Dawn Reader

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 253

My 1999 visit to Newstead Abbey, former home of Lord Byron ...

Here are the (edited) observations I made later in the day when I wrote in my journal on April 17, 1999:
I made one slight wrong turn, then proceeded down a narrow road (I saw only 2 cars the entire time) through fields & stands of trees. After about ½ mile, I came to an overpass with iron grillwork with little boys (9–10 years) peering thru the bars at me from the other side. “Help!” joked one.
“You’re in  jail!” I quipped.
“I’m not in jail,” he replied with some umbrage. So I hurried on.
Shortly after, I came to a gate—iron between 2 short stone pillars with a stone house nearby. A German shepherd gave me a barking inspection, & the gatekeeper came out & charged me £2 to look at the grounds only. He wanted to know where I was from in the States: “Oh, yes, Cleveland, Ohio,” he said with blank eyes belying his vocal confidence.
I had a mile yet to go, he told me.  So off I went; the only living thing I saw was a girl on horseback who trotted past me. “Trade you places?” I offered.
She laughed and trotted on.
Soon I came to another gate, similar to the other, and I followed the road up a slight incline & saw the Abbey to the right—a glorious sight—and what I took (incorrectly) to be LB’s house on the left.  (After I took a photo of it, I saw it had a “For Sale” sign & was a private residence—oops!)  I wandered over to the Abbey, wondering what was the source of the piercing cries I was hearing: rooks? crows?
Later—aboard the train to London.  I saw a peacock & some other LARGE birds that I at first took to be vultures.  (Closer inspection revealed them to be just various varieties of “peas.”)  They looked firmly territorial, so I yielded ground whenever necessary. The cries seemed to be “Help!”—or, perhaps, “Hell!” I circled the Abbey, photographing in heavy overcast the gorgeous grounds and structure. (LB sold this for £140,000—not a bad deal, I’d say—but a bit remote.) I headed back in order to make the 10:49 from Newstead and thus the 11:24 to London.
As I neared the entrance gate (the one with the dog), I heard 2 horseback riders behind me; it became clear that I would just beat them to the gate, and when I did (by a few feet—the dog was less interested this time), I turned around and quipped: “Beat you!”
“To the gate, anyway,” one replied in good humor.
“Where was this sun when I was up there taking photographs?” I wondered.  For, indeed, the sun had peeked out on my walk back—though the dark clouds were stubborn, yielding sky grudgingly.
“You caught a glimpse of it, then?” another said.
It took me a dull moment to figure out what she’d meant, and by then they were by me, so I surreptitiously photographed them from the rear.  Boys were playing soccer in the field near the station, and I arrived in plenty of time.

 The pictures below are from that day ... that cloudy, dour day ...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 125

1. AOTW: I've been going to this same health club since 1999 (pretty much). And, as a result, I have some ... habits: a locker I like to use, shower head I like, etc. I am not OCD about it all, but I do prefer them, both out of habit and a dash of madness. Okay, there's been a New Guy around for a couple of weeks--comes in to work out about the same time I do. And he likes the same shower head. No problem for me (though I do grouse, silently (till now), about it). But this week ... one day ... I was at my locker, disrobing for the shower; he came in; saw me; jogged to his locker; dropped his shorts, etc. in a wet pile; left them on the carpet; jogged into the shower room to that shower head. My reaction was a mixture of wonder, dread, respect, disdain, revulsion, jealousy, etc. But I settled for conferring upon him the AOTW Award.

2. I finished a couple of books this week ...

     - Ron Hansen's 2016 novel, The Kid (yes, about Billy). I enjoyed this novel because (among other things) it sticks to the story--the historical story--and does not continue promulgating the myth of the Kid's killing 21 by the time he was 21, etc. Hansen does, of course, invent dialogue (much is clever and, probably, a bit anachronistic), does attribute to the Kid an almost eerie skill with a pistol (not likely), does change the name of his buddy Tom O'Folliard to Tom O. Folliard (I can't find anyone else doing this), and Hansen "fleshes out" the sexual relationships between the Kid and Sallie Chisum (daughter of the Chisum played by John Wayne in that eponymous 1970 film--link to trailer (the Kid is in it, by the way--minor role)) and Celsa Saval. Lots of funky stuff goin' on!

Hansen employs a technique I at first didn't care for, then did: He tells us, as a character is about to pretty much disappear from the story, what eventually happened to him/her. (Some lived well into the 20th century.) These stories had an accumulated weight that ended up affecting me deeply. The evanescence of life, and all.

And, of course, throughout there is a powerful dramatic irony: We know what is going to happen to the Kid, and so on virtually every page there's something that stuns us with its emotional significance. A very good novel for Billy Freaks (like me)--and the more you know about his story, the more you'll enjoy the story--though knowing zip will be no impediment!

