though I don't think I did it during my middle school years--maybe some students remember otherwise); I still make two coffee shop visits a day, one early in the morning, one after lunch (though I drink only about 1.5 cups at each visit); on cold days--especially--I make it at home, lately in a Keurig. Decaf in the evenings now and then.

Oh, at WRA? I taught 11th grade English (American lit + Hamlet), and I had a special coffee cup made for each writer we studied during the year--his/her face or book(s) adorning the cup.) I've donated most of them to WRA and to the Open Door Coffee Co., my current morning hangout.

One coffee story I'll quit with. Years ago--before Starbucks had spread to every corner in America--I had been in Seattle for some Jack London research (so this had to be the early 1990s), and there I bought Uncle John (one of my dad's younger brothers) a bag of ground Starbucks beans. I flew on a small plane into Walla Walla, Washington (where they lived), landing in what appeared from the air to be a wheat field. The WW airport was a bit like a rural turnpike plaza, though smaller. My uncle and some other relatives were waiting for me. Inside, I saw (to my surprise) a Starbucks kiosk. As we walked by, my uncle gestured toward it and said, "I hate that stuff."

I took the bag home with me.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 267

To acquire a reading copy of Mary's 1830 novel, Perkin Warbeck, I employed the services of my wife, Joyce, who was teaching at Hiram College at the time. Through interlibrary loan, she found me a copy, and I see in my journal that on May 12, 1997, Joyce delivered Perkin to me when she got home from work that Monday afternoon. I began reading it a few days later, and I see in my journal that I started it at the McDonald’s in Aurora, Ohio; we were living there at the time, and it had become my customary spot for early-morning reading—a fairly easy walk from our home on (appropriately) Pioneer Trail. Black coffee and Mary Shelley.
Several coincidences appear in my journal, as well. I see that the interlibrary loan copy had come from Wittenberg (Ohio) University—Joyce’s alma mater (she’d graduated in 1969; we met about a month later in a Kent State University classroom; we married just five months after that!). In a less relevant coincidence: My father had been in Wittenberg, Germany, during World War II. Wittenberg—just about 300 miles northeast of Castle Frankenstein.[1]
And the third coincidence? Hang on a bit. First, my final entry on Perkin: 29th: Up at 8; raining, so drove to McD’s to read a couple of chaps of PW; home: fussed with computer; finished PW; found myself in tears as Katherine and Perkin bid farewell; her grief is so clearly the grief of MWS at the loss of [Bysshe] Shelley & her children; made me want to find out more about Warbeck, the historical figure; typed final notes …
As you can see, I was already noticing in these, the early months of my Mary Shelley research and reading, that she was infusing her fiction with emotions that she had experienced most painfully herself—something many (most) writers do, of course. Our emotional oceans, formed of tears, are full of fictional creatures that flourish in such waters and require some effort to coax to the surface, where we can see and identify—and employ—them. Over and over Mary wrote about the things she knew most: hope and loss and love and loss and ambition and loss. She knew—far too early—that life is not so much about acquiring as it is about losing.
I still have those notes I typed into my computer on Perkin Warbeck back in the spring of 1997. Fourteen single-space pages in a smallish font. So … how about a quick summary of the story—as Mary conceived and wrote it?

[1] Dad had also told me that some fellow GI’s had gone up to the University and printed Ph.D. degrees for themselves.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 123

1. AOTW: No one. Let's be generous. It's Christmas Day.

2. We've started watching (streaming on Acorn TV) an Australian detective series--The Brokenwood Mysteries (we've seen only 2 1/2 episodes so far--several years of episodes lie ahead of us). At first, we thought it was going to be a Down Under version of Midsomer Murders (the long-running mediocre detective series from England--all gajillion episodes of which we have, of course, streamed, complaining all the while). And there are some similarities. But the acting is better; there is some humor (!!!), some self-deprecation, some awareness by the writers that this should be fun, as well. So ... we're gonna keep going with it. (Link to some video.) We're also having fun (sort of) wrestling with the Australian accent: Sometimes the meaning of entire conversations eludes me! But I'm ... catching on (I guess).

