Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Harry Potter Anniversary, 2


A couple of days ago marked the anniversary of the publication of the 1st Harry Potter novel in 1997. And I began "serializing" a speech I made at Western Reserve Academy about my experiences reading HP. In that first installment I wrote about how I'm an obsessive reader of an author's complete works, and in today's excerpt I give the example of Anthony Trollope ... soon I'll get to HP more explicitly! Reminder; I delivered this speech at Western Reserve Academy on May 4, 2012.

And now a little story … just to illustrate the dimensions of this problem …
At the end of the 1995–1996 school year, an Aurora student gave me a gift certificate to a local bookshop.  And on a lovely early summer’s eve, unaware I was about to make a purchase that would alter our next decade, Joyce and I drove to that bookshop.
On a display table, I noticed some paperbacks of the novels of Anthony Trollope (1815–1882), a writer I’d never read.  I picked up The Warden.  Around two hundred pages.  (Not too long, I thought.)  Tried the first sentence: The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of —, let us call it Barchester.  (Not bad.)
So I bought all six Trollopes there, took them home, put them in a thick stack on the coffee table in front of the couch where I love to read (and sometimes sag into a nap).  And there they sat for over a year, unopened, disappearing from my notice.
Then, unaccountably, early in July 1997—about the time Harry Potter was invading America—I picked up The Warden once again.  Started reading.  Loved it.  Was surprised at how funny Trollope is.  Was surprised to discover that Trollope’s characters—like Dickens’—are profoundly unique and human.  Archetypal.  The original Platonic forms of people whose shadowy copies now walk the earth.
I splashed through those six Barsetshire novels, then leapt into the inviting pool of his six Palliser novels.  Oh God they were good, those first twelve Trollopes.  And they were also easy to find—most of the big bookstores in the area had them.  But then I had to locate the other thirty-five titles.  And I soon developed a dead-on, infallible way to assess a bookstore’s quality.  The Trollope Test.  It’s simple: (1) find the Fiction section; (2) find the T’s; (3) count the number of different Trollope titles on the shelf.  The larger the number, the better the store.  No exceptions.
But did I have to buy all forty-seven novels?  Own them?  Haven’t I heard of a library?  Well, yes, but I am as much a collector as reader; I wanted all forty-seven on my shelf, lined up like railcars.  And here they are … [AT THIS POINT 47 MEMBERS OF THE WRA SENIOR CLASS STOOD AND SHOWED THE 47 BOOKS]
When I decided early in 2001 that I was going to read the remaining thirty or so in the order that Trollope wrote them, well, then things got interesting.  His first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847) I found on Amazon.uk.  But some I simply could not find new, so I haunted the used-book sites on the Web, one time paying—for a paperback of Marion Fay—$38.07.
Throughout the late 1990s, across the millennium, I always had a Trollope novel in progress.  I kept the latest title by my bed, read a chapter or so a night; when I traveled anywhere, I made certain I had at least one with me.  And because I never—never!— went anywhere without Trollope, he was my companion on trips and errands more frequently than anyone else, Joyce included.  I read on airplanes, in physicians’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, in coffee shops, the auto repair place, the barbershop.  In late November 1999, I was reading Can You Forgive Her? at the bedside of my poor dying father.  In October 2003 I was reading Miss MacKenzie when I was struck with Bell’s palsy.  In February 2005 I read from Ralph the Heir in a maternity waiting room while our first grandson, Logan, was arriving.  A few months later, Trollope’s Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, an Australian adventure novel, helped me through my rehab after cancer surgery.  In January 2006 while visiting my mother, who was recovering from a near-fatal car accident, I read Is He Popenjoy?—a novel about a false heir.
In Trollope I read about Members of Parliament—and wealthy folks—and landed folks who’ve fallen on hard times—and grumpy old men who don’t want to leave their estates to their no-good sons—and vicious women (mothers even!) who insist on their own way, who, though bounded in nutshells, count themselves queens of infinite space—and fox-hunters and shooters of game birds—and clueless but arrogant Americans—and young men who must learn about the importance of your word, your honor, about how to love—and profoundly moral young women whose values eventually (though not always) educate and snare the right young man, young women whose goodness can remind some flint-headed grouch what the human heart looks like, what, in fact, it is for.
*
As I was moving slowly back through the railcars of Trollope’s work, I knew I would eventually step into the caboose—the last—his posthumous The Landleaguers.  A dreadful prospect.  So when the end that had once seemed endless came into view, I began a sort of delaying action.
Yes, I sometimes slowed the Trollope train, stepped off at a local diner, and ate some famous literary food, reading some celebrated books that I’d long implied (okay: claimed) I’d already read.  First on the menu was what, in the end, I believed to be the most nutritious of all—Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  Then came some other novels I’d sort of lied about reading: War and Peace, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, Tristram Shandy, The Red and the Black, Fathers and Sons.  But all too soon, crumbs and scraps of Cervantes and Tolstoy sprinkled across my plate, I was back on the Trollope train with no more scheduled stops.
Now just four remained, including the last he lived to see published, The Fixed Period, a futuristic tale about a time when the government has established the maximum legal length of human life—sixty-seven years.  If you’re still alive at 67(my age now!), you get institutionalized and eventually dispatched, though nicely, sometime before your sixty-eighth birthday.  Next were the last two novels he completed—An Old Man’s Love, in which an older man (he’s fifty!) loses in love to a younger rival, and Mr. Scarborough’s Family, about a resentful dying man who tries to manipulate the inheritance laws.  Last of all … the novel Trollope was working on when he died, the unfinished The Landleaguers, which is perhaps his most political and bitter story.  (Among its outrages: the murder of a child.)
my copy

To be continued ...


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 237



A digression. I'll be placing this elsewhere in the entire text, but yesterday (Tues.) I came across about twenty 35mm slides of the Italian port city of Livorno (aka "Leghorn"), a town that figures prominently in Mary's story. So ... I scanned those slides and will be sharing them in the next post about all of this. Meanwhile, here's a little bit about the Shelleys and Leghorn ...

Mary Shelley had all kinds of reasons to dislike the Italian seaside town of Livorno—known to the English as “Leghorn,” a name whose origins appear to be unclear. But Mary disliked it from the beginning. In her journal she wrote this on May 9, 1818: Journey to Leghorn – After we arrive – walk out – A stupid town – we see the Mediterranean –[1] With them was Claire Clairmont, whose own journal records that they were there a week in 1819, as well, but she does not comment in these early passages about her own attitude about the port.[2]
As I said, Mary had reasons for her distaste. Just a few months later she would suffer the death of her daughter, Clara (barely a year old), in Venice. She would lose her son not long afterwards. And she was perpetually unhappy with her peripatetic husband, Bysshe, whose impulsiveness and restlessness drove them up and down the boot of Italy. She was beginning to despise the continuous presence of Claire Clairmont, who, recall, had eloped with her and Bysshe in 1814 and had pretty much been with them ever since.
But the worst about Leghorn? That was the port where Bysshe and Edward Williams and deckhand Charles Vivian had sailed in July 1822 to meet the Shelleys’ friends the Hunts, newly arrived from England. And it was on their return voyage—from Leghorn to San Terenzo—that the storm swamped their vessel, killing all three aboard. A month afterwards, Mary traveled to Leghorn to see the ashes of her husband, who, with the others, had, as we’ve seen, been cremated on the beach at Viareggio, a process required by the local authorities in cases of bodies washed up on the shore.

