Dawn Reader

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 320

They eventually arrived at Lake Como, their destination, where Mary spent time ruminating and remembering. And she feels something surprising: hope. I had thought such ecstasy as that in which I now was lapped dead to me for ever, she writes, but the sun of Italy has thawed the frozen stream—the cup of life again sparkles to the brim. Will it be removed as I turn northward/ I fear it will.[1]
Some of her writing is these pages is surprising. She writes, for example, about a brawl in an inn. One of the combatants—an acquaintance—had a deep gash in the thigh, and was nearly dead from loss of blood. … the root of the evil still rests in the absence of education and civilisation ….[2]
Today, we could pluck those final fourteen words, paste them into Facebook, claim them as our own, and very quickly start a war of words on the Internet. So many of us agree (and disagree) with Mary Shelley—that so many answers to so many problems would arrive if we would dedicate ourselves to (among other things—like working to reduce income inequality) making our public schools the best in the world, to making sure that one of the principal lessons we teach, K–12, is about civilisation. A civil society. Treating one another with respect.
Pipe dream?
They visited Milan, where Mary remembered having seen a ballet performance of Othello; she says the company executed it all so well that words seemed superfluous for the expression of passion or incident ….[3]
But there were money problems in Milan—funds had not arrived from England, and so she sent Percy and his friends home and waited alone in Italy for the arrival of the relevant letter.
It didn’t come. It didn’t come …
And then she found it; it had been there all the time—misplaced. And, again, I feel a unity with Mary Shelley, for these events resemble, on my much smaller scale, many moments in my life—especially in my … later years.

[1] Ibid., 94.
[2] Ibid., 100.
[3] Ibid., 112.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sconing Around ...

today's batch; cherry-walnut
I'm still making scones, frequently enough that I can have one every morning (except Sunday--but that's another story). My pan allows for eight slots, so every week or so I need to make a batch. Although I've done numerous kinds over the years (blueberry was an Adventure in Stain), I've settled into a rotation in recent months: cherry-walnut and maple-pecan. Back and forth, forth and back.

I use natural, local ingredients whenever possible (local maple syrup, local honey; organic flour; etc.), and I make sure they're pretty much cholesterol-free (nuttin' like some nice soy butter, you know?).

After they cool from the oven, I freeze them, taking one out each morning (except for Sunday (see above)) and zapping it in the microwave just before I head over to the coffee shop (around 7 am). I munch away while I read the New York Times on my Kindle--while I check email--while I check Facebook. The scone is usually Long Gone by the time I reach FB, though. I'm tempted, of course, to eat, you know, two (or more) each morning, but--so far at least--I've resisted the Evil Voice in my head. (The Evil Voice has become less persuasive in a variety of ways as I've gotten older.)

I've posted the recipe before on this site (search: scones-dawnreader), and it's really not all that novel. I found the basic recipe online, then modified it to my own peculiar tastes and interest. It takes about 45 minutes from Point A ("I think I'll make scones today!") to Point B ("Should I eat a fresh one right now?"--the Evil Voice, of course).

As I type right now--10 a.m.--they are cooling in the baking pan, and in a sec I will walk out to the kitchen and de-pan them and put them on a cooling rack (and ignore, probably, the Evil Voice's urgings while I'm doing so).

I started doing this a few years ago, baking scones every week--can't remember why. But now I'm hooked. I don't know what I would do if I ran out and didn't have one to carry with me for my morning Caffeine Fix. But I'm pretty sure I would fracture, break into tiny pieces, slide to the sidewalk, where some birds and bugs would gather. You know ...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 319

So, these were some of my “rambles” as I, in the summer of 1997, was reading Mary’s final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (1844). As I mentioned above, her book is epistolary in design—set up in the form of letters to an unnamed correspondent. Divided into three parts and named (perhaps, for our slow sakes?) Part I (1840), Part II (1842–1843), and Part III (1842), the sections comprise, respectively, twelve, eleven, and twenty-three letters. (For you who are mathematically challenged, that’s forty-six total letters!) Some are quite long—with multiple dates—and the original edition held about 300 pages.
She begins by questioning the wisdom of her return to Italy. There, she writes, I left the mortal remains of those beloved—my husband and my children, whose loss changed my whole existence, substituting, for happy peace and the interchange of deep-rooted affections, years of desolate solitude, and a hard struggle with the world; which, only now, as my son is growing up, is brightening into a better day.[1]
She was traveling with her son, Percy Florence Shelley, twenty years old, and two of his school friends. They crossed over to France, then into Germany, where they traveled on the Rhine—a return, of course, to some geography she’d first visited back in 1814—a quarter-century earlier—when, a teenager, she had eloped with the already married Bysshe Shelley.
In her third letter in Vol. I, she mentions visiting Darmstadt, Germany, only about nine miles north of Castle Frankenstein—the place, which I discussed many, many pages ago, had supposedly suggested to Mary the name of Victor Frankenstein. And in 1840 they were traveling on the Bergstrasse (“mountain road”), a road that goes right by the ruins of the Frankenstein castle.
Yet she says not a word about it in this travel account. Not a word about it anywhere else in her letters or journals, either. So we have to ask: If Castle Frankenstein were really the source of the name of her most famous book—in her lifetime as well as now—why would she not write a single syllable about it in her 1840 account? Or elsewhere?

[1] (London: Edward Moxon, 1844), 1–2.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


I'm nearing the end of Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband,Father, and Son, the last Michael Chabon book I have not read. (I will blog more about this on Sunday), but in this 2009 collection of essays (wonderful essays, by the way) one of his sentences leaped up at me and hissed: Write a blog post about this! And so I will.

The sentence appears in "The Wilderness of Childhood": "People read stories of adventure--and write them--because they have themselves been adventurers" (61).