3. I finished a couple of books this week, and the first involves some personal embarrassment.

     - A couple of years ago I reviewed (for the Cleveland Plain Dealer) a new novel by Siri Hustvedt, a writer of both fiction and non- , a writer I admire very much. The novel is The Blazing World (Simon & Schuster, 2014).  (Link to my review.)

A week or so ago I was reading some other book that alluded to The Blazing World--but not to Hustvedt's book but to a work by Margaret Cavendish from 1666. Uh oh. I just this moment re-read my review and saw that I did mention Cavendish's work in my review--but not because I knew it--not because I'd read it. I was going on what Hustvedt herself had said in her own novel.

I said "Uh oh" a second ago, and this is a feeling I've had more than once after a review of mine has appeared--a realization that I'd missed something. Sometimes I realized it, alone, late at night, sometimes in someone else's review (I never read other people's reviews before mine is done and filed), sometimes--as in this case--when I've read something else.

So ... I hopped on Amazon, ordered a copy of Cavendish's (short) book, and read it last week--and wished to High Heaven that I'd done so earlier--like, uh, before I wrote the review of Hustvedt's book. Oh, I was full of praise for Hustvedt's work--but I missed something key. And that is not a pleasant feeling.

Cavendish's book is not easy to read. It's dense, not just in text but in presentation. Pages go by without paragraph breaks. But it's an astonishing work that in ways predicts the concept from contemporary physics about multiple universes. There are, learns our protagonist, "more numerous worlds than the stars" (104).

At the beginning of the novel a young woman is kidnapped and taken to ... the North Pole, where she escapes when the others freeze to death. She ends up in ... another place. Where she meets and marries the Emperor and where she commences her education in these other worlds--and in their inhabitants.

And, slyly, Cavendish inserts herself in the story: The Empress calls on her for help now and then.

Well, there is much, much more to this book, and I'll not carry on about it. Still in print. Still easily available and reasonably priced. But ... patience is a virtue in the reading of her book.

     - I also finished Richard Ford's 1990 novel, Wildlife, the fifth book by Ford (I'm reading them all--in order). And this one, too, is something special. The narrator, Joe, is telling us about a period of his life (1960) when he was sixteen in Great Falls, Montana, where he, his dad, and mom are living--and not fitting in. Dad is an itinerant golf pro working at the local club; Mom is a bookkeeper, substitute teacher--whatever's needed. And Joe? A young man who has no friends in town (they've just moved there), a young man who displays in his tale an astonishing lack of affect. He doesn't seem to feel too much--he observes, goes along.

His parents' marriage is falling apart. Dad loses his job and heads off to fight a raging local forest fire; Mom almost immediately hooks up with another guy; Joe watches, records. A fire is an appropriate image--for flames, metaphorical and actual--are dancing across these pages--and in the lives of these folks. And there's a fiery conclusion.

A bit earlier we have a typical Ford moment. Dad is back from the fire-fighting; he has learned his wife is cheating ...

"I don't know what makes life hold together at all," he said. He did not seem as mad now, only very unhappy. I felt sorry for him.
"I know," my mother said. "I don't either. I'm sorry." (141)

Ford--like so many recent writers I admire--has the gift of being able to float through time, back and forth, and never lose his readers. And getting right to the fiery heart of all in just the fewest, most wrenching words.

4. Last Words: From my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from Wordsmith.org

dubiety  (doo-BY-i-tee, dyoo-)
noun: Doubtfulness or uncertainty.
ETYMOLOGY: If you’re experiencing dubiety, you are of two minds, etymologically speaking. From Latin dubius (wavering), from duo (two). Ultimately from the Indo-European root dwo- (two) that also gave us dual, double, doubt, diploma (literally, folded in two), twin, between, redoubtable, and didymous. Earliest documented use: 1750. Remove the initial letter and you get ubiety.

USAGE: “For starters, individuals can exercise healthy dubiety, especially when an opportunity sounds too good to be true (spoiler: it probably is). “Trust but Verify”; Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah); Oct 31, 2016.