     - Richard Ford's first novel, A Piece of My Heart (1976). I've read a couple of Ford's later novels but decided I would now read them all, in the order that he wrote them, and this very first one was a stunner.  Ford, who is about ten months younger than I am, was only about 32 when he published Piece of My Heart, and it's just hard for me to imagine--as it was when I read the early novels of Richard Russo--how someone could be so good so soon. (Well, Billy the Kid was only 21 when he died!)

The story is told from two perspectives (both with 3rd-person narration), Robard Hewes and Sam Newell, both of whom end up on the same uncharted island in the American South, a place where an oddball character, a cantankerous crusty old dude named Lamb, lives with his wife; Lamb charges hunters a fee to come to his island for turkey-shooting, etc., and hires guys during hunting season to make sure no other hunters have sneaked into the area to shoot for free.

Enter Hewes and Newell, both of whom end up there as guards, both with backstories that we gradually learn more and more about. Both men troubled. Hewes has the more compelling story: He is sexually involved (very sexually involved) with his cousin, Beuna, who's married to someone else. Her husband, W. W., a sometime minor league baseball player, is not happy about it.

There are also a couple of feral young men, mentioned on the opening page, whose presence Ford reminds us of a few times, and we realize they will have some mortal role to play in the tale.  And so they do.

A powerful book--a good omen for what's to come. Full of sentences like this one, very early (a sentence about Hewes): "... nothing in his life ever ended. Things only changed and grew up into something else" (12).

I've already ordered Ford's second novel, The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), and will get to it as soon as I read Jonathan Lethem's new one (A Gambler's Anatomy), which just arrived this week!

3. In this political season it seems that far too many of us are more interested in confirmation than information.

4. We're enjoying our streaming (via Acorn) of season 7 of George Gently, a Brit copper show that's one of the best out there, I think. (And thanks to friend Lisa Johnson for the tip about Acorn.)  The shows are so good we're not letting ourselves binge--we even break up each episode into several portions--like saving some good pastry--not wolfing it down all at once.

5. Final Words--Some words I liked this week (for various reason) from my various online word-of-the-day sites:

     a. never-sweat, n.  (from OED)
An idle or lazy person; (also) a person whose occupation is considered to require little effort.
Etymology: <  never adv. + sweat v.
 slang and regional (now chiefly N. Amer. and Austral.).
1851  H. Mayhew London Labour I. 419/1 Flare up, my never-sweats.
1863 Humboldt Reg. (Unionville, Nevada) 27 June 1/3 They were objectionable; and why? Because they were owned by a parcel of Honey Lake ‘never-sweats’.
1890  C. Erskine Twenty Years before Mast 18, I was one of the forties, that is, the ‘never-sweats’,—a mizzen-top man.
c1928  R. W. Ritchie Hell-roarin' Forty-niners 196 The lordly miners dubbed the farmers of Honey Lake Valley Never Sweats.
1939 Menace of Speed Coursing (Plympton Park Citizen's Committee, Adelaide) 4 Dog racing produces nothing. It simply keeps a number of bookmakers and ‘never-sweats’ in their jobs.
1974  D. Wilson Staffs. Dial. Words 48 Neversweat, a person who is never in a hurry, or who is lazy.
1994  R. Hendrickson Happy Trails 166 Never-sweat, an old derogatory name for a Mexican worker.

     b. sassy  (SAS-ee)  (from wordsmith.org)

adj: Impudent; bold; outspoken; lively; feisty; stylish.

Alteration of saucy, from sauce, from Latin salsa, from sallere (to salt), from sal (salt). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sal- (salt), which is also the source of silt, sausage, salad, salami, salary, and salmagundi. Earliest documented use: 1833.

“Ada had sounded like her strong and sassy self on the phone.”
Laura Trentham; Slow and Steady Rush; St. Martin’s; 2015.

