Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 358

Return to Castle Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s death in 1851 was a quiet one, did not create much of a stir. Most of the Frankenstein offspring were yet to be born, and she could not have imagined what a profound and permanent cultural effect her creation would have. In a mercenary way, I think about how she would have profited these days—enormously—from such an accomplishment. Movie rights. Licensing fees. Public appearances. She would not have had to kowtow to Sir Timothy Shelley for years, hoping to extract from him a few occasional quid to help her raise her son, Sir Timothy’s grandson and direct heir.
Others in her circle preceded her or soon followed her to the grave. Her stepbrother, Charles Clairmont, had died about a year before she did. His sister, Claire, would live until 1879, spending her final years in Florence, where she lies today just about six miles southeast of the city in the suburb of Antella; her marker is in the floor of a chapel there (Santa Maria Annunziata). I stood there on April 22, 1999. (Some pix from that day.)

Bysshe’s youthful friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg died on August 21, 1862; Thomas Love Peacock, on January 23, 1866; Edward John Trelawny, 1881; Jane Williams Hogg, 1884. Mary Shelley’s son, Sir Percy Florence, died on December 5, 1889; his wife, Jane, survived nearly ten more years, dying on January 24, 1899. And then they were all gone.
I was born in 1944.
I first heard about Frankenstein in my boyhood. Halloween and all.
I didn’t read the book until January 1985.
I did not start becoming interested in—and then obsessed with—Mary Shelley until the mid-1990s, when, a middle school English teacher, I began having my students write stories featuring Frankenstein’s creature.
My obsession raged for nearly a decade.
I read everything she wrote. Everything her mother wrote. Everything her father wrote. Everything her husband wrote. And many many things about her friends, her circle, her world.
In the spring of 1999 I spent six weeks running around Europe looking at as many Shelley-related sites as I possibly could.
And on that trip, on April 29, 1999, I sat in the little restaurant inside Castle Frankenstein, near Gernsheim, Germany. Miles below, the Rhine twisted along. Back in 1814 Mary Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley, returning by river, virtually penniless, from their elopement from six weeks earlier, stopped there for a few hours while the boatman waited for the full moon to rise. Looming over them—a dozen miles away—were the ruins of Castle Frankenstein, which they could not have seen.
The moon rose. They continued their Rhine journey homeward.
Four years later she would write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
One hundred seventy-five years later, I would sit in the restaurant in Castle Frankenstein. I would slurp a luscious sundae. I would think about Mary Shelley. About her book. About her family.
And I would return home to write her story. And mine.
The End

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thereby Hangs a Tale ...

So ... yesterday ... in the coffee shop ... I was reading (via iPad) the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon-Journal (I do so every afternoon).

And, I'll confess, I was on the prowl for cartoons to share on Facebook. (Facebook: What I have instead of a life.)

As my FB friends know, I usually "share" cartoons that are related to language or literature. (Such an intellectual, I!)

Anyway, yesterday, there was a cartoon that I just didn't "get." And that, my friends, is annoying. There are lots of things I don't "get" in this world (don't "get" me started), but daily newspaper cartoons? Not usually ...

Below you see it. Yesterday's Argyle Sweater cartoon. I stared at it, stared at it. Nada.

So I showed it to my friend Chris, sitting nearby. Nada.

So ... I thought ... maybe this is an age thing. So I took it up to the counter to show Nigel, who's, oh, about fifty years younger than I am. And a new young barista (I've forgotten her name--dotage.)  Nada.

At first ...

But then Nigel had an insight ... that old nursery rhyme "This Little Piggy."  And Chris, who had joined us at the counter (as had Nigel's mom, who owns the shop), said one of the lines involves "roast beef." And I saw the Arby's sign ... voila!  Collaboration!

And so we solved it in a multi-generational (I confess: I was the Not-So-Wise Elder), bi-gender approach. A model for world peace, etc.