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary

legicide, n.1
  The action or an act of destroying or undermining the authority of the law; (also) the act of defeating or preventing the passage of a particular piece of legislation.
Origin:A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin lēgi-, lēx, -cide comb. form2.
Etymology: <  classical Latin lēgi-, alternative stem of lēx law (see legal adj.) + -cide comb. form2, originally after regicide n.2
 Chiefly N. Amer. in later use.
1641 Answere to Earle of Straffords Oration 3 A very easie honesty and common morality might have..warn'd him from this plague of Legicide.
1839 Judicial Decisions on Writ of Habeas Corpus 10 If rebellion has killed the law in another part of the province, it cannot be charged with the legicide in the District of Three-Rivers.
1875  A. G. Riddle Alice Brand xlii. 271 They were driven to that unallowable legicide of impeaching some of their own witnesses.
1902 Atlanta (Georgia) Constit. 19 Nov., The head of the appropriations committee..can well afford to plead ‘justifiable legicide’.
1935 El Paso (Texas) Herald-Post 23 Dec. 4/1 These acts of the lower courts come pretty near being what Prof. Thomas Reed Powell of Harvard law school calls ‘judicial legicide’.
1978 Titusville (Pa.) Herald 5 Oct. 4/4 He..accused the bill's opponents of attempting legicide on the measure.
2002  L. Gaston in  T. Linafelt Shadow of Glory x. 128 There could eventually be a connection between legicide and genocide.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sound & Sense 2

Just this moment I uploaded to KindleDirect the 2nd volume of doggerel based on homophones, pieces that I wrote from September 1 to December 1. Also included are some other doggerel (most of which appeared earlier on Facebook) and some of what I call "wolferel"--see explanation below.

The book will be available later today on Amazon--for the staggering price of $2.99, the lowest price Amazon allows for such things. I know the value of my doggerel!

Anyway--a little taste: The Foreword ...

dear niece and nephew.




Who knew?
Not all that long ago I commenced a series of poems—okay, doggerel—exploring the phenomenon of the homophone, a word that sounds like another but is spelled differently (like one and won). I filled an earlier volume with them (Sound and Sense) and have now filled another—but (it’s okay here to sigh with relief) the end is now visible. Light at the end of the tunnel and all that. (Every now and then a cliché is the best way!)
I should acknowledge that I found a wonderful list of homophones on the web (link), and if you check out that site, you will see that I have not used nearly all of them. So … be grateful for favors of any dimension. I chose homophones that seemed to me to offer opportunities for a quick story—one, I hoped, that would allow for some humor, as well—or, maybe, some groans.
I have not included all the ones I originally wrote for the simple reason that some of them, well, sucked. So if you think the ones in this volume are problematic, just imagine the ones I did not include! If you are masochistic and want to see them all, they’re available on my blog Daily Doggerel (dailydoggerels.blogspot.com).
I’ve also included two other (smaller) sections in this volume. One I call “Desultory Doggerel,” which features light (very light) verse on assorted subjects, all originally appearing as Facebook posts for my FB friends. (Again, not all are here: Some deserve death by inattention.) The subjects vary from holidays to dead animals on the road. A pretty impressive range, wouldn’t you say? Almost … poetical?
The final category I call “Wolferel” (a word I’m proud to have coined).  These are doggerel that aspire to Poetry but don’t quite make it. So … they’re a little more robust, less tame and civilized, than doggerel, but they still cannot convince the officers guarding the gates at the Land of Poetry to swing wide those gates. (I’ve tried bribery and other forms of dishonesty. Hasn’t worked thus far. Maybe I should try good old-fashioned hard work? … Nah. Violence is easier.)
Careful readers (are there any other kind?) will notice that there are some missing dates here. This occurs for two reasons: (1) I didn’t do a post that day (illness, lethargy); (2) I did post a doggerel that day, but it was so … doggerel … that I took that dog to the pound, though I knew there were precious few who would adopt such a creature.[1]
A reading suggestion. These lines are like pretzels and potato chips. One or two—even a handful—can be fun. But eating the whole bag in one sitting is never a good idea. You hate yourself afterwards. Read these lines accordingly!