To be continued ...




[1] The Journals of Mary Shelley, 209.
[2] The Journals of Claire Clairmont, 1814–1827, ed. Marion Kingston Stocking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1968), 113–13.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Harry Potter Anniversary


On Sunday, June 26, Writer's Almanac noted that it was the anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997). Five years ago, in a speech at Western Reserve Academy, I recalled my experiences reading the Potter novels--so here's what I said (lightly edited) ... from May 4, 2012 ...

Potter & Proust, Trollope & Powers

… I want to talk about a phenomenon, one that in recent decades has compelled me to do some strange things.  A phenomenon, I’m certain, that in ways has touched many of you, as well.  I would guess that quite a few of you have read all the Hunger Games books?  All the Twilight saga?  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?  And all of Harry Potter?  A lot of us do that—read them all.  How addictive some books can be.  Most of you literally grew up with Harry Potter.  So let’s start with that little fella.  And let’s go back to 2007.  Five years ago.  And here’s what I felt, back then, about our bespectacled, cute little wizard boy …

Harry Potter?  Harry Schmotter!
I was sick of all the hype, sick of hearing people use words that aren’t words (Muggles? Dementor?), sick of hearing people talk about fantasy characters as if they were actual (Dumbledore? Snape? the Weasleys?).  And at the movies (yes, I went to see them) I could no longer bear the laughter at things I didn’t get.  I was ready to sucker punch the next sorry soul who dared utter Malfoy or Patronus in my presence. (And did some friends really need to tell me they thought Hermione was hot!  Emma Watson’s a child, you pervs!)
And then, late that summer of 2007, while my wife, Joyce, was out of town for a week, I read all of Harry Potter.  All seven novels.  One each day.  All 4162 freaking pages.
Not bad for an old muggle, eh?  But why did I do that?  Well, as Shakespeare said, thereby hangs a tale … at least one …
*
Here’s one problem: Crouching near the junction of my spinal cord and brain is a sort of cerebral Cerberus, a mangy mutt that refuses to allow my arm to extend, my fingers even to touch, say, The Da Vinci Code when I see copies stacked everywhere.  Not, that is, until everyone else on the planet has moved on.  (In April 2006, I finally did read Dan Brown’s novel.  By that time it had been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than three years; on the internet, signed first printings were going for a lot.*  I thought the novel sucked, big-time.)
Another reason I’d neglected The Potteriad: I’d retired from public-school teaching in 1997, the year of Harry’s Advent.  Had he arrived a few years earlier, I would have read his adventures eagerly—and encouraged my eighth graders to do so, as well.  But no longer in a middle school classroom, I wasn’t reading any books written for children or adolescents. (I know: elitist!)
But mostly it was just plain petulance that kept me at wand’s length from Harry and Hermione and the others.  The wildly disproportionate popularity of Harry Potter seemed so … unfair.  In the 1970s I’d urged my students to read the fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander (the Chronicles of Prydain) and Ursula K. Le Guin (the Earthsea novels)—both featuring sturdy nerdy lads who discover their wizardly endowments and employ them in the service of Good.  Those books sold well—and remain in print—but generated no mania to rival the global Harry-hysteria.  So it just wasn’t fair, you know? 
And anyway, I was positive that the whole Potter phenomenon would just … evanesce.  And quickly too.  Like pet rocks and poodle skirts.
*
Don’t think I was spooked by the staggering Potter page count—or by the mounting number of volumes.  I fear no fat books, no long series. … And in my youth, I read, oh, 1000 Hardy Boys novels and (without telling any of my guy friends, who would not have understood) some Nancy Drew books, mostly because I thought the movie actress who played her, Bonita Granville, was hot.  Maybe if I read her books, she’d, you know, love me?  (Is there anything more pathetic than a horny seventh grader?)
Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew
(I wanted to be that boy!)
In my undergraduate days at Hiram College I had fallen under the permanent sway of Professor Abe C. Ravitz, who showed us the importance of reading an author’s complete works.  So when we were reading Frank Norris’ McTeague, Dr. Ravitz told us about Norris’ Moran of the Lady Letty and Blix and The Octopus and the others.  I even read the damn things myself.  That was the way, I’d discovered, to earn the respect of Dr. Ravitz, who, now in his eighties, is a Facebook friend.  Once, telling us about Norris’ novel Vandover and the Brute, Dr. Ravitz introduced the word lycanthropy—very useful when the Underworld movies came along.
But Dr. Ravitz has also profoundly complicated my life.  I am now almost incapable of reading any books by any writers without then reading everything else they ever wrote.  Popular fiction, serious fiction, classic fiction, trash fiction—doesn’t matter.  And so I’ve read scores of thrillers by Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane and K. C. Constantine.  I’ve been sleuthing through the alphabet with Sue Grafton.  A single Chuck Palahniuk launched me on a circumnavigation of his entire wacko world.  I’ve kept up with Stephen King and stopped reading John D. MacDonald and Ed McBain and Robert B. Parker only because, well, they died.  Some years ago, I consumed the complete novels of Dickens, whose Great Expectations I simply could not make myself read in high school.  (I’d despised it, failed every daily reading quiz.)
Here at WRA, one of our summer reading selections, My Ántonia, sent me on a journey through all of Willa Cather—including her soporific poems.  Just [listen] …
From “Arcadian Winter”:

White enchantment holds the spring,
Where thou once wert wont to sing,
And the cold hath cut to death
Reeds melodious of thy breath.

The Red Badge of Courage meant some days devoted to Stephen Crane’s somewhat less celebrated The O’Ruddy.  When Tobias Wolff visited here (to talk about his novel Old School), I read all of his other books, including his first, Ugly Rumours (1975), a Vietnam War novel published only in England and never reissued.  Back in my middle-school teaching years, I read all of Shakespeare because I taught The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado about Nothing—and all fifty of Jack London’s books because The Call of the Wild was in our literature anthology—among those fifty, two of the worst novels every written by a human being, two dog stories: Jerry of the Islands and its abysmal sequel, Michael, Brother of Jerry.  
For another of my professions—book-reviewing—I’ve read all of Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Patricia Hampl, Tom Perrotta, Jim Harrison, Paul Auster, Suzanne Berne, William Styron, and numerous others.  I’ve failed only with Joyce Carol Oates, who writes nearly as fast as I read. And I’ve just recently finished the complete works of John O’Hara—more than thirty volumes.


