Dawn Reader

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Stratford Sundries, 2017-1

Stratford City Hall
Stratford, Ontario
31 July 2017
We're back!

A couple hours ago we arrived--again--in Stratford, Ontario, where, tomorrow afternoon, we begin our annual Orgy of Plays. We'll see eleven plays in six days here at the Stratford Theatre Festival--something we've been doing for more than fifteen consecutive years now. We are enormously fortunate, enormously grateful.

At the end of April this year I believed there was no way I'd ever be here again. I could barely walk I was so dizzy, and I even spent a night in the ER up at UH in Chagrin. Test after test after test ...

But I've been getting better--slowly, slowly--and here we are. As is our wont, we've parked the car in our hotel's parking lot, and we will not drive again until we leave for home on Sunday next. Walk everywhere.

There are four main theater venues here--the Festival, the Avon, the Studio, the Tom Patterson--and we will see shows at all of them. Only the Festival is a bit of a walk; the others are pretty close to where we "live."

We left Hudson about 10:45 this morning, arriving here about 5:30. If we could have driven straight across Lake Erie, it would have, you know, been quicker--if wetter. Instead, we drove all the way west to I-280, then up I-75 to Detroit, crossing the Ambassador Bridge there to Windsor, Ontario (where I once spent a wonderful day at the University of Windsor Library chasing down stuff about the Northwest Police for my Jack London/Call of the Wild research). And then we basically reversed our morning trip--this time along the northern edge of Lake Erie.

I love the rural parts of Ontario--reminds me so much of boyhood trips in the Midwest before urban sprawl ... Lovely sights of farms and small towns and many farmers bringing in their hay crops and ... Dear Memory held my hand and whispered in my ear ... and I felt. And listened.

Joyce and I are now unpacking and getting ready for a busy week. For a lovely busy week, and I will post here about the shows we're seeing--and about all the other excitin' stuff we do!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 152

1. AOTW--Well, this week, the prize has a literal as well as a figurative meaning. The other evening, off on our wonted post-supper drive, we saw a couple walking their dogs--two of them, leashed. The humans paused, let each pup poop profusely in someone's yard, then strolled on, no effort whatsoever to impound the poop and dispose of it properly. So it goes in AOTW World.

2. I finished only one book this week because I'm also reading the massive recent novel by Joyce Carol Oates (American Martyrs, some 750 pages). I've read more than 400 and hope to finish it this week. So far, so good ...

     - I did finish the recent John Grisham novel, Camino Island, which is not a courtroom thriller (though some lawyers do appear here and there); no, this one is a thriller-thriller. A caper story. A group of men steal from the special collections library at Princeton University a number of manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald, including The Great Gatsby and the unfinished The Last Tycoon (a dramatization of the latter is now streaming on Amazon Prime!).

We follow the Bad Guys for a while, then turn to the efforts to recover the priceless materials. The story focuses on Mercer Mann, a young woman writer (currently blocked!), whom the authorities enlist to help recover the manuscripts since the prime suspect is a rare books dealer on this Florida island Mercer is familiar with. Bruce Cable is his name. Cable is "married"--but the relationship is open, and Mercer is quite able with Cable.

I liked the book (for what it is), though I must confess that I figured out a big plot twist well before it happened. When this happens (occasionally, not often), I feel simultaneously proud of myself and disappointed. One of the reasons I read thrillers is to be surprised, so when the Big Surprise turns out to be what I thought it was ... well ... diminished pleasure.

3. Last night I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming at Kent, and I both enjoyed it a lot and not so much. I know that I'm now officially an Old Guy because I prefer the sort of "personal" scenes to all the action. I felt the director could have cut the thing by a half-hour, and no one would have noticed. Really, the action is always, for me, just More of the Same, but I liked watching the relationships among Peter Parker and his high school classmates, between Parker and Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), who is Parker's mentor in the film. (I'll see Robert Downey, Jr. in anything!)

One other thing I'll say: In films aimed at a youth audience, most of the adults are clueless or dopey or both. Only the kids are kind of ... With It. The teachers at Parker's high school were basically all cliches and caricatures: boring or inattentive or so laissez-faire that they seem almost spectral in the lives of the kids. It's a rare film that has ever shown me a teacher who resembled an actual one. Even more rare: a film with a great teacher.

But I'm probably just being too ... sensitive ... about my own 45-year career in the classroom ...

Link to film trailer.

4, Final Word: A word I liked this week from my various online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary ... check 2nd meaning ...

morigeration, n.

Pronunciation:  Brit.       /mɒˌrɪdʒəˈreɪʃn/, /məˌrɪdʒəˈreɪʃn/,  U.S. /məˌrɪdʒəˈreɪʃ(ə)n/, /mɔˌrɪdʒəˈreɪʃ(ə)n/  [KIND OF RHYMES WITH REFRIGERATION--MOHR-RIJ-UHR-A-SHUN]
Forms:  lME morigeracioun, 16 18– morigeration.
Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymons: Latin mōrigerātiōn-, mōrigerātiō.
Etymology: < classical Latin mōrigerātiōn-, mōrigerātiō... (Show More)
Now rare.

†1. With modifying word: character or nature (of an illness). Only in evil morigeration. Obs.