Daniel Dyer
November 30, 2016

[1] Yes, the word can be both a noun and an adjective.

We Were Not a Christmas Eve Family ... Back When ...

We were not a Christmas Eve family when I was growing up. We were a Christmas Day family. I had a few boyhood friends (weirdos, all) whose family tradition involved opening presents on Christmas Eve. And I knew of others (less weirdo, but still weirdo) who got to open one present on Christmas Eve. And--oh!--the anxiety they faced! Should they go for the Big One the night before? Or settle for something that is probably a package of thank-you notes from Grandma? Fortunately, I never had to face such an existential crisis.

Later, of course, I grew more and more aware of the folly of assuming that my family traditions were the right (moral, correct, Jesus-blessed) ones and those of other families were the wrong (immoral, incorrect, Satan-blessed) ones.

Once I got married (December 20, 1969), I had to grow more ... flexible. When we were first married, my parents lived in Des Moines, Iowa, 700 miles from our apartment in Kent, Ohio. Joyce's parents were just a half-hour away in Akron's Firestone Park. Joyce and I sort of settled on spending one of the two major holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with my family, one with hers--though it didn't always work out that way.

When our son got married in 1999, it was a bit more complicated. His wife's family lived mostly in the Youngstown area, so Steve and his wife and children have sometimes bounced around, visiting both families on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. They love having a big Christmas morning at their own house, and I think that's great. Memories the kids will never forget. Occasionally, Steve, et al. will drive to Becket, Mass., where my brothers and Mom are (she's in nearby Lenox); sometimes we're there, sometimes not. As I've gotten older (and on an energy-sapping med), we've driven out there fewer and fewer times; it's about 550 miles, somewhat beyond me these days, I fear. And the unreliable weather ... and the Wuss Factor.

Anyway, in a few hours we will be a Christmas Eve family. Steve, Melissa, Logan, and Carson are coming over late in the afternoon for supper and Opening. And, really, seeing them is the only gift I can't wait to open.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 266

I began keeping a journal—pretty much every day—in January 1997 after I retired from public-school teaching. Thank goodness. All of it appears in Word documents, so I can quickly find things—like, oh, Perkin Warbeck. In late April 1997 I was trying to find a copy of Perkin Warbeck—and was not having much luck. On April 28, I wrote: tried to order from Amazon.com a copy of Perkin Warbeck, the next novel; I may be forced to go to CPL [Cleveland Public Library] to read their non-circulating copy and take notes there—can’t find a copy at Powell’s [the Portland, Oregon, bookstore] or on Bibliofind. So I emailed Amazon.com
On April 30, I got a reply. And, from my journal: e-mail from Amazon.com: Perkin Warbeck sold only as part of a $700 set (I declined); must now order it via interlibrary loan—or go to CPL and read their reference copy.
As I look at that entry from April 30, I see something that I’ve forgotten. Well, not an event that has slipped out of memory—but the date it occurred. It was on that day that I received a call from the National Forest Service. I had emailed them about running down a bit of family history. My dad, who’d grown up in Oregon, had always told the story about how, as a young man, he’d climbed Mt. Hood (near Portland) with some friends—on a lark. He told us that at the summit they’d found a shack with a log book, which they’d all dutifully signed. Father’s Day was approaching, so I’d decided to pursue the story. Dad was seventy-four that year and was slipping a bit—some small strokes had slowed him. He was using a walker. No more Mt. Hoods for him.
Anyway, the Forest Service had found that old logbook, and, eventually, they located the specific date of his ascent—and sent me a photocopy of the relevant register page. August 9, 1937. Dad had been only twenty-four years old. I’d found an old photograph of the summit—with the cabin (which, the Forest Service told me, had long ago blown away in a storm)—framed it for Dad with the page from the register.[1] And on February 4, 2012, I reproduced that piece in my blog. http://dawnreader.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-father-and-mt-hood-1937.html
Which all, of course, is immensely relevant to Perkin Warbeck.

