Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Funeral for a Friend

Hiram Hot Stove League baseball (1958?)
Andy Krauss is second from the left, back row.
I'm on his left.
Dick Szabo is on my left.
Dan Earley, who remained Andy's close and devoted friend for decades (and who told
me of Andy's death), is in the front, far left.
It was a lovely day for Andy's funeral--a good day for baseball, and Andy would have loved that. Although it drizzled a bit as I drove from my home in Hudson to the funeral home just outside Mantua, it had stopped by the time I arrived and eased my car into the line that would form the procession afterwards.

As I wrote here the other day, Andy Krauss was a great friend and teammate from Hiram High School days (I graduated in 1962; he, the next year). We had played baseball and basketball together throughout junior high and high school years. And that--as you former players know--creates a bond that lasts a long, long time.

The room for the service was full--people of all ages--family, friends. The grateful. I sat with Paul Dreisbach, another long-ago HHS friend, and soon it all commenced. A young minister took us through the relevant scriptural passages about death, about heaven. He shared a few stories, memories of Andy.

Afterward, I met some of Andy's family members for the first time: his wife and a son who looked so much like young Andy that I stuttered when I spoke with him.

A neighbor from boyhood, Karen Zuver, introduced herself, too, and we laughed a bit about her dog from Back Then, Rodney, a critter I remember so well. I had to walk right by the Zuvers', coming and going from school each day.

And then ... the procession to the cemetery in Hiram, on the town's western edge, lying alongside Ryder Road (which we kids always called "Cemetery Road"). I parked, walked down to near the southern edge of the cemetery. Andy's spot. The service there was quick--with taps and military honors (Andy had served in the Army). From where I stood, I could look at Ryder Road disappearing into the south, the fields and trees that seemed unchanged from my boyhood.

As I was leaving, a man stopped me. It was Dick Szabo, another long-ago baseball and basketball teammate. I hadn't seen him in over fifty years. We did some quick catching up, and I commented about the view. It could be 1956 ... looking out there ... 1956.

We parted, and I drove on up Ryder Road, turned west on Pioneer Trail, stopping at the Monroe Farm to buy some of their maple syrup to take to my brothers. (Joyce and I are heading out to see them this week--and to celebrate my mom's 98th birthday.) We've bought fruit and syrup there since 1956, when, not quite 12, I moved with my family from Oklahoma to Hiram, where my dad would teach at the college, my mom at nearby James A. Garfield High School. My older brother and I would both graduate from Hiram High and Hiram College.

I continued on west on Pioneer Trail--a road that still looks much as it did back in my boyhood--all the way to Aurora, where I spent most of my career teaching in the middle school.

Tears were my companion on that drive home. For Hiram, for Pioneer Trail, for Aurora, for the past (which poet A. E. Housman called "the land of lost content"), and for Andy Krauss, a wonderful friend from boyhood, a wonderful man whose death drew to Mantua, to the cemetery, a host of people to say Thank you for all he had done for them.

And as for me? When I think of Andy, as I mentioned the other day, I think of him sprinting across the outfield, eyes on the ball, realizing he's going to get there in time, making the catch, whirling to throw the ball to the infield, trotting back to his position, knowing he has done well.

Oh, yes, he has done well. So very very well.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 155

1. AOTW: Oh, no one special. The usual--though we had a near-winner last night when a guy pulled out in front of us from a side street, forcing Danny to brake--and hard.

2. We finished Season 3 of The Doctor Blake Mysteries (all that's so far available to stream on Netflix--though there has been a Season 4, and Season 5 is about to head into production, I've read).
And I wept at the end when Lucien (Dr. Blake) and Jean ... you know ...

I'd also wept earlier in the evening at the end of Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update--Summer Edition (via Hulu) when Michael Che, who is co-anchor with Colin Jost, signed off by saying, "And I'm Dick Gregory." There's a young man--a talented young comedian--who knows where he came from, knows that without Gregory's ground-breaking work, he, Che, would not be sitting in that seat. I looked over at Joyce: Tears there, too. (For those who don't remember, Gregory passed away on August 19.) A classy salute from Che ... 

