Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Joyce and I are long-time subscribers to the Library of America, buying each month's volume as it comes out--and buying most of their special volumes, as well. We did not join right away, so some of our volumes are not first printings, and when I discover one that is not, I hop online and find a replacement. Usually not too expensive.
This past week, for example, I decided to re-read Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady (1881) because I so much enjoyed John Banville's recent sequel--Mrs. Osmond (2017). But when I removed the relevant James volume* from its slipcover and looked inside, I discovered it was a later printing--not the original from 1985. Sigh.
I got online and looked for a nice copy--and found one for about $30 that offered a special surprise. It bore a book stamp on an inside page:
That's right--Gore Vidal (1925-2012), one of the writers I have most enjoyed reading throughout my life.
I've read almost all of Vidal's books--novels, essays, memoirs, plays. I say "almost" because he wrote so many things that I'm not positive I've read everything. But it's not for lack of trying.
One of the things that amuses me about him is that we shared a fascination with (obsession over?) Billy the Kid. Vidal wrote a TV script, "The Death of Billy the Kid," which aired on The Philco Television Playhouse on NBC, July 24, 1955. The Kid was Paul Newman, who would reprise his role as the Kid in a film I've long loved, The Left Handed Gun (1958), a film directed by Arthur Penn, who would go on to fame when he did Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The film was based (loosely) on Vidal's play, and he does get a modest screen credit in the film. I showed it in my middle-school classes a few times. (Link to film trailer.)
Later, in 1989, Vidal would return to the Kid, writing a TV movie, Billy the Kid, which starred Val Kilmer and appeared on TNT. It isn't all that good, but--hey!--it's about the Kid! That's good enough for me! (Full film is now on YouTube.)
I own a few other books with some secondary as well as primary interest. One of the most interesting is David S. Reynolds' biography Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. In the copy I have now, Reynolds has inscribed the book to poet Mary Oliver (from the Cleveland area), and the book features Oliver's marginalia and marks.
Well, Reynolds came to the Hudson Library on October 13, 2011, to talk about his new book about Harriet Beecher Stowe. Afterward, he graciously signed some books for us--and when I told him about the copy I had of Whitman, he was (says my journal) "delighted." So ... I now have his signature on his book about Whitman, a book he'd given to Mary Oliver, who'd read and marked in it, then, apparently sold it!
Books like these--Vidal's copy of James, Mary Oliver's copy of Reynolds--have a special significance. They almost glow on the shelf, inviting me, each time I pass by, to return to them. And so--today--I have.
*The Lib of America has published more than a dozen different collections of James’ work.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
We had our "Christmas" on Christmas Eve. Our son, Steve, and his family (wife, Melissa; sons Logan (12) and Carson (8)) came up a little after 5 pm for supper and ripping open of gifts. Joyce roasted a lovely tenderloin roll, and we also had some Dyer-Family traditional fare: a Christmas tree-bread, some steamed pudding (from my Grandmother Osborn's recipe--a concoction so sweet that your teeth form cavities as you merely look at it).
We also sang--as my family always did--"Joy to the World" just before we ate, and later in the meal we all recited "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night before Christmas"), a fairly recent tradition. We took turns with lines and stanzas.
I had memorized that poem back in elementary school for a school holiday event, and, years later, decided I wanted it back in my head. Didn't take too long. I've discovered that re-learning things you once memorized is a pretty quick enterprise.
After the meal, we headed into the living room and the gas fireplace (!!), opening and laughing and loving the whole thing. Far more fun to give than to receive these latter years.
Steve, et al. soon zoomed away (miles to go before they slept) a bit later, and Joyce and I got at least a start on the clean-up (it still continues!).
On Christmas morning, Joyce and I slept till 7 (late for us). We got dressed and had our own little gift exchange. We had agreed to give each other only a single thing, a book, so she gave me the next novel in Jennifer Egan's oeuvre (A Visit from the Goon Squad, 2011--a Pulitzer Prize-winner, signed! I'm on a journey through all of Egan's work), and I gave her Paul Auster's recent novel 4 3 2 1, which Joyce had loved (1st printing, signed). Nerd Fun!
We also had co-purchased a new Cuisinart blender (our old one was making death rattles).
Then we drove over to Starbucks, read the newspapers, read from our books. Then an exciting trip to the gas station.
Home, I promptly headed up for a nap that consumed some two hours! Joyce worked in her study.
A late, nap-delayed lunch. I did a little work in my study, then felt yet another nap coming on. Yielded to it. When I woke, I went to the back bedroom adjoining Joyce's study and found her also in the arms of Morpheus. I lay down beside her, and we talked for an hour while Morpheus lingered a bit to see if we still required his services; we didn't. A wonderful hour.
We had a light supper (leftovers!), then drove to the Kent Cinema to see Downsizing, which was a real surprise (in a good way): The trailers we'd seen had all suggested it was going to be a frivolous comedy with major roles for Kirsten Wiig and Jason Sudeikis. Nope. They turned out to be minor characters, and the brew of the story was quite different from the froth we had expected. More in "Sunday Sundries" here in a few days.
Back from the movie, we streamed a little Broadchurch, then noticed Morpheus had joined us in bed. Lights out ...