     c. plusquamperfection, n.  (from OED)
Utter perfection.
Origin:A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin plūs quam.
Etymology: <  German Plusquamperfektion (1603 as plusquamperfection in the passage translated in quot. 1670) <  classical Latin plūs quam more than (see plusquam- comb. form) + German Perfektion perfection n. Compare post-classical Latin plusquam perfectio (1687 in the passage translated in quot. 1688; 8th cent. in a British source in grammatical sense).
 Alchemy. Now hist. and rare.
1657  tr. B. Valentinus Last Will & Test. iii. 117 This liquor is the true prima materia, and first seed of Metals and Minerals, which by Vulcans Art is brought to a plusquam perfection [Ger. plusquamperfection], into a transcendent fix'd Medicine, out of which is generated the true Philosophick stone.
1670  D. Cable tr. B. Valentinus Of Nat. & Supernat. Things iii. 57 If it..be brought to a perfect ripeness, unto the Plusquam perfection [Ger. plusquamperfection], nothing may compare therewith.
1688  C. Packe tr. F. M. van Helmont 153 Chymical Aphorisms 22 Aph. 135 Wherefore this ought to be done to the matter of our Menstruum, for its compleat Depuration, equally as to Gold, for its plusquam perfection [L. ad ejus plusquam pefectionem].
1713 Rosie Crucian Secrets(MS Harl. 6485) f. 268, It is a heavenly balsam because its first principles and original cometh from heaven, made formal in earth or under ground, and is afterwards, being exactly prepared, brought into a plusquam perfection.
1925  R. W. Councell Apologia Alchymiæ v. 74 No gold of plusquam perfection is formed; but bare gold.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Running Man

Yes, I know. My title is also the title of a 1987 film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky!), based on the eponymous story by Stephen King. (Link to trailer for the film.) I'm sure I saw the film, but I don't recall a thing about it. (Rent/Stream it?) (I just added it to my DVD queue on Netflix.)

No, I am not shamelessly stealing the title. I just thought of a title for a post about my history as a jogger--and this film just popped into my head. So it goes. I think of something; into my head pops something trivial. Ah, dotage ...

Anyway, I started running (warning: "running" is a generous term for what I did) in the spring of 1978 just before we left Ohio to move to Lake Forest, Ill., where I--a fresh Ph.D.--was going to commence the rest of my career teaching at Lake Forest College. (I lasted a single year; I missed secondary school kids, and back I went to that life until I retired, for the final time, in the spring of 2011.)

Anyway, I started running because I was ... fat. I've written before about the Dyer Genes, especially that Fat Gene that punishes me (and my kin) with any indiscretion--like a slice of pie, a bowl of granola, a Klondike bar, etc. The pounds go on with the greatest of ease, come off only with the most savage diet. And exercise. Thus, the running.

I continued running my year in Lake Forest (all seasons, all weather--except thunderstorms), continued when I returned to Ohio and started teaching at Western Reserve Academy (1979-81), continued when I returned to Harmon Middle School (1982-1997), continued on and on and on until ... I couldn't do it anymore. (Maybe ten years ago?) I'd run 4-6 miles just about every day (a few times I went 10), ran a bunch of 5K and 10K races. The pic you see is from the first 10K I ever ran--in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, about 1980? 81? I'm coming over that bridge, finishing, on Portage Trail. I was proud that I'd even finished such a race--a distance unthinkable in boyhood and youth when distance running seemed, well, insane.

I think my best 10K times were around 40 min., give or take. One of my great memories: running what was called the Revco 10K and Marathon in downtown Cleveland a couple of times. And one year, near the end, I saw, right near me, Channel 3 (now Channel 5) newsman Leon Bibb jogging along. I decided I was going to beat Bibb! And I did, gliding by with all the grace of a gazelle (with a broken leg). He looked at me askance, as if to say, Yeah, so what? Who has the cushy job at Channel 3 and who's grading essays about The Scarlet Letter all weekend?

Anyway, as the years went on, my knees and ankles began to grumble, then protest, then go on strike. And--after a while--I listened to them--a little too late (I still have a weak left knee).

Now what? Get fat again? (Yo-yo weight is a term invented for me!)

I started riding an Airdyne bicycle--at a local health club, at home (they ain't cheap!). Then ... I started--oh, a year ago or more--on a different kind of exercise bike, and now that is my daily routine: 20 min on the bike, a mile's walk around the indoor track. In the spring and summer and early fall, I ride my own "real" bicycle around town on short errands (haircut, coffee shop). I walk everywhere I can--and Hudson is a very walkable town.

And Mr. Fat, for the most part, has stayed in the shadows. Waiting. Oh, he never goes away. He just waits for the sound of the freezer door opening late, late at night. And then he joins me for a giant bowl of ice cream.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 252

More about my 1999 visit to Newstead Abbey, the home of Lord Byron...