He's not talking about actual, physical, let's-climb-the-Matterhorn adventures but the imaginary kind, that kind I had as a kid in Enid, Oklahoma, and (later) Hiram, Ohio, where I ran around in the woods playing Robin Hood and whoever else was the hero-of-the-moment for me.

One boyhood show I loved was Walt Disney's Disneyland (it had subsequent titles, too). It had four rotating focuses: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland. My favorite, of course, was Frontierland, for it was there that Davy Crockett roamed--the King of the Wild Frontier. I would tolerate the other three; I loved Frontierland.

And when I wasn't running around in the woods--enacting and reinacting scenes from the shows with my friends (and co-conspirators)--when I was in bed, say, hoping my dreams would feature Davy or Robin or--is it possible?--both of them?--I was what Chabon identified: an adventurer.

Virtually all the boyhood books I read were about adventures and adventurers (even the biographies were of characters I one day hoped to be: Wild Bill Hickok, Jim Bowie, Kit Carson, et al.). And virtually all of my personal Fantasyland involved me on a horse saving a small town from some Bad Guy in a Black Hat.

As I've aged, I still read what we all call, loosely, "adventure" novels (fantasy, detective, thriller, etc.), built I have also, as Chabon implies, found "adventure" to be a far more capacious category than I'd ever imagined as a boy.

So I read those "classic" adventure novels (Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc.), but I also read about intellectual and emotional adventures--books such as Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Paul Auster's recent 4-3-2-1, and, well, novels by Michael Chabon.

Adventure, I've learned (as as Chabon reminded me with some grace), is not always Robin Hood splitting another arrow in the bull's-eye or Davy Crockett grinning a raccoon down out of a tree, or Ahab pursuing you-know-what.

It can be the quest for knowledge, understanding, enrichment, love.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 318

And about that time I had resolved that I was going to climb it, too. I was going to stand on the summit where he had stood. All in honor of Dad … And so I contacted a cousin, who lived near Portland and had climbed it before, and made arrangements to climb it with him later in the summer. And I started training for the ascent.
But Life had other plans for me.
The rest of the year—1997—was a madhouse for us: moving from Aurora to Hudson; both of us were teaching at Hiram College (Joyce full-time; I, part-); the pile of our quotidian concerns seemed to grow ever higher and higher each day. My father’s health was failing (and we were back and forth to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to see him); Joyce was not feeling well; I was researching the Mary Shelley story, writing op-eds for the Plain Dealer, trying to get an agent for my Shelley book. My YA biography of Jack London had come out in 1997, had earned some good reviews, and I was hoping I could build on that.
And I was in training (sort of) to climb Mt. Hood—exercising, losing weight, fantasizing …
But by the spring of 1998 I knew that climb was not going to happen. My left knee—which I’d injured during my 1993 hike over the Chilkoot Trail (over the mountains in southeastern Alaska into the Yukon Territory)—was acting up, and Joyce’s health had worsened. I didn’t see how I could do it.
So on June 2, I contacted my cousin and told him. I canceled flight reservations and motels. I felt … mortal. And grieved at the dark knowledge that my rambling days were coming to an end.
It didn’t help that just two days earlier—May 31, 1998—a group of climbers on Hood were hit by an avalanche; one died.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 147

1. AOTW: The tailgater who followed me for a half-dozen miles the other day, thinking, I guess, that his proximity would urge me to go faster than I was (5 mph above the speed limit). He was wrong. As AOTWs invariably are.

2. I finished just one book this week--a longish one: I'd Die for You and Other Lost Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, 2017). Edited by noted Fitzgerald scholar Anne Margaret Daniel ... I just got a little rush, thinking of actress Ann-Margaret & Daniel! ... the volume is not really full of "lost" stories--just, mostly, stories that FSF and his agent (Harold Ober) failed to place in any magazine. A couple were published later on--even recently--by guilty magazines, like the New Yorker, which in 2012 ran a FSF story it had rejected in 1936!

FSF was writing stories furiously to deal with his expenses, the most prominent of which were those relating to the institutionalization of his wife, Zelda (who would die in a fire at the place in North Carolina where she was staying: March 10, 1948.) FSF had died at 44, heart attack, on December 21, 1940.

Anyway, I'm sad to report that most of these stories are pretty ordinary--even bad--and to one extent or another deserved their fates. FSF would probably not be all that thrilled about seeing them in print, but I'm glad they are. It's nice to have them, to see how a fine writer doesn't always write fine things (Mickey Mantle struck out a lot), and how some of the ideas that appear so artfully in other stories appear not-so-artfully in these.

The editor begins each story with some notes about its history and status--when he wrote it, who rejected it (and why, in most cases), and who owns the story now (most are the intellectual property of the FSF estate).

There are a few lines I liked (and some flashes of that old FSF use of color).

  • "Love is a sure thing--it takes a living man to love" (16).
  • "The girl hung around under the pink sky waiting for something to happen" (41).
  • "His reasoning came to wreck on the single rock that he did not love her" (105).
But there is precious little of this. Instead, there are implausible plots, ridiculous coincidences, failures of all sorts.

But--hey!--it's Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald! Gotta read it, right?

3. We've found yet another mystery series to stream--this an Australian series called The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Blake is the son of the former doctor in town (deceased) and has some "daddy issues" to deal with. But he's sort of a combination of Doc Martin and Sherlock. Plus a nosy neighbor. I love his relationships with the other cast members--especially his housekeeper. Between him and her is ... something ... We'll see. (We've seen only two complete episodes.)

