Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 143


1. AOTW--How about a person who believes that freedom of the press means that the press is free to print/broadcast only that "news" that agrees with the positions the AOTW already accepts (or is predisposed to accept) as true?

2. I finished three books this week ...

     - The past year I read my way through all the books by Richard Russo (what a wonderful adventure!), and this week I finished his recent collection of short stories, Trajectories (2017). A couple of the stories had appeared in earlier books (grrr), and since I already had notes on them, I skipped them this time and read only the new ones.

(By the way: I read nine pages of the first story, "Horseman," before I realized I'd read it before! Dotage!)  I think I enjoy best the final story, "Milton and Marcus" (a long tale--nearly 70 pages). It's a Hollywood story about a screenwriter (once moderately successful) whose brief treatment of a new film, Milton and Marcus, a treatment he'd written years earlier, is now on Hollywood's front burner again. The Movers and Shakers fly him out for a conference in the Tetons, and he realizes that they're only covering their bases: Others have done full revisions already. Our narrator (the screenwriter) ends with a couple of bitter notes:

  •      "... this brutal world simply will not spare you--even when you're young--knowledge of the worm in the apple" (242).
  •      ".. I'd wanted more happiness than I had coming" (243).
Russo, of course, has had much experience in Hollywood. It was the Paul Newman film of Russo's novel Nobody's Fool (novel, 1993; film, 1994) that first propelled Russo into prominence, and since then he has had other experiences--perhaps, most notably, the HBO miniseries, Empire Falls, based on his Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name (2001). Russo wrote the screenplay for that. Russo has a number of other screen credits (check IMDB), including one of my favorites, The Ice Harvest, 2005).

     - I also finished one of my "nightstand books" (titles I read a little bit of each night): Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (2017), by Bill Schutt, a bio prof at Long Island University. Schutt--in very accessible prose--writes about cannibalism throughout the animal kingdom (yes, virtually all critters partake--under certain circumstances); he spends the final 200 pages or so of his 296-pp book talking about human cannibalism, including quite a lengthy account of the Donner Party (much of what I thought I knew was wrong, by the way).



Along the way, he has some goodies:

  • Some newborn spiders eat their mothers (22).
  • The preying mantis stuff is greatly exaggerated (37-8).
  • And here's a sentence no male wants to read: "An even more cringeworthy behavior is exhibited by Banana slugs (genus Ariolimax), which become so entwined during sex that they sometimes chew off their partner's corkscrew-shaped penis in an effort to disengage" (48). They eat it "spaghetti-style"--slurped down.
Enough?

Among humans it's often due to stress or starvation, and the 19th-century stories of cannibals in Africa and in other remote places were greatly exaggerated if not downright fabricated.

     - Finally, I finished Falstaff: Give Me Life (2017) by Harold Bloom, the astonishingly prolific academic writer. It's part of Scribner's series "Shakespeare's Personalities," and Bloom lets us know right away that he places Falstaff right up there with Hamlet, Cleopatra, Lear, and others of Shakespeare's greatest creations.



But Bloom also makes clear that he's thinking only of the Falstaff who appears in Henry IV, Part One and Henry IV, Part Two, and whose offstage death we hear about via Mistress Quickly in Henry V. He is not writing about the Falstaff who dominates the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play I like, a play I directed at Aurora High School in March 1989 (one of the great experiences of my life, by the way). Bloom haughtily dismisses Merry Wives: "Unfortunately, he [Shakespeare] also composed The Merry Wives of Windsor, a ghastly comedy that is an unacceptable travesty of Falstaff" (53). In other words, because that Falstaff does not entirely conform to Bloom's thesis about the other Falstaff, well, let's just forget about Merry Wives.

Bull.

Bloom should have dealt with it. If something doesn't quite fit, well, you modify your thesis. Duh.

I also didn't care for Bloom's endless use of block quotations--some going on for pages. And although he did have a couple of great points to make (about, say, Falstaff's eruptive language), his own voice was often lost in the tangle of quotation.

Glad I read it (how could I not?)--wouldn't recommend it.


3. Last night we finally got around to watching the final episode of last season's Sherlock, the one that revealed Sherlock and Mycroft have a Smarter Sister (a way-smarter sister), a psycho (majorly) who's been locked up in a maximum-security facility out on a rocky island--for years. Mycroft has known all along; Sherlock has forgotten her entirely. Guess what happens?  I hated the episode, thought it was absolutely ludicrous. Made me wonder if the writers were baked or something. It was like a James Bond during the bad years. The very bad years. (Here's a link to that episode--"The Final Problem"--in case I've piqued your interest!)


4. Last word--a goody from one of my various online word-of-the-day services ...

     - from dictionary.com

backronym  noun [bak-ruh-nim]
1. an existing word turned into an acronym by creating an apt phrase whose initial letters match the word, as to help remember it or offer a theory of its origin. For example, rap has been said to be a backronym of “rhythm and poetry.”
2. the phrase itself. For example, “port out, starboard home” is a misleading backronym for posh.
QUOTES
Butterfield, who liked the cheekiness and loved the sound of the word, coined a "backronym" to justify it: searchable log of all communication and knowledge. He got his way.
-- Jeff Bercovici, "Slack Is Our Company of the Year. Here's Why Everybody's Talking About It," Inc., December 2015
ORIGIN

One backronym familiar to every parent of a newborn is that of the Apgar score. The expansion for Apgar is “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration.” Actually the Apgar score is named after Virginia Apgar (1909-74), a US anesthesiologist who developed the test in 1952 to evaluate the effects of obstetric anesthesia on neonates. Backronym entered English in the late 20th century.





Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Wonder of a Teacher ... 4

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
Last time, I wrote about my discovery that my own fourth grade teacher (1953-54), Mrs. Stella Rockwell, had edited the massive two-volume history of Garfield County (Enid is the county seat), volumes I'd consulted a number of times during the research for my e-book Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012).

And the volumes are massive--as the photo shows you--more than 1100 total pages, full of photographs and information about the history of the region, the stories of the schools and churches, the stories of families who'd been there a while.

In the volumes is the story of the Rockwells, as well. In Vol. 2 is a picture of her with her husband, Glenn, during their college years at Phillips University (RIP) in Enid, the school where my grandfather taught, where my parents met, where my father would teach.


She was born as Stella Mae Campbell on Feb. 10, 1914 (about a year younger than my father), in Olive Township in Garfield County--just a little east of Enid, where her family moved when she was about a year old. The article says that she had herself attended Adams School (as my mother would a bit later), then Longfellow JHS (as my older brother did for a year before we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in the summer of 1956), and Enid HS. She played first violin in the Enid HS orchestra, then played for the Enid-Phillips Symphony Orchestra.

In some online research I discovered that when we were living in Enid at 1706 E. Elm Ave. (we were there when I was in fourth grade), the Rockwells lived at 805 E. Oklahoma Ave., about a mile southwest of us. She died on June, 10, 1993, and is buried in Enid Cemetery, which lies north of the city, but near Independence Ave., the street where once stood the old Carnegie Library, the razed (1972) shrine that I'd been researching, that had brought me back to Enid in the first place.

The current Enid Library was kind enough to send me her obituary from the Enid News and Eagle, June 13, 1963. I learn from it that she had four children, that she left the classroom to be a principal, then a curriculum coordinator, then, finally, Director of Elementary Education in Enid. She retired in 1978--the year I left the middle school classroom (I thought forever) and headed off  with Joyce to teach at Lake Forest College north of Chicago. (I was wrong: I went back to the middle school for fifteen more years: loved it, didn't leave it until retirement).

What was I doing on June 10, 1993, when she died? Initially, I cursed myself: I did not begin a regular journal until January 1997. But where was I in the late spring of 1993? I was teaching at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio--only I wasn't, I remembered. I was on sabbatical that 1992-1993 academic year. I had won a Teacher-Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was spending the year studying, traveling--all related to Jack London. And during that year, I kept a diary. And here's some of what I wrote that Thursday she died. We were living in Aurora at the time.

JUNE 10, 1993 (Thurs.): Worked in the morning on adding material to cards from Smoke Bellew. [a Jack London novel].  Lunch at Harmon [School, where I taught] (teachers' work day).  Drove to Hudson to mail Steve's financial aid forms [for college; he was about to start his senior year] ... then to Solon for oil change + new sandals.  Koenig's has good camping gear--so I'll probably be buying stuff there for my Chilkoot hike [in August I would hike the Chilkoot Trail, 33 miles from the coast of southeastern Alaska into the Yukon, a trail of great prominence in The Call of the Wild].  In the mail: Two letters from Russ [Kingman, a Jack London guru] ... Will drop him a note, asking for photocopies of a couple of things.

So ... I realize as I look at this now that Mrs. Rockwell's silent influence had remained. I was a teacher; I was deeply involved in historical research (as she had been); I was pursuing the things I love. And something else, as I think about it: I loved reading aloud to my students--practically from Day One.

Mrs. Rockwell's funeral was at University Place Christian Church in Enid--our church, the church where my grandfather had once served as pastor, the church where he baptized me on April 18, Easter Sunday, 1954. The year I was in fourth grade. The year the spectacular Mrs. Stella Rockwell was my teacher. She would have been in the congregation that day; she would have witnessed it.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Wonder of a Teacher ... 3

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
Now here's the damnedest thing ...

I wrote last time about the enormous influence of Mrs. Rockwell (my fourth-grade teacher, 1953-54), about her reading to us after recess (if we were "good"), about how she read to us The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (expurgated!), about how my friend Pete Asplund and I ran around our neighborhood as if we were Tom and Huck, as if we had a Mississippi River nearby ...

But those reading-after-recess experiences with her are about the only specific things I can recall from that long-ago school year. I remember the classroom--old wooden desks bolted to the floor in rows; I know that we must have done worksheets and turned in book reports; we must have done arithmetic problems and  penmanship exercises; we must have gone to music and art classes occasionally; we must have read through our reading books; and on and on. But I can't remember any of it. Not precisely.

Oh, I just remembered! I remember a book report I did for her--a little biography of George Washington Carver--George Carver: Boy Scientist (1944), part of the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Bobbs-Merrill). (The copy you see is one I bought, years later.)



But what else do I remember? Mrs. Rockwell. Her kindness. Her acceptance of all of us. Her intelligence. The feeling that I actually wanted to be in her classroom. That I felt safe there. That I didn't want to disappoint her (though, of course, I'm sure I did).

I was a pretty good student then. Worked hard for her. I do remember, though, that Mrs. Rockwell and others would mark me down for Keeps hands and materials away from mouth. I guess I remained a bit ... oral?

When I became a teacher myself in the fall of 1966, I am sure that I did not really think about Mrs. Rockwell's classroom--so much had happened in the interim--but I am confident, as well, sitting here right now, thinking about her, that she had a silent and subtle effect on me. I felt (if not knew) that I wanted a classroom like hers--not a place with desks bolted to the floor (those days were over!), but a place where kids felt safe, where we were kind to one another, where kids wanted to be, where they wanted to learn.

That didn't always happen, of course--let me be the first to say so. But it's what I wanted. What I sought.