To be continued ...


*Just checked right now--on ABE a signed 1st printing is going for $2750 (link to site).

Monday, June 27, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 236


Fanny Trollope--whom Mary Shelley met before Trollope's literary fame commenced--wrote a book about her experiences in America--The Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) ...


My journal reminds me that I read Domestic Manners in October 1999, somewhat early in my Shelley Mania, and some of the notes I took on that book—her account of her experiences in America (and with Americans) during the several years she was here, commencing in 1827.
Her ship arrived in New Orleans, and she immediately complained about the heat, which was much more than agreeable and the mosquitoes (incessant, and most tormenting). She notes that a crocodile ate an entire family. She describes a fire-and-brimstone preacher: The perspiration ran in streams from the face of the preacher; his eyes rolled, his lips were covered with foam ….
She comments caustically about Americans and their leisure: All the freedom enjoyed in America, beyond what is enjoyed in England, is enjoyed by the disorderly at the expense of the orderly ….
She’s saddened by the role(s) of women on the frontier—slaves of the soil, she calls them. But she has little kind to say about women in the city. They powder themselves immoderately, face, neck, and arms, with pulverised starch …. They are also most unhappily partial to false hair, which they wear in surprising quantities ….
Manifestly not impressed with the state of American letters, she refers to the immense exhalation of periodical trash … which is greedily sucked in by all ranks …. The general taste is decidedly bad … Oh, and she refers to American writers as insect authors.
And near the end she blasts us all: If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, that nothing is to be learnt, but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having, which they do not possess. The art of man could hardly discover a more effectual antidote to improvement, than this persuasion ….
Seems as if the We’re-Number-One! attitude reigned long ago, as well.[1]
my copy



[1] (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 8, 21, 78–79, 105–06, 117, 300, 311, 408–09

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 108


1. AOTW: No one special this week--no one particularly risky or rakish in traffic; no one being obnoxious in the coffee shops. So--by default--that makes ME the AOTW, I guess, for I'm sure I did things that caused some others to shake their heads, gnash their teeth, use naughty words.

2. This morning in the grocery store--Joyce noticed a brand of beer neither of us had noticed before (not that we look at beer brands, mind you): Oberon. Ah, thank you, Will Shakespeare; thank you A Midsummer Night's Dream!

3. I finished three books this week ...

  • I've begun working my way through the complete novels of Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), a very popular (near-)contemporary of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). They were good friends, did some theatrical productions together, worked together on Dickens' magazine Household Words. I'd already read Collins' fine novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White and had become hooked. But I wanted to finish all the Smollett novels first--which I did. And now ...
    • Basil (1852--about the same time as Dickens' Bleak House) is not Collins' first novel. That honor--novel #1--belongs to Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome (1850), a novel which is harder to find. But find it I did, and I've started it.
    • Meanwhile, Basil is a fairly racy story for the 1850s. (Mary Shelley, for point of reference, died the year before it was published.) A young man of rank (Basil) sees a young woman on the streets of London, falls hard for her, follows her home (stalker!?!), where he learns, to his sorrow, that she's the daughter of a draper. Below his class. His father would never consent to a courtship and marriage. But he's smitten. Arranges to meet the young woman (Margaret), court her, even to marry her--all without his own father's knowledge or consent.
    • Margaret's father agrees to keep the whole thing absolutely quiet for a year--they will not live together, will not consummate the marriage. And the months go by ...
    • Until Basil discovers something horrifying about her ... and off we go ...
  • Richard Russo, author of the recent Everybody's Fool (2016), sequel to his earlier Nobody's Fool (1993), a novel turned into a fine film (with Paul Newman) the next year, began his career with this novel, Mohawk, published as a paperback original (no hardcover till later) in 1986.
    • Mohawk, like the Fool novels, takes place in upstate New York in the eponymous small town. Like the other two novels, it's full of eccentric characters (and, as in the other novels, Russo is forever darting back and forth and back and forth among them). Some are sort of familiar because of my recent reading of the Fool novels--a weird cop, a very old woman (actually, two of them here), people whose marriages are not working out, long-time residents, a weird, weird guy everyone calls "Wild Bill."
    • Some plot and setting elements are similar, too--a diner, a bar. There's an issue about toxic waste and irresponsible corporate behavior (just as there is in the other two novels).
    • And like the other novels, Mohawk has dark ironic humor, a razor's edge. Some shocking violence. The collapse of a building. (Symbol!)
    • Still, I really enjoyed reading it--partially because I could now see the foundation stones of the Fool novels--but also because I could see the formation of a novelist whose complete works I am now resolved to read. I've already ordered novel #2--The Risk Pool, 1988--and it's on the way!
  • Finally, I breezed through Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, the third novel in the new series being issued by the Hogarth Press--modern novels based on Shakespeare's plays (a publishing project, I think, triggered by the recent 400th anniversary of the playwright's death). I've read/blogged about the other two--Jeanette Winterson's excellent The Gap of Time (based on The Winter's Tale, 2015) and Howard Jacobson's My Name Is Shylock, 2016). And I was really looking forward to Tyler's adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, a play I taught to my eighth graders for more than a decade, a play that, as a result, I've nearly memorized.
    • And I was disappointed. Very much so.
    • A quick hint about the story. (The title, by the way, comes from that old saying "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.") Most of the names are quite a bit different, though Kate keeps hers. Sister Bianca is now "Bunny," who's only 15 years old in the novel, an age that effectively removes the marry-the-sister subplot of the play. Bunny, no surprise, is a ditz. The father (Baptista Minola in the play) is now Dr. Battista, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins; he has a bright young assistant named Pyoter Cherbakov (Petruchio in the play), a brilliant young scientist from Russia, a young man whose visa is about to expire. The other secondary characters in the play are pretty much gone and/or blended into others.
    • The entire Shrew plot is pretty much gone, too--the we-gotta-marry-off-Kate-to-someone-so-one-of-us-can-marry-Bianca stuff. The rivals for Bianca are gone. Petruchio's barging into the Minola house looking for a rich wife--gone. Lucentio's sneaky courtship of Bianca pretty much gone (instead, we have a young neighbor kid pretending to tutor Bunny in Spanish; his actual intent, of course, is somewhat more carnal).
    • Some things remain--sort of. Pyoter is weird; the wedding is a mess (unlike in Shrew, this wedding occurs onstage); there's a banquet (though in the play the banquet follows Bianca's, not Kate's, wedding). There are a couple of lines--"Kiss me, Katya." A few others I caught. But the previous two novelists in the series did more with including lines and images--often in humorous or ironic ways.
    • But what really disappointed me--I thought Tyler missed something very fundamental in the play. Yes, it's called The Taming of the Shrew, but it just as well could have been called The Taming of Petruchio. What we see in Shakespeare's play is the collision of two strong personalities, of two unique and headstrong young people falling in love with each other, and how love forces accommodations from both of them--manifestly not just from Kate. But Tyler, I felt, didn't know what to do with this--and there are few real sparks between the two of them. It all comes down to this--will Kate marry Pyoter so he can remain in the US?
    • And Kate's final speech? The one advising women how to behave with their husbands? Well, she makes one in the book, too. Don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't say what she says--but I will say that it fell as flat as a flapjack--at least in my eyes.
    • I really wanted to like this book--was looking forward to it so much. A disappointment.