4. On Saturday night we went out to Montrose to see Beatriz at Dinner, an independent film that looked interesting.  It was about an immigrant woman (from Mexico--Salma Hayek) who learns assorted therapies to help cancer patients and others; she's an earth-lover, a friend of animals (a vegetarian), and she has greatly helped the daughter of a very wealthy family and, as a result, has become "friends" with the mother, who is so grateful for what she's done. She goes out to their mansion now and then to give massages to Mom. Well ... one day ... the day of an important business/related dinner at the mansion she goes to deliver a massage, but her car breaks down, so the mom invites her stay for dinner. Mistake. It's a gross kind of businessman thingy, and from there, I thought, the film tumbled downhill. Virtually every character is a cliche, a cut-out, and the script was so inadequate for the talents of those involved (e.g., John Lithgow). I thought it pretty much trivialized some very important issues by reducing them to platitudes and silly confrontations. Oh well. Better than Rough Night, which I saw last week! (Link to trailer for Beatriz at Dinner.) And too bad: I really wanted to like it ...

5. A Final Word--a word this week I liked from my various online word-of-the-day suppliers.

     - from wordsmith.org

repugn (ri-PYOON)
verb tr., intr.: To oppose, resist, or fight.
From Old French repugner, from Latin repugnare, from re- (again) + pugnare (to fight), from pugnus (fist). Ultimately from the Indo-European root peuk- (to prick) which is also the source of point, puncture, pungent, punctual, poignant, pounce, poniard, impugn, pugilist, and pugnacious. Earliest documented use: 1382.
“[A] decadence that Elgar would have repugned.”

Douglas Sealy; Katherine Hunka (violin), Sophia Rahman (piano); Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland); Jan 24, 2001. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Just imagine ...

How can you not be thinking about health care these days? I tremble for those whose protection is in jeopardy--generally the poor, the partially employed, the fully employed (many of whom receive no employer-sponsored insurance), the powerless.

And I think of a story about my wonderful mother-in-law, Annabelle Coyne, who, late in her life, began suffering from Alzheimer's--profoundly so.

Though the Coynes had both worked all their lives (he, for Firestone in Akron; she, for the Akron School Board)--and had been very frugal and prudent about saving for the future--they both encountered end-of-life illnesses that threatened to bankrupt them.

While her Alzheimer's was worsening, her husband was struggling mightily to care for her at home. He told Joyce and me often that he would not put her in a "home," even though she, as time went on, was not even all that sure who he was.

In the summer of 1990, not long after our son graduated from high school, lung cancer swept through him like a firestorm, and Thomas Coyne was dead in a matter of weeks after his diagnosis. August 13.

We tried to keep Joyce's mother with us, but it was impossible. She wasn't sure who we were; she no longer had any notions of night and day. She needed continuous care and attention; if we left the room for a moment, she might be gone when we returned, wandering the streets or sitting out in the car ready to go ... who knows where?

We found a terrific situation for her in a care facility in Aurora, and we moved to Aurora so that Joyce could see her every day. She died on February 5, 1995.

But there was a problem. After a few years in the Aurora facility she ran out of money--the savings of a lifetime--hers, her husband's.

And so we found a fine facility near Akron, a facility that took Medicaid (the Aurora one did not).

So Annabelle Coyne lived--with the help of Medicaid--for another couple of years.

But without that "government program"? Her expenses quickly would have bankrupted Joyce and me; our son would have had to drop out of college; and on and on.

Prior to 2004, I had had very few medical issues (the usual flu and/or infection now and then), but since then I've had skin cancer surgery, Bell's palsy, metastatic prostate cancer (it's moving relentlessly into my bones). Without health insurance--without the protections in ObamaCare about lifetime maximums and pre-existing conditions--we would be broke. My medical expenses are high. Scans and injections, medications and consultations. And I know, without help, we would be flat broke. Homeless.

Two qualities that, to me, seem absent in many who are working to eliminate/diminish ObamaCare: imagination and empathy. To qualify as a human being, you have to be able to imagine the lives of those less fortunate than you, to imagine what your life would be like if the bottom fell out; you also have to feel for other people, to feel what it would be like to be in their situation. You have to want to help.

And part of that "help" is contributing to health care--through premiums, through taxes. The more people who are "in" the system, the cheaper it is for everyone. We are required to have car insurance, homeowner's insurance. If it were not so--if you could opt in or out--the cost  for everyone else would be prohibitive. Insurance really works only when everyone is "in." That's why the mandate is crucial. It should be as automatic and required as car insurance. After all, you are going to use the health-care system at some point--even if you are now (to coin a phrase) as healthy as an ox.

A final thought: We must also quit judging people by the worst examples of whatever category we've put them in. Sure, some people cheat on food stamps, etc. But does that mean we deny relief to everyone else? We know perfectly well that people of every class and calling cheat--or are egregious in some other way. Teachers, preachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians, business people, athletes, cops, judges, etc.--if we judged all of  them by their most corrupt and criminal members, there would be no one in the world left to admire. And we would not feel compelled to help anyone.

If you can't do these things--if you can think only of costs and politics, if you can't realize that not all members of Group X are like the egregious few--then you need to surrender your I.D. card, the one that says "human being" on it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 317

… I had begun training to climb Oregon’s Mt. Hood.
I realize that I’m sort of offering here my own Rambles instead of escorting you through Mary Shelley’s final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy. Can’t help it. A digressive old man is not to be dissuaded from telling his stories.
So … Mt. Hood. We need to back up a little. My father was born in Milton-Freewater, Oregon (March 9, 1913), one of eleven siblings, and he loved the state, loved his family. So when I was a kid, every now and then Dad would pack up the five of us—Dad, Mom, older brother Richard, younger brother Dave, and me—and off we would drive to Oregon. We did this when we were living in Enid, Oklahoma, and, later, in Hiram, Ohio. It took days—each way!—those trips. I loved them then. I love them now as I think about them. And I remember with great fondness those times when I drove my own family out there to meet all the countless Dyers who had remained.
Mt. Hood, an inactive volcano (in the same range, the Cascades, as Mt. St. Helen’s; Hood erupted in 1907), looms over Portland, Oregon, and in 1937, when my dad was in his early twenties, he and some friends, on a lark, decided to climb that mountain—all 11,250 feet of it.[1] And on August 9, 1937, they did so.
Dad had always told us about this—a story I never tired of hearing, especially when I saw that rugged, snow-capped peak each time we drove out there. It seemed so … impossible that my father had done that.[2]
Anyway, years later, in 1997, my dad was failing fast. Now in his mid-eighties, he had suffered some mild strokes, was barely mobile—but still loved to talk about Mt. Hood. And I began to wonder—Is there a record of their ascent? He had always told us about a log book at the summit—about how he and his friends had signed it …
So I contacted the National Park Service, found that there was a log book, that his name was there. I acquired a photocopy of that page, framed it, and gave it to him for Father’s Day, 1997. (I also published an op-ed about it in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on June 15, 1997.)
And about that time I had resolved that I was going to climb it, too. I was going to stand on the summit where he had stood. All in honor of Dad … And so I contacted a cousin, who had climbed it before, and made arrangements to climb it with him later in the summer. And I started training for the ascent.
But Life had other plans for me.