And now ... in our recent days of Test Mania ... our educational leaders seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Mrs. Rockwells. How do I--how can I--"measure" what she did? What test is there that can in any way--with any accuracy whatsoever--delineate the boundless boundaries of her heart, the richness of that room? Or measure--then, now--the enduring influence she would have on me--without my even knowing it, without my even suspecting it?

On August 21, 2004, I was in Enid, researching the book that would become Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012). Among my stops was the Museum of the Cherokee Strip in Enid, where I hoped to find some information about Enid's old Carnegie Library, which Enid (curses! curses!) had razed in 1972. (The museum did have a library display--with some artifacts.) But I found something else there that totally surprised me, as this little excerpt from my memoir shows ...

I am yet again in Enid on a research trip.  At the Museum of the Cherokee Strip I am looking again at a book I have consulted several times before, the two-volume history of Garfield County published in 1983.

Now I need the complete citation for the book.  And in the front, there is the editor’s name: Stella Rockwell.  I have never noticed it, not all the times I have used these wonderful volumes.


I tell the curator that Mrs. Rockwell was my fourth grade teacher—and a great one.  He smiles.  He knows.  She’s a relative.  And he tells me that in 1993, her labors complete, she died.

I now own those books.

Next time--the final installment: Some recent research into Mrs. Rockwell's life and career ... some surprises for me ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 308



And now, returning from this fruitless mission, Falkner realizes that he must tell Elizabeth the truth—a truth that he fears (knows?) will damage—or perhaps permanently sever—their relationship.
And so begins his narrative, his confession … and, once, again, Mary employs the story-within-a-story technique to advance her narrative.
Mary tells us that as Falkner considered the effects of telling his story, the blood stood chilled in his heart when he thought of thus losing the only thing he loved on earth.[1]
Elizabeth—unwitting—is eager to hear her father’s story and rises the next morning with great happiness to hear it.[2] But he says little more than this: I am Rupert Falkner, your mother’s destroyer.[3] He immediately leaves for business in London—but gives Elizabeth the explanation/confession he previously wrote for her. And now … we get a text-within-a-story, another device Mary was fond of. He begins by telling a bit of his earlier biography. We reach a key point—that a love of his young life, Althea, does not share his passion; in current parlance, she says the equivalent of “We can still be friends.” Depressed, he flees to India for ten years, returns, discovers she has married another.
By chance, he is part of a dinner party that includes Neville, her husband, a boor and a beast (thinks Falkner), and he is horrified. He goes to see her, and she, initially, is happy—it’s been a decade. But when she discovers his romantic intentions, she stops. Cold. She is a wife. And although she no longer cares for her husband, she will, she says, persevere. She says we do not live to be happy, but to perform our duties; to fulfill mine is the aim of my life.[4]
So Falkner—deeply disturbed—leaves her in tears. And begins to plot …



[1] Ibid., 146.
[2] Ibid., 148.
[3] Ibid., 151.
[4] Ibid., 180.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

That Wonder of a Teacher ... 2



A few days ago, I posted a little bit about Mrs. Stella Rockwell, who was my fourth-grade teacher at Adams Elementary School (Enid, Oklahoma), 1953-54. I'd thought of her  because Joyce and I were talking about how a teacher can read to a class of youngsters a book that they would, on their own, perhaps have a bit of trouble reading--or a lot of trouble. I was thinking specifically of Michael Chabon's 2002 YA novel, Summerland, which I had just finished, weeping at various places near the end. A baseball fantasy novel ... appropriate for our grandsons, 8 and 12?

And I recalled that Mrs Rockwell--one of the very best teachers I ever had, K-Ph.D.--had routinely read to us after recess each day--her way of calming us down, and, believe me, we needed calming down.

Outside recess was rough in my day. The playground was red dirt--the Oklahoma clay so close to the surface that when the dust storms came (and they still did come in my boyhood), the sky boiled red and pink. Along the highways, where unpaved country roads joined the main routes, you could see streaks of red that the turning cars had left behind as they joined the traffic flow.

Anyway, back in the early 1950s no one seemed to worry about kids getting hurt on the playground--or playing stupid, even violent, games. I remember during one period, we boys (well, mostly boys) divided into "Confederates" and "Yankees," moved to opposite ends of the playground, and charged--battling right in the middle of the red. As far as I can remember, that was the only time that the playground supervisors (teachers) ever stopped us--but only after a few days of delightful mayhem.

Broken scabs and leaking wounds were common, after recess. And we all--especially in the fall and the spring--were perspiring heavily. This was north-central Oklahoma. No schools had air-conditioning. We didn't have it at home; neither did any of my friends. Just the movie theaters, all of which had signs out on the street that said: It's Cool Inside! And it was.

So ... on those hot fall and spring days (when it could reach 100) we sat and sweated and maybe even bled at our desks while our teachers tried to settle us down.

Mrs. Rockwell knew how to do it. If we were "good" when we came in, she would read to us for, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes--until our perspiration dried, our wounds scabbed over.

I remember, very early that fall, she said she would read aloud to us from books we brought in. At home, we had a set of books--The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One was red (Tom, I think); the other, green. Both had some full-page illustrations, in color.

They next day I brought in Tom--and she read it to the class, praising me for such a fine selection. Those were the days, by the way, when praise from a teacher was not a cue to the bullies in the class (and there were a couple) to look for us after school for a little whup-ass.

And then--right afterward--I swept in with Huck, which she also read aloud to us--though, years later, when I read it myself, I realized she had done some judicious bowdlerizing for her nine-year-old listeners.

After she finished Huck, I brought in Tom Sawyer, Detective from my grandfather's complete Twain set (they lived only a few blocks away), but this time Mrs. Rockwell--being Mrs. Rockwell--said we should let someone else have a turn.

Someone brought in Black Beauty, which I steadfastly refused to listen to ... pouty little jerk, I know.