?a1425   tr. Guy de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (N.Y. Acad. Med.) f. 21   Som [inflammations] bene made of humours noȝt naturale And..in þam yuel qualitee or yuel morigeracioun, i. maneryng [?c1425 Paris euel manere; L. mala morigeratio], appereþ more þan bolnyng.
?a1425   tr. Guy de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (N.Y. Acad. Med.) f. 158v   He exemplyfied in 3 maneres strengþ of sikenesez: For principalite of þe particule, as in þe heued or þe wombe ysmyten; For magnitude of disposicoun, as in woundez so grete þat hem nedeþ sewing; And for yuel morigeracioun..as in articulis ybrissed or crusshed.

 2. Obedience, compliance; deference to superiors, obsequiousness.

1605   Bacon Of Aduancem. Learning i. sig. E1v   Not that I can taxe or condemne the morigeration or application of learned men to men in fortune. 
1642   J. Howell Instr. Forreine Travell v. 59   For the Spaniards, of all other, love to be respected at their own homes, and cannot abide an insolent cariage in a Stranger; On the other side, Courtesie and Morigeration, will gaine mightily upon them.
1659   J. Evelyn Let. 3 Sept. in Diary & Corr. (1852) III. 116   That fond morigeration to the mistaken customs of the age.
1889   Dict. National Biogr. XVII. 238/1   A large number of letters remain..addressed to her by her son Charles Lewis, but he certainly gave her reason enough for discontent, both in his politic morigeration to the Commonwealth men in England and in his cold-blooded treatment of herself.
1903   Edinb. Rev. Apr. 384   Morigeration served their turn during the first part of their Asiatic journey.

1958   Stud. in Renaissance 5 186 (note)    In the many works deriving from Bacon's treatise on fortune, morigeration is perhaps best exemplified in Chesterfield's advice to his son on the necessity of cultivating ‘the art of pleasing’.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

That Nobel Prize, That Nobel Speech

I don't think I reacted too much, publicly, when I heard the news last October that the Nobel Prize for Literature had gone to Bob Dylan. (Link to New York Times account of the announcement.)

To say I was ambivalent is both accurate and an understatement.

I've loved Dylan since the git-go. When he first emerged on the scene in the 1960s, I was still whanging away at my guitar with dreams of joining the Kingston Trio and others in the folk music pantheon--dreams about as realistic as those I'd had, only a couple of years earlier, about being the catcher for the Cleveland Indians.

And I remained a fan of his for a long, long, long time. Joyce and I, in fact, early in our marriage (the Big Day was December 20, 1969), saw Dylan perform at the Cleveland Public Hall; he was acoustic the first half, electric the second. Scandal!

In 1973, two of my obsessions merged: Bob Dylan and Billy the Kid. That was the year the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid came out--with music by Bob Dylan (including the hit "Knockin' on Heaven's Door")--and Dylan also had a small part in this Sam Peckinpah film. (Link to film trailer.)

Although I haven't listened to much popular music in recent years (okay, decades)--other than what I hear in the air at coffee shops and elsewhere--I still greatly admire Dylan and what he did for music in my generation--and the next couple, too!

But ... a Nobel Prize for Literature?

When the news came out, people took sides on Facebook--dear friends on all sides of the issue. I generally stayed quiet, though I have to say that I was stunned by that Nobel decision: Musicians have all kinds of awards (Grammys, etc.)--and now popular songwriters are going to be eligible for the Nobel Prize in Literature, as well?

It just seemed odd to me that, say, Joyce Carol Oates (I think she deserves the Prize--hasn't won it), labors in a much different vineyard--and in a much different way--with much different tools. Etc. But I guess I didn't feel motivated enough to get involved publicly in the debate. Though Joyce and I talked about it quite a bit.

Then, not long ago, the text of Dylan's Nobel Lecture became available online. I bookmarked it--but didn't do anything for quite a while.

Then, the other day, I downloaded and printed and read it. (Link to the Nobel Lecture.)

And--to be honest--I thought it really was pretty ordinary stuff--or worse. Although I did like the early paragraphs (about his musical influences as he was growing up--Buddy Holly a major one), he then launched into the major part of his speech, which dealt with the influences on him of some major literary works: Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey.

And from here on ... I thought it read like a weak undergraduate essay by someone trying to impress a prof. I just didn't buy it.

I'm not saying I don't think Dylan read those books--or that they didn't have an influence on him; I'm just saying that he didn't write about any of it very well--or very uniquely. It was, well, just ordinary stuff--kind of like a feeble lyric he would have tossed after he tried it out.

He should have written a song cycle. Should have gone to his strength.

I should say that I've read all three of those books--Moby-Dick (multiple times--I taught some Melville), The Odyssey (multiple times--I taught it for two years at Western Reserve Academy), All Quiet on the Western Front (just once--in high school--study hall--bored by study hall, not the novel).

And I can't say that Bob Dylan, the Nobel Laureate, said anything remotely unusual about any of the three. Nothing remotely arresting.

Anyway, perhaps I'm sounding snooty now (elitist!), but I guess that's not all that bad a thing: is it? The Nobel Prize--in any category--is supposed to go to someone who's the elite of the elite.