[1] That phrase—on a lark—appeared 1811, says the OED. Origin uncertain.
[2] It turns out it’s not all that challenging a climb—people now do it ever day. Lots of people.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should you ...? (Part 2)

A few days ago I wrote a bit here about how my junior high and high school English teachers had tried to persuade my classmates and me of the differences between will and shall, differences that virtually no one employs any longer.

I mentioned, too, that I'd started thinking about this because of a poem I'd recently memorized, a poem by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)--"A Thunderstorm in Town" (link to poem)--a poem about a man and a woman in a horse-drawn cab, waiting out the rain. The rain stops; the young woman leaves; the man says: "I should have kissed her if the rain / Had lasted a minute more."

I'm pretty certain that most of us today would say, "I would have kissed her ...."

And I mentioned, as well, how William F. Buckley, Jr., used to begin each episode of his long-running PBS program, Firing Line (1966-1999), by saying to his audience--and his principal guest--"I should like to begin by asking Mr. Dyer [I wish]...."

I'm pretty certain that most of us today would say, "I will begin ...." Or "I am going to begin ...."

So ... whazzup with should?

Today, most of is use it as an auxiliary to indicate determination or obligation: I should have written to her. I should give a lot of money to my retired English teacher. And so on.

But should used to have a shall-like distinction, as my old Plain English Handbook (1972) explains:

The uses of should and would correspond to those of shall and will:

  1. For simple future, use should with the first person, and use would with the second and third.
  2. For determination, reverse the order.
  3. In questions in the first person, use should. In questions in the 2nd and 3rd persons, use the form which would be correct in the answer.
  4. In indirect discourse (indirect quotation), use the form that would be correct if the quotation were direct.
    1. There is a trend among conservative authorities not to overstress the foregoing rules governing the use of shall and will, should and would, because of the wide variation in actual practice.
Okay, that's cleared up, right? Should is the past of shall; would is the past of will.

And let's look at the 6th definition of should in my old Webster's 2nd: used in auxiliary function to express a desire or request.

So ... in the poem ... I should have kissed her (a desire).

But in Buckley's I should like to begin, we need to look at the Oxford English Dictionary for this; it comes in part c under definition 19 of shall (which, remember, is the present of should):

With verbs of liking, preference, etc., should in the first person (and interrogatively in the second) is regarded as more correct than would, though this is often used.

So, Buckley, a fastidious user of the language, used like in his opening, so should needs to go with it, says the OED.


A confession: If I had to think about all of this before I spoke or wrote, I would (should?) never speak or write again! It's possible I will (shall?) never use those words again!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 316

In the late summer of 1997, change was becoming a permanent part of our lives, the newest member of our family. My thirty-year public-school teaching career had ended; Joyce’s mother, who had suffered profoundly from Alzheimer’s and had been living in a care facility nearby, had died on February 5, 1995, and Joyce was now moving through her life without parents—wonderful parents who had supported her in every way. I grieved for her, but I could not really understand: Both my parents were still alive. But I would learn ...
And in the late summer and early fall of 1997 we were preparing to move from Aurora back to nearby Hudson, Ohio (exactly 8.3 miles, says Google Maps), where we’d lived from 1979–1990. Joyce had seen a house for sale in Hudson, a house she knew we’d love (and have indeed loved for twenty years), and our Aurora home was on the market.
Complicating things even more: Our son had graduated from college in 1994 and, after a year of having no full-time job, had returned from the Boston area (he’d gone to Tufts), had enrolled in the journalism school at nearby Kent State University (about a dozen miles away). For a while he’d lived with us again—an arrangement that proved, uh, more complex than any of us wanted to deal with, so we’d found him a place over in Kent, where he was enjoying his studies; not long after, he would get a full-time gig as a reporter at the Akron Beacon-Journal (as I noted above).
And there was more. In that summer of 1997 the vast Dyer family (my dad was one of eleven siblings) were going to gather out in his home state of Oregon for a reunion, and I knew it would probably be the last time that so many of us were together. My dad had turned 84, was not doing well, but he really wanted to get out there. And I wanted to see again my dear aunts and uncles—and all their offspring.
I look in my journal for August 1–4 (when I was in Oregon), and all I see is this: SEE HANDWRITTEN JOURNAL ENTRIES. Fine … but where are they? I’ve just spent about a half-hour fruitlessly checking every Reasonable Place. So … the notes are either in an Unreasonable Place, or I’ve overlooked them in the Reasonable Place. I guess I’ll find them later and revise this portion as needed.
I do see—in my typed pages, which resumed after my return from Oregon—that I was still reading Mary’s Rambles, and I typed my final notes on the book on August 12. I see, too, that I was preparing to teach a beginning writing course at Hiram College in the fall (their Weekend College program) and that son Steve was publishing pieces regularly in the Beacon and that I was about to begin William Godwin’s novel Caleb Williams and that …
… I had begun training to climb Oregon’s Mt. Hood.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


The other day I passed another mile-marker--a marker that seems, in retrospect, barely possible. I uploaded post #1900 on this site. (As years pass, as I age, as I think about so many things, the question that inevitably emerges is, How is this possible?)