Anyway, those two Twain titles had a profound effect on me. My friend Pete Asplund (RIP), who lived only a couple of streets over, was similarly smitten, and we ran around on weekends pretending to be Tom and Huck, pretending that we'd shimmied down the drain pipe to join up and have our wild adventures, adventures which generally ended at the neighborhood J & J Grocery, where we bought a Grapette or an Orange Crush for a nickle.

There was a little patch of woods across from our house, and I remember Pete, on Saturday mornings, would show up there, early,  and cry out like a crow in his fourth-grade soprano: Caw! Caw! Caw!--my signal to sneak out and have some Tom-and-Huck adventures. (My parents were probably relieved I was out of the house so early.)

Mrs. Rockwell, by the way, who was rather ... stout, would not permit us to use the word fat to describe a classmate or anyone else. She suggested pleasingly plump, which has some alliterative power, I grant you, but it's not a phrase I've had a lot of occasions to employ ... But I learned her lesson ...


To be continued ...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 307


Then we get one of Mary’s famous devices—a story within a story. She employed this most famously in Frankenstein—which features stories within stories within stories—and here Mary stops the progress of her narrative to allow Lady Cecil to relate the background of her family—and its mysteries.
Well, it’s a long story, Lady Cecil’s, consuming several chapters, but basically it tells how Gerard’s mother mysteriously disappeared one night, how his father believed his wife unfaithful and left him, how Gerard refused to believe this and would thereafter devote himself to find out what happened to his mother.
(Oddly, one of the key things Gerard learns is that a man named Osborne was possibly involved in her disappearance. My middle name is Osborn—simply a variant spelling. Ah! Another connection with Mary Shelley!)
Meanwhile, Falkner, hearing from Gerard’s family that he (Gerard) and Elizabeth ought to marry, is doing some research on poor Elizabeth’s family—the Rabys, a family, he discovers, that still has considerable means, but the Raby patriarch is old, bitter, still angry about his disgraced son who sired her, and he tells Falkner there is no chance he will alter his attitude. (Hmmm, does this sound like Sir Timothy Shelley? Bysshe’s father? Who never forgave Mary for what he believed until his death was the corruption his son?)
And now, returning from this fruitless mission, Falkner realizes that he must tell Elizabeth the truth—a truth that he fears (knows?) will damage—or perhaps permanently sever—their relationship.
And so begins his narrative, his confession …


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 142


1. AOTW: No one, really--though I can always confer the award upon myself. I can be a jerk. But perhaps I'll give it this week to a class of people--the inveterate, impatient, habitual honkers on our highways and roads, those AOTWs who simply cannot permit the tiniest portion of a second to pass if it somehow delays their progress by the tiniest amount. These AOTWs are the geese of humanity.

2. We saw a great film last night (via Netflix DVD): I Am Not Your Negro, the recent documentary about writer James Baldwin (1924-87), whose works I first started reading in the mid-60s. (Another Country blew me away!)

Anyway, we didn't know until we saw the opening credits that the film was "written" by Baldwin--viz., his published and recorded words compose virtually the whole of the screenplay. At times it's his actual voice (appearing, for example, on the Dick Cavett Show); at other times, actor Samuel L. Jackson recites his words (most effectively, I would say). Much archival footage--and much from our own recent, sad racial days, as well. There's a touching moment or two when Baldwin talks about the possibility of our ever having a black president; then we see the Obamas on his first Inauguration Day.


Powerful stuff. Those of us who came of age in the early days of the Civil Rights era can recall so much--Birmingham, Selma, Little Rock ... but younger folks, if they watch the film, will no doubt be amazed at the virulent hostility of many whites, who spat upon and cursed a black girl entering a previously all-white school.

Film is also available to stream on Amazon. Link to official trailer for the film.


3. I finished several books this week ...

     - The first was The Far Music (2016), a memoir by Earle Labor, the principal Jack London scholar in the world, a gentle soul I met in in the summer of 1990 out in Rohnert Park, Calif., where he was leading a six-week summer seminar for teachers (on London) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was a life-changer for me. It was there that I began working on an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild, which I later (1995) published with the University of Oklahoma Press. Anyway, Earle and I have stayed in touch over the years, and I was happy to read and respond to a draft of Far Music a few years ago.



It's the story of Earle and his friend Pink, undergrads at Southern Methodist, who decide to take some time off (just after WW II),  to work the harvests in the Central Plains, then head to the Canadian wilderness. Earle writes about helping to build grain elevators, about doing other very rough manual labor during the grain harvest season, about having some other gigs--including working at a burlesque show!

We also learn about the origins of his interest in Jack London and his emerging realizations about who he is--and what he needs to do on this earth.

It was a pleasure to hear his voice on his pages ...

     - I also finished a very fine book by Michael Sims--Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes (2017). Sims interweaves several stories in this--the biography of Doyle, the emergence of the detective story (and the word detective itself, which did not appear in general English usage until the mid-19th century), and, of course, Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes, a character still cavorting around in our movies and TV shows, our novels, our plays. (See, of course, Sherlock on PBS and Elementary on CBS.)



It was an uncle who urged young Doyle to read Edgar Poe, who, of course, wrote those three tales of ratiocination featuring Dupin, the Sherlock-forefather("The Murders in the Rue Morgue," 1841; "The Mystery of Marie Rot," 1842-43; and "The Purloined Letter," 1844). Arthur Conan Doyle was always frank and appreciative about Poe--and never claimed to have invented the genre which he perfected and which remains resolutely with us today.

Sims also tells us about the creation of the early Holmes stories, speculates about the origins of the characters' names (including, as I posted on FB last week, that Oliver Wendell Holmes, a favorite of the Doyle family, supplied the hero's surname), talks about the critical and public reaction to each of the stories, and shows us how the financially struggling young Dr. Doyle found wealth and security and celebrity through this most stunning character.