4. At lunch on our screened back porch on Saturday we saw two cicadas take wing to avoid birds. Didn't work. We saw a sparrow nab one, a robin the other, right out of the air. Then they (the birds) settled in for a bit of lunch, as well.

5. Last words ... some words I didn't know and/or liked from my various online word-a-day sources.

  • nullifidian (nuhl-uh-FID-ee-uhn) (from wordsmith.org)
    noun: An atheist: a person who has no religious faith or belief in god(s).
    adjective: Having no faith or belief.
    From Latin nullus (no) + fides (faith). Earliest documented use: 1564.
  • Tohubohu (TOH-hoo-BOH-hoo) noun (from dictionary.com)
    1. chaos; disorder; confusion.
    Origin: Tohubohu from the Hebrew tōhū wā-bhōhū, a phrase used to describe the world before God said "Let there be light" in the book of Genesis. It has been translated as "formless and empty." 
    Learn this: joy is not merely joyful; it is great. So be lovers gaily then, the devil! and marry, when you do marry, with the fever and the dizziness and the uproar and the tohubohu of happiness.
    -- Victor Hugo, translated by Charles E. Wilbour, Les Misérables, 1862
  • heroology, n. hee-roh-OHL-o-gee  (from oed.com)
    The study or description of the history or genealogy of heroes; a history of or treatise on heroes.
    Origin:Of multiple origins. Partly formed within English, by compounding. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Partly a borrowing from Greek. Etymons: hero n., -logy comb. form; Latin heroologia; Greek ἡρωολογία.
    Etymology:Partly (in α. forms) <  hero n. + -logy comb. form (compare post-classical Latin herologia (1658 or earlier)

    1678  R. Cudworth True Intellect. Syst. Universe i. iv. 257 A certain Mixture, of Physiology and Herology or History blended together.
    1720 Magna Britannia I. p. iii, Hero-ology, deducing our noble Families from their ancient honourable Originals.
    1880  J. S. Stallybrass tr. J. Grimm Teutonic Mythol. I. xv. 366 We may conclude that all the Teutonic races had a pretty fully developed Heroology.
    1923 Classical Weekly 17 29/1 Athenaeus mentions a Heroology of Anaximander.
    1990 Folk Music Jrnl. 6 86 Very famous Female Warriors tend to become true folk heroes. The topic, therefore, deserves some attention from herology's point of view.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Late Bloomers



Recently, an Aurora student from many years ago wrote to me in a FB message: I was a late bloomer ... my interests did not kick in right away.

Well, he's not the only one. Yours truly qualifies for "late-bloomer" status as well. Although I'd done pretty well in elementary school (except for getting a minus now and then in "keeps hands and materials away from mouth") my grades were good.

I can't say, though, that I had any identifiable intellectual interests back in the early 1950s (my elementary school years). I liked biographies about mountain men and cowboys; I liked Davy Crockett; I liked my bike and baseball and throwing rocks; I liked ice cream and the movies; I liked cowboy shows on TV--and there were many of them in the 50s. And there were a couple of girls ...

The concept of homework had not really reached Enid, Oklahoma, then--not in the elementary grades, anyhow. I had books to read for book reports but that's about it. Everything else we did in the classroom (our desks bolted in rows to the pine floors of Adams School) under the close supervision of veteran teachers (all women, by the way) who knew exactly what we would do if they let their attention drift during what they called "seat-work time." Spit wads were a personal favorite, flicked with a ruler.

Things got worse during my junior high years. Homework arrived, and I did not approve. Did not do a lot of it. As a result, my grades bounced around in C and B Land in 7th and 8th grade, and my parents began to despair, and my brothers were delighted. I found I was decent in basketball and baseball and convinced myself I didn't need all this schoolin': I was going to be a professional athlete. (Hah!)

And, of course, testosterone made most of my "decisions" the next dozen years or so. Maybe more.

In high school I grew somewhat more attentive--fewer C's, more B's and A's. Mostly because I had a few teachers whom I didn't want to disappoint.

College--the very thought of it--terrified me. But I went (tuition-free: Dad taught at Hiram College) and generally did well in classes I liked, less well (okay, even worse) in classes I didn't. Mature, eh? While I was there, I rediscovered my boyhood fondness for reading (and not just biographies of Kit Carson and Jim Bowie), and I was happy to discover I could major in something that basically required me to read and write.

I graduated in 1966 with an average above (barely) a 3.00 and commenced my teaching career. After a couple of years of teaching in a middle school I decided to return to work on a master's at Kent State (12 miles away), and there I discovered, at age 24 or so, what can happen when I actually try--and care. I did very well there--careened on to my Ph.D.

Continued teaching and became a Readin' Fool; I now read (conservatively) a couple of hundred books a year--maybe more??? I've been a professional book-reviewer for nearly twenty years.

So ... what I'm saying ... I understand "late blooming"; I experienced it myself; I saw it countless times among my students throughout my 45-year teaching career.

And, if I may segue, this is what worries me, deeply, about our current Test Mania and the urge to test and classify and categorize when kids are so young, so, well, unformed. In many cases, they are barely nudging up through the soil, showing a flash of green; we hardly know what sort of plant they even are. Yet these lists of scores--these data we extract from them--convince us that we do. (After all, numbers are real, aren't they?)

I think today's sort of testing would have destroyed me. I wasn't ready (and I most certainly was not alone).

What we ought to be doing in school is more nurturing, more helping kids find out what sort of plant they are, giving them lots of different kinds of soil to grow in, showing them the multiple delights of the world.

And then we can watch in wonder as, one day, the buds open and show us something we've never seen before.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Cicada Quiet

among the 1st arrivals,
several weeks ago
I just noticed today that it's quieter around here in Hudson, Ohio--no more deep droning sound in the air from sunrise to sunset. The cicadas are ending their brief return after their seventeen-year hiatus below ground. The silence is suprising, almost unnerving.