So many things ... I graduated from high school 55 years ago; I finished my first year of teaching 50 years ago; I directed my first middle-school play 50 years ago ... I began teaching seventh graders--and now I have a grandson who will be entering seventh grade this fall ... This is getting depressing!

And now ... 1900 blog posts!?!?

My first--"I Am Born" (a theft of the opening line from David Copperfield)--appeared on January 6, 2012 (here's a link to that initial post). As I've written on other anniversaries (I post about the blog every one hundred posts), I've sometimes noted that I thought, back in 2012, that I would be blogging more than I actually have about education and teaching issues. One reason for my declining number of posts in that category is that I have not been a teacher since the spring of 2011 (when I left Western Reserve Academy), and I have not been a public school teacher since January 1997, when I retired from the Aurora City Schools (Aurora, Ohio). I don't really know what it's like now, teaching in this test-mad world. And I'm not really interested in a bunch of sentences that begin Back when I was teaching .... It's time for new voices. And there are plenty--including our son's.

So ... what have I written about? Memories. I've serialized drafts of books I'm working on (for the past couple of years it's been my memoir about my pursuit of Mary Shelley--Frankenstein Sundae, a text I should finish in the next couple of months. Then will come major revisions, for I'm already nearing 500 pages, far too long ...

I've written about odd things I've noticed, about political issues (not all that often--too polarizing), about my ongoing battles with metastatic prostate cancer, about ... well, pretty much about anything that, as they used to say, "tickles my fancy" (an expression, I see, that Dickens used in 1839 in Nicholas Nickleby).

As is my wont, I will right now check how many "hits" I've had (I check this only after each 100 posts).

Pause ...

374,732 hits.

Divided by 1900 = 197.227... hits/post.

Not bad. Not great. I guess I need to be more polarizing.

No thanks. I write mostly for myself here--I often don't know what I think, what I feel or remember, until I write about it. And I now have notebooks stuffed with blog print-outs so that, later, I can remember what was on my mind, what was in my heart. And so can my family members.

I've posted something almost every day. Every now and then I miss--illness, boredom, depression, travel.

But I still seem to find things I want to write about, which, for me, is a Sign of Life. And so we roll on, and I will see you at #2000, I hope.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 315

And then … in late April 1844 … news of another death arrived, a death that would transform Mary’s life.
Sir Timothy Shelley, 90, passed away, and his title passed directly to the son of Mary and Bysshe, who was now Sir Percy Florence Shelley. The Shelley family members were not exactly gracious in the transfer of title. They took items from the house (Field Place), made things about as awkward as they could be. Sir Percy attended the funeral; Mary—who had been persona non grata for decades in the family—did not.
But now, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley would be financially comfortable for the rest of her life, a status and stature perfectly alien to her.

A few months later, on August 1, 1844, publisher Edward Moxon brought out—in a two-volume edition—Mary’s final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843. The reviews were kind (for the most part). Some praised her for her knowledgeable narration of her travels; others, for her comments about the political situations in the countries she visited.[1]
The book is epistolary in design and structure, comprising twenty-three letters to an unnamed correspondent. My notes remind me that I read the book between July 28 and August 12, 1997, only months after I’d retired from public school teaching (mid-January 1997). I see, too, that I had acquired a replica edition of the book via interlibrary loan at nearby Hiram College (my alma mater, where my wife, Joyce, was teaching).
In my journal for those days, I see that I was still running five miles per day—unthinkable now, nearly twenty years later—and our son, Steve, had begun his career as a young journalist at the Akron Beacon-Journal, a position he would keep for ten years before heading off to law school (he’d seen the imminent decline of print journalism). His work at the paper was particularly touching for Joyce, who’d grown up in Akron and whose family had subscribed to the Beacon her entire life. As had the generations preceding her and her parents.

[1] “Introductory Note,” in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 8, Travel Writing, edited by Jeanne Moskal (London: William Pickering, 1996), 49–57.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 146

1. AOTW: Ah, yes, this morning ... car in front of us at a stop sign. Turned right (no signal), soon turned left into grocery parking lot (no signal), parked in a slot so that the tires were also into the adjacent slot. In other words: Nothing much changes in AOTW Land.

2. I finished two books this week.

     - The first was the latest from Colm Tóibín--House of Names--a re-telling of the stories of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Iphigenia, Electra, et al.  Tóibín tells us at the end that he played fast-and-loose with the details, adding, subtracting, modifying. He divides the tale into sections, each focused on a particular principal; some are in the first person (Clytemnestra, Electra); the Orestes sections are in the third person.

The rough details of the story remain. Agamemnon, hoping to gain a fair wind to take him to battle, sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. Mom--Clytemnestra--does not forgive him, and when he returns, she murders him. Her accomplice, Aegisthus, clears the way by sending away her son, Orestes (just a boy), and pretty much co-opting the other daughter, Electra. Well, Orestes grows up, comes back, blood, blood, blood. You know.

I loved how Tóibín handled the story--the narratives flow smoothly, arrestingly--from first sentence (Clytemnestra says, "I have been acquainted with the smell of death") to the last (about Orestes and his friend/ally Leander: "Almost afraid to look at each other, the two went back into the corridor [of the palace] and stood together without saying a word, listening to every sound") (3, 275).

And along the way we get a lot to think about. To what extent are the gods responsible for all? To what extent are we (for our determination to believe in gods?) What are the consequences of revenge? What does "family" even mean? And "friendship"? And on and on and on ...

     - The second was a 2008 collection of nonfiction (Maps and Legends) by Michael Chabon, whose complete works I've been working through in the order of publication (skipping the ones I've already read).