[1] Later, I published a piece about all of this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Mt. Hood: My Father’s Mountain,” June 15, 1997.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bakery, 2

A few days ago, I wrote about how the pleasures of my life have ... mellowed as I've gotten older. No more all-day work-up baseball games, no more 3-on-3 in the gym after hours, no more 6-mile runs around Hudson. Etc.

Instead, as I said, I bake. Not nearly so aerobic but lots better tasting.

I didn't bake much when I was growing up. Then, in my denseness, I thought that sort of thing was, you know, what girls did. Though both my brothers and I liked to bake those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that came (and still come) in a tube. As I've written before, there were eight rolls per tube; there were three boys. Do the math. There were a few ... conflicts about who got three and who didn't. (Dividing them evenly, with a knife, was never a possibility.)

And I tried a pie now and then, never with much success. I have no idea, by the way, why I baked a pie now and then. I'm guessing it had something to do with the bottomless adolescent hunger ... for all sorts of things.

After I got married (December 20, 1969), I started baking bread strictly because of penury. Joyce had a grad assistantship at Kent State (not a massive amount, as I'm sure you can imagine), and I was still making less than $10,000 a year as a full-time middle school teacher. So ... baking bread was cheaper, plain and simple.

I used the recipe right out of one of the old cookbooks I'd inherited from Mom when I got married. Dry yeast. Warm water. Salt. Sugar. Pillsbury white flour. The first loaves were a disaster (there were a few bad words, I would guess). But I gradually caught on. And soon I was making loaves of bread about every week. I don't know that we've bought any bread since then.

I gradually grew more ... adventurous ... and added whole wheat flour. And honey instead of sugar. Wild stuff, you know?

But my baking really took off and became a full-blown obsession when I acquired some sourdough starter up in Skagway, Alaska, when my son and I went there in the summer of 1986 to check out both some family history and some Jack London sites (one of my great-grandfathers had gone on the Klondike Gold Rush--and left a diary, which I now have, courtesy of Uncle Clark and my dad).

Anyway, after a couple of early disasters with the sourdough I figured it out (pretty much--still an occasional disaster when I get too ... cocky). And ever since 1986 I've baked with it at least once a week--and gradually expanded my products: bread for daily use, biscuits, pizza dough, waffles, pancakes, sandwich rolls, muffins, Christmas tree-bread, cornbread, and some others.

I should add that I'm a practical baker--pragmatic. I rarely try anything too esoteric or odd. Basically, I'm a family servant whose assigned task is the baking.

Don't get me wrong. I love it. Wouldn't do it otherwise.

And I also bake non-sourdough products (baking-powder stuff)--mostly scones these days. (I eat one every morning at the coffee shop, alternating maple-pecan, cherry-walnut, and apricot-walnut for the most part.) I also like to make the cornbread recipe in the old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that my mom used to have. Stick to it strictly. Get that taste I remember.

And here's the damnedest thing I've discovered: I feel better on the days I bake. I feel, I guess, that I've done something useful. I've made our daily bread. Just as I've done since 1970 or so. When first I fell in love.

Even more--in these days of battling age and illness, I find that it ... heals.

***PS--I also clean up, all by myself!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 265

A little bit of a re-wind and an update. I mentioned in my last post that poor “Perkin Warbeck” (deluded? mad? power-hungry?), claiming to be the rightful King of England—not Henry VII—claiming that he was Edward, the younger of the two young princes (Richard III’s own nephews!), 12 and 9, whom Richard had ordered murdered in the summer of 1483 in the Tower of London—Perkin, invading England (more than once!) in failed attempts to seize the throne, was captured and hanged in 1499 at Tyburn near the Marble Arch. (Whew! Long sentence!)
A couple of additions and/or elaborations here. I visited the scene of that hanging during my 1999 journeys around Europe, visits to as many Mary-Shelley-related sites as I could cram into six weeks. I saw the Arch—and Tyburn—on May 5.
My journal, sadly, mentions only this—a list of sites I visited that day: 24 Chester Square [Mary’s final home—where she died]; Marble Arch-Tyburn; Bread Street [where Mary and Bysshe were married on December 30, 1816—but the Luftwaffe destroyed the building in World War II]; 14 North Bank [another residence]; Harrow School [where Mary’s son, Percy Florence went to school—as had, much earlier, Lord Byron]; 2 Nelson Square [another residence]; the Lyceum  and Theater Royal Haymarket; Royal Doulton.  Doesn’t sound like all that much, but it was pretty much eight solid hours of nonstop hustling.
What I didn’t mention in my journal is that I was taking pictures (35mm slides) with gleeful abandon, and I see in my folders of slides that I have some pictures of the Arch and of Tyburn. But when I checked, just now, I found there are only two—and both are very similar. So, what you see below are that slide as well as a couple of other images of Tyburn I “borrowed” from Google. Sigh.
But I also discovered, while a-Googling I was going, that there are some new investigations into the deaths of those two princes. Here’s a link to the entire story I found, but I can say, in general, that some other perps are in the picture now, including Henry VII himself.[1]