   - Finally, I continued with my journey through the books of Michael Chabon with his 2002 YA novel, Summerland, a novel I wrote a bit about yesterday. I loved this book. Near the end, a couple of times, reading in the coffee shop, I wept openly--tears flowing from me as if I were  a little boy who'd lost his puppy--and then the puppy raced home and leaped into his arms. (I know: a bit much. Deal with it.)

It just resonated with me in so many ways. It was about an eleven-year-old kid who became a baseball catcher (as I did), about his close friends, about his dad, whom he nearly loses (don't get me started on that), about a series of adventures in other dimensions, where time is not the same and where baseball is the way to settle disputes (!!), about the contributions made by all kinds of other creatures--like a were-fox, a Sasquatch (a female, with a heart), about the struggle with darkness and evil, about the imminent end of the world (unless our heroes win the game), about believing in yourself, about loving your friends, etc. And on and on and on.




There are direct connections to mythology and legend (including King Arthur, Thor, and others), to Tolkien's novels, to the Narnia books, to the boyhood baseball books I consumed like Cracker Jacks, to the history of the Negro Leagues, to ... about everything else I ever cared about. Including love.

As I wrote yesterday, I was wondering if my baseball-and-Tolkien-loving grandsons (8 and 12) could read the book (it's a bit sophisticated in language for the usual YA audience--but ... I'll give a copy to my son, see what he thinks).

Every now and then in my long reading life, I've come across a book that makes me believe This guy wrote this book for me. And so I felt as I wept through the closing pages of Summerland.


4. Final Word--One I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers.

    - from wordsmith.org


sadiron (SAD-eye-uhrn)
noun: A heavy flatiron pointed at both ends and having a detachable handle.
ETYMOLOGY:
From sad (obsolete senses of the word: heavy, solid) + iron. Earliest documented use: 1759.
USAGE:
“The next day, everything was ironed with a sadiron.”

Jean Baggott; The Drama of a Very Ordinary Life; Daily Mail (London, UK); Feb 27, 2010.




Saturday, May 20, 2017

That Wonder of a Teacher ...

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
I attended grades 1, 3-6
This story (these stories?) could take several posts to tell ... so ... here we go ...

Yesterday, I finished reading Michael Chabon's 2002 novel, Summerland, a baseball fantasy novel published by the "children's" arm of Hyperion Books. I suppose it's supposed to be a YA novel--and it could (just guessing) have come from Chabon's pen/word-processor as part of the publishing phenomenon known as Harry Potter, whose first adventure appeared in 1997, and by mid-summer 2002, J. K. Rowling had published four of the seven titles in the series. Everyone knows about their wild, unprecedented popularity.

But who knows if this was Chabon's inspiration? Chabon is a brilliant writer, and this one could have been simmering in his brain long before little Harry walked on the stage--and stole the spotlights.



Anyway, I will be writing more about Summerland in "Sunday Sundries" tomorrow in this space, but suffice it now to say that it's a book about an eleven-year-old boy, Ethan, who sucks at baseball (but doesn't want to), a boy who finds himself drawn into another dimension (think: Narnia--where time is not the same as here), a boy who realizes he has been chosen to save the world from the darkness (think: every fantasy novel you've ever read). Along the way, Ethan and his motley crew of companions (think: Lord of the Rings) must use baseball to defeat some of the Bad Guys who stand between them and the world's salvation. Ethan acquires a sort of magic bat (think: Sting in The Hobbit). And so on ...

I was reading the book for more than one reason. Visitors here know that I've been reading my way through all of Chabon's novels. So ... I had to read this one. But I was also wondering if our grandsons (both of whom love baseball), ages 8 and 12, would be able to read the book. Not only do they love baseball--they love Tolkien, et al., a legacy from their father, who loved those books back when he was a boy. (Okay, and so did I.) Joyce read them to him when he was a Wee One--her nightly, loving ritual as she put him to bed. He's seen the movies countless times--and has passed along his passion to his sons.

But, reading Chabon, I felt that Summerland might be just a bit down the road for them. I thought maybe I'd give the book to our son and daughter-in-law--see what they think.

And talking this over the other night with Joyce on one of our "evening drives," I mentioned that it would be a great book for a teacher to read to an elementary-school/middle-school class.

And thus I remembered my own remarkable fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rockwell--Mrs. Stella Rockwell--who read to us every day after lunch recess. Helped us calm down for the afternoon's work and activities. Oh, she was a wonder, Mrs. Rockwell, and in the ensuing posts here, I will tell you how and why.

To be continued ...


Friday, May 19, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 306


And then Falkner—like Trelawny and Byron—resolves to go join the Greek War of Independence (1821–32). He leaves written narratives behind, stories that reveal both his own mysterious biography (not to be read until he has died) and his discovery of Elizabeth—who, by the way, goes with him to Greece—though she remains removed from the war zones.
Some years pass. Elizabeth gets word that Falkner has been wounded in battle, is suffering from malaria, and is near death in a remote Greek village. She rushes to him …
Of course, readers who know the story of the death of Lord Byron will see the similarities here. Byron, too, fell ill in Greece, resisted the recommended treatment (bleeding), then submitted to it. And soon died.
But Falkner’s story is a bit different. Elizabeth nurses him back to something near health; they set out to travel north—and he falls desperately ill again. Slowly, they work their way back to England (she has seen that young man Neville again in Marseilles—and Falkner is again alarmed); they’ve been gone for four years. And Falkner’s health has waxed and waned as they traveled.
A year later, Elizabeth falls ill herself, and they go to Hastings, which lies about seventy miles south of London, on the English Channel; there, she hopes to recover in the home of Lady Cecil. Staying there, too, is one of Lady Cecil’s relatives, a melancholy youth named Gerard. Elizabeth quickly improves—as does Gerard, whose very soul, writes Mary in her most Romantic and romantic way, drank in gladness at the sight of her.[1]
But there is some stress in the Gerard’s family, particularly between him and his father, and Mary, who knew something of family fractures, says Family contentions are the worst of all.[2] I would guess that as she wrote each letter of that sentence, memories of her unhappiness with her stepmother, of her once-broken relationship with her father, of her enduring difficulties with the Shelley family mixed with the ink on the page.
Then we get one of Mary’s famous devices—a story within a story. She employed this most famously in Frankenstein—which features stories within stories within stories—and here Mary stops the progress of her narrative to allow Lady Cecil to relate the background of her family—and its mysteries.