In popular music, that's Bob Dylan, no question at all; in literature, it's someone else.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 352

And then son Percy found a woman he wanted to marry, Jane St. John.
Her biography fits right in with the Godwins and Shelleys. She was an illegitimate child; his first husband died just three years after their marriage in 1841. Her late husband, by the way, left behind an illegitimate son. Jane met Mary’s son, Percy Florence, in 1847, and they married on June 22, 1848.
From the beginning, Mary adored the woman who would become her daughter-in-law. Mary first mentions Jane in a letter in March 1848, calling her a prize indeed in the lottery (not as rich) being the best & sweetest thing in the world—[1] In that same letter, however, Mary makes another comment about Jane’s (lack of) wealth—so in some ways we see—don’t we?—that Mary has become someone quite distant from her own family history.
Unfortunately (for us), Percy Florence and Jane had no children. So today there is no one walking around carrying the genes of Godwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelley. Instead, all that genetic material lies in the ground—and in the pages of countless books, books by them, books about them.

On October 6, 1999, I drove to Bloomington, Indiana, where I planned to visit the Lilly Library, which houses the rare books and manuscripts for the University of Indiana. There, I’d found online, was a copy of Jane Shelley’s four-volume compilation of papers, Shelley and Mary (1882), an assortment of letters and other documents that she published in a limited edition. The Lilly had only the first two volumes. (I would read the others thanks to microfilm I acquired from the Hiram College Library on interlibrary loan, January 31, 1999.)
Here’s an excerpt from my journal later that day: I was the only patron for a while, and so they quickly brought me the two volumes of Shelley and Mary, and I was thankful I had this laptop: the books were, well, books, not microfilm, so I had to type the notes I took. Not a lot of stuff, but some golden stuff—especially the letters from Godwin to Mary (unpublished most other places). After about two ½ hours of typing, I was ready to leave for New Harmony, so off I went.
Today, as I look at the printout of the notes I took that day nearly twenty years ago, I find one extract that makes me smile even today—this excerpt from a letter that Mary’s father wrote to her in late November 1822 after reading the manuscript of her novel Valperga (1823). Here’s Godwin with his typical paternal bluntness: Frankenstein was a fine thing; it was compressed, muscular, and firm; nothing relaxed and weak; no proud flesh. … [Valperga] is a work of more genius; but it appears, in reading, that the first rule you prescribed to yourself was, I will let it be long.[2]

[1] Letters, vol. 3, 334.
[2] 904.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

High School Doesn't Go Away

At the recent Hiram Schools* reunion (an annual July event in nearby Welshfield, Ohio) our Master of Ceremonies, Gary Bott (a couple of classes earlier than mine--and a former Hiram Fire Chief), performed one of his annual rituals: checking to see which HHS classes had attendees this year. He started with 1935. A woman's hand went up.

1935. Hmmm. If she was seventeen in 1935, that makes her ... [pause for Danny's slow computational skills] ... ninety-nine years old. (Did I mishear? Was it 1935?) And there she sat, eating pot-luck with the rest of us, sharing stories, occasionally feeling bad about the jerks we'd been Back in the Day (maybe I'm just speaking for myself here: Not everyone is a jerk in high school; I was).

Our class (1962) had only a handful present (see pic below)--though nearly twenty of us had met the day before at the home of our classmate Ron Etling, who owns a great place in Hiram Township--nine wooded acres across Asbury Road from Camp Asbury (where our sixth graders at the middle school in Aurora, where I taught most of my career, used to go for a week each spring)--Ron, also a middle school teacher (science) who has both geothermal and solar at his house. Scientists!

Twenty doesn't sound like all that many, but there were only about forty of us to begin with, and we are 72-ish now ... get real!

Well, I wrote earlier about that reunion day (yes, I know that I repeat myself!), but today I was thinking about how high school lingers with us. The relationships, the expectations we have of one another.

Certainly, those years are key in our development--basically ages fourteen through seventeen (plus or minus)--years when we begin to think we know a lot (and that our parents and other adults manifestly do not)--that the adolescent world we're inhabiting (and creating) is just far different from (and superior to) whatever it had been before (hah!), that we don't need anyone, except one another, of course, our shared wisdom equaling, well, all of what humanity had theretofore accumulated.

It takes years--well, it took me years--to figure out what a dolt I was.

And I think now about what a moron I was not to consult my parents about more things (or to listen to them with one ear--or fewer), not to consult, say, Mr. Brunelle, our amazing high school English teacher (Latin, German, too), who lived only eleven miles away from where I was beginning my own career as an English teacher. Hell, I didn't need him: I mean, all of this--all of what I was doing--was different, right?


I should have picked his brain like an apple tree. But didn't. And so had to learn the Hard Way many of the things he could have spared me.

But it just amazes me how--fifty-five years after we graduated--I can see a familiar name from Back Then pop up on a Facebook "Like" or comment or a post, and I feel ... something. Something unique. Something I do not really feel for any other "friends" (except Joyce, of course!)--no matter how long I've known them.

And I believe I feel this way because we shared it all--the classes, the teachers, the madness, the excitement, the cruelty, kindness, love, error, cruelty (yes, I know I already said it once), success, failure, study halls, gym class, Y-Teen hot dog day, sock-hops, games, bus rides, sorry lunches (we had no cafeteria: bag-it or starve!), field trips, fights, applause, cruelty (yep, third time) ... and now ... memory.

