Dawn Reader

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

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?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 145

1. AOTW: Not really anyone qualified this week--nothing beyond the usual annoyances of drivers who need a refresher in Driver's Ed--or should be in prison.

2. We saw Wonder Woman Saturday night at the Kent Cinema (about half full--or half empty ... depends, you know?), and we both kind of enjoyed it. I liked her--and have always been a fan of Chris Pine. Of course, the irony (?) was not lost on me--of an anti-war film that chockablock with violence that's clearly supposed to be enjoyable. Countless people died. But, you know, they're just minor characters in a comic, right? Still ... I enjoyed watching it, recalling boyhood days of reading DC comics while my parents were despairing for my future ... (film trailer) ...

3. This week we also finished--at last!--this year's Oscar-winner for Best Documentary, the multi-part OJ: Made in America, which has been streaming on Hulu. It is painful to watch for all sorts of reasons--the brutal murders, of course, of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman but also the racial/racist context in which the filmmakers place OJ's wonderful/horrible story. Loved the interviews with some of the principals--from F. Lee Bailey to some of the cops involved to Marcia Clark. It was wonderfully done--but so intense I could take only about a half-hour or so at a time, a few days a week. So it took a while ... ! I have clear memories of learning the verdict during the day at Harmon School, October 3, 1995, a little after 1 pm. Some teachers (I?) had TVs on ... (link to film trailer)

4. I finished three books this week.

     - The first was Michael Chabon's 2007 adventure novel, Gentlemen of the Road, a novel I really enjoyed--though it's a bit lighter fare than some of the other items on his menu. It's about 950 A.D. in the Caucasus Mountains--a novel about royal conflicts, about revenge and restoration, and, ultimately, about the variety of people who must "get along" in order for anything to work. Our questing heroes are a motley crew, including the last survivor, a young teenage boy, of a family who should be ruling but are embroiled in war and revolution. And we learn a surprising secret about him later on. In his Afterword, Chabon writes: 

All adventure happens in that damned and magical space, wherever it may be found or chanced upon, which least resembles one's home. As soon as you have crossed your doorstop or the county line, into that place where the structures, laws, and conventions of your upbringing no longer apply, where the support and approval (but also the disapproval and repression) of your family and neighbors are not to be had, then you have entered into adventure, a place of sorrow, marvels, and regret (201-02).

I love Chabon's work, and as followers know, I'm slowly reading my way through those books of his that I somehow missed over the years--in the order he published them.

     - The second was a fine account of the recent world-wide tour of Hamlet, a tour by players from Shakespeare's Globe in London--Hamlet Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play, by Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at the Globe from 2006-2016. The tour was part of the celebration (?) of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616. Dromgoole saw some (not all, not most, not many) of the productions in about as wide an assortment of settings (and audiences) as you can imagine.

The book is a mixture of several things--an account of the journey (and the experiences in far-flung places), some insights into the play itself, some ruminations about why Shakespeare continues to endure, geopolitics. And more. Several times he talks about their (failed) attempts to take the show to North Korea. One of his conclusions: "Hamlet fitted in everywhere" (250).

I taught the play the final ten years of my career at Western Reserve Academy (2001-2011), and I know the text pretty well--but Dromgoole made me think about some things I'd not thought much about before--e.g., I n the play "everyone is telling a version of the truth" (93). He also talks about the excitement of the company players when they got to perform some of it for Pres. Obama at the site of the new Globe.

     - Finally, a book that disappointed me, the latest entry by the Hogarth Press in their presentation of contemporary novels based on Shakespeare's plays. (Link to Hogarth's Shakespeare site.) I've read them all as they've come out--contemporary versions of A Winter's Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and The Merchant of Venice. I've enjoyed some more than others. But I was kind of looking forward to this newest one, an adaption by Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring, etc.) of Othello. She calls it New Boy.

She does do some things I understood and liked. She compressed the story into a single day. She divided her text into five parts (the Bard's plays, remember, all have five acts, thanks to that 1623 posthumous publication, the First Folio, which contained thirty-six of his plays).

But the time and setting she chose gave her problems she couldn't surmount. 1974. A group of sixth graders in an elementary school in Washington, DC, a school that has no black students at all--until the new boy arrives. Osei. (He tells people to call him "O.") He's a boy from Ghana; his father's a diplomat.