On April 17, 1999, I was in London in the second week of my Mary-Shelley adventures in England, Wales, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy (not actually in that order, of course), and I had planned an early morning train ride to Newstead, where I hoped to tour the Abbey, former home of Lord Byron. But it was a Saturday, and I discovered, to my dismay, that the home did not open to the public until noon. I could not stay that long. (Miles to go before I slept. I was going to leave for the continent the next day.) But I also learned that I could walk the grounds and take all the (exterior) photographs I wanted to.
The little train that runs from Nottingham to Newstead—only about a dozen miles—was called the “Robin Hood Line,” a name that delighted me because I’d loved Robin Hood stories my whole boyhood. I read books (Howard Pyle!), saw the films, loved the TV series with Richard Greene (The Adventures of Robin Hood, CBS, 1955–1960)—and even into my junior high years I had run around the woods near our home in Hiram, Ohio, imagining I was R. Hood on a mission to rescue Maid Marian (who would reward me with … what? I wasn’t all that sure in those days) or in flight from the Sheriff of Nottingham. And now I was in Nottingham, though I saw no Sheriff. Or Robin Hood, for that matter. I kind of—no, I really wanted to.
Off the train in Newstead, I saw a sign that said “Newstead Abbey, 4 miles.” There was nothing at the station but a small place to get on and off the train (not a true station) and a weathered hotel. No sign of any cabs or buses. So … I could either walk four miles each way. Or be a wimp and not see Newstead Abbey.
So off I went on a brisk morning walk.
Newstead (near train stop)
hotel near Newstead train stop

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Do You Do Facebook Quizzes?

I've done a lot of them, and, generally, they're not too hard. After all, their purpose is not to stump you or make you feel dumb but to keep you scrolling and answering (guessing) so that you can see more ads and coupons than you can find in the Sunday papers--even now, when those papers are much diminished.

I've done quizzes about movie stars, U. S. geography, American and world history, the 60s (the decade, not my age, which I barely remember), Shakespeare, and on and on.

My technique is simple: I keep going until I miss one. Then I say a bad word (or ten) and close it down. If I get them all correct, I sometimes share the results on Facebook with some mildly self-deprecating comment--like: Some lucky guesses! But, of course, what I'm really doing is the equivalent of showing Mommy only my good homework and quiz and test papers (of which, in my boyhood, there were not all that many).

In fact, I don't even take quizzes that look too ... daunting (i.e., I don't know much about the subject). And I am normally not lured in by a Facebook favorite: Only 5% of Americans Can Pass This Test! (See pic at the top of the page.) It's the equivalent of those Facebook memes and stories that feature, atop, something like this: Most people won't share (or like) this. Let's see who does! This, of course, is similar to those playground dares that used to get me in trouble at Adams Elementary School. No one here would throw a snowball at the teacher! (Oh, yeah?!!?)

Okay, what got me off on this today was ... a Facebook test on grammar. I'm going to take it right now and tell you what happened ... [PAUSE] ...

Well, I got 20/20 ... but there were some interesting questions, some of which contained errors in conventional usage, by the way.

  • At the top of the quiz: Would the grammar police arrest you?
  • The questions dealt with the confusion of homophones (there-they're-their), pronoun case (I, me), usage and spelling (fewer, less; farther, further; then, than; alot, a lot)
  • One question, though, begins with this: Your girlfriend looks like she's put on a lot of weight ... But because the like is followed by a clause (subj + v), you must use as if or as though instead--like is not a subordinating conjunction and cannot be used to initiate a dependent clause like this one).
  • Another: The possible answers all included alright, a spelling that is not yet standard, I don't think. All right belongs.
  • Another "right" answer started with this: I know someone who's looking for their bike .... Usage is changing here, but because someone is singular, you need a singular pronoun before bike--a pronoun like his or her or his or her. If you know the person involved, use the gender: I know a young woman ... I know a guy ... Whatever.
But ... I got my score ... I shared it on FB. Nice to know I'm a ... model.

Congratulations, you’re a model grammar citizen.

You got 20 out of 20 correct.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 251