The other day I had coffee with Ron (whose home and property we'd enjoyed for our 55th) because we hadn't talked much that day--needed to catch up. A swift hour-and-a-half ensued. And names I hadn't thought of--deeds I'd forgotten (sometimes happily so)--regrets and pleasures--all of it swirled around us there in the Aurora Starbucks, where Time himself simply sipped his latte and waited for us to finish.

*The Hiram Schools are gone. The high school consolidated with nearby Crestwood (in Mantua, Ohio) at the beginning of the 1964-65 school year; the building was razed a little later; the elementary grades hung around awhile, then merged, too, and now ... nothing but grass remains. Here's a picture of my younger brother and me at the site--just last year.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 351

Percy and Mary were able to afford the new place at 24 Chester Square because in late November 1845 they sold Castle Goring, a property which Bysshe’s paternal grandfather—also named Bysshe—had built in Sussex by the sea.[1]
Erected in the 1790s, the structure features some odd architecture: One face looks Gothic—a traditional “castle”; the opposite face resembles an Italian villa. (Ah, Sir Bysshe—getting it both ways!) (Pix from the Internet.)

I did not see the place when I was in England in the spring of 1999. I’m not sure why, but I’ve read lately that although it still stands, its current owners do not welcome visitors. So I probably couldn’t have gotten close anyway.
At any rate, Mary and Percy sold it for £11,250—quite a fortune in 1845, some £1.5 million today.[2] And in US dollars in July of 2017 (as I write this): nearly $2 million. That would suffice. She would move in to 24 Chester Square in March 1846. And she and her son would live comfortably the rest of their lives—financially, anyway.
It must have been astonishing for Mary, to live like this. She’d grown up in the always struggling Godwin household, had lived somewhat meanly with husband Bysshe, and had continued a very modest lifestyle after she, now a widow, returned to England in 1824. Her income came from writing (not much) and from the limited largesse of Sir Timothy Shelley, who, as we have seen, was bitter, bitter, bitter about her and what he viewed as the corruption of his late son.
Mary’s letters during her last few years show us that she was still reading, still writing occasional short pieces, still making brief journeys here and there, visiting.
And then son Percy found a woman he wanted to marry, Jane St John.

[1] Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit, 10.
[2] https://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Call Me Mr. Blue"

Last night--driving home with Joyce from Aurora--we saw some blue sky opening in the west (it had been overcast much of the day), and I said something about Mr. Blue glowing up there ahead of us.

And then, of course, that song came back ... and it has remained in my head, off and on, ever since. That song, "Mr. Blue."

Written by DeWayne Blackwell and recorded by the Fleetwoods and released in 1959, it reached #1 on the charts in November that year, the month I turned 15 and was, of course, astonishingly vulnerable to issues of the heart. I heard it over and over again on the radio; it was a standard at our sock-hops and dances (at which we very rarely had live music). Friends owned the 45rpm of it, and we listened at their houses, over and over.

Though I remember this, too: It was the kind of song that a guy--a teen guy in the 50s, an aspiring jock (like me)--had to pretend not to like. Sentimental. Romantic. Mushy. Definitely not a guy thing in 1959.

Though--privately, privately--it was my thing in 1959. I had no real idea then, of course, about heartbreak or loss or betrayal or regret--lessons I would learn a little farther down the road--lessons that (to my deep, deep shame) I also taught some others.

It was a great song to slow-dance to, and by the time I was in tenth grade (the year the song came out), I had become very fond of slow-dancing (for obvious carnal reasons). Although "The Twist" would come out in 1960, in 1959, as I recall, we were still doing the Jitterbug to the fast songs. Caught, we were, between the 50s and 60s.

DeWayne Blackwell, the songwriter, born in 1936 (and apparently still with us), wrote for a number of singers--including (says trusty Wikipedia) Garth Brooks--remember "Friends in Low Places"? That is a Blackwell song. (Link to "Low Places.")

The Fleetwoods: Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher, Barbara Ellis. Recently, I've read, they're still doing occasional oldies concerts.

Here's a link to "Mr. Blue," the Fleetwoods performing it on YouTube ... Joyce found it on her iPhone as I was driving us home last night, and as it started up, Hiram High School came surging toward me on the raft of memory--though I have to say that I had totally forgotten the opening: "Our guardian star has lost its glow ..." (See complete lyrics at the bottom of the page.)

Now, of course, all I worry about is that--for the rest of my life!--every time I see a blue sky, "Mr. Blue" will come whirling back into my memory. Good thing I live in northeastern Ohio: not all that many blue-sky days!