X marks the hanging spot

[1]The Independent, 21 August 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-princes-in-the-tower-will-the-ultimate-cold-case-finally-be-solved-after-more-than-500-years-10466190.html

Monday, December 19, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 264

Perkin Warbeck

The Last Man had appeared in January, 1826, and for the remainder of the year, Mary worked on shorter writing projects (stories, poems) and had great fun with her dear friend Jane Williams, who, as you will recall, was the widow of Edward Williams, who had drowned alongside Bysshe back in the summer of 1822. Mary greatly enjoyed Jane’s company. Trusted her implicitly. A mistake—as we’ll see.
As 1827 commenced, she had settled on Perkin Warbeck (?1475–1499) as the subject for her next novel. Warbeck, a figure now largely unknown to the general public, caught Mary’s fancy in the mid-1820s, and she read all she could about this murky historical figure.
In her scholarly edition of Perkin Warbeck, editor Doucent Devin Fischer tells us a bit about the historical Warbeck, a young man who claimed to be one of the two princes held in the Tower of London and murdered by order of Richard III.[1] Warbeck claimed that he’d escaped. Later, he raised supporters, invaded England more than once, hoping to overthrow Henry VII, who, he claimed, was not the legitimate heir to the throne. He, Warbeck, was.
But his final invasion floundered; he was captured; and, on November 23, 1499, authorities transported him to Tyburn, near the Marble Arch in contemporary London, where they summarily hanged him.
In her Preface to the novel, Mary confesses that she believed Warbeck’s claim: It is not singular, she wrote, that I should entertain a belief that Perkin was, in reality, the lost Duke of York.[2] She also says that she will not be sticking to rigorous fact—she will tell the story, try to make it exciting.
But early in 1827 family and personal issues emerged, issues that would slow her progress on the novel—that would break her heart. Yet again.

[1] The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, A Romance, vol. 5 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley (London: William Pickering, 1996).
[2] Ibid., 5.

The hanging of Perkin Warbeck.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 132

1. AOTW: Okay, this is a gender thing (I think?). Twice this week, in conversations between and among men, I noticed how little listening and question-asking goes on. The first I overheard in the men's locker room out at the health club. Two men were talking about the recent rough winter driving. Neither man listened to the other (or asked a single question). Both told their own stories, paused for breath while the other guy told his story. The storytelling, not listening or interacting, was #1 on the agenda of both. The second conversation I was involved in. A man came into the coffee shop and recognized furniture and things that had once been in the old Saywell's Drug Store here in Hudson, a place he'd not visited in decades. He wanted to talk and take pictures. He ended up talking with--no, at--me for a bit. I did ask him a few things (what a guy!), but for the most part he had no interest in my memories, just his own. So ... a male thing/ Or are women like this, too? (And, of course, not all men are like this ... but lots are.)

2. I finished three books this week ...

   - Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886) is a story I've known about for years. It's hard in our culture to avoid allusions to it. But as we were preparing some books in our library to sell online (we have several copies of J&H), I flipped through the one you see pictured and had this daunting realization: I've never read this! And so I did--at last.

It didn't take long--it's a novella, really. But I was really surprised by it, especially by its various narrative devices. This is no straight-forward tale with a single narrator but a multi-genre story with points-of-view shifting and with various documents presented as part of the narrative. Very cool.