Last evening (October 25, 2016), returning from a drive over to Kent, Joyce told me that the night before—at ten o’clock—she’d been awakened by the sound of our cuckoo clock announcing the hours. She had been so soundly asleep that she had not recognized the friendly offerings from that clock that had once belonged to my great-grandfather Warren A. Lanterman (1866–1963) but instead heard what she thought were the cries of a child. It alarmed her so much that she had difficulty returning to sleep.
Her story reminded me of an experience I had (and which I’ve mentioned here earlier) at the former home of Lord Byron, Newstead Abbey, a home in Nottinghamshire, England, now open to the public. It had indeed been an Abbey (built in the twelfth century), until Henry VIII, in a rage about the Pope’s denial of a divorce request (he was hot for Anne Boleyn and wanted to move on and marry her—which, of course, he subsequently did, until he tired of her, at which time Anne lost her head) dissolved all Roman Catholic Church property between 1536–1541 and declared that England was now a Protestant nation.
That’s a lot. Let’s simplify …
On Saturday, April 17, 1999, I planned to visit Newstead Abbey. That spring, I was, as you may recall, in Europe chasing the Mary Shelley story—from England to Italy. And Byron had been a key player in her life—in fact, he was the indirect cause of her husband’s drowning in Italy. Bysshe Shelley had been so intent on matching Byron in so many ways—creatively, financially (no chance there!)—that when the men began talking about building boats to play with (and in) during the summer of 1822, well, Bysshe was in (in more ways than one, it would, sadly, turn out).
Mary had seen the return of Byron’s remains from Greece (where he died on April 19, 1824, of illness) and had been among the myriads of grieving fans who had watched his body transported by wagon from London to Newstead Abbey. That body, by the way, had been soaked in wine as a preservative (appropriate), just before handlers placed it aboard the ship Florida, which then transported it from the Greek island Zante (or Zakynthos). The body quickly acquired the wine’s correspond1ng color.[i] But when Mary visited the undertaker’s, she saw only the casket. The closed casket.
By the way, Bryon’s great biographer, Leslie A. Marchand, informs us that, after an especially brutal and crude autopsy, Byron’s viscera and heart and brain were stored in a container separate from the coffin.[ii]
Well, I have rambled on, haven’t I? Next time … we’ll finish the story about the cuckoo clock that startled Joyce—and learn why it prompted my memories of Newstead Abbey.

Greek island of Zante

[i] Details here from Leslie A. Marchand, Byron: A Biography, 3 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), 1233, et. seq.
[ii] Ibid., 1234.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Take Good Care ..."

The news came yesterday that singer Bobby Vee, 73, had died. (Link to NYT obit.) I'll turn 72 in a couple of weeks, so he and I could have been in high school together. (Hmmm ... who would have been the more popular?) His actual last name was Velline.

I remember back in those high-school days (1958-62) being a little alarmed when I discovered that some rock-and-roll celebrity was about my age. There I sat in study hall, trying to look as if I were doing something, and guys like Bobby Vee were off somewhere being famous. Their pictures were pasted on the notebook covers of some girls in our school. Mine was not.

I'd totally forgotten about him until the news broke. And, reading the obit, I was stunned to see that he had first had a break because of that plane crash that had killed Buddy Holly (and the Big Bopper and Richie Valens) on February 3, 1959. (I was in 9th grade.) Vee stepped in to perform that night. He was fifteen years old.

I remember his hits, now that I see them listed, but if you had played them for me last week and asked me who the singer was, I could not have told you. As I said, I'd totally forgotten him--though not the songs.  Here are the ones I remember most clearly:
  • 1960: "Devil or Angel?" and "Rubber Ball"
  • 1961: "Take Good Care of My Baby" and "Run to Him"
He kept recording, but none of the titles I see listed in his discography ring any bells. Here's a link to a YouTube video of him singing "Take Good Care."

I do remember that his music was very much a part of our sock hops at the Hiram Schools--7th grade through high school. I remember his music on the radio--all the time it seemed.

And then ... he drifted away. The Beatles and The Stones arrived. Pop music both hardened and gained a sharper edge, and Vee and others with a similar sound were, well, passé.

The Times tells us that he had kept touring--and also notes that he was a talented rhythm guitarist.

And then Alzheimer's--the fate of Glen Campbell, of course, a decline chronicled in a good documentary about Campbell, I'll Be Me, 2014. (Link to the entire film on YouTube.)

Joyce and I saw Campbell during his farewell tour on Saturday, November 10, 2012, at the Kent Stage  (used to be a movie theater on Main Street). Campbell was clearly losing it--but could still play the hell out of that guitar. His grown children performed with them. (I blogged about this at the time--here's a link to that post.) Tickets to the concert were among Joyce's gifts to me for my 68th birthday on Nov. 11.

Anyway, Bobby Vee appeared to have had a fine life--flashes of fame eventually dimmed (as they always do), but he continued doing what he loved for as long as he possibly could. Which is exactly what I am trying to do.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 250

Mary Struggles On

On November 4, 1827, Mary, now in London, bid farewell to Fanny Wright and Fanny Trollope who were sailing from Tower Bridge aboard the Edward for America. It took seven weeks to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River.[1]
It’s not really all that relevant here, but Trollope, after staying for a bit at Nashoba, soon soured on the project, which was nothing like what she had imagined—and hoped—it would be. Her best-selling Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) contains a brief account. [O]ne glance, she writes of Nashoba, sufficed to convince me that every idea I had formed of the place was as far as possible from the truth. She goes on to say that she found no beauty in the scenery round Nashoba, nor can I conceive that it would possess any even in summer.[2]
They didn’t stay long. Wright abandoned the project, and by January 26, 1828, the two Fannys were back in Memphis, where they waited a few days before heading to Cincinnati, nearly 500 miles to the northeast. It took about a month. Trollope was impressed by Cincinnati’s scenery—the hills, the Ohio River—and she stayed, trying to make a go of a department store (the Bazaar—it didn’t work out), so she began writing to support her family, became a best-selling author, soon surpassed by her far-more-famous son Anthony (who did not go to America with her), whose forty-seven novels I, caught in his wondrous web, read over a period of years—July 1997 to October 2007. I’ve rarely had more literary fun.
Fanny Trollope was back in England in August 1831. She’d been gone nearly four years. And by the time she had died in 1863, she had written forty books.
And now, at last (!), let’s dive back into Mary’s story …