Here's the entire old nursery rhyme:

This Little Piggy

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went ...
Wee, wee, wee,
all the way home!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 357

Final Stop: Bournemouth

Mary wanted to be buried in the same plot with her parents—in the churchyard at St. Pancras in London—where they had lain since 1797 (her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft) and 1836 (her father, William Godwin). Complicating things a little: Also lying there now were the remains of her stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin, who’d died in 1841. Mary Shelley had never really gotten along well with the second Mrs. Godwin (the River Animus flowed both ways), so Mary’s surviving son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, fully aware of the toxicity of that river, moved briskly to remedy things.
He and his wife had recently (1850) moved to southern English coastal town of Bournemouth, where they had bought a home—Boscombe Manor—where they would live in muted pomp and circumstance, yachting, performing in private theatrical events, and living the sort of life that Sir Percy’s parents and maternal grandparents would neither have recognized nor sanctioned. Mary Shelley, though, had mellowed over the years, had suffered long for her youthful indiscretions, and she was grateful for the quiet that lay like a quilt about her son and daughter-in-law.
Sir Percy and his wife arranged to have the remains of Godwin and Wollstonecraft moved from St. Pancras to St. Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth, where they now lie with Mary—and with Sir Percy and Jane. The local rector was nervous about all these controversial folks arriving there, so the remains of Godwin and Wollstonecraft were interred at night. No service or ceremony.
Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin remains in St. Pancras alone with only the names of the others on the gravestone.
I visited the Shelley family tomb in Bournemouth on April 16, 1999—early in the morning (I would catch a train for Elsewhere a bit later). As I look at my journal today, I curse my failure to write more than that I went there. I commented about the sun (necessary for the pictures I wanted to take). And I wonder now, some eighteen years later, why I did not also go take a look at Boscombe Manor, still standing. (Lots of photos of it on the Internet.) All I can do is plead ignorance: I was in the early years of my pursuit and just flat forgot to do some things—or, worse, did not even realize there were such things to do. And is this not an insight we experience, again and again and again, as we age, Regret our most adhesive companion?

(All pix are mine from 1999--except the Boscombe Manor pic at the end.)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 154

1. AOTW: The guy in the mega-pickup who was tailgating me yesterday, apparently deeply aggrieved that I was violating his Freedom to Speed because I was going a mere 5 mph above the limit. So he roared by me on a double yellow line. He showed me; now I'll show him by naming him the AOTW!

2.  Recently, I found amid my pile of clipping-clutter (stories I have cut and/or torn out of newspapers and magazines, then piled on a stand beside my bed) a New Yorker story from a couple of years ago, a story by Jonathan Franzen, "The Republic of Bad Taste," from the June 18 & 15, 2015, issue. (Link to that story.) So, I thought, It's time to read this story. I started reading it. Then ... another thought: I've read this story before! Where? Then ... I realized it was an excerpt from his recent novel Purity (released in September 2015), a novel I read its very month of release. (Shall we debate the meaning of the word dotage?)

3. On Friday we saw the new film by Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky, and we both enjoyed the humor of yet another caper film by the guy who brought us some Ocean's films (there's even a joke here about Ocean's 7-11). Soderbergh had announced not long ago that he was not going to make any more films; I'm glad he lied. This one takes place in West Virginia, where things are not going well for the Logan brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) and their sister (Farrah Mackenzie--whom I didn't recall seeing before).

They decide to rip off the proceeds from a big NASCAR event, and away we go. James Bond--uh--Daniel Craig appears as an expert safe-cracker and has some moderate success doing a WV accent (had to laugh a few times).

A little too long--a bit (more than a bit) offensive to people from the Appalachian region (is there a cliche we don't see?)--but great to see Soderbergh back at work ...  (Link to film trailer.)