These pieces--generally from the early 2000s--are some published essays and some texts of speeches he delivered here and there. The title piece is about how--as a boy--he became fascinated, even obsessed with maps, and felt himself become alive to "the power of maps" (30). And, later, he realized how writers are always working with "maps"--of this world, of the world(s) they've created--and other writers work in the blank space on those maps. Such a cool idea. The writer, he says, "goes where the action is, and the action is in the borders between things" (24).

He also writes about his early reading (he loved/loves Sherlock Holmes), of his fascination (which continues) with comics and graphic stories. He notes that writers "should tell stories that we would have liked as kids" (93).

There's also a review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, an essay in which he mentions that "there are story echoes of the Jack London-style adventure" (116), but he does not mention a book of London's that is post-apocalyptic, as well--The Scarlet Plague (1912)--a novel about survival in a dying world.

London's The Scarlet
He also talks about the genesis of some of his earlier work--The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988) and The Yiddish Policeman's Union (2007); I enjoyed this a lot because I'd only just recently read both of those titles.

But my favorite is his last--a modified version of a speech he gave in the mid-2000s, "Golems I Have Known." In it he talks about the borderland between nonfiction and fiction, memoir and fiction, truth and lies--and he does so by seducing his audience into thinking he is telling them a factual story from his boyhood. But it was fiction, he tells us at the end--"lies." It's a gorgeous piece about what he calls "the borderland between these two kingdoms, between the Empire of Lies and the Republic of Truth" (222).

3. We saw (via Netflix DVD) a Stephen Soederberg film, Haywire (2011). I've always loved Soederberg's work, and this title (when I saw it on the Netflix website) did not look familiar. So I ordered it. And it wasn't until, oh, about the last half-hour that I realized we had seen it before. Oh well. There are worse ways to spend your time than to be with Steven Soederberg for a couple of hours!

It's an adventure story about a woman warrior (played by Gina Carano). Here's the plot summary from IMDB:

Freelance covert operative Mallory Kane is hired out by her handler to various global entities to perform jobs which governments can't authorize and heads of state would rather not know about. After a mission to rescue a hostage in Barcelona, Mallory is quickly dispatched on another mission to Dublin. When the operation goes awry and Mallory finds she has been double crossed, she needs to use all of her skills, tricks and abilities to escape an international manhunt, make it back to the United States, protect her family, and exact revenge on those that have betrayed her.

It was fun to watch again--if, that is, you're into the "action thriller'" genre (think: Jason Bourne movies). I don't recall seeing Carano perform before (she was in Dead Pool and Fast & Furious 6, neither of which I've seen), but she's apparently a martial arts expert, and she got to display those talents (some supplemented, of course, by CGI). She even kicks Channing Tatum's butt. And Michael Fassbender's, too! (Link to film trailer.)

4. We finally finished streaming the latest season of Bosch on AmazonPrime. I've read all of Michael Connelly's novels about LA detective Harry Bosch, so it's been fun to watch these--though Titus Welliver, who plays Bosch, is not what I pictured as I read. Still, he's good--once you get used to him.

The season ended on a cliffhanger--thus: hope for another season!

5. Final word--a word I especially liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers;

     - from dictionary.com, with some help from Merriam-Webster

humblebrag  noun [huhm-buh l-brag]
1. NOUN: a statement intended as a boast or brag but disguised by a humble apology, complaint, etc.
2. VERB: to make such a disguised boast or brag: He's humblebragging about how tired he is from his world travels.
The humblebrag—e.g. I'm exhausted from Memorial Day weekend; it’s soooo hard to get out of Nantucket—sits at the center of these competing needs. It is a boast in sheepish clothing, kvelling dressed in kvetch. And, like nearly all forms of multi-tasking, the drive to satisfy two goals at once typically results in double-failure.
-- Derek Thompson, "How to Brag," The Atlantic, May 26, 2015
Humblebrag was first recorded between 2005 and 2010. It’s a portmanteau combining the terms humble and brag.

Oh, and a portmanteau word (def from Merriam-Webster): a word that is composed of parts of two words (such as chortle from chuckle and snort), all of one word and part of another (such as bookmobile from book and automobile), or two entire words and that is characterized invariably in the latter case and frequently in the two former cases by single occurrence of one or more sounds or letters that appear in both the component words (such as motel from motor hotel, camporee from camp and jamboree, aniseed from anise seed

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Should you ...?

I think I've posted here before about how--when I was a lad--my teachers worked hard (and generally failed) to make sure we observed the differences between will and shall in our writing. Here are the rules as they appear in one of the earliest usage manuals I have--Plain English Handbook, 1972. I'm quoting directly.

  • Use shall in the first person and will in the second and third person for the simple future tense.
    • I shall sing this afternoon.
    • You will succeed. He will stay at home.
  • To express determination, desire, or a promise, reverse the normal order and use will in the first person and shall in the second and third persons.
    • I will be there.
    • You shall not go.
  • In asking questions in the first person, use shall; in the second or third persons use the form that would be correct in the answer.
    • Shall you leave tomorrow? (The answer is "I shall.")
    • Will John defy me?" (He will.)
  • Use shall in all persons in object (noun) clauses after verbs of deciding, wishing, demanding, willing, etc."
    • He insists that they shall not follow him.
There's more, but I'm getting bored just typing the stuff. Just as I was bored back in elementary and junior high, doing all those will-shall worksheets ...

I think it's pretty obvious today that in common usage these distinctions are pretty much gone. People who use shall now--even if "correctly" so--tend to sound a bit, you know, elitist. (Which ain't good in these egalitarian days.)

I got to thinking about this the other day because I memorized a poem by Thomas Hardy--"A Thunderstorm in Town"--a short, two-stanza poem in which a man tells about an experience in a cab with a woman in a new red dress. It's raining outside when they reach her destination, so the cab waits a bit. Then it stops; she gets out. And the narrator says: I should have kissed her if the rain / Had lasted a minute more. (Link to the entire poem.)