Oh, there are still signs of them around: some live ones are flying, walking around, looking, I must say, a little dazed. (I'm guessing the birds are beginning to wonder where their stunning bounty of food has gone.) This morning, Joyce used the hose to wash a number of carcasses from our front and side porches.

The cicadas have enjoyed our house and yard this year, affixing themselves to the screens, walking around on the porch (perching on my bicycle tires), dying in clumps on the sidewalk, on the steps, on the porch itself. They were so plentiful at one time that our son, Steve, brought his two sons (Logan, 11, and Carson, 7) up from nearby Green to see and hear them. The boys were simultaneously excited and a bit wary--at least at first. Learning that cicadas have no teeth emboldened the boys (as it once did me).

I imagine the critters will linger a bit more--it's not suddenly Exeunt left. Like the rest of us, they'll drop and die on their own schedule, thank you.

I'm glad I got to see them another time, despite having to watch my step on the sidewalks for a few weeks, despite having to brush them from my hair and shoulders and bike tires, despite hearing them roar in chorus while I was trying to take a nap. They are one of nature's wonders, reminders that if you think your own life is weird, well, consider the cicada.

If I am still kicking when they next return, I'll be eighty-eight years old. Unthinkable. But if I am alive to see and hear them, I hope I still appreciate the wonder of it all and not gnash my teeth (if I have any) and grumble like a Grumpy Old Man (which, by the way, I already am).

And speaking of unthinkable, our son will be sixty then, our grandsons in their twenties.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thoughts of Union ...

My dad--and I'm not sure why--wasn't crazy about labor unions. In fact, when he was teaching teacher-education courses at Hiram College (1956-66), he would distinguish between the teachers' union (AFT--American Federation of Teachers) and what he called "professional organizations" (like the NEA--National Education Association). No surprise: He favored the latter. I knew this for two reasons: (1) I lived in the same house with him; (2) I took his (required) introductory course for those considering a teaching career, Educ. 301: The School in American Society (and, yes, I got an "A," dammit!).

As a result, I was slow to warm to unions myself. When I began teaching (fall of 1966), the Aurora Education Association (AEA), an affiliate of the NEA and OEA, was pretty much a social club. It sponsored a progressive dinner at Christmas, a teachers' bowling league (which I loved, by the way), and seemed to me to be pretty much a formality.

Except ...

My first year I chaired some committee (why me?) that never met ("Professional Rights" or some such name), but one spring day I got a message: We needed to meet with a teacher and the Superintendent about a salary issue ...

At that time, Aurora still had a merit-pay system. Based on your building principal's recommendation, you could earn up to 4% more on your salary (also available, 1, 2, and 3%). The best part: That percentage became a permanent part of your base.

Well, one of the veteran teachers believed he'd been unfairly denied the merit increase and demanded a hearing. I was just 22 years old that spring.

We met in a room at Aurora High School (the brand-new AHS had opened just that year), and the Superintendent came swooping in, declared peremptorily why this wasn't going to be an issue, and rose to leave--all within about two minutes.

The two other teachers and I (and the veteran who'd wanted the hearing) sat there silent and awe-struck.

And then something that sounded like my voice said, "Wait!"

The Superintendent turned around. "Yes?"

"Shouldn't we at least talk about this a few minutes?"

And for a reason I cannot to this day figure out, the Superintendent turned around, sat, and talked with us, eventually agreeing on some sort of compromise involving the veteran teacher's status the next year when merit pay decisions came up.

I have no clue why I spoke up (I was terrified)--or, as I said, why the Superintendent broke stride and returned. But I did, and he did, and my opinion of unions began to change.

Later, I would become a very active member of the AEA, participated very vigorously in our teachers' strike (spring of 1978)--I even got cited by the Aurora Police for blocking (amiably) a driveway so that a vehicle full of replacement teachers could not just cruise up to the high school. (Yes, I have a record!)

I remember that, near the bottom of the Harmon Middle School driveway, we used to picket. It was friendly--some sad parents would pull up and talk with us (a few were angry; most were not)--but occasionally joining us was a retired teamster who lived across the street, a man who was puzzled by our genial behavior: You guys need some damn ball bats out here, he would tell us. We would smile and talk about Proust (not really--but you get the idea).

Oh, I'm no Pollyanna about labor unions--even our own. I well know the problems I saw firsthand (e.g., protecting those whom the teaching profession would perhaps be better off without)--and those problems I read about in other unions (corruption).

But on balance? No question, at least for me. Unions made better the lives of millions of workers and their families. Joyce's father (a life-long URW member in Akron) was able to live in a nice home in Firestone Park (Akron), to send his only daughter to college, to save, enjoy health and retirement benefits, job protection (which came in handy when the company decided to cut him off just months before his full retirement benefits would have kicked in). He went to his grave a Union Man.

And so I'm saddened to see a chart like the one I've posted below ...

This, of course, is the result of downsizing, of out-sourcing, and, of course, of flat-out union-busting and unadulterated greed. Workers who, because of unions, were once firmly in the middle class now must struggle even to get by--working multiple jobs for diminished wages and benefits. Exacerbating the problem? These workers have few advocates. In a non-union job you're pretty much helpless, on your own. Fragile.

I personally benefited tremendously from the teachers' union. Working conditions, health care, job protection, retirement benefits ... and on and on. And my students benefited, as well, from the overall climate and working conditions, from the stable faculty (happy people generally don't leave their jobs, etc.).

Again--I do not wish to suggest there were no problems with unions--of course there were (they comprised human beings, of course--this flawed species of ours).

But still I have to ask: Why can't all American workers enjoy such things? Shouldn't our simple humanity insist on it? Demand it? Are we really going to have to fight the union battle all over again?


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 235



While I was whirling away in all my Mary-research, I read a bit about and by Frances “Fanny” Milton Trollope, including the 1997 biography Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman.[1] My notes remind me that I read that book in the middle of September 1999 (a couple of years into my research), and as I page through the volume now, I am stunned to see how much Trollope wrote in such a short time. Forty-one books between 1832 and 1856. Just twenty-four years. 
Equally astonishing: Born in 1780, she did not publish her first volume until she was in her fifty-second year. Novels and travel books were her favorite (especially the former), and among her novels was The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw; or Scenes on the Mississippi, 1836, now credited with being perhaps the first anti-slavery novel—as well as an influence on Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I’ve not read this novel, and, as I look online today (June 22, 2016), I see that there are available only print-on-demand editions—or some very expensive originals (she published the novel, as was the custom then, in three volumes). I’m going to have to pony up for something because I want to read that novel. (I just now checked: I can get it online—it’s been digitized by Google.)