[1] Ibid., 80, 84.
[2] Ibid., 86.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hooked Up 2--and Other News from MedWorld


Yes, I'm still hooking up every morning--to my Holter (heart) monitor. I will be doing so only for a total of seven days; yesterday in the coffee shop, I talked with a guy who told me he'd recently worn one for a month. So I felt ... diminished. I also joked--as we shared MedStories--that we were sounding like our grandparents. Young Guys talk about ... you know, the Heart; Old Guys talk about heart monitors.

Anyway, the device is not proving to be too much of a pain. (I'm hooking up without Joyce these recent days.) Most of the day I don't notice it at all--save for a slight tugging now and then (wires). And, I must confess (blush, blush) that there are certain times when it's, uh, a bit more of an inconvenience--especially since mine, unlike the guy's in the photo above, is hooked on my belt. Use your imagination ...

It's a relief each morning to take it all off so I can hop in the shower--though "hopping" in the shower is not something I've done for years--more or less "shuffling' into the shower is what I now do. But--too soon, too soon--I'm back out, dry, and ready to attach it all again.

I will wear it till Monday afternoon--the end of my seven-day sentence. Then I'll mail it off and wait to see what we've learned.

Meanwhile, I learned something this week--something helpful. My PCP had referred me to an ophthalmologist because I've been complaining about bleary vision in recent months. I thought it could be connected to the dizziness and wooziness I've felt. Cause? Effect?

Well, the ophthalmologist quickly discovered a problem: Back in mid-February this year, I had my routine exam by my local eye guy (to whom I've gone for years); I'd complained that my distance vision was not so good, so I got a new Rx + new frames. I had some trouble adjusting--but I thought it was, you know, my problem. My old eyeballs just weren't as agile as they used to be, etc.

No. My ophthalmologist discovered that the Rx in my right eye was quite the opposite of what I needed, and the Rx for the left eye wasn't all that accurate, either. I went home, put on my "old" glasses (the ones I'd worn previous to February), and the world immediately cleared up. (Not completely so: I still had the problem with distances, the problem that I'd complained about back in Feb.)

But I ran the new glasses over to my eye guy, where they told me that they would send them "back out" to the lab.

I'm hoping there won't be a charge ... there'd better not be a charge!

And speaking of charges, today I got a bunch of pages from my health insurance carrier, pages telling me they're not going to pay for a recent (expensive) procedure ... yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm going to take the forms out to my PCP's office this afternoon. Get it all immediately cleared up, I'm sure.

Health Care System ... How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways ...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 305


Anyway … the little girl in the graveyard at the beginning of Falkner is only six and is a friendless orphan.[1] We learn about the sad deaths of her parents and how their landlady takes care of the little girl, Treby—full name: Elizabeth.
A stranger arrives in town, a man, it seems, who is bent on suicide. His name is Falkner. He goes to the graveyard to shoot himself—and guess who stops him at the last moment? Grateful, he resolves he will raise the little girl himself.
Some years pass; they’re in Odessa. A remarkable Englishwoman named Miss Jervis joins them and commences the education of the little girl, who is excited to learn.[2] She learns swiftly, and Falkner is tremendously impressed.
More years pass. Now they’re in Baden, Switzerland, where Falkner sees a young Englishman he recognizes. Neville. The young man … interests … Elizabeth, but the sight of him for some reasons causes Falkner to flee. Soon, he sends for Elizabeth and Miss Jervis to join him in Mainz, Germany—about 400 miles north. And then to London. Elizabeth, charmed with Neville, hopes she’ll see him again.
And then Falkner—like Trelawny and Byron—resolves to go join the Greek War of Independence (1821–32). He leaves narratives behind, stories that reveal his own mysterious biography (not to be read until he has died) and relate his discovery of Elizabeth. She goes with him to Greece.
More years pass. Then she gets word that Falkner has been wounded in battle, is suffering from malaria, and is near death in a remote Greek village. She rushes to him …



[1] The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 7, ed. Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996), 7.
[2] Ibid., 37.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hooked Up

mine has no harness--just a belt hook


When I was younger, "hook up" had no carnal meaning. We hooked up a new stereo. Or met someone for coffee and donuts. Or arranged to meet someone we'd not seen in a long time.

This kind of thing happens, though: Old harmless phrases become new naughty ones. Let's credit (blame?) the ever-fecund libido. Or--to mix a metaphor--the Old Faithful of Naughty.

Anyway, yesterday I hooked up.

The old way.

As I wrote a few days ago, I was supposed to get my Holter (heart) monitor at the Twinsburg University Hospitals facility on Friday, but the lone unit they had malfunctioned, so the company sent me a new one via some express package service, and it arrived on Saturday.

Too chicken to hook up myself, I messaged my physician via the UH portal and arranged to hook up with a nurse yesterday at 2:00. Joyce went along. (I imagine you filthy-minded folk are really enjoying yourselves about now.)