[1] Pamela Neville-Singleton, Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman (New York: Viking, 1997), 116–17.
[2] (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 27, 30.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 124

1. AOTW: This happened a couple of weeks ago--just remembered it: At the health club ... as I approached the shower, I heard one running already. And as I stepped into the room, I saw that one was running, full blast, but no one else was there. I walked over to it: It was set on the hottest possible setting, a setting far too high for anyone except Satan to tolerate. I turned it off, wondering what kind of AOTW would do such a thing ...

2. I finished two books this week.

     - Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed is the latest volume in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a series of novels based on Shakespeare's plays, novels written by contemporary authors.

The title comes from this exchange, early in the play, between Prospero and Caliban:

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Hag-seed, hence!
Fetch us in fuel; and be quick, thou'rt best,
To answer other business. (1.2)
Atwood--like the other writers in the series--sets the story in our own times. We're in Canada. And the Prospero figure is named Felix, who's the director at a theater festival that very much resembles the Stratford Theatre Festival (which Joyce and I have attended in Ontario every August for quite a few years).

A rival manages to get Felix removed from his position, and he finds himself living in a hovel on a farm not all that far away, a place where he continues to "see" the spirit of his daughter, Miranda, who died at age three.

He grumps and grouses there for a while, then takes a gig, under an assumed name, at a nearby prison, where he goes each year to mount a Shakespeare production with the inmates.

And this year it will be The Tempest. Like Prospero, Felix has a plan to gain revenge--and to recover the authority he lost.

The Tempest has long been my favorite of the Bard's plays, and I was moved throughout Atwood's reimagining. One of the final comments about the play hit home; it's delivered by a convict nicknamed Bent Pencil: "The play of The Tempest declares for second chances, and so should we" (268).

Here's a link to the other novels in the series. Those published so far have been based on The Winter's Tale (Jeanette Winterson), The Merchant of Venice (Howard Jacobson), and The Taming of the Shrew (Anne Tyler; this is a play I taught for about a decade at Harmon Middle School; Aurora, Ohio).

As with the other novels, by the way, Hag-Seed becomes more enjoyable the more familiar you are with the play.

     - I'm feeling both sad and happy this week because I finished reading the last (so far) of the published works of Richard Russo. As I wrote here some months ago, I first got interested in him because of that wonderful 1994 film Nobody's Fool (Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and others), a film based on a novel of the same name by Russo.

But I hadn't read anything by him. Then when Russo's newest novel appeared this year (Anybody's Fool, 2016), a sequel to Nobody's, I decided it was time. I read Nobody's first, then Anybody's, then decided I liked his work so much I would read them all--in the order of publication. And, this week, I finished with his memoir, Elsewhere (2012).

As Russo tells us at the beginning, it's principally the story of his mother, Jean, who was mainly responsible for the care of Russo and his brother (Greg) in Gloversville, NY, where the boys grew up--the town that Russo uses (modified, of course) for several of his novels (a town which has several names in his various fictions--from Mohawk to North Bath). Russo's father was not around much and is more of a shadowy presence in this memoir that focuses on Jean and her various emotional problems--and her death. (Russo has an epiphany near the end about what was troubling her).

Russo talks only incidentally about his own career here, but readers (I, certainly) will be astonished by his devotion to his mother, whose behavior was, let's say, a test for anyone around her. I was profoundly moved by his (and his wife's) dealings with Jean. It was not easy.

Readers of Russo's NY novels will notice the similarity of some incidents in his life that ended up, transfigured, in those works--like the scattering of a parent's ashes (which is prominent in That Old Cape Magic).

Oddly, Russo repeats an error here that appeared in Cape Magic, too: He tells us that he recited at the memorial service for his mother a sonnet by Shakespeare--"Fear no more the heat o' the sun." But this is not a sonnet. It's a song from the Bard's Cymbeline, a song sung by several characters:

From Cymbeline, Act 
IV. Scene 2

EAR no more the heat o’ the sun,
  Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
  Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great,
  Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
  To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
  Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
  Thou hast finish’d joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
  Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
  Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!