I put should in boldface because that's the word I want to talk about. Today, we use should principally to indicate ought. In other words, You should study more = You ought to study more.

But ... back in the day ... should had some more subtle meanings.

Hardy's use of should (more below) reminded me of William F. Buckley, Jr. Although he and I were pretty far apart politically (okay, very far apart), I liked to read Buckley; I subscribed to his magazine (National Review--in fact, I once published an article for them that was the cover story on September 28, 1979--see image), watched his long-running TV interview show, Firing Line, on PBS. I admired his facility with language. I even envied it. And ... what a vocabulary! I would look up words he used--and thus learned the definitions of tergiversate and anfractuous and maieutic and many others. (Spell-checker just had a hernia about these three words!) (Can't say that I use them a lot--but I do know them.)

On Firing Line each week Buckley would interview (and often eviscerate) a guest (a political thinker, a politician, a writer), and he would always begin the same way. He'd give a brief introduction of the person and then commence the questioning as he did in this beginning to his interview with Norman Mailer (broadcast on Nov. 4, 1979), an interview concerning Mailer's new nonfiction book The Executioner's Song. I own a copy of the transcript. (Image!)

Anyway, here's how Buckley started: I should like to begin by asking Mr. Mailer whether he intended that his book should be adopted by fundamentalists on the subject of capital punishment.  

Once again, I've highlighted the should. And Buckley said it, every week--the same clause: I should like to begin by asking ...

Sounds odd to our ears today--doesn't it?--because I  think most of us would now say I would like to begin ...

So what's going on with should?


Friday, June 16, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 314

In March 1842, Mary began complaining of headaches, had difficulty writing and reading—two of the great loves of her life. This, of course, was probably the first manifestation of the illness that would kill her nine years later.
Her days became less and less “intellectual” and more and more “social”: visits with friends, journeys, attendance at drama and music performances. In June 1842, she and her son and some others headed off again to the Continent—more fodder for what would become her final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy. She visited Germany, Switzerland, Italy—sites so significant in her youth, in her marriage to Bysshe. They returned via Paris, arriving back in London in late August 1843.
While they were gone, Everina Wollstonecraft (sister of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary Shelley’s mother) died back in England—in Peckham (southeast London). A stroke. As per her request, she would be buried in the same cemetery—St. Pancras—as her sister, Godwin, and Mary Jane Godwin. Everina was born in 1865.
And Mary’s headaches continued.
But by the fall she was working on Rambles and doing some reading—for research and otherwise. Among her favorites—the Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, a longtime friend, who, as you may recall, was the indirect cause of Bysshe’s drowning. Hunt and his family had arrived in Italy in July 1822, and Bysshe and friend Edward Williams and the deckhand Charles Vivien set out to meet the Hunts in Livorno (Leghorn, the English called it). It was on the return voyage that the killing storm arrived.
And then … in late April 1844 … news of another death arrived, a death that would transform Mary’s life.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Render Unto Caesar ...

I've not posted anything--on Facebook or here--about the recent uproar about a current production of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar at New York's Public Theater/Shakespeare in the Park. Though the show had been running for a while, it was only recently that widespread outrage erupted because of the patent portrayal of Caesar as Pres. Donald Trump. As you can imagine, the assassination scene--senators and "friends' stabbing him to death--caused some alarm.

The murder occurs in Act III, Scene 1, and the rest the play deals with the disastrous fallout. Lots of others die, including Brutus, he of Et tu, Brute? fame/infamy. It's not really a play about Caesar but about the horrors of violent political overthrow.

Caesar was the first play I ever studied in school. Tenth grade. 1959-60. Hiram High School. I couldn't make much sense out of it at age 15, and I vowed I would forever hate Shakespeare and never read another damn word by him again.

Well, like many other adolescent vows, that one didn't work out too well. I ended up reading all the plays, poems, sonnets--multiple times. I taught the Bard to middle- and high-schoolers and college students; I wrote an e-book about him, available on Kindle Direct  ("All the World's a Stage": The Worlds of William Shakespeare), and wife Joyce and I have seen all of his plays performed live onstage. That took many years. (Not a lot of companies produce Henry VI, Part 3!)

And there's no doubt about it: Even on the page Shakespeare can offend. Titus Andronicus features rape, disfigurement (tongue cut out, hands cut off, eyes blinded), murder, slavery, ... and, of course, cannibalism (a mother unwittingly eats a meat pie--and the "meat" is her son, who had raped and disfigured Titus' daughter).

Elsewhere, kings are murdered, wives commit suicide, children are murdered, weddings are disrupted and ruined, wars are fought over little, brothers are killed by brothers, and on and on and on and on. (Sounds like Game of Thrones, eh?)

Since 1616, when the Bard died, the plays have been used for about every political cause there is. As we can with scripture, we can find in Shakespeare's plays just about any meaning we want to emphasize. Joyce and I once saw a DARK production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that emphasized the, well, the darkness of the play (the betrayals, etc.). No one laughed. We have also seen cotton-candy light productions--one of which featured Beatles' music and had everyone dressed up like characters from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Another took place in outer space ... what fun!

Negative portrayals of power always offend the powerful and their allies. (Shakespeare himself had to be very careful about how he portrayed the royals--and many scholars believe that  he wrote Macbeth, in part, to please the new English king (1603), James I (from Scotland), one of whose ancestors, so he believed, was one of the "good guys" in the story.

And Donald Trump is far from the first to be represented on stage in a Shakespeare play--or Shakespeare-related play.

The same year I graduated from college--1966--a new book/script appeared: MacBird, by Barbara Garson. I still have my copy of the play (see image). It's a take on Macbeth and features characters from the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson (Ken O'Dune, The Earl of Warren, The Wayne of Morse, Lord MacNamara).