4. I finished two books this week ...

     - The first was the latest thriller by Michael Connelly, whose cop novels about Harry Bosch I've been reading for years (enjoy this Amazon series based on the books, too).  In this one--The Late Show--he's created a new character, Det. Renée Ballard, a woman who's been "demoted" to the night shift (see title of book) because she filed a harassment claim (an authentic one) against a superior, who weaseled out of it. Anyway, she dives into a couple of cases (one of which nearly costs her own life). An interesting character--bright and impulsive (like Bosch). She likes the surf, lives near it, visits the Pacific every day. (Like the Bosch books, this involves the LAPD.)

Robert B. Parker (RIP) also created a woman detective near the end of his career (Sunny Randall), and she was okay. I hope Connelly does some more of these with Det. Ballard. Enjoyed it.

     - The second was Mrs. Fletcher (2017), the latest by Tom Perrotta, whose works I've really enjoyed reading over the years. This one? Not so much. We follow several characters: Eve Fletcher (see title), a divorced late-30s woman whose son, Brendan (who actually narrates some sections; the rest of the book is in the 3rd person), is about to head off to college, where he does miserably in about every way and soon returns home. We also follow Amanda, who works at a local senior center and who is taking a gender-issues community college class with Eve; the teacher is a trans-sexual (man to woman).

The term MILF runs throughout (Mother I Would Like to F-word--check the Urban Dictionary online for some more, uh, detail), and Eve is clearly one. There are some erotic scenes, some embarrassing scenes, some very bad choices by the characters, some coincidence, some near-misses, social/cultural satire, but I felt it was all kind of tired and obvious. Perrotta's earlier books (e.g, Election, Little Children, The Abstinence Teacher, The Leftovers) also mined suburbia for gold. And found it. But here? As I said ... not so much. An average book from a gifted writer.

5. We stumbled on the Australian cop series The Doctor Blake Mysteries not long ago and have somewhat binged. Only two left. Sigh. And we're also streaming the most recent season available of Hinterland, which we also like a lot. One (annoying) coincidence: Both are dealing with internal investigations of the principal characters. (Yawn.)

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

     - from the OED ... what interests me here is not so much the word but how far back it goes--1942. That surprised me.

ginormous, adj.  Very large, enormous; impressively or shockingly big.
Origin: Formed within English, by blending. Etymons: gigantic adj., enormous adj.
Etymology: Blend of gigantic adj. and enormous adj.
1942   Wings of War: Air Force Anthology v. 111   If you write a book or get your name in the paper that is a ‘ginormous line’, the strange word being evolved from gigantic and enormous.
1949   B. Burke With Feather on my Nose xiii. 174   Flo and Charles Dillingham had combined their resources to take over a new theater and to put on a ginormous production called Miss 1916.
1970   A. Reid Confessions of Hitch-hiker vi. 45   We went to a posh café…The prices were ginormous.
1986   Sunday Express Mag. 23 Mar. 70/3   Since Brands Hatch, doors have opened and it's possible to make gi-normous money.
2015   Time Out London 17 Mar. 11/2   Ever feel like London's just a bit too big? All those huge buildings, ginormous parks, the endless mass of people?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Roads Taken

In a few weeks we're going to drive to Lenox, Mass., to help my mom celebrate her 98th birthday. But as we prepare for that trip, I've been thinking about how much more complicated it is now--how much easier it used to be. When I was, you know, younger.

Back in the summer of 1968, for example (before I was married--before I had even met Joyce), my college roommate (we'd graduated in 1966) was out in Wyoming doing graduate work at the U of WY. I decided I would go visit him out in Lander, where he was doing some summer work.

And here was my prep: I packed a bag, got in the car (my hot '67 Chevy Nova SS), drove 700 miles from Aurora, Ohio, to Des Moines, Iowa (where my parents were living), then drove 900 miles the next day to Lander.

No biggie.

No cell phones. No GPS. Just maps from the gas station and a vast amount of youthful stupidity.

And now ...?