Our guardian star lost all his glow
The day that I lost you
He lost all his glitter the day you said, no
And his silver turned to blue
Like him, I am doubtful that your love is true
But if you decide to call on me
Ask for Mr. Blue
I'm Mr. Blue (wah-a-wah-ooh)
When you say you love me (ah, Mr. Blue)
Then prove it by goin' out on the sly
Provin' your love isn't true
Call me Mr. Blue
I'm Mr. Blue (wah-a-wah-ooh)
When you say you're sorry (ah, Mr. Blue)
Then turn around, head for the lights of town
Hurtin' me through and through
Call me Mr. Blue
I stay at home at night (I stay at home)
Right by the phone at night (right by the phone)
But you won't call
And I-I won't hu-urt my pride (call me Mr)
I won't tell you (wah-a-wah-ooh)
Why you paint the town (ah, Mr. Blue)
A bright red to turn it upside down
I'm paintin' it too
But I'm paintin' it blue
Call me Mr. Blue (wah-a-wah-ooh)
Call me Mr. Blue (wah-a-wah-ooh)

Call me Mr. Blue

Monday, July 24, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 350

Last time, I wrote about my experiences in London in April 1999 when I saw and photographed (from the outside only ... sigh) the house at 24 Chester Square, the final house Mary Shelley occupied, the house where she died. In that post I noted that I realized, doing the post, that I'd not yet scanned the 35mm slides I took that day (oops), but over the weekend I managed to do so, and below are a few that show the neighborhood, the house, the historical marker ...

PS--The blue plaque at the bottom was not installed until 2003, four years after I was there ... progress!  Link to info about plaque.

Here's an image of a Google map that shows you the location in London.

And now ... some pix ... Don't you love the sign? "Wife of the Poet"--nothing about Frankenstein or her many other writings!

you can see "24" at the far right

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 151

1. AOTW: i think the word has gone out, and people are now competing for this now-coveted award. I had two great contenders on a trip home from the health club the other day: (1) two different cars behaved as if they had the right-of-way as their lane was merging in to mine--gunning it, aggressive as warthogs; (2) as I turned onto Church St. (our street), one-way at this point, two women were standing in the middle of the narrow single lane having what must have been a fascinating conversation; I had to edge by, thinking HERE ARE THE WINNERS! But then this morning, about to exit the Acme parking lot (turning right), I saw a car coming along SR 303 on my left--a little close--so I waited; not so the AOTW, who turned left into the parking lot, right in front of the oncoming car I was waiting for. As the AOTW passed us, I saw she was in a merry smart-phone conversation with someone. Pretty bad when your phone's smarter than you are!

2. I should note that this week was the first time I've been able to ride my bike since April 25, when, after I rode home from Starbucks that afternoon, I drove out to the health club, exercised, passed out in the shower. This led to a Grand Adventure: a ride with EMS (later in the week), the ER overnight, scans and blood draws, and meetings with specialists about my persistent and serious dizziness. But we changed my BP med, and I've been getting better--not perfect, but better. And this week, I added air to the tires, rode off, had a grand old ride. Here's hoping there will be many more to follow ...

3. I finished two books this week.

     a. The first was The Burgess Boys (2013) by Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose books I'm slowly reading my way through. I love her work. This one has a frame story (at the beginning only--not sure why she didn't return to it at the end? oh well, Shakespeare didn't either in The Taming of the Shrew). In the Prologue a first-person narrator is talking with her mother, remembering the Burgess family from their hometown in Maine.

Then we begin Book One in the 3rd person (and we stay in that person) and hear about a grim auto accident years before when one of the little Burgess boys released the brake in the car, which rolled over Dad, killing him. Bob Burgess supposedly did it (though this grows more complicated later in the novel). His older brother, Jim, is an all-star lawyer who has won an OJ-like case and is a celebrity. Sister Susan, still in Maine, is now a single mom with an odd late-teen boy, Zack, who one day hurls a pig's head into a mosque in town, a mosque attended by the many Somali refugees who have moved into the little Maine town of Shirley Falls (fictional).

Well, Bob and Jim get involved in his case; things grow complicated; a Somali becomes sort of a major minor character, and Strout explores the issues of immigration, of Muslims in America, of celebrity, of family--issues that have hardly, uh, disappeared since 2013, eh?

I'm a StroutFan now, and I marvel at how she's able to integrate multiple points of view in her fiction (as she does here). The Burgess Boys does not employ exactly the same technique of some of her other fiction (like Olive Kitteridge)--i.e., interconnected stories. But the POV shifts often here, and it's a thrilling way for readers to see the relativity of "truth."

     b. The second is the new novel (Grief Cottage, 2017) by Gail Godwin, whom I've been reading since the 1970s. I actually met her, back in the early 1970s, when she and my older brother, Richard, were teaching colleagues at the University of Iowa. Richard was taking Joyce and me on a little tour of his office, etc., and Gail Godwin was sitting in hers, too, grading papers. Nice chat--though I don't recall a single sentence of it! I reviewed her for the Plain Dealer once or twice, and I've read all of her novels.

Grief Cottage is not one of my favorites, I'm sad to say. It's told in the first person by a man (now a shrink) recalling the summer when he was eleven years old. His dad is gone (and uncertain in identity); his mom has recently died in a car accident; he has gone to a South Carolina island to live in a beach cottage with his great-aunt, an eccentric soul who makes her meager living by painting local scenes for tourists and others. "Grief Cottage" is the name locals have given to a near-ruin way down the beach from where Marcus (our narrator) is staying, but he becomes obsessed with the place, where, supposedly, an out-of-town family died in Hurricane Hazel years before.

Marcus begins to notice a ... presence ... there when he (surreptitiously) visits--and he even sees what he believes is the ghost of the young boy who died there.