So ... hooking up with the nurse: She readily hooked me up: four sticky patches, four color-coded cables, a little recording device about the size of one of those cool little transistor radios from my youth. Hooked on my belt. And off I went into Life, hooked up.

Among the dire (Dyer?) warnings in all the accompanying paperwork that came with the device is one that says I must not get the device wet. But I can remove it to shower, then hook up again afterward with a fresh set of sticky-patches-with-connections.

This morning, Joyce (who normally has headed out to the health club before I have finished showering) stayed behind to hook up with me. Precise as ever, she made some little positional marks on my chest with a permanent marker; then we removed the patches (tiny Ouch! four times); I showered (the marks remained ... will they forever?); then we replaced the patches and hooked up again.

This procedure--morning hook-ups--will continue until next Monday, when, in the afternoon, I will peel-and-remove for the last time. Then I'll put the hook-up device in a (provided) return mail envelope and wait to hear from my physician about how my heart performed.

But after all that hooking up, can there be any doubt what kind of shape my heart is in?


***

PS--Later this morning, I will hook up with an ophthalmologist to see if he can figure out why my vision is sometimes blurry and dizzying during all of this hooking up (and the events of the past few weeks & months).

Stay tuned for more about my Adventures in MedWorld! (Will there be more hooking-up to come?)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 304


One other odd note or two or three before I summarize a bit of Mary’s final novel, Falkner. The family of novelist William Faulkner (1897–1962) had originally spelled its name “Falkner.” It was William himself who changed the spelling in 1918 when he filled out an application for (and acquired) a job at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.[1] When my wife, Joyce, and I traveled to see and photograph Faulkner sites in Mississippi in the summer of 2004 (I was teaching As I Lay Dying each year to my high school juniors), we noticed that the many family graves we saw all said “Falkner.” Except his and his wife’s. So … the coincidence: Mary’s father writes Faulkener; she writes Falkner. All three spellings of the word derive from falconer.

in Ripley, MS
Mary’s novel begins in a little village she calls Treby (fictional) in coastal Cornwall—and, of course, I think of the scenic village there, setting for a British TV series I’ve loved, Doc Martin. But let’s not digress too much!


A little girl spends her days at the cemetery near the grave of her mother, and readers might recall that Mary’s father used to take little Mary herself to the St. Pancras churchyard, where lay the remains of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. In biographies of Mary Shelley, you can read how Godwin helped teach little Mary to read by tracing the words on her mother’s gravestone—and, later,in 1814, how Mary and young (married!) Bysshe Shelley would go there to be … alone. Some have even said that they first had sex there. Surely not!
Bysshe himself has contributed to speculation about this possibility. In a long letter to his university friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, he wrote on October 4, 1814, of the moment when Mary had confessed her love to him (he was already consumed by her): No expressions can convey the remotest conception of the manner in which she dispelled my delusions. The sublime & rapturous moment when she confessed herself mine, who had so long been her’s [sic] in secret cannot be painted to mortal imaginations—Let it suffice to you, who are my friend to know & to rejoice that she is mine ….[2]  There is a rather chaste oil painting of the moment, a painting done by William Powell Frith, The Lover’s Seat (1877). Both lovers are fully clothed at the moment!






[1] Jay Parini, One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 38–9.
[2] Letters, vol. 1, ed.  Frederick L. Jones, 403.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 141


1. AOTW: I could easily present this to the woman, who, at the grocery store the other day, saw a cashier wave Joyce and me unto the next line (which she'd just opened); this near-winner-woman was behind us and immediately swooped over to get ahead of us in the newly opened line. Bad, bad, bad. But, I fear, there was a more deserving winner in recent weeks. His name: Daniel Osborn Dyer. And here's what he did: Lying on his back in the ER (see previous posts), he was silently correcting the grammar and usage of those very medical professionals who were working to figure out what was wrong with him--and to help him. (He heard "lay down"; he thought "lie down"; he heard "Do you feel nauseous?"; he thought, "Nauseated." And so on. Our winner's only humanizing virtue in all of this: He did not speak these corrections aloud. And he well knew he was the AOTW.

2. As I've posted earlier, I've had some trouble reading in recent weeks (blurry vision), but I was able to finish two books this week.

     - Dan Chaon is a writer whom I invited to the WRA campus in the spring of 2011. A teacher at Oberlin, he spent the day on campus on April 11--visiting my classes (and some others), delivering a talk to the entire WRA community. His new novel then was Await Your Reply, which my students had read.


The kids liked him a lot--and enjoyed his novel. His new one, which I finished early last week, is Ill Will, a thriller (psychological and otherwise) with multiple points-of-view. Chaon (pronounced SHAWN) employs the uncertainty principle: Someone is murdering young college men (or is he?); an adopted son murdered the parents of his new family (or did he?); a young son of the murdered parents knew the adoptee had done it (or did he know?); years later, a former policeman (or is he?) helps the son, now a shrink, with the murders (or does he?). And on and on.



'Tis a twisted tale, subtle and gripping, and will keep you, Dear Reader, doubting your own judgment and instincts as you proceed to the surprising ending.

     - I also finished the brand-new memoir by Richard Ford, Between Them: Remembering My Parents. Visitors to this site know that I recently completed reading all of Ford's works--in the order of publication--so I was glad to have another. This is a tentative memoir: Ford is bright enough to know what we can't know--and he does not presume to "understand" everything--or maybe even anything--about the quiet lives of his parents, both now deceased. I don't believe I've ever seen so many question marks in a memoir--a punctuation mark that ought to be ubiquitous in such a speculative genre.