Chevalier sets virtually all her key scenes on the playground: before school, morning recess, lunch, afternoon recess, after school. Ian is the Iago figure, and he's a schemer no one really likes--but the younger kids, especially, fear him. He's a creep.

Daniela ("Dee") is the Desdemona figure--and so on.

A problem. Sixth graders are eleven years old. And for the homicidal passions to rise--in a single day--to the height (or depth) that Othello requires was a bit of a stretch for me (and, remember, I taught in a middle school for thirty years--I saw a lot!). And would she really include the murder and suicide of Othello? (Ain't tellin' you!)

I also felt Chevalier was too obtrusive in her attempts to "date" the piece--inserting allusions to popular culture in fairly blunt, unsubtle ways--as if she were telling herself "Time to remember to let people know it's 1974." Joe Namath comes up in a lunch conversation.

Also, a prominent teacher, Mr. Brabant (based on Brabantio, Desdemona's father; Dee is Mr. Brabant's favorite), is, natch, a racist, and Chevalier shows this, again, in some unsubtle ways. For example, he sometimes breaks off in the middle of a word he knows he should not be saying. In an emotional exchange with the principal (Miss Lode, based on Lodovico), he says this: "I didn't expect much from a bl--" he glanced at Miss Lode.

So ... I just didn't care for it--though I understood what she was endeavoring to do. In my view, it's the weakest of the series so far. Which disappointed me. I really wanted to like it.

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

     - from wordsmith.org

prodnose (PROD-nohz)
verb intr.: To pry.
noun: A prying person.
After Prodnose, a pedantic and nosy character, who appeared in the columns of J B Morton in the Daily Express. Earliest documented use: 1954.
J B Morton wrote under the pen name Beachcomber. Twenty years before the word appeared in his column, the poet Dylan Thomas wrote in a letter to someone in 1934:
“I want you to think of me today ... singing as loudly as Beachcomber in a world rid of Prodnose.”
“The lines between government prodnosing and charitable work become ever more blurred.”
Libby Purves; Charities Must Get Back to Doing Good Works; The Times (London, UK); Dec 23, 2008.

“Now Wallace wants to take this gang of Minnesota prodnoses to the national level.”
Alexander Cockburn; Leave the Press to the Court of Public Opinion; Los Angeles Times; Dec 27, 1996.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fake News?

Fake news is nothing new. It has ever been with us. Probably those first distant folks who started writing/carving symbols on stone and papyrus were careful to write down only those things that favored themselves--and their "kind." And that disparaged their opponents.

Scholars today who write about ancient history are always careful to note that their ancient primary sources are--let's be kind--not always reliable. As we all know, the ancient historians who wrote accounts of battles and leaders were generally writing from the side of the winners.

For various of my own writing projects, I've had occasion to read newspapers from early in American history, a time when political factions published their own accounts and views of what was going on. Exaggerating their own positions; lying about their opponents'. These accounts could be (often were) vicious, personal, fake.

There really was no time in our history when we had a disinterested media--though in the earlier years of my life there were some noble attempts among the mainstream press and, later, among the broadcast media, to be, well, fair and balanced. Newscasters like Walter Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley sought impartiality--and were greatly respected across the country. But we know now, looking back on their reporting, that they didn't always manage to keep their political biases out of their coverage.

Those days are long gone, though--those days of that attempt to be reasonable.* And I can't see how they will ever return. For one thing, there's far too much corporate profit in keeping us polarized. Far too much profit in keeping people afraid of one another--disdainful of one another. Far too much benefit to the powerful for them to declare that anything critical of them is "fake"--a term that far too many of us are far too willing to apply to anything with which we do not agree.

It's frightening to me, this attack on the press. My older brother was a career journalist (Boston Globe). Our son was a reporter for ten years for the Akron Beacon-Journal--until he saw the dire fate of the print media and headed off to law school. I know how they did their jobs. Thorough. Determined to get things correct.

I have been a freelancer for many years and have always tried to be, well, fair and balanced in the reviews and op-ed pieces I've done. But I know that savage reviews get more ... hits. (Check out the reviews on Amazon--some of those folks are downright saurian!)

Not many people are happy to read something unpleasant about themselves in a newspaper or magazine, in a Tweet or blog or posting of some sort. I remember some years ago when a reviewer of my annotated edition of The Call of the Wild gave me a hard time about a couple of things I'd said. I raged, raged against the dying of the right and envisioned many pleasant scenes of sweet evisceration. (Which, of course, I never enacted: I'm far too ... pacific, you know? But I still wish I could have sicced Buck on him!)