Another surprise: There are really no explicit descriptions of the evil Mr. Hyde's deeds--we hear about them rather than see them. (Shakespeare was good at that: think of the death of Ophelia in Hamlet.) But by the time we get to the end, we've heard from a variety of characters, principally Dr. Jekyll himself who, in a terminal document, tells us about the experiments that led to the "arrival" of Mr. Hyde--the dark part of himself. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Dr. Jekyll did go over to the Dark Side. And it tore him apart.

An additional note: The copy I read is one that Joyce used to teach--and it is full of her underlinings and notations. Can I tell you how inexpressibly touching that was for me? In her pen marks I saw the workings of her mind ...

     - I also finished Richard Ford's 1987 short story collection, Rock Springs. As I've written here before, I am now working my way through all of Ford's work, in the order of publication. So this is the fourth. These stories all take place in the West (Montana, Wyoming) and involve characters who are dancing on the edge of American society--they are, as we say today, somewhat "off the grid." But they struggle for love, for understanding, for respect. They know their own weaknesses (all the stories but one are in the first person) but cannot seem to do much about them. They are gripped fiercely by their pasts--by their failures and disappointments.

Ford is one of the best I've ever read at ending a story. Some of the sentences/paragraphs are just dazzlers, and I want to give an example here from the second story in the volume, "Great Falls." The narrator, some years later, is telling us about his failed father, about an incident involving a gun that had stunned the young boy.

In the final paragraph he is talking about questions he asked, questions for which he never received answers.

But I have never known the answer to these questions, have never asked anyone their answers. Though possibly it--the answer--is simple: it is just low-life, some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain, makes our existence seem like a border between two nothings, and makes us no more or less than animals who meet on the road--watchful, unforgiving, without patience or desire. (49)


     - Finally--I finished a work of nonfiction by Michael Shelden: Melville in Love: The Secret Life of Herman Melville and the Muse of Moby-Dick (2016). I'd read (and admired) an earlier Shelden biography--Mark Twain: Man in White, The Grand Adventure of His Final Years (2010). As you can tell, Shelden is interested (lately) not in full biographies but in a key period in his subject's life.

In this case, it's 1850. Moby-Dick is in the works. Melville's masterpiece, a book that invariably appears at or near the top of lists of the greatest novels in American history. Shelden believes that Melville's passion during 1850-51 (and beyond) was not necessarily his neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne (to whom Moby-Dick is dedicated) but to a young, vibrant, bright, convention-busting woman named Sarah Morewood, whose husband had a summer place in the Berkshires, not far from the Melvilles' farm, Arrowhead, near Pittsfield (it's now open to the public).

There have been some recent works built on the notion that there was some homoerotic bond between Melville and Hawthorne (very explicitly in the recent novel, The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard), and there is no question--to judge from the surviving letters--that there was ... passion between them, at least for a time. But more than that? Speculation.

In Melville in Love Shelden has sifted Melville's letters, news accounts, the journals and letters of others In the Know and has fleshed out (!) this story of a love affair between Herman and Sarah--an affair that possibly, suggests the author, produced two of her children! There's no question that there was a relationship between them--but how far did it go? Much inference required. And Shelden supplies it--finding sentences and references in letters--and there's an extensive exegesis of Melville's post-Moby-Dick novel Pierre, a novel in which Shelden finds fictional parallels--close ones--between Herman and Sarah.

So it's fun to read. A bit naughty. Heavily inferential. But plausible, too, though he has stretched the rubber band of coincidence just about as far as is possible.

3. The final season of Wallander was only three episodes. We somehow missed the first one, so now that they're all available for streaming on Netflix, Joyce and I watched all three this week. What a performance by Kenneth Branagh in the title role as the Swedish detective (who thrived in so many fine novels by the late Henning Mankell), a policeman who, in the final episodes, begins the fall into the bottomless pit of Alzheimer's. Having seen that disease up close and personal, I was so impressed with what Branagh did. The rage. The bewilderment. The depression. The determination. All qualities I saw in my late mother-in-law as she raged against the disease for nearly a decade.