Stop the mail, stop the newspapers (we subscribe to three), get the car serviced, make other arrangements for the house. Then ... in the car to head into the East, stopping far more than I used to (think: prostate), listening to the GPS narrator along the way (Turn back!)--though I still take a road atlas along. Just for comfort's sake.

Lenox, Mass. is about 520 miles from our house--a long trip now. We'll probably stop for the night along the way. We'll check in, too, with our son on our cells. We'll arrive exhausted, sick of listening to the GPS Narrator, whom I don't really need at all (we've driven this route countless times).

And I'll think about Lander, WY. 1968. About how easy it all was when my body was cooperating--and when I didn't really bother to think too much ... about anything ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 356

It was a brain tumor that killed her.
Throughout 1850 she had not been able to do much—a few short visits here and there. One of her last social events was a dinner with Thomas Love Peacock, who’d first met and befriended Bysshe in 1812 (when Mary was about fifteen).
But Mary was suffering from headaches—weakness. And everyone knew. In January 1851, her girlhood friend Isabel Baxter Booth arrived at Mary’s home on 24 Chester Square to help care for Mary. But it was all palliative care at this point.
On January 23 Mary lapsed into a coma. And on February 1, she died. She was fifty-three years old.
Her death certificate said it was a supposed tumour in the left cerebral hemisphere of long standing.[1]
In “Mary Shelley’s Death,” an Appendix to her masterful, three-volume collection (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), the superb scholar Betty Bennett adds this information: The symptoms and duration of her illness suggest that she may have died of meningioma, a tumor in the covering of the brain that can spread into the brain itself. Bennett notes that the disease is three times more prevalent in women than in men.[2]
And so another of life’s horrible ironies: the destruction of the mind in an intellectual, a writer, a woman who lived by reading, thinking, writing, imagining. Why, such a fate seems almost fitting for the plot of a novel …

[1] Seymour, Mary Shelley, 538.
[2] Vol. 3, 389.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Even Plan.

Edna St. Vincent Millay has a sonnet I first stumbled across when reading Judith Guest's 1976 novel Ordinary People (and the successful film in 1980 (it won four 1981 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Redford)). Some of it was filmed in Lake Forest, IL where Joyce and I had gone to teach at Lake Forest College during the 1978-79 academic year, so there was a bit of a thrill when we saw the film and recognized the places. (Link to film trailer.)

Anyway, the novel. I had my freshmen at Western Reserve Academy read it* in the 1979-80 school year (as part of their "outside reading"--one book/marking period), and I recall being struck by Millay's epigraph (see entire sonnet below):

But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

I remember thinking (I was in my mid-30s), Gee, that's true, you know? 

But what did I know then? Not a lot. (Though, of course, I believed I knew Every Damn Thing.)

The arrogance of making plans. The assumption that all will be well--that you will be able to execute those plans when the time comes. Now in my early 70s, I smile ruefully when I overhear people use phrases like next year or in a few years. Or even later this fall. We just assume that this Cup of Life from which we're drinking will never really run dry.

(I know that I shouldn't paint with too broad a brush here: Many people, even very early in their lives, learn the dark truth of Millay's lines--know the truth of them in the most intimate and painful ways.)

Since I've been struggling with cancer the past dozen years or so, I've realized the fatuity of my earlier thinking. Making plans, for me, is now an exercise in folly. I've learned in fairly harsh terms that whatever plans I make are about as stable as a pile of leaves in a fall windstorm. 

So many times in recent years I've had to cancel things I very much wanted to do. I just could not do them.

In late April this past spring, I found myself in the ER--faint--barely able to stand--profoundly dizzy. Joyce and I realized that this meant--if things did not improve (a lot!)--we could not make our annual journey to Stratford, Ontario, for a week of plays at the Stratford Theatre Festival--a trip we've made for fifteen consecutive years.

But I gradually got better, and at the last minute we decided to give it a try (we'd had our room and ticket reservations for months). And we did okay.

And promptly made plans (!) for next year--reserving the room we love at Mercer Hall Inn.