Well, there are complications: his aunt sustains a wrist injury (yes, her painting hand) and drinks a lot; Marcus befriends an elderly local who is kind to him and his aunt; we get flashbacks to Marcus' earlier boyhood and a friend he calls Wheezer; a local realtor is trying to sell Grief Cottage; oh, and some turtles are about to hatch in a nearby dune and make their race for the surf. Etc.

We eventually learn most of the secrets, but the whole thing just seemed a little too pat and predictable for me. Also, having spent thirty years of my career working with middle-school youngsters, I didn't really see much verisimilitude in Marcus--although we must remember that he's looking back on all of this from years later.

And Grief Cottage itself? It's a good symbol of what we all carry around in us--our own dwellings for the grief that we all carry, the places we all dwell now and then, from which we sometimes have a difficult time escaping as the hurricanes rage outside ...

4. On Saturday night we saw (over in Kent) the new film Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan. Though we don't very often go to war films, we did want to see this one because of two cast members: Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, two of the great Shakespearean actors of our lifetimes. And Rylance, in particular, was a wonder here as the owner of a small boat that crosses the Channel to help rescue the tens of thousands of British soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk.

Nolan gives us four points-of-view: a British fighter pilot, the leadership on the beach (Branagh), a couple of soldiers trying to survive, the Mark Rylance boat captain. Shifting easily (and effectively) back and forth, here and there, Nolan shows us the horrors of war from the bottom of the sea to the top of the sky. And the horrors are most grim--though Nolan often allows us to use only our imaginations to, well, imagine what's happening, what the men and women are going through. With an amazing soundtrack pulsing through us ...

A first-rate film that is very difficult to watch--and impossible not to watch.

Link to film trailer.

5. We've once again started watching episodes of the fine Brit series Suspects, which we'd stopped some months ago when a favorite character got murdered in a season-opening episode. Too much for an Old Man to tolerate.

But we're back at it now, enjoying ourselves.

6. Final Word: A word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - niveous  (NIV-ee-uhs)
MEANING: adjective: Snowy or resembling snow.
ETYMOLOGY: From Latin niveus, from nix (snow). Earliest documented use: 1623.
USAGE: “Here, wooded hills rolled gently away to a horizon wrapped in a niveous haze.”
Cecilia Dart-Thornton; The Ill-Made Mute; Warner Books; 2015.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tobacco Juice from Grasshoppers?

The other day--walking down the sidewalk on the way to a local restaurant (to celebrate Joyce's birthday)--I saw a grasshopper, hanging out (was he waiting for grass to grow?). And for some reason I flashed back (again!) to my Oklahoma boyhood and thought about how, back then, we thought grasshoppers spit tobacco juice.

I asked Joyce if she'd heard that story, too, as a girl growing up in Akron, Ohio. She had. She did a little quick iPhone research for me, and she found this reference in the New York Times (it has a weekly "Science" section on Tuesdays). Here's what the Times said (it's in a Q&A format from December 1, 1982--a Wednesday, by the way):

Grasshopper Tobacco

Q. When I was young, we used to hold a grasshopper to make it spit "tobacco." What is it?

A. The brownish liquid, which does resemble tobacco juice, is a substance the grasshopper secretes as a defense mechanism against some possible predators, said Dr. Stuart Green, an entomologist at Cambridge University.

"You were stressing it, and it was not happy at being seized," he said. "The stuff it spits out is not very pleasant, and is harmful or at least offensive to birds and spiders."

The secretion is not made from tobacco but comes from a special gland, Dr. Green said.

The liquid is probably not effective against something as large as a human being, he said, though "if you drank a cup of it, it probably wouldn't do you any good."

Against bird-sized predators, however, the substance might act as a repellent, he said.

So ... it's a defense mechanism. Not tobacco juice.  (Duh.) Yet another childhood fantasy destroyed!

Well, that was thirty-five years ago, that Times info. What's been going on since? The picture at the top of this post is one thing on the web--and there are many pix you can find of this phenomenon. And here's a link to a YouTube video showing someone getting a grasshopper to "spit" (the video didn't look too good on my machine--maybe better on yours?).

And here's some more detailed information about the phenomenon from a Purdue site. LINK

I think--years ago--I tried tobacco-chewing once. Hated it. But I had some Oregon/Washington relatives (all male) who did it--and one college friend (later on). Can't say I ever saw the appeal of it.

But I remember the ubiquity of grasshoppers in the summer back in Oklahoma; I remember the thud when they hit the windshield of our moving car, sometimes leaving legs and wings behind for us to remove at our next stop. (I know: gross.)

And--shame, shame--I remember ... some years ago ... eating a chocolate-covered grasshopper in a package of chocolate-covered insects. It wasn't all that bad. Crunchy. Chocolatey.

Lesson: Wrapped in chocolate, even a grasshopper tastes great!