3. I've been reading a recent book about English poet (and Classical scholar) A. E. Housman (1859-1936), author of A Shropshire Lad (1896), a collection of poems that were and remain highly popular. (The new book--see image--is by Peter Parker (no relation to, you know, Spidey): Housman Country.)
The Shropshire collection includes one of the first poems I ever memorized ("When I was young and twenty"--for a high school assignment), and I've memorized a couple of others recently, including "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" (a few months ago) and, just last week, "Into my heart on air that kills" (see entire poem below). Gonna learn some more of them, too!

In the New York Times today was an op-ed piece about the value of memorizing poetry--a subject I have written about in this space before--and a topic for a talk I gave at WRA about a half-dozen years ago (when I'd reached 100 memorized poems; now I'm at 211!). (Link to the NYT piece.) 

I started having my students memorize back in the 1980s--and never regretted it ... well, I did regret not doing it sooner!

Into my heart on air that kills 
  From yon far country blows: 
What are those blue remembered hills, 
  What spires, what farms are those? 
That is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain, 
The happy highways where I went 
  And cannot come again.

4. I finished but one book this week. Some of you know that I've been reading the novels of William Faulkner that I'd never gotten around to. This week it was Sanctuary (1931), and I realized--not too many pages after I'd started--that I had read it previously. But ... it was a long, long time ago. Early in our marriage. The summer of 1970 or 1971 (before our son arrived in the summer of 1972; that changed everything!). When my year of teaching middle school was out, I made a pile of books by the couch in our tiny living room and sat there, reading my way through them, for most of the day. One was Sanctuary.

But ... this time ... I didn't stop. I liked it. Admired it. Didn't remember a lot of the detail. (Can you imagine? I mean, that was only about a half-century ago!)

It's one of Faulkner's grimmer novels (which is saying something). It involves a young woman, Temple Drake, who ends up at the mercy of some Bad Dudes (principal among them is Popeye--I know, I know). (The Popeye cartoon was first syndicated in 1929, only a couple of years before Sanctuary, so ... who knows? The OED traces the term popeye back to 1928; here's the definition: A protruding, bulging, or prominent eye.)

Anyway, Popeye is the worst of the worst, and let's just say that Temple, uh, suffers a little in the book. (I will not mention the corn cob.)

Some other good stuff is going on: the legal system in the South, town-v.-gown, substance abuse, murder, etc. A real feel-good family novel!  Perfect for Christmas Eve!

FYI: Sanctuary was the novel he wrote after As I Lay Dying (1930), a novel I read with Dr. Ravitz back at Hiram College in the mid-1960s, a novel I taught to my WRA juniors, 2001-2011.

5. A rough emotional week: the deaths of a wonderful former student, of a great high-school friend and teammate ...

6. Soon, we're heading up to Lenox, Mass., to visit my brothers and help celebrate my mom's 98th birthday!

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

     - from dictionary.com--hadn't realized that verisimilitude had an adjective cousin!

verisimilar [ver-uh-sim-uh-ler]
adjective: having the appearance of truth; likely; probable: a verisimilar tale.
We may sense in the increasing pressure to produce novels that are lifelike, probably, verisimilar, an effort to tie the Novel down, to clip its wings so that it will not be guilty of the extravagances of moral imagining.
-- Margaret Anne Doody, The True Story of the Novel, 1996

Verisimilar comes from Latin Latin vērīsimil(is) (vērī, genitive singular of vērum “truth,” and similis “like”) and -ar, a suffix with the general sense “of the kind of, pertaining to, having the form or character of.” It entered English in the late 1600s.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Loss ... and Memory

This week, I got the shocking news that a friend from Hiram schoolboy days--Andy Krauss--had passed away unexpectedly. I say "unexpectedly," but he'd had a stroke a while back, was partially paralyzed, and living in a care facility in Sandusky. I knew that. But in my head, always, Andy was the friend from Hiram, the teammate--baseball, basketball. Forever young and roaming centerfield, where, by the way, he was a superior defender. (I wrote here, oh a year or so ago, about a great catch he made in a high school game: We were playing at the Hiram College diamond; I was pitching; the Crestwood batter hit one of my "fast"balls to dead center, over Andy's head; he ran back gracefully and caught it near the fence; I walked off the mound grateful, amazed.)