And just now? I have made some firm-as-can-be plans to go to Massachusetts in early September to celebrate my mom's 98th birthday. 

There's a chance--a good (bad?) chance--that I won't be able to do it. Between now and then are some medical tests and visits with physicians, etc. And--as I learned to my sorrow last spring--I could wake up one day between now and then and find I am incapable of carrying out the simplest tasks.

But I guess I remain a shining animal in some ways, daffily biting my thumb at the Grim Reaper, flipping him off, letting him know in every foolish fragile human way that I can laugh ... even plan.

And so I memorized that sonnet, certain that there would be countless occasions for me to recite it. In the future ...

*Which I can not find right now. (Curses! Foiled again!)

Read history, thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos — in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face, —
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 355

And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre*), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[1]  
The play opened on December 26, 1849, ran for fifty-four performances (a lot for those days), earned positive reviews, and closed on February 27, 1850.

This play was a musical parody of it all—written in a rollicking iambic pentameter. Early on, one character says
You must excuse a trifling deviation
From Mrs. Shelley’s marvellous narration.[2]
The university was called Crackenjausen; the creature was called The What Is It. And Victor Frankenstein himself is aware he is both in and out of the story.
Blockheads, aren’t I the hero of the piece?
And haven’t I a right to clear the stage
When in soliloquy I engage?[3]
We see the creation of the creature, who, upon awakening, sings a song;
I’m a gent
I’m a gent. I’m a gent. I’m a gent ready made,
Sprung up in a moment, a parvenu blade.
I’m a regular swell from the top to the toe.
But how I became so, I’m hanged if I know.
I’ve got no connexions not even a ma,
And I’ve no recollection of having a pa.[4]
The foolishness ends with the creature totally socialized and looking for a situation in life (a job, a position), and Frankenstein assures him that this is more than possible.[5]
As we know this was hardly the last time Mary’s story would undergo a transformation; the versions continue to this day (as I’ve written about earlier). Not that long ago (June 9, 2017), in a newspaper cartoon The Argyle Sweater, cartoonist Scott Hilburn shows us Victor Frankenstein and Igor (who, of course, does not appear in Mary’s original story)—Igor, who has misunderstood some information about the creature’s desire to marry, about “asking for the hand” of the Bride, and he has transplanted the bride’s hands onto the creature’s arms.
Oh, what a creature Mary created—and how it has lived, on and on and on and on! 

[1] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.
[2] Ibid., 229.
[3] Ibid., 230.
[4] Ibid., 239.
[5] Ibid., 249.

*The Adelphi is still there--but it has been rebuilt several times since Mary's day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
University Hospitals
Beachwood, Ohio

Yesterday was The Day ... well, one of them anyhow. The Day for my three-month visit with my oncologist, complete with multiple blood tests the week before.

I've been dealing with prostate cancer since late 2004 when my biopsy came back positive (I've always thought that odd--"positive" for a bad result!), and since then I've had surgery (removal of the prostate gland), radiation (when the cancer returned), hormone therapy (when the cancer returned again).

I'm now on two drugs that kill testosterone--Lupron and Casodex (Google them if you're inclined), and the combination has caused my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) to stabilize at about 12. (Prostate cancer cells eat testosterone!) Of course, I should have no PSA at all since my prostate gland is gone--but the number indicates that prostate cancer cells are present and (in my case) are moving into the bones, a favorite spot for those nasty little buggers.

Yesterday, my oncologist was still encouraged by my body's resistance to the spread of the cancer (though bone scans have shown that the move is underway), and he told me that in a few months he will have me undergo a major blood-transfusion process involving something called Sipuleucel-T. (Link to some info about it.) Basically, they will drain my blood (Dracula, baby!), treat that blood with this stuff that will (we hope) strengthen my immune system, return the blood to my body, enabling my body to keep fighting This Damn Thing more effectively.