I already miss the novels, and I will greatly miss this wonderful series from the BBC.

4. Last Words--Some words-of-the-day from my various online providers ...

     - from dictionary.com
          sociolect  \SOH-see-uh-lekt, SOH-shee-\  noun
1. a variety of a language used by a particular social group; a social dialect.
Embodied in his writing are the accents of workers' sociolects as well as echoes from past utterances and the legacy of popular culture.
-- Douglas Wixon, introduction to The Disinherited: A Novel of the 1930s, by Jack Conroy, 1991
Origin of sociolect
Sociolect, a technical term in sociolinguistics, deals with the speech of a specific social group or social class, such as teenagers or college students or bikers. Sociolect occupies the middle ground between dialect, the speech of a particular geographical area, especially as that variety of speech differs from a standard; and idiolect, which studies the speech and speech habits of a particular person. The word was coined and defined by the sociolinguist Mervyn Alleyne in 1963.

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary
          pluviculture, n.
The art or science of rainmaking; the production and implementation of schemes for inducing rain.
Origin:A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin pluvia, -culture comb. form.
Etymology: <  classical Latin pluvia rain (see pluvial adj. and n.2) + -culture comb. form. 
1925  D. S. Jordan in Science 24 July 81/2 The modern diversions of pluviculture, chiropractics and hormonism are everywhere treated with respect. Of these none can be more scientific than is pluviculture.
1966 Frederick (Maryland) Post 9 Aug. 10/1 Edmond Charles Jeffery, self styled practitioner of pluviculture, studied the clear, sunny sky.., then declared, ‘Yes, sir, it's going to rain.’
1981 Nature 23 Apr. 654/3 Interest in pluviculture is revived whenever a drought occurs.
2001 Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)(Nexis) 17 Dec. 8b, The science of pluviculture is known as rainmaking.
 ˈpluviˌculturist n.[compare earlier culturist n.] a person who can (supposedly) induce rain by scientific means.
1925 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald 9 May 4/3 A pluviculturist..in California is reported to have received $8,000 for producing and delivering a shower of rain.
1925 Science 24 July 82/1 The pluviculturist has next to build a modest shack or to set up a tent for his chemical operations.
2001  S. Silverman Einstein's Refrigerator 49 Charlie [sc. Charles Mallory Hatfield], who has long since passed on, was technically known as a pluviculturist.

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary

herogram, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈhɪərəʊɡram/,  U.S. /ˈhɪroʊˌɡræm/, /ˈhiroʊˌɡræm/
  A congratulatory message from an editor praising a journalist's work. In later use also more generally: a message expressing praise, encouragement, or congratulations.
Forms: also with capital initial.
Origin:Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: hero n., -gram comb. form.
Etymology: <  hero n. + -gram comb. form, after telegram n. Compare nastygram n.
Compare earlier apparently unrelated use of the form hero-gram in Frank V. Martinek's newspaper comic strip Don Winslow of the Navy (first published in 1934), where the final panel regularly celebrated a particular heroic figure, as e.g. in the following:
1943  F. V. Martinek Don Winslow of Navy(comic strip) in Arizona Republic 31 Jan. 2 A Winslow Hero-gram... Lieutenant Noel Gayler, U.S.N., was the first man in history to receive three Navy Cross awards.
 Orig. and chiefly Journalism.
1972 Spectator 1 July 10/1 ‘Your splendid An Loc story makes distinguished page one lead..congratulations on really fine work Editor’ is called a Herogram.
1984 Washington Post(Nexis) 21 July d1, The typical, brief Hero-gram..should cost less than $2, and..will be hand-delivered to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which will ensure that it reaches the appropriate athlete or team.
1991  L. Trotta Fighting for Air(1994) xv. 344 One of those ‘Nice work, guys’ messages addressed to ‘all hands’, what they call a ‘herogram’ in TV news.
2002 Times 19 June 21/1 Tony Blair is a devotee of the handwritten ‘herogram’, knowing how cherished such correspondence can be.