Here's a picture of us in Hiram's Hot Stove League baseball team--oh, maybe 1958? '59? Andy's in the back row, second from the left (the first guy with a hat!); I'm right next to him on his left. The sun is blazing in our faces. We're squinting, closing our eyes, wearing our hats low, thinking, no doubt, that the future is limitless ...

He was an absolutely selfless teammate (unlike, say, me). Crashed the boards in basketball (there was much need for that when I was shooting); advanced runners; threw to the right base.

And he was just fun to be around. A gentle guy. Together.

I just checked my Acropolitan (our yearbook) for my senior year and saw Andy had written something characteristically kind--and amusing. "I hope you make it all your life," he wrote ... then something is scratched out, and he added: "Sorry about this. The tears were too much."  He had several PS's, and the final one is this: "I thought I was through, but I left out some things."  Oh ...

In the yearbook he's also next to me in the picture of our (formidable!) baseball team. (And, yes, I seem to have a pocket-protector!)

But my favorite picture of Andy in the Acropolitan is a candid one that does not even reveal his face. If you weren't there to see it, you wouldn't know who it is. The picture is dark; I did the best I could.

Andy is in the foreground, back to the camera. We are all in the Fellowship Hall of the Hiram Christian Church. Some kind of dance ... social.

Chubby Checker's "The Twist" had been released in June 1960; this is about a year and a half later. (Things arrived in Hiram a little ... later ... than elsewhere.)*

Mostly it was the Hiram girls who did The Twist. But then ... this night ... when the music started, Andy said, "Let's go do it."  And out he went and started ... Twisting. Others followed. And I had totally forgotten until I lightened up this picture, that the clumsy guy Twisting on Andy's right is ... Yours Truly. (For you HHS grads: Pat Neill is my "partner," and I'm pretty sure that's Troy Bouts "Twisting" with Andy.)

Anyway, that was Andy Krauss--in every aspect of his life. Hear the music. Get up and go dance!

*It just occurred to me that it could have been "Let's Twist Again," Checker's follow-up, released on June 19, 1961--also a huge hit.

**Link to Andy's obituary.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 359 (and FINAL!)

Three-hundred fifty-nine posts on this topic!?!?  A bit depressing, eh?

Here was the idea, back at the beginning: I would begin to write a book about my decade-long pursuit of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. I would start at the restaurant in Castle Frankenstein, near Darmstadt, Germany, above the Rhine River. I would be eating a luscious sundae (this I actually did in 1999). And I would let that experience "kick off" and conclude the book.

And so I began, back on April 28, 2014 (link to that initial post).

And on and on it went. And on and on. I repeated stories I'd told earlier. I lost track of what I'd already said. I frequently drifted away from the tale of the pursuit to the tale of the pursued. I sailed down insignificant tributaries and described their ... wonders. I ignored Truths staring me in the face and waving wildly to be noticed.

And on and on.

I just looked: The full text is now 582 pages. That's a bit much, don't you think?

And now begins the hard part: pruning a tree so umbrageous that I cannot even see where its circumference begins to bend.

So ... just a touch of self-defense here. By the time I began this project, I was pretty much "done" with Mary Shelley. I had done all the traveling, the research, the reading. I had gone back to teaching at Western Reserve Academy; I had published to Kindle Direct a YA biography of her (The Mother of the Monster); I had been obsessing over other writers (Poe and John O'Hara among them); the details of her story--details I had once known so well, details that my brain once could provide with a mere flicker of my interest--were falling from me like October leaves.

And so part of this project was to get it back--an impossibility, I learned. When I was working on Mary Shelley, I was pretty much doing it all day, every day. But when I started doing Frankenstein Sundae, it was a few hours a week. If that.