LBJ (whose wife was Lady Bird, whose daughter was Linda Bird), a Democrat, is the consummate Bad Guy.

The script did more than suggest that LBJ had been involved in the assassination of JFK (offensive, to say the least!), but it opened in New York at the Village Gate in February 1967 and ran for nearly 400 performances. It starred Stacy Keach as MacB, and Cleavon Little played a Witch! (There's an audio cast recording--I just checked on eBay, found one, bought it for $20.99!)

Garson borrows lines and speeches (much altered) from other plays. MacBird has a monologue, "To see or not to see!" And Robert--with some prescience--says: "MacBird permits not critics from within. / He draws the line, and all are forced to toe. / You're with him or against him, get that straight. / Your safety, sir, demands his overthrow" (23).

So, yes, if I were a Trump supporter, I would be dismayed/angry/whatever to see his murder on a New York stage--just as part of me would have been if it had been Pres. Obama. Our political positions are often visceral; our brain stems, dominant.

But there are other parts of our brains we ought to use. I know enough about theater--and about Shakespeare--to realize what's going on. It's just part of the use of theater throughout history.

The wife of Caesar would have been upset to see Shakespeare's play; friends and supporters of Agamemnon would not have sat still for Aeschylus' view of it; allies of Richard III ... you know.

Good plays--like good novels, like good poems, etc.--can jar us. In fact, they should jar us. And sometimes they jar us in ways we'd prefer not to be jarred. We can be offended rather than enlightened. That's the chance you take when you go see a contemporary Shakespeare production, or read a good novel.

And it's one of the principal reasons I often go to the theater--or read a controversial novel. It's good to be jarred, to be offended. It should make us think, though--not rave and rant like, well, like King Lear, foully betrayed by two of his daughters (how offensive!).

As Shakespeare said in The Taming of the Shrew, "'tis the mind that makes the body rich."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 313

Throughout 1840–41 Mary continued her adult-long habits of reading and scholarship, visiting with literary friends, yearning, wishing things could have been different. On June 17, 1841, her stepmother, Mary Jane Godwin, died. There is no mention of it in Mary’s journal (there is very little journal material remaining from these years), but in a letter to publisher Edward Moxon on June 28, she wrote only these words about it: poor M Godwin’s death,[1] but there is more in a later letter to Elizabeth Berry, a Wollstonecraft cousin living in Australia:
Last summer my father’s widow died, she wrote on January 14, 1842, after a lingering illness—Poor M Godwin! It seemed strange that so restless a spirit could be hushed, & all that remained pent up in a grave.[2]
Mary and her stepmother had never been close, though Mary had done her duty, attending to Mary Jane later on—never a pleasant task for her. And, as I’ve written earlier, she was interred beneath the headstone for William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft in the St. Pancras Churchyard in London. But now—as we’ll see—she lies there alone. Only the names of the other two remain.

*You need to enlarge the photos to see the fading names.

[1] Letters, vol. 3, 16.
[2] Ibid., 19–20.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Return to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, Ohio
Yesterday was my regularly scheduled visit with my oncologist--a visit preceded by some blood work: a metabolic panel (all basically okay--sodium a tad low) and a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test.

A little reminder/history. Late in 2004 a biopsy on my prostate revealed the presence of cancer. It didn't seem too worrisome a number (Gleason score of 5--on a ten-point scale), so I finished the school year teaching at Western Reserve Academy, then, almost exactly a dozen years ago, had a prostatectomy (removal of the gland) at Cleveland Clinic.

The bad news was swift: My biopsy had been wrong: My Gleason was a 9--very dangerous. But my subsequent PSA measurements came back "undetectable" for nearly two years. Then ... the score began rising, and soon it was time to act again. In January 2008 I underwent daily radiation therapy down at the Clinic for six weeks.

My PSA dropped--then began climbing again early in 2010. It continued rising--accelerating, even--and so in July 2013 I began quarterly injections of Lupron (a drug that kills my testosterone--the "food" of prostate cancer). All was good for a couple of years--"good" now a very relative term. Lupron has permanently altered my life. (Low energy, depression, heavy sweating periodically, total loss of libido, etc.)

But in September 2015 my PSA reappeared, started rising. In April this year I went on a second testosterone-killing med: bicalutamide. My PSA had reached 18.67. A number that shows the cancer was back in business--serious business.

So ... I was concerned about the test result yesterday. But my score had fallen--to 12.9, Not awesome, but, hey, in prostate cancer, score down is always better than score up!

My oncologist just wants me to keep doing what I'm doing--and did not schedule any additional bone scans (prostate cancer loves to move into the bones--as mine had begun to do), and I will see him in mid-August. And I'll have another PSA blood test just before I see him.

Yesterday, I asked him "What's next?"

He said there are some other oral tablets I can take--then ... chemo.

But all of these things--I well know--are delaying tactics. Temporary roadblocks. There is no cure for me. And cancer is a most determined self-driving vehicle, one that is totally unafraid of crashing through roadblocks.

So ... I'm going to keep on doing what helps. Exercising most days. Eating well/right. (Except for a rare visit to Stoddard's Frozen Custard in Kent, a place we've patronized for nearly fifty years; we went yesterday evening to "celebrate" the day's decent news. We'll probably not go again this summer. Well ... maybe once or twice more?)

And I will continue to try to do the things I love for as long as I can. Reading, writing, being with Joyce, our son and his family. I am, I know, a rich man in all the ways that really matter.


My oncologist was concerned about my continuous dizziness/wooziness (of which I've written here). So far ... no answers from any of the specialists I've seen; I see a neurologist next week. So maybe then ...?

Until then, I have to remain very careful about all of my movements. I've begun working out again--very, very prudently so. No quick movements here and there. I ride the exercise bike. Walk a mile of laps. Do 100 pulls on the rowing machine. Do some curls. But I move around like recently awakened Rip Van Winkle: What is this world where I've found myself?