I'm not sure how this got by the various proofreaders--and by Russo himself? Oh, well ...

I am happy that I've read these books--and liked them all, the reasons varying. He is a masterful storyteller, able to move from character to character, from scene to scene, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if it were life itself.

Mohawk (Vintage Books, 1986)
The Risk Pool (Random House, 1988)
Nobody's Fool (Random House, 1993)
Straight Man (Random House, 1997)
Empire Falls (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
The Whore's Child and Other Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
Bridge of Sighs (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
That Old Cape Magic (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
Interventions, with illustrator Kate Russo (Down East Books, 2012)
Elsewhere: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
Everybody's Fool (Alfred A. Knopf, May 3, 2016)

3. We saw The Accountant last night in Kent and enjoyed it for what it was--clever excitement. It sort of reminded me of a Jason Bourne film without the CIA hovering about (though the Treasury Dept. is hovering about in this story). Ben Affleck did a good job--as did J. K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and the little boys are wonderful (the boy versions of Affleck and his brother--flashbacks throughout the film). A popcorn movie--but I do love popcorn. Link to trailer for the film.

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

     - from dictionary.com

harum-scarum \HAIR-uh m-SKAIR-uh m, HAR-uh m-SKAR-uh m\
1. reckless; rash; irresponsible: He had a harum-scarum youth.
2. disorganized; uncontrolled.
... he warn't bad, so to say--only mischeevous. Only just giddy and harum-scarum, you know. He warn't any more responsible than a colt.
-- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876
Origin of harum-scarum

Harum-scarum entered English in the late 1600s. The first element of this rhyming compound, harum, is based on the obsolete verb hare meaning "to harass" or on the the verb hare "to run like a hare"; the second element is based on the common verb scare.

     - from wordsmith.org

obambulate  (o-BAM-byuh-layt)

verb intr.: To walk about.

From Latin ob- (to) + ambulare (to walk). Earliest documented use: 1614.

“Mukul was obambulating in circles like a caged animal.”

Sam Mukherjee; Chopped Green Chillies in Vanilla Ice Cream; Rupa Publications; 2011.

     - from dictionary.com

nudnik \NOO D-nik\
1. Slang. a persistently dull, boring pest.
Pinni becomes enraged and says my brother is a nudnik. I agree with Pinni. Even though my brother Elyahu is my own flesh and blood, he's an awful nudnik.
-- Richard Burgin, Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1985

Origin of nudnik
Nudnik is an Americanism formed from the Yiddish verb nudyen meaning "to bore, pester." Nud- is of Slavic origin: nudny in Polish means "boring"; the Polish verb nudzić means "to bore" and is the source, again through Yiddish, of noodge. It came to English in the mid-1900s.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Many a Twelfth Night ...

program from
Oct. 21, 2016
It's possible I've seen twelve Twelfth Nights--maybe even more. It's a play I don't really get tired of. One of the first was in 1989 when I took a group of Aurora students to see a production at the University of Akron on Friday, April 28. I see from the notes in my Twelfth Night file that the kids who went were, for the most part, those who had been involved in the Aurora High production of The Merry Wives of Windsor a couple of years earlier--I'd been the director.

My memory is that Akron U's was a very good production; in fact, I still think it's one of the best I've seen. (Wish I'd saved the program--but it seems I didn't. Not like me.) In my folder I do have six programs from other productions--at the Stratford Festival (1991, 2006, 2011--with Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby Belch; I remember a scene on a golf course!), at the Great Lakes Theater Festival (2000, 2009). I also remember a production at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass., but I don't seem to have the program. My mom, who lives nearby, was there--as was my older brother and younger brother and his wife. A decade ago, maybe? (Just checked my journal: It was Friday, September 5, 2009, and we were there to celebrate my mom's 90th birthday. So ... not a decade ago--just seven years ago. Hard to believe that Mom was actually there: She has been unable to move very much in recent years.)

And ... last night ... we saw it again in downtown Cleveland at the Hanna Theater, the venue of Great Lakes Theater Festival (GLTF) productions.

It was a good--not great--production. I loved the staging. They had but one set, which (as the playbill notes) was sort of based on "Miss Havisham's world before the cake rots" (18).* All the scenes take place there--including the shipwreck near the beginning. The players just confine themselves (for the most part) to a certain segment of the stage--though not invariably so: Often they wander around having close (but silent) encounters with actors on pause, waiting for their own moments to commence. Sometimes these moments were especially fraught with significance in the play--as when, for example, near the beginning, one of the shipwreck survivors (Viola) wanders near a reclining Orsino, with whom she will soon hook up. Very cool.