Still, I was able to recover a lot. I thanked my younger self for taking good notes. For organizing and filing so that I could (usually) find things I needed--and things that I didn't even know that I needed because I'd forgotten they existed.

I read some newer books. Read some earlier ones I should have read. Went a few relevant places.

And now ... here I am. I will now begin that fierce pruning I mentioned ...

And in this space?

Well, earlier, I'd serialized here the drafts of the first two books in a little YA trilogy--The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein. I have notes for the 3rd and concluding volume, but I've not written a paragraph yet. That I will soon remedy. And I will begin posting installments here a few times a week.

Or so I hope.

And hope, you know, is merely a synonym for writing.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

And School Starts ...

I have to confess that I feel a little ... weird ... this time of year. For most of my life, when the last day lily croaked, when the sky darkened earlier in the evening, when the Browns and Indians were playing at the same time, it was Back-to-School Time for me.

I entered kindergarten in the fall of 1950. Graduated from high school in the spring of 1962. From college in the spring of 1966. So ... for sixteen consecutive years I was heading off the school in late summer to sit in class and daydr--uh, learn.

And then in the fall of 1966, I headed off to school again, this time as a rookie middle-school English teacher (Grade 7; Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio). And I would continue doing so for thirty more years, retiring in January 1997.

I had not spent all that time in Aurora. One year Joyce and I taught at Lake Forest College in Illinois (1978-79), then two years at Western Reserve Academy (1979-81: I quit in a salary snit; Joyce stayed till 1990); then a year of teaching frosh English at KSU (+ working in a bookstore); then--in the fall of 1982 I started again in Aurora (this time with 8th graders) and stayed until my retirement.

During all those teaching years, I did have a couple of sabbatical years--one leave-of-absence (two were grad-school related, another was to accommodate my Jack London research)--but when you know you're going back to teach, a sabbatical year almost seems like an extended summer vacation (one that features some snow) rather than, you know, The End.

After I retired from Aurora, I still taught in Hiram's Weekend College for a bit ... then ... I shut it down in, oh, about 1999. Two years later, my friend Tom Davis (who was head of the English Department at WRA) invited me back--and I taught ten more years, until June 2011, when I Hung Up the Spikes for the last time. (I had one year off at WRA for health-related issues.)

And since then? Well, the late summers have felt ... weird.

I see the back-to-school signs in the shop windows; I see school buses on their practice runs; I see athletes in pre-school practices; I see the many Facebook posts from parents (most are former students!) who are sending their kids off to school; I hear people talking about it in the coffee shop ...

And, as I said, it's just weird not to be a part of it any longer.

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I miss it.

Yes and no.

I miss the kids, my colleagues--and the feeling that I'm doing something ... important.

I do not miss the paper-grading and course- and lesson-planning that consumed evenings and weekends and holidays throughout my career.

I do not miss, especially, the Testing Mania that has swarmed over the public schools like some kind of Biblical plague. (The plague was just arriving when I left in Jan. 97.)

But ... the kids ... the colleagues ... the classroom exchanges ... There's really no replacement for them.

I keep busy. I have two blogs. I write. I review a book a week for Kirkus Reviews. I read stuff I've always meant to. I read new stuff. I read some newer writers I've never had time for. I go to movies. I spend lots of time with The Love of My Life. I write to my mom, to friends (snail-mail!). I work out (most) every afternoon. (I used to love exercising; now--with age and declining health--I find it more and more difficult--even odious.) I go to bed a lot earlier than I used to. Bed--where I read about an hour, then stream some things ...

We still travel a little. We just got back from the Stratford Theatre Festival in Canada (our fifteenth consecutive year--saw 11 plays in 6 days!). Soon, we're going to Lenox, Mass., to help celebrate my mom's 98th birthday. I've been hoping to take one more trip back to Oklahoma to see the various shrines of my boyhood. Not sure that will happen. But if I could do it this fall ... ?

But still. As I sit in my coffee-shop chair next to the window, many school buses pass by me--not fifteen feet away.

And I feel ... loss. There's really no other word for it.

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.