I did read one of Fanny Trollope’s books, however—her first one, Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832—a book that propelled her into an almost immediate celebrity and (on our side of the pond) notoriety. She had traveled to America, where, to say the least, she was generally not impressed with many of us—or with our ways.





[1] Neville-Singleton, Pamela, (New York: Viking). 1st American edition was 1998, which is the one I read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mort Sahl, Still with Us ...

August 15, 1960
I don't know why I thought of comedian Mort Sahl the other day, but I do remember that I could not think of his name (coming up with names--an issue that has, well, deepened as I've grown older). I still couldn't think of it after a reasonable time, so I hit Google with "1960s radical comedians," and there he was, along with some others whose names I can't remember right now.

Mort Sahl. Sharp wit. Biting political satire. Politically incorrect. Bright as a brass button in the sunshine.

I Wikipediaed him and was surprised to see he's still alive (born in 1927)--and even more so to learn that he's still performing fairly regularly.

There was a time when Sahl was on TV a lot as a guest; his comedy albums sold very well; then things went sour when he began regularly going off on the Warren Report (the official account of the JFK assassination). He didn't believe it. He smelled conspiracy. And his audience, tolerant at first, gave up, drifted away, found other voices to listen to. While he'd stepped off the train for a moment, he realized that no other train would stop for him. And he found himself limited to small clubs in small places with small audiences.

And it was in just such a setting that I saw him perform in 1966 or 1967, down in Columbus, Ohio, where a great college friend, Claude Steele, was starting to work on his Ph.D. I drove down to visit him and wife Dorothy, and they took me to the oddest bar/club I've ever been in. I think it was called "The Bedroom," and it featured servers dressed in pj's, bedroom decor, etc. Some rather feeble searching on Google and newspapers.com did not turn up anything about it, so I'm going to rely entirely on Traitor Memory.

I don't remember anything specific Sahl said that night--though I do remember that he was still ranting a lot about the Warren Report.

I do remember that I laughed a lot; I remember loving his biting, intelligent humor. And I think I remember marveling at how ... professional he was, even performing in this odd, odd place to a room either half-full or half-empty. A long fall from The Tonight Show and other prestigious venues where he'd once been a welcome guest.

Sahl still has a considerable presence on YouTube--and here are a few links to some bits he did.

1. explaining politics (1967)
2. Mort and Milton Berle (not sure the year)
3. With Steve Allen (1960)
4. With Smothers Brothers (1969)

I'm glad Mort Sahl is still out there--still saying those outrageous things that need to be said. He's kind of a Jiminy Cricket, chirping away even when we don't want to listen. And listen we should.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Seek and Ye Shall (Maybe Not) Find


I got a new laptop a few weeks ago, and, in general, I'm really happy with it. It's a Dell (from BestBuy), and it boots up and shuts down far more quickly than my previous Dell, which seemed always reluctant to awaken (reminding me of myself, an adolescent, years ago on Saturday mornings--hell, on any morning, really) and to shut down (ditto re: my adolescent self).

But it's been great ... for the most part.

The only problem I've had has been My Own Damn Fault. When I transferred files from my old one, I seemed to have neglected a few things.

For example, today ...

Someone had posted a story online about the summer beach home once used by writer John O'Hara (whose complete works I read a few years ago--and about whom I wrote a monograph for Kindle Direct, Do You Like It Here? Inside the Worlds of John O'Hara--A Brief Biographical Memoir). (Link to book.) The O'Haras would stay there for many summers.

I went to the realtor's site online, found about ten great pictures of the place and its surroundings, downloaded them ... and then ... could not for the life of me find my (many) folders of images of O'Hara and his world.

After about a half-hour of teeth-gnashing and uttering grievous execrations, I realized the obvious: I'd somehow not copied them onto my new hard drive.

No problem.

I am a psychopathic backer-upper of computer files.

So in a matter of moments I had them where I wanted them, added the new images, added those images to the PowerPoint presentation (which I've delivered to two different audiences--Hiram College and the local library here in Hudson, Ohio ... who knows if I'll give an O'Hara talk again, but I'm ready if I do!).

So, my blood pressure has diminished. My attitude has sweetened (insofar as that is possible these Dark Days).

And I'm now somewhat recovered from what happened yesterday at a Father's Day dinner with my wife (Joyce), son, daughter-in-law, grandsons.

When Joyce and I were waiting for the others at the restaurant table (at one of our favorite places, The Pufferbelly, an old train station, in Kent, Ohio), our waitress was touched by our Father's Day plans and asked Joyce if I were her father.

I laughed.

And cried.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 107


1. AOTW: A close call this week ...

  • RUNNER-UP: The guy at the health club counter who knew I was there first, but when the attendant came to the counter, the AOTW-RU went ahead of me anyway. Nice.
  • WINNER: Driving north. Four-lane road. I'm in the left lane because, a frequent traveler here, I know the lane on my right merges/closes soon. A guy on my right, leaning far back in his driver's seat, cellphone affixed to his ear (I won't say "smartphone" because, well, look who was using it?), absolutely oblivious to the traffic situation. I slow, let him merge though he does not have the right-of-way and remains, the entire time, absolutely unaware of what else is going on around him. The world is his oyster, and I was ready to rip him out of his shell and feed him to a feral cat. (I know: The metaphor doesn't quite work, but I like the violent part.)
2. I forgot to mention this last week. I was on my bike, riding down to Starbucks, cutting through a parking lot. There, some folks were unloading their bikes. One little boy (7? 8?) saw me go by and said to his dad (while pointing at me): "I don't like that old guy's helmet."

3. I finished two books this week ...
  • The first, Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (2015) by T. J. Stiles, won the recent Pulitzer Prize (History)--and deserved it. I have read a lot of Custer books--fueled by a boyhood biography I read (Quentin Reynolds' Custer's Last Stand, 1951), by a trip to see the battlefield in youth (and some later visits as well), by one of my favorite novels of all time Little Big Man, 1964, by Thomas Berger. Wisely, Stiles does not expend much energy on the Last Stand (ground so well covered by so many others) but on other aspects of Custer's life: his wife, his, uh, infidelities, his ambitions (political, financial), his racism, his strengths (a truly fearless leader on the battlefield--no sitting on a horse on a distant hill and watching; he was leading charges!), his relationships with his fellow officers and his subordinates, etc. And, to Stiles' great credit, a man emerges from the mists of myth.