There were few props and set pieces as well--touches that would have brought a smile to the Bard's face. On his own Globe and Blackfriars stages the action flowed freely--no scenery, precious few props. I did enjoy the sort of boxed enclosure they employed for various things--from an entrance to a gazebo--and the audience laughed hard when Feste-Belch-Aguecheek are hiding there and watching Malvolio discover the false love letter that leads to his dark, dark downfall. The hiding men slowly moved the box--in which they were visible--from upstage to down ... slowly, slowly--getting closer and closer to the duped Malvolio.

I was very impressed with the women--Viola (Cassandra Bissell), Olivia (Christine Weber)--and Malvolio (Lynn Robert Berg) is one of the company's real talents. Their deliveries were crisp and intelligent and invariably comprehensible.

Not so with the three foolish male characters (Feste,Aguecheek, Belch), all of whom, it seemed to me, were a bit out of control, prancing around, acting the fool (as they're supposed to do) but sacrificing the words in the process. I often couldn't figure out what they were saying--even though I knew what they were saying (and I heard other patrons say similar things at intermission). All three men are fine performers, but the business often trumped the language last night.

The dark treatment of Malvolio near the end is always hard to watch, but I did like how director Drew Barr had the tricksters soften when they realize that they've gone too far--much too far. Beyond the pale.

The music was fine--playing, singing. ("If music be the food of love, play on!")

And the whole thing got a strong ovation when it ended (nearly three hours). And much deserved. Despite my quibbles and cavils I went home happy. I'd just seen a great play done well in a place I love to go to; I got to sit, again, beside Joyce. I got to marvel (laugh and sometimes weep) at the words of the greatest writer who's ever lived.

*Miss Havisham, the jilted bride in Dickens' Great Expectations, the woman who continues to wear her wedding dress and keep the cake on the table for years after the jilting.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 249

Final thoughts spurred by Frances Wright, friend of Mary Shelley, who toured America and wrote about it (1820s); among her subjects--public education.

What’s more interesting to me, nearly two centuries later, is not the shining morning faces of the students she saw in Connecticut but the enduring relevance of some of her comments about public education—and its profound importance.
In her letter of March 1820 (from New York) she writes about how communities are willingly taxing themselves to provide free public schools, which, she says, teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the whole population. In larger towns these schools teach geography and the rudiments of Latin.[1] She goes on to talk a bit about higher education (slowly taking root in America) before returning to more comment about the importance of all this.
The child of every citizen, she writes, male or female, white or black, is entitled by right to a plain education, and funds sufficient to defray the expense of his instruction are raised wither from public lands appropriated to the purpose, or by taxes sometimes imposed by the legislature and sometimes by the different townships.[2]
And we need to remember here what she had said much earlier (in a letter from July 1819, from Albany): Knowledge, which is the bugbear of tyranny, is, to liberty, the sustaining staff of life. To enlighten the mind of the American citizen is, therefore, a matter of national importance.[3]
Wright’s comments strike me especially hard. As readers know, I spent my forty-five year career in classrooms, most of them in a public middle school, where I taught seventh and eighth graders. As that portion of my career wound down (I retired from public education in January 1997), the passion for (or disease of?) standardized testing was beginning to pervade the state of Ohio—and the rest of the nation.
Now—it’s October 2016 as I write these words—it is a full-blown madness (not to mention a ga-jillion-dollar industry). My grandsons, 7 and 11, have already taken more standardized tests than  I did, K–Ph.D. Teachers take risks if they deviate from the test-driven curriculum, for they are evaluated, at least in part, by the scores their youngsters receive on those mindless measures. Education has gone with the wind, and test-preparation has swirled in to replace it.
I’m horrified by it—and I believe that Frances Wright would also have been. She believed in schools that taught people fundamentals, yes, but also taught them how to think and evaluate and debate, schools that gave youngsters worthy books to read, and on and on.
She would be shocked at the anti-education, anti-intellectual attitudes that are so pervasive now in our country. We’ve reached the point at which public figures are almost ashamed to reveal the extent of their education, as if earning advanced degrees were a mark of madness—or, at the least, elitism.
              I think of that horrible scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part Two, when populist Jack Cade and his minions are trying to stir up a revolution against those whom they consider elites (and, to be fair, those who consider themselves elite—but that’s another story). Anyway, in 4.1—right after that famous line The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers—we get this exchange about a man a minion has nabbed. Let’s see what his crime is—and how he’s punished:
Enter some, bringing forward the Clerk of Chatham
Exit one with the Clerk
And as I hear some of the bellowing this political season (Trump v. Clinton), I hear the echoes from the distant voice of Jack Cade. So popular. So dangerous and destructive and deadly.

[1] Ibid., 215–16.
[2] Ibid., 216.
[3] Ibid., 83.