He told me the process will not affect my PSA score--just empower my body in other ways. (I think I'd rather be bitten by a radioactive spider, you know?)

The visit yesterday concluded with two injections: my quarterly Lupron shot (right butt cheek) and Xgeva (a painful damn thing) in the upper arm--a drug that works to increase bone strength (Lupron and Casodex can weaken bone mass).

So ... I drove home yesterday with sore butt, sore arm. But with Joyce beside me. I'll take that!

Feeling we "deserved" something more pleasant, we drove over to Aurora after supper and had a waffle cone at the Aurora Fantasy Delight (which used to be called the Aurora Dairy Bar when I first began sampling its treats in the late 1960s during the early years of my teaching career).

I can't do that kind of stuff all the time, though. Lupron and Casodex make it very hard to lose weight--and my oncologist has warned me that prostate cancer loves fat cells. Nice. Glad somebody does.

So ... it's been nearly thirteen years that I've been dealing with this damn disease. The medical procedures themselves (the blood draws, the surgery, the radiation, the bone scans, etc.) are nettlesome enough, but it's also the psychological burden that weighs heavily--the knowledge that it's always there. And ... worse--that it will eventually win.

To date, there is no cure for metastatic prostate cancer. Just delays. So ... each time I go see my oncologist (whom I greatly respect and like, by the way), there's this fear (no other word) that this will be the time I hear the Dark News.


I write these periodic posts not for sympathy--but to give me the illusion of control. There's something about words--about a sentence. Sometimes, a sentence can capture a fear, hold it for a while, somewhat tame it. And this can be a most comforting self-deception.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 354

In September 1849, Mary headed to the Continent for what would be her final time. Her son and daughter-in-law had preceded her, and Mary joined them in Paris. They moved then to the French Riviera, to Nice, where Mary, who was not well, sometimes nonetheless rode a donkey into the hills.
A donkey. And as I type that word, I remember how Mary and Bysshe and Claire—back in August 1814, the elopement—had sometimes traveled by donkey through France. They had run low on money fairly quickly and could no longer afford to travel by coach. We resolved to walk through France, wrote Mary in her account of their elopement, but as I was too weak for any considerable distance, and my sister could not be supposed to be able to walk as far as S*** [sic] each day, we determined to purchase an ass, to carry our portmanteau and one of us by turns.[1]
It seems that Shelley and Claire, on August 8, had gone to the ass market and purchased an ass.[2] Okay, I’m smiling as I type this. In some ways I’m still a fifth grader, I know.
But things didn’t work out. The ass seemed incapable of doing what they’d wanted it to do, and so, writes Mary, Finding our ass useless, we sold it before we proceeded on our journey and bought a mule ….[3] This doughty creature did better—bearing both their portmanteau and one of the women.
Then a few days later, Shelley twisted his ankle and ended up riding the mule himself, full-time. And in one remote village … As we prepared our dinner in a place, so filthy that the sight of it alone was sufficient to destroy our appetite, the people of the village collected around us, squalid with dirt, their countenances expressing every thing that is disgusting and brutal. They seemed indeed entirely detached from the rest of the world, and ignorant of all that was passing in it.[4]
And so I wonder … as Mary was riding through those Riviera hills, feeling ill, knowing that whatever malady had afflicted her was not going away—knowing that she never again would sit at her desk and imagine and create and feel the hours passing as briskly as a breeze—did her mind drift back to 1814, to that year when hope and love and life itself seemed eternal?
And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[5]

[1] History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 8: Travel Writing, ed. Jeanne Moskal,19.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Ibid., 22.
[5] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 153

1. AOTW: I can't really think of anyone this week, so I always return to the Default Choice: Daniel Dyer, who, pretty much every day, does something ... regrettable--something AOTWable.

2. This week we finished streaming the Brit series Suspects, which we loved. We had actually stopped the series at one point (when a favorite character departed in most sanguinary fashion), but we eventually picked it up again and were glad we'd done so. Such fine acting and writing and tension. Can't find out if there's going to be another season, though the final we saw certainly paved the way for one.