  • The second was the antepenultimate (love that word!) novel of John A. Williams, 1925-2015, whose complete novels I began reading when--to my chagrin--I read his obituary about a year ago and realized I'd never even heard of him. I've enjoyed my journey through his works, though this one I just finished, The Berhama Account (1985), is not among my favorites. It takes place on a fictional Caribbean island, Berhama, where race remains an issue, where the current prime minister (a fool's fool) has employed a U.S. PR firm to help him in the current election, an election that doesn't look good for him. The book does have its moments ...
    • A hyper-sexed woman journalist falls off a fifth-story balcony of a hotel, survives, keeps covering the election.
    • Some apparent evil brewing throughout proves to be a dud.
    • And just about everyone involved in the political process--candidates, journalists, PR people, the electorate--all emerge from the story covered in the slime they deserve (figuratively, of course).
    • I just felt the novel wasn't as entertaining as it could be--his sense of humor seemed unequal to the task--and there were so many characters (he shifts focus throughout) that I sometimes had to refresh my memory about who this person was and why I should care about him/her.
    • Still ... Williams was a talent. And reading just about anything by him is educative.
4. I was surprised to note the other day that I have hit a mile-marker on my other blog, Daily Doggerel. (Link to that site.) Six hundred posts. Six hundred silly poems, one a day (pretty much). Who woulda thunk I'd have such a supply of trivial thoughts?!?

5. Some Final Words ...
  • Wordsmith.org had a cool series of words-of-the-day this week: "reduplicatives"--words such as these: hugger-mugger, argle-bargle, hoity-toity, tussie-mussie, hurly-burly.
  • From the OED: prosily, adv. Origin:Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: prosy adj.-ly suffix2Etymology: <  prosy adj. + -ly suffix2.

  •   In a prosy, dull, or commonplace manner; tediously; prosaically.

    1836  Dickens Pickwick Papers(1837) xiv. 134 The Peacock presented attractions which enabled the two friends to resist, even the invitations of the talented, though prosily inclined, Mr. Pott.
    1849  D. M. Mulock Ogilvies xxiii, This speech, delivered rather prosily and oracularly.
    1874  T. Hardy Far from Madding Crowd I. ii. 23 Oak knew her..as the heroine of the yellow waggon..: prosily, as the woman who owed him twopence.
    1937  J. P. Marquand Late George Apley xxxi. 353, I am speaking very prosily, out of sheer joy at having you come back.
    1993 Chicago Sun-Times 21 Feb. (Travel Section) 8/3 ‘Time's masterpiece’ the village likes to call itself, a bit prosily, but there is a timelessness about those cobbled streets..that seems to pass by the 20th century in favor of the 16th.
  • And this one--not a word-of-the-day--but just something I read, didn't know, and looked up in the OED.  aphesis, n.

Etymology: < Greek ἄϕεσις a letting go, < ἀϕιέναι, < ἀϕ' off, away + ἱέναι to send, let go.
  The gradual and unintentional loss of a short unaccented vowel at the beginning of a word; as in squire for esquire, down for adown, St. Loy for St. Eloy, limbeck for alimbeck, 'tention! for attention! It is a special form of the phonetic process called Aphæresis, for which, from its frequency in the history of the English language, a distinctive name is useful. Now also used in the sense of aphaeresis n.
1880   J. A. H. Murray in Trans. Philol. Soc. 175   The Editor can think of nothing better than to call the phenomenon Aphesis..and the resulting forms Aphetic forms.
1930   A. Western in Gram. Misc. Jespersen 135,   I do not quite see the difference between aphesis and aphæresis, but use the former term as the shorter and therefore more convenient of the two.
1932   W. L. Graff Lang. vi. 234   A loss at the beginning is called aphaeresis or aphesis ..bishop < Lat. episcopus, knife and write in which k and w were formerly sounded.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Day to Remember a Father Lost

Dad and his 3 sons,
August 1956,
Enid, Okla.,
the day we left to move to Hiram, Ohio
I miss my dad--Charles Edward Dyer, 1913-1999--with a sense of piercing affection and loss that has not diminished since his death in November 1999, an impossible seventeen years ago this fall. And I miss him every day. As many of you know, you don't ever get over the loss of a loved one; the loss changes, multiplies, surprises you with fresh appearances in dreams, in daily events, in memory. It's astonishing.

My dad was overseas in France, WW II, when I was born on November 11, 1944, and didn't even know I existed for a while (his letters at the time are full of queries about the me he didn't know--but Mom's letters took a while to catch up with him). (And yes, for you with naughty, skeptical minds, he had been home nine months earlier.)

We were living in our Osborn grandparents' home, 1609 East Broadway Avenue in Enid (they had an apartment upstairs--1609 1/2--where we lived), and both my older brother, Richard (by three years), and I got to know Grandpa very well--so much so, in fact, that when Dad returned from the war, and Richard (Dickie at the time) found Dad in bed with Mom that first morning after that first night, he asked Mom: Who is that strange man?

It was a question he and I (and, later, our younger bro, Davi) would spend a lifetime discovering. And everything we learned was a marvel. Just a few things--some of which I've mentioned here before. Tough. Here they are again.

  • He grew up--the 2nd oldest of nearly a dozen--on a farm in north-central Oregon (near Milton-Freewater).
  • His own father died when Dad was just a teen.
  • He went to work during the Depression to help support his family.
  • He worked his way through college.
  • He was at Phillips University (RIP) in Enid in the late 1930s when he met my mom, the daughter of one of the professors at Phillips. They married on October 12, 1939.
  • Off he went with her to begin his career as a minister (Disciples of Christ) in Denver.
  • World War II. He served as a chaplain.
  • He stayed in the Air Force Reserves after the war, retiring years later as a Lt. Colonel.
  • He earned an Ed.D. at the University of Oklahoma and switched his profession to Education.
  • He was called back to active duty during the Korean War and was stationed for nearly two years at Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas.
  • Back to Enid afterward where he became the provost at Phillips.
  • In the late summer of 1956 he took a position as the Chair of the Division of Education at Hiram College; he would stay until the spring of 1966 (my years of junior high, high school, and college), when he and Mom (who'd just earned her Ph.D. at the Univ. of Pittsburgh) took positions at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And that's where they retired.
  • They built a retirement home in Cannon Beach, Oregon--with a gorgeous view of Haystack Rock--but then he began to fail physically and they built another, more "elder-friendly" place in Seaside. But soon he needed more help. So they moved to Pittsfield, Mass., not far from the place my brothers use in the summer (Becket, Mass.). Then he diminished even more, and they moved to an assisted-living place--and then it was a nursing home--and then ...
Dad was most definitely not a "helicopter parent." He was so busy--teaching during the week, filling in as a preacher here and there on weekends, having meetings and other duties out at the airbase. He taught summer school every year. And why did he do all this? For his family. He had a wife, three sons, and he worked hard to make sure Mom would be okay if he were to go first (he was six years older). Since his death, she's continued to rely on his retirement packages from the Air Force, from teaching, from preaching. Mom isn't rich by any stretch, but she's been able to live in physical comfort; she will turn 97 in September.