Image below is from a website where you can buy them ...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 349

“I would rather die ….”[1]

The words that form the title of this chapter are among the last to appear in Mary’s journals. She was not, on that February day in 1841, near her death—she had ten more years to live. But her mood, obviously, was dark—as it had been occasionally throughout her life. Like many mothers before and after, she was feeling somewhat abandoned. Although her son, the new Sir Percy, was devoted to her, he was also spending more and more time away from her—with others. And Mary felt that she deserved better treatment. I gave thought, passion, care, toil, she writes in that same journal entry.
She remained, in the 1840s, intellectually active, however. In 1845 she published a revised edition of her husband’s Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments. She was doing all she could to solidify his literary reputation (and we have to say—don’t we?—that she succeeded admirably). She was still reading regularly.
But she also had to deal with a disturbing attempt to blackmail her with an affectionate letter she’d written. And emerging, as well, were some intimate letters between Mary and Bysshe—but most were forgeries.
But in December 1845, she and her son made arrangements to buy a place on 24 Chester Square in London—a place still standing, a place that bears one of the famous blue historical markers evident around the city.
On Tuesday, April 13, 1999, I went to take a look at that house—from the outside only, I fear, for it remains a private residence, and there was no sign on it that said: “Welcome, Dan Dyer, from Hudson, Ohio!” So I had to settle for a bunch of exterior pictures. It had been a gloomy day, but in my journal I noted that the sun had emerged for my Chester Square stop.
The night before—as was my wont throughout my time in Europe that spring—I had a list of all the things I wanted to do and see on the following day—and what I would need to do about transportation to achieve it all. Some rides on the Tube, some cabs, some walking.
In my notes (item #11) I see that I took the Tube to Victoria Station and walked to 24 Chester Square—then back to the same Tube station for more scurrying-and-photographing. That walk was not all that impressive—not quite a half-mile in each direction.
In a reference book I’d learned that Thomas Cubitt had laid out the square in 1840—so it was a fairly new residential area when Mary and Percy purchased property there. And I learned, too, that Matthew Arnold was living at #2 during the entire time that Mary was there.[2] But Arnold’s name does not appear in the index to Mary’s letters—nor in the index to her journal. So, unless they ran into each other at the local Starbucks, there was apparently no interaction between them.

[1] Mary Shelley, Journals, 573.
[2] Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, eds., The London Encyclopedia, (Macmillan, 1993), 154.

Pix from that 1999 April day ... I just realized I haven't scanned them yet--so I'll post them later  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Sherlockian Thing

Basil Rathbone as SH
I woke up this morning, sweating and thinking about Sherlock Holmes. I don't think I'd had a dream about him--at least, I don't remember one. But it just occurred to me in the gloaming of sleep that he is ubiquitous these days. Everywhere. I just checked the Oxford English Dictionary, where I see that there are words like Sherlockian (noun and adjective), Sherlocking (verb and gerund), and Sherlock (noun and verb--a detective; detecting). And there's Holmesian (noun and adjective).

The images of Holmes and Watson continue to appear in what we used to call the "funny pages" in the newspaper (remember newspapers?). Right now there are two TV series I know about that feature Holmes: BBC/PBS Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch and and Martin Freeman, a hobbit playing Dr. Watson!) and CBS' Elementary (with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Watson). Both these shows have moved Sherlock, et al. into the present--though the PBS series has played with time a little bit. In Elementary, Sherlock and Watson are consultants to the NYPD.

And then those films by Guy Ritchie--two of them (Sherlock Holmes, 2009; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2011). And the Internet word is that a third film is on the way. I love (almost always) Guy Ritchie's work, so I will be there, wearing my deerstalker. Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson. Sherlock: an action hero--a martial arts nerd.

I actually had a deerstalker hat for a while ... not sure what happened to it. A closet/ Goodwill? My son? Ah, dotage ... nothing quite like it.

And there was another recent film--Mr. Holmes, 2014--with Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf!) as the aging, retired detective and Colin Starkey as Dr. Watson). Holmes, living in the countryside, tending to his bees and flowers, finds himself drawn into a case that takes him back to London.

Okay: comics, TV, movies. And the publishing industry continues to grind out Sherlock-related books--from scholarly works, to new adventures by a variety of authors, to tangentially related topics--like the recent (and very fine) Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation, by Brad Ricca.

I just entered "Sherlock Holmes" into the title line on the search page on Amazon--and got nearly 16,000 hits. Of course, some of those are duplicates--and in foreign languages--etc. But still ...

Of course, there's a museum on Baker St. in London (Baker Street--Holmes' address was supposedly 221B). Link to museum site.

Okay--I'm getting tired. And, besides, there's a whole book about this--Arthur & Sherlock (2017), a book I read and even blogged a bit about not too long ago. Written by Michael Sims.

I'm getting tired; I bet you are, too.

So ... what does all this mean? Well, we, of course, like to think that someone can solve all mysteries; many of us don't like thinking that things happen and that we can't figure out what they are--in other words, the kinds of things that happen all the time in our lives.

Today--in a time of virulent anti-intellectualism in the country (and, I fear, in our government)--I find the Holmes stories and the Holmes character reassuring. There are answers out there!. And, sure, intellectuals are, you know, weirdos; people who study are losers; people who know things don't really know them (Fake!); people who believe in a liberal education are elitist ... you know?

Sherlock Holmes, to me, is a reminder of what study and learning can do. And I grieve for a world that disdains those things ... our world, in other words.