3. Friday night we went to the Kent Cinema to see Detroit, the latest film by Kathryn Bigelow, who did The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. (Link to trailer for the film.)

The film is based on the Detroit riots of 1967 (was that really fifty years ago?), riots which occurred about the time I had finished my first year of teaching at Aurora Middle School. The film was wrenching to watch--most notably because it's very evident that not much has changed. Far too many people in this country live in poverty--in hopelessness. And when you are hopeless, you will do about anything. (Evidence is abundant, all over the world.) I was surprised to see that the Bad Cop (the worst of them) was played by Will Poulter, whom I first noticed as the sort of likable goofy young man in the 2013 Jason Sudeikis/Jennifer Aniston comedy We're the Millers. Took a bit of getting used to, seeing him play someone so dark and heartless.

To Bigelow's credit, quite a few of the cops (and other law-enforcement professionals) were not the cliched shoot-first-ask-questions-later type. Some were compassionate, determined, professional. (And what an irony at the end when three cops, on trial for murder, etc., raise their Constitutional rights as a defense--the very rights they'd denied the characters whom they brutalized for half the film).

Anyway, it was a good film (not great), very troubling, very disturbing. Don't want to see it again. But glad I saw it once.

A Star Wars character, John Boyega, plays one of the conflicted black security officers.

4. I finished a couple of books this week.

     - The first was (via Kindle) the initial novel about Jack Taylor, The Guards, a novel that initiated a Brit TV series (we've streamed them all), Jack Taylor. Taylor once was a cop (in Ireland--the Garda Síochána in Galway), but was bounced for alcohol problems (problems that continue in The Guards). He's sort of an unofficial private cop now--gets involved in a case here involving suicide, finds out it's not suicide ...  The end reminded me a bit of the end of Farewell, My Lovely, but, hey, not a bad model to follow. (Link to some series footage.)

I enjoyed Bruen's style--and was interested in how he displays conversation on the page. Take a look at this screen shot from the book.
Notice how Bruen puts the dialogue tag (the "he said") part on a separate line from the actual words the person said. Took some getting used to--but I managed! Ended up kind of liking it.

     - The second book I finished this week was The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel, a writer I'd always heard wonderful things about--but had not read all that much. Now I've read them all. She is a talent. Geez. She can write a sentence that just changes things--Karen Russell is the same.

How about this sentence: "In the desert I like to drive through binoculars" ("Going," 53).

I will say, though, that I enjoyed her earlier stories more than her more recent ones. I don't know--it just seems that in the later ones she's become more ... obtuse? Less interested in narrative flow than in moments. This is not a sin, mind you. But it's a matter of a reader's preference. And my preference is for more of a narrative arc ... Old Guys, you know?

BTW: Some of the stories are only a single-sentence long!

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

     - from dictionary.com 

noun [sey-pee-oh-sek-shoo-uh l]
1. a person who finds intelligence to be a sexually attractive quality in others.
1. noting or relating to such a person.
Of course, many people seek an intellectual connection with their partners. But people who identify as sapiosexual often say intellect is the first or most important factor that draws them to another person ...
-- Anna North, "The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual, It's the Brain," New York Times, June 2, 2017
Sapiosexual is modeled on words like homosexual and metrosexual, i.e., it has a short first element that ends in “o” (two syllables for homosexual and metrosexual, three for sapiosexual). The trouble is that for some intelligent people, sapiosexual is an “incorrect” formation: the word “should be” sapientisexual or at least sapientosexual, which are correct but pedantic and unlikely to win many dates for oneself. Some people in the 19th century objected to the new-fangled word scientist because it had a Latin root (scient-) and a Greek suffix (-ist), an objection no longer made. Sapiosexual entered English in 2015.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 353

And perhaps the most moving of the notes I took. In that same letter from her father, Godwin replied to a question from Mary about having, perhaps, some physical memento of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. He said he had reserved for you a ring of hers, with Fanny Blood’s hair set round with pearls.[1]
A couple of things to recall: Fanny Blood was the youthful friend—the best friend—of Mary Wollstonecraft; it was common practice to give to friends a ring made of your own hair. And after death a “mourning ring” was a common token, as well—a ring fashioned from the hair of the departed one. Look online: There are still places that will create them for you; there are scholarly and general-interest articles on the subject.[2] We don’t know what Mary did with this ring … did she wear it? Place it in an honored position?