But this current climate alarms me--this idea that news we don't like is, ipso facto, "fake." The willingness--the eagerness--I see on Facebook to share posts and memes that are clearly deeply biased, if not patently false. I remember one clearly from a year or so ago: an image of the Obamas saluting the flag by holding their left hands to their hearts. Oh, the umbrage of the person who posted! (The person who just did not want to see that someone had obviously reversed the image.)

Now, I'm no saint: There are all kinds of "news" stories that I want to believe. As my friends and some followers know, I am a lifelong Democrat--not some wild-eyed cliche of a Lefty but a person who believes in human rights, in equality, in labor unions, in health care for all, in paying taxes to help those who need it, etc. (However, I don't like lattes, and I don't wear tasseled loafers.)

So when I see some anti-Trump or anti-Right "news," part of me wants to believe it. But my mommy and daddy (and many others) have taught me to be more ... judicious. To employ that ability we all have (but too often choose not to employ)--critical thinking. It's often the case, isn't it, that when we see something that seems too good to be true (for our political "team"), we are quick to believe it? And slow to check it out? (If we even bother to do so.)

And these days, confirmation and refutation are so easy to seek. A click or so away. So when I see something on a news site, something that seems distorted (even in my favor--especially in my favor), I check it out. There are all sorts of Internet sites to hasten the process. It's really inexcusable not to use them. (Of course, there are those who claim those sites are "fake," too--especially if they fail to confirm that the Obamas, say, were honoring the flag with their left hands.)

But you can also just ask yourself: "Who benefits from a story like this? Who is hurt? Who has published or posted the information?" Etc.

I saw a story on Facebook the other day that said that Nancy Pelosi had been taken from her office in handcuffs. Search on it: the story was all over the Internet. And it's also demonstrably false.

And I think it's our duty--on both sides--to make sure something is factually so before we begin condemning and Tweeting and ripping new ones for folks. I'm willing to wait to see about all this Russia stuff and the Trump campaign/transition team. What's the evidence? Is it credible? What did he know and when did he know it? Etc.?

Meanwhile, I know I'm trying to counter a ferocious wind with a bicycle tire pump. But I refuse to cry "Fake!" until I have checked, until I am certain. Then, I guarantee you, my bicycle pump and I will be out there battling the tempest.

*I often check NPR ... they do well in this regard. I have friends who swear by PBS, as well.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 312

Near the end of her edition of her husband’s poems, Mary wrote affectingly about his drowning in the summer of 1822 near the coast of Viareggio, Italy. A sort of spell surrounded us, she wrote of those waiting for the boat’s return, and each day, as the voyagers did not return, we grew restless and disquieted, and yet, strange to say, we were not fearful of the most apparent danger.
The spell snapped; it was all over; an interval of agonizing doubt—of days passed in miserable journeys to gain tidings, of hopes that took firmer root even as they were more baseless—was changed to the certainty that death had eclipsed all happiness for the survivors for evermore.[1]
She praised Trelawny for his efforts in the cremations (required by Italian law) and his arrangements for the return of the ashes. He was indefatigable in his exertions, she wrote.[2]
Following the publication of Bysshe’s poems—and the wrenching experience of writing about his final days—Mary was near a breakdown. In her journal—some time in March 1839—she wrote: Illness did ensue—what an illness—driving me to the verge of insanity—Often I felt the cord wd snap & I should no longer be able to rule my though[t]s with fearful struggles—After long repose, I became somewhat better.[3]
Nine months later her next entry appeared, and it was hardly more sanguine: A hope gleams through the clouds of my life—will it break forth into sunshine?—Never![4]
Like her late husband, Mary was quite peripatetic. She was moving here and there, hither and yon, discovering each time, of course, that her happiness did not reside in a place. Her happiness, she recognized very clearly, was something that would never return to her. It lived nowhere.
In June 1840, she and her twenty-year-old son, Percy Florence Shelley (and a maid), set sail for the Continent, for a journey she would later recount in her final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published on August 1, 1844. In the next few years she would return a couple of more times, in many cases revisiting sites that had been so significant to her in her years with Bysshe.

[1] Ibid., 718.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Journals, 563.
[4] Ibid.