Which is probably why I woke up this morning in a sweat ...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 348

I finished reading Mary’s final book on August 12, 1997. I’m just now taking a look at my journal/diary to see what I was doing that day. It seems it was a somewhat busy time, I find. We had an inspection of our home in Aurora that day—we were about to sell it. I was preparing to teach (part-time) in the fall at Hiram College—its Weekend College program, aimed at older students, people working; my course, required for all, was called Writing in the Liberal Arts (I); there was a II later in the year. All I wrote in my journal about Mary Shelley that day was that I finished typing my notes on Rambles, notes that reached twenty-eight single-spaced pages. And the next day I began reading her father’s great novel Caleb Williams (1794).
I’m a bit surprised that I had nothing to say about completing Mary’s final book. But it was fairly early in my research, and I was moving on to read the works of her father, her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft), her husband, her friends (Byron, Coleridge, et al.). I didn’t realize at the time—not in the summer of 1997 (twenty years ago as I type this!)—that I had reached what should have been a very emotional milestone in my work.
I wonder now if Mary knew that this was the end of something. By this time (the early 1840s) she was no longer writing much in her journal. Very few entries remain from these years—a tiny handful. And the final extended one—from February 26, 1841—is deeply moving, sad to read. This sentence, for example, continues to dampen my eyes: That I might live—as once I lived—hoping—loving—aspiring enjoying—[1]  And, of course, as I advance in years, decline in health, I find that my rages against the dying of the light in many ways harmonize with Mary’s.
Her few surviving letters about the book display a lack of confidence about it. Writing to long-time friend Leigh Hunt in the summer of 1844 (the date is not certain), she says I am really frightened when I think that you are reading my book critically—It seems to me such a wretched piece of work—written much of it in a state of pain that makes me look at its pages now as if written in a dream. … I fear I shall be very much ashamed of it—[2]
But—as we shall see—despite her health, despite her insecurities, she clung fiercely to her intellectual life. Until she simply no longer could.

[1] Journals, 572.
[2] Letters, vol. 3, 146.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Really?!!? 55 YEARS Ago?

There we are ... the mighty class of 1962, Hiram High School, Hiram, Ohio. All that's left of the once formidable early-60s' Huskies! There weren't all that many of us to begin with. A tiny school (my older brother's graduating class, 1959, had about a dozen), Hiram added some kids in the 1958-59 school year when nearby Streetsboro had a problem with its high school and had to send their youngsters around to various other schools in the county. I think we about doubled in size when they arrived. Our class graduation picture from 1962 (see below) shows forty-one of us (if I count correctly). Years later, a teacher, I used to tell my students that I--working so very hard--had graduated tenth in my class. They were impressed--until I added a little fact to the Fake News.

BTW: If you're curious, I'm at the far left. Toward the top. The dork with the National Honor Society pin gleaming on his lapel.

We gathered on Saturday afternoon at the home of Ronnie (now "Ron") at his home in Hiram Township--down near Camp Asbury, once accessible only by a rough dirt Asbury Road, since paved. Oddly in later years, when I was a middle school teacher in nearby Aurora, our sixth graders would spend a week at Camp Asbury. One year, one of those sixth graders was my own son ...

It was a gorgeous afternoon--sunny, mid-seventies. Ronnie and his wife had arranged tables outside in their sprawling yard, and there we gathered ... pretending (in some cases) to recognize one another, eyes straining for the name tags ... (Is it bad if even the name tag doesn't help? Not a sign of imminent dementia or anything, right?)

It was potluck. But I didn't eat--I'd promised to take Joyce out to dinner when I got home--but I sat and sipped coffee and caught up with old friends--and with people I wish I'd been smart enough to know better when I was Young and Stupid (is this redundant?). Bob, a good friend back then who became a prof at Case-Western was there); I hadn't seen him in five years (the previous reunion), and we laughed about ... well, you know. Always good to see Ralph, who's become a good friend on Facebook.

Not many of us, by the way, are on Facebook.

Carla and I have been teasing each other for more than a half-century now (and on it goes!), and Linda was kind to me, as always.

We talked and laughed on through the afternoon--wondered about classmates we haven't seen since the 1960s, told stories about those who couldn't be there, told more stories about those no longer alive (and there are too many of them). We especially talked about our former Coach, Bob Barnhart, who passed away this year. He was a big influence on a lot of us, and I have to say that he changed my high-school life in so many ways--all for the better. He was the Real Thing.

And then it was selfie-time. And pictures and more pictures and more pictures.

And then I drove off toward home, my heart once again throbbing with pleasure, sorrow, regret, nostalgia.

BTW: One of the reasons for the success of such events? No one talked politics. No one--at least in any of the conversations I had. We found, instead, that common community park we share. Where we played ...

On Sunday afternoon, it was Round Two. All the classes of the Hiram Schools (the high school consolidated with nearby Crestwood for the beginning of the 1964-65 academic year) gather each year in July up in Welshfield (five miles north of Hiram) at the community center. There were only a few of us there this time from the Class of 1962 (see below), but I got to talk with some others I'd known pretty well back then. Jim--an older guy I'd played basketball with; Paul, younger, with whom I acted in the musicals his mother directed.

I had to leave quickly, though. It was our son's forty-fifth birthday, and he and his family were coming over later in the afternoon ... had to get home to help.

So once again I drove into the west, Memory seated beside me, whispering ...