Mary’s son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, married Jane St. John on June 22, 1848. And the family wealth increased: Jane had £15,000 to contribute. They honeymooned in the Lake District, long associated, of course, with the Romantic Poets. Off and on the Shelleys stayed at Field Place, where Bysshe was born, the family manor which I saw on April 15, 1999 (a visit I recorded earlier in this endless account!).
And then … a most awkward event. Clara Clairmont (the family called her “Clari”), the daughter of Charles Clairmont (who, recall, was Mary’s foster brother—the son of Godwin’s second wife, Mary Jane), came to stay with the Shelleys at Field Place in May 1849. There, Clari met Alexander Knox, one of Sir Percy’s friends from university days. A romance promptly blossomed, and in mid-June the couple married.
Clari’s aunt, of course, was Claire Clairmont, who had joined Bysshe and Mary on their 1814 elopement and had been in and out of Mary’s life ever since (a presence Mary was often not pleased about). Clari and the others had not informed Claire about the wedding, and Clarie was living in Kent, only about sixty-five miles from Field Place. And soon Claire was writing angry, bitter letters. And downright nasty at times, suggesting, even, that Mary and Knox had been lovers![3]

[1] Ibid., 904C
[2] See, for example, this piece from the online National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/
[3] An accusation for which there exists no evidence. See: Seymour, Mary Shelley, 535.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Treasure from an Island

Last week, at the Stratford Theatre Festival, Joyce and I saw a production of Treasure Island, a staged version of the 1883 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I wrote last week, the first half was weak (I thought), but the second was much better--funny, playful, moving.

And I also mentioned in that post that the playwright and the cast had fun by inserting some other literary references into the story. At one point, a pirate picked up a skull and recited Hamlet's speech about Yorick (the audience went nuts); at another point, one pirate told another he could not talk because he wasn't holding the conch (remember Lord of the Flies?).

But here's another one I did not mention in that post--mostly because I wanted to write about it now--after I'd done my homework.

At one point, some pirates were walking along (looking for the treasure--what else do pirates do?), when one of them launched into a poem; the others pirates kind of smirked and snickered at first, then realized they liked it. I muttered to Joyce: "That's got to be one of Stevenson's--from A Child's Garden of Verses."

Back in the room, with Internet access, I checked ... and ... yes ... "The Moon" was indeed one of Stevenson's.

Here it is ...

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Well, at that moment, I knew I had to memorize it as soon as we got home. One of the first poems I remember as a wee boy was Stevenson's "My Shadow," a poem my grandmother recited to me while she held me in her rocking chair (that chair now lives in a place of honor in our living room); I recited that same poem for my older grandson when I first held him in the moments after his birth (I'm sure he remembers it well!). And I've since learned a couple of others: "Windy Nights" and "Where Go the Boats?" (Link to all of A Child's Garden of Verses.)

It took me a couple of days to learn it (Stevenson accommodates the memorizer by using regular rhythm and rhyme!). But ... yesterday ... I recited it for Joyce (she had to prompt me a couple of times), but now I've got it pretty well. Okay, very well.

And as the title of this post suggests, for me, the poem (and so many others I've learned), is the true treasure from the island. I am now carrying around with me some 210 pieces of gold. May my poor brain and iffy health allow me to keep finding more in the gardens of poetry... and keep storing them away for future use. Perhaps a great-grandchild?