He has organized the volume in two major sections--one devoted to each parent. In his Afterword, he says that he wrote his mom's portion thirty years ago; his dad's, more recently.



We learn a bit about the author, of course, as we read. He was--to say the least--a "late bloomer"; he had trouble in school--even some trouble with the law--but both parents were, well, latitudinarian, especially Dad (although he was also sometimes violent). Later, Mom never really understood why he wanted to be a writer--thought he ought to get, you know, a real job--this advice delivered when he was a published respected author and teaching at Princeton!

I loved the book--wept (always a good sign)--and was deeply impressed with his humility, with his quest, with his admission that there are things we can never know.


3. We're enjoying streaming some recent episodes of the Brit detective series Jack Taylor (it's set principally in Ireland--in Galway). The stories are rough, to say the least (sometimes hard to watch), but the actor who plays Taylor--Iain Glen--is terrific, as are some of the minor players. I noticed (I'm slow, slow) that the shows are based on a series of novels by Ken Bruen, so I nabbed one on Kindle a couple of days ago, started it, liked it ... guess I gotta read them all, eh? The shows are available to stream on Netflix.


4. Nearly finished with that amazing multi-part documentary (won the Oscar this year), OJ: Made in America. So disturbing to watch, so impossible not to watch ...  It's on Hulu for streaming.


5. A Final Word--from one of my online word-of-the-day services ...

     - from dictionary.com


saudade    noun [soh-dah-duh]
1. (in Portuguese folk culture) a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent: the theme of saudade in literature and music.
QUOTES
... “The Girl From Ipanema” was a potent distillation of the concept of saudade, a feeling of melancholic nostalgia that characterizes so much Brazilian music. ... Longing for the unattainable, and an acute sense of the moment’s slipping away: That’s saudade.
-- Stephen Holden, "Brazilian Yearning and Imminent Loss," New York Times, March 21, 2014
ORIGIN

Portuguese saudade ultimately derives from Latin sōlitāt-, the stem of sōlitās “loneliness, solitude.” (Latin -l- between vowels is lost in Portuguese; Latin -t- between vowels becomes -d- in Portuguese and Spanish.) The original Old Portuguese form soidade was altered to saudade under the influence of the verb saudar “to salute, greet” (from Latin salūtāre “to keep safe, pay one's respects”). Saudade entered English in the 20th century.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

Catching Up


I've begun reading Michael Chabon's 2002 novel Summerland, which I am enjoying far more than I guess I thought I would. Classified as a YA novel, it's really got a broader appeal (and some of the diction and sentence structure and humor seem, well, perhaps a bit above the YA category?).

It' a baseball-fantasy novel, and I began relating to it almost immediately. Although I am not what you'd call a Fantasy Freak, I have read many of the most celebrated titles--from  The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings (Summerland has patent connections to both), to Arthurian legends (ditto), to The Chronicles of Narnia and the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander--and, of course, the Harry Potter novels.

So ... the fantasy appeal snagged me--but not so firmly as did the baseball appeal. I loved to play baseball when I was a boy--loved it completely through elementary school, junior high, high school--until I got to American Legion ball when I discovered (as most of us do at one time or another) that I had reached my limit.

Summerland is about an 11-year-old boy, Ethan Feld, who's the worst player on his team. Strikes out at key moments. Makes multiple errors.

But then ... visitors from another dimension arrive. One tells him he looks like a catcher. The very word catches Ethan emotionally somehow, and when his dad (a recent widower) tells him he has an old catcher's mitt in the garage in an old box, Ethan goes to try it on. Listen in ...

... when he put on his father's old catcher's mitt, his fingers slid into the proper slots without any trouble at all. Ethan raised his left hand and gave the mitt a few exploratory flexes, pinching his fingers toward his thumb. It was heavy, much heavier than his fielder's glove, but somehow balanced, weighing no more on one part of his hand than on any other. Ethan felt a shiver run through him ... (71).

Well!

I was a catcher--and became one, initially, through a ... well ... through a ... lie.

The first summer we moved to Hiram, Ohio, I was not yet 12. I had played baseball back in Enid, Okla., but out in the field somewhere, where I did little to distinguish myself. Anyway, that first summer (1956), Hiram had no summer team for boys, but that next summer, my dad and some other parents had gotten Hiram hooked up with the Portage County Hot Stove League. I was in "F League" (no--do not think of school grades! it had to do with age!); my little brother, in the "G."

And at our first practice, our coach (who was it?) asked, "Anyone know how to play catcher?"

Pause. Pause.

"I do."

That was the sound of my (lying) voice. I'd never tried it. Did not even know how to don the equipment (the "tools of ignorance" as someone once labeled them).

But here's what I found out. I could do it! And pretty soon I could do it pretty well! And soon I thought of myself as the second coming of Yogi Berra, the Yankees' catcher, my hero. (Obviously, I wasn't--as I would later learn.)



My dad bought me my first catcher's mitt, and I can see that thing right now! Almost golden in color (of course!) and bearing the engraving of the name of a player I'd never heard of: Bob Scheffing. There was no Internet then--no Google search window--so I drifted along in ignorance for a while.

Now, of course, it's easy to find out stuff about him.


And his full Major League record you can find by following this link. He began with the Cubs in 1941; left for WW II; returned a few years later; played some more; moved to different teams; last year--1951. He then managed a bit. Died in 1985.

I'm just now getting on eBay to see if I can find that glove for sale--not that I'd buy it, mind you. But just to see ...

PAUSE TO SEARCH.

And there it is ... a mere $89.95 ... Amazing.

I am not tempted to buy it. I'm already timid about catching the pitches of my grandson Logan, who's just 12. But I have to tell you ... there are tears in my eyes ... right now.

Thanks so much, Michael Chabon!