But the times we did have were special. Long car trips to Oregon to be with his family (I loved those trips--and have, ever since, loved long car trips), games of catch in the yard, watching him grill outside (oh, did he love to do that), evening trips to the A&W in Ravenna--or the ice-cream stand in Burton. Dad came to my baseball and basketball games. He strongly supported the interests of all three sons--all three very different sons.

When he was sick (he had emergency surgery for kidney stones when we were in Enid), I was terrified. I still remember, not long after his return home, his struggling outside to toss a baseball with me (I was 9 or 10). It was so odd, seeing my father weak. He was a powerful man. Athletic. Fast on his feet. Even when I was in high school I could not catch him in our games of touch football in the yard--not unless he let me.

Dad was a Republican; his best friend was a Democrat (those were the days when that was possible!); and as his sons' politics drifted to the left, we resolved not to debate with Dad. It was pointless. And we loved him beyond words. And so we talked about our cars, the weather, the Oklahoma Sooners (whom he adored).

I remember him standing up and saluting the screen during the National Anthem on televised sporting events.

I remember his eruptive laugh--especially with his brothers--that would turn his face fiery red.

I remember some of his sayings (some I will not repeat!): After eating (I feel like I swallowed something), after passing someone on the highway (I took him like Grant took Richmond), when seeing the ocean appear as we rounded a curve in Oregon (There's that mighty ocean!), after eating--again (I've got convexity of the epigastrium) ... and on and on ...

I remember when, pitching to my little brother, Dad hit him in the cheek with a curveball that didn't.

I remember him going hunting, fishing, and always returning with something--rabbits, quail, rainbow trout.

I remember the buckwheat pancakes he would make on a Saturday morning.

I remember when he whacked my butt with the back of a hairbrush when I deserved it (which was very, very often).

I can hear his voice, preaching.

I can hear his lovely, pure tenor voice, singing.

I can see his eyes redden when he got the news of his mother's death.

I can hear him ringing a school bell to awaken his boys in the morning.

I can smell his Mennen aftershave.

I remember the touch of his powerful hand on my shoulder when I'd done something well.

I can hear him say on Christmas morning that we can't start opening until he's shaved.

I can see him, dressed in red tights, heading off to play Charles the Wrestler in a local production of As You Like It.

I can hear him, watching the opening of Gunsmoke, saying that James Arness (Sheriff Matt Dillon) has the most famous behind in TV.

I can see him pushing our lawnmower (and probably wondering where Danny is--Didn't I tell him to do this?)

I can hear him reading to his little grandson Steve.

I can see myself, rubbing his hand on his deathbed, telling him over and over and over that I loved him.

Dad with grandson Steve, 1972 or 73?


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dreaming of WordPerfect



Just before I woke up this morning, I was inhabiting a dream about WordPerfect, the first word-processing program I really ever used. I have no idea where this particular dream came from, and as I type right now, the details of the dream are fleeing my memory (as Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in a very different context) "like bandits from a burglar alarm" ("Harrison Bergeron").

But I remember one thing clearly: the centrality of WordPerfect.

I learned the program well, used it throughout most of my teaching career until the ubiquity of MS-Word eventually forced me to change.

WordPerfect--like Microsoft Office--has a variety of supplemental programs, including a PowerPoint-like presentation program and a database program like Excel. I remember using the presentation one as I was converting from 35mm slide shows to digital ones. (Later, I had to convert those files I'd done to PowerPoint.)

There are a couple of things I really appreciated about WordPerfect: (1) it had a "reveal codes" command that could show you what was causing something you didn't want in your document (e.g., some odd indentation, some other unwelcome formatting issue); (2) it had some keystroke commands I really liked and used a lot--especially the one that allowed me to swoop the cursor to the end of the line (not the end of the paragraph or page--but the very line I was working with); I used that one repeatedly--and miss it greatly with Word.

I had actually thought--before my dream--that WordPerfect was now gone--like another program I used a lot, especially in the 1990s at Harmon Middle School: ClarisWorks, a version (a better one) of that old MS-Works program. The Aurora City Schools used it throughout the district--I even attended a workshop on its use up in Cleveland somewhere back in the early 1990s.

I still have some ClarisWorks files, files that I can't really open, I don't think, unless ...

... I just checked: I can open them with the Notepad or Wordpad programs (or I can go get some software--but I didn't). I'm going to open one right now with Wordpad and see what happens ... here's a screenshot ...

This shows an old coversheet I would staple onto my students' book reports (written ones); I see that I had recently taught some things about verbals and was requiring students to use an infinitive, a participle at the beginning of a sentence. (Oh, what a taskmaster! Dickens could have written a novel about me and my classroom cruelties!)

Anyway, there's a lot of junk at the top--probably old ClarisWorks code that Wordpad doesn't know what to do with. Still, I'm happy that I can (sort of) open these old files and see what I used to do--though discovering what I used to do in class is not invariably a pleasant experience!

Anyway, re: WordPerfect. It's not gone. Far from it. I see they have a vigorous website (link to it), a plethora of programs.

But I'm so firmly involved with Word now that I'm not sure I could endure a divorce. Still, my heart remains with my First Love. (Pitter-patter.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 234



Mary Shelley meets some other famous women in the late 1820s.

Frances (Fanny) Trollope

The Trollope name surely rings some of recognition’s bells. Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) was one of the Victorian era’s most prolific and popular novelists—he lived to see the publication of forty-five of his forty-seven novels (the first, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, 1847; the last—his unfinished The Landleaguers, published posthumously, incomplete). He also wrote numerous works of nonfiction. I have written elsewhere about my obsession with Anthony Trollope, about reading all forty-seven of his novels over a period of about a decade, about weeping when I read the final words of his final sentence (in dialect) of his final, unfinished novel (“they don't lave a por boy any pace.”).
But it was his mother, Frances “Fanny” Trollope (1779–1863), who had a connection with Mary Shelley and who tried to enlist Mary for a project proposed by Frances “Fanny” Wright, whose story I’ll deal with in a little bit. (Mary actually met this second Fanny first.)
Fanny Trollope, the mother of seven, took to writing later in her life when her husband just couldn’t make a go of his business ventures. And she discovered that she had the gift—she could write quickly; she could write for a popular audience—and it would be her writing that would support her family, including, of course, young Anthony.
When Mary met the two Fannys in the fall of 1828, Anthony Trollope was thirteen years old and had attended, a few years earlier, Harrow School (and would return in January 1831). Mary’s surviving son, Percy Florence Shelley, began attending Harrow in September 1832, so he and Trollope were schoolmates for a bit, though Percy, born on November 12, 1819, was some four and a half years younger than the future novelist. Still, they overlapped at school. And Harrow’s enrollment was not large. They would have crossed paths. And what I would give to know anything about those interactions.


Frances "Fanny" Trollope
Anthony Trollope