Sunday, December 24, 2017
1. AOTW: 'Tis the season to be jolly, so ... no AOTW this week. Not that there were no deserving candidates! But ... in the Spirit of It All ... let's be generous and say that everyone this week was a saint. (Don't we wish?)
2. I finished a couple of books this week.
- The first was (via Kindle) Any Other Name, 2013, a Longmire novel by Craig Johnson. Some of you know that I'm (slowly) reading my way through all of the Longmires, inspired to do so by the Netflix series, which we've been streaming and from which I learned about the Longmire books. Any Other Name, an allusion to that famous line from Romeo and Juliet (Juliet says it while she's anguishing about the knowledge that she and Romeo are from two families at war with the other): What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet (2.2)
Longmire is out of his jurisdiction for much of the book (makes no never-mind to him!), pursuing what turns out to be a case of the kidnapping and selling-for-sex of young women.
I've said it here before, but there are enormous differences between the books and the TV series. So far, at least (and I do have a few books left), there is none of this crime-on-the -res, organized-crime stuff going on. Just ... cases that Longmire generally solves. His relationship with his woman deputy, Vic, is quite different, too (sexual in the books--not so much in the series). There are major characters in the series that are not in the books--and (as I've said before) Henry Standing Bear is a physical presence in the novels (a lot like the role and stature of Hawk in the Spenser novels); in the series, it's Lou Diamond Phillips, who, though a good actor, is not exactly an intimidating shape!
Anyway, I'm greatly enjoying the books and have come to look on the TV series as just something oddly similar ...
- The second book I finished this week was Mary Beard's Women & Power: A Manifesto, a small volume that contains (lightly revised) versions of a couple of lectures she gave on the subject in 2014 and 2017.
I love Beard's work. She's a classical scholar (Greek and Latin) at the University of Cambridge and is often on TV, in print media, etc. in the U.K. (And here she has some grim accounts of some male viciousness about her on Twitter and other social media. There are some sick dudes out there!) I've read her The Colosseum (co-authored in 2005), Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (2013), and SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015).
In Women, of course, there is a more personal voice, and Beard comes off here not only as highly literate and eloquent but also ... for lack of a better word ... likable. She talks about the long, long, long history of men subjugating (and abusing) women--timely, even though she composed these talks before the current eruption of revelations about numerous celebrity men.
It's not a long book--about 100 small pages (with a good-sized font!)--so you can read it in a single sitting (okay, maybe two, as I did). Among other things, she talks about women's voices--how the booming of men seems (in men's views) to carry with it some significance beyond, well, volume. (It doesn't, as she notes.) Her solutions to all of this are not all that likely to happen, but I do agree with this: "I don't think patience is the answer ... we simply cannot afford to do without women's expertise" (82, 86).
Bright and right is this writer.
3. We didn't go to the movies this week--yet. We want to see the Star Wars episode and Downsizing and Ferdinand (a favorite book from both our childhoods), so we're planning to go to one tomorrow afternoon. Our son and his family will join us for Christmas Eve (dinner, gifts, mess), and tomorrow we will have each other. I don't know about Joyce, but I have never received a more wonderful gift than her presence in my life.
4. We're still streaming our way through several shows: Longmire, Broadchurch, Line of Duty. And Olive Kitteridge is coming up (now that Joyce has read Elizabeth Strout's book, we will watch it).
5. Final Word: A word I liked this week from one of my word-of-the-day providers:
- from wordsmith.org (BTW: the quotation is from Ezra Dyer--no relation, I don't think)
noun: Numbness in a limb, usually caused by pressure on a nerve. Also known as falling asleep.
From Latin obdormire (to fall asleep), from dormire (to sleep). Earliest documented use: 1634.
There is a word even for what comes after obdormition: paresthesia. (also known as pins and needles).
“You end up driving with your foot on the floor beneath the clutch pedal, slowly losing the battle to obdormition.”
Ezra Dyer; A Priority of Cornering Over Horsepower; The New York Times; Aug 3, 2012.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Snow is slopping down right now--I see it through my study window as I type. I can also see the occasional little river of run-off, the exhalations of our new sump pump as they flow along their little track, disappearing into the ivy alongside our house. On these wet days, the sump pump is sighing every fifteen minutes or so. We're going to have a swamp out there soon; alligators will arrive.
Ruminate (vb. and adj.). Related to ruminant (adj. and n.).
A ruminant is an animal that chews its cud--literally it ruminates. We are ruminant creatures, too, but in a cognitive sense. We chew our mental cuds, often to no (or ill) effect, sometimes otherwise (usually the former).
And so as I look out my study window right now, I begin chewing my (mental) cud ...
Cud, by the way, is a most pleasant word. Here's what Merriam-Webster says:
the portion of food that is brought up into the mouth by ruminating animals from their first stomach to be chewed a second time
Anyway, when we ruminate, we bring things back up, too, chew them a bit more. I should say right here, by the way, that I learned this from Joyce, who wrote about the idea years ago. She has always been years ahead of me, even though I'm three years older, by the calendar. So ... I'm late to the party, but I do eventually show up!
Anyway, as I see the sloppy snow falling, I think about all kinds of things--about how I will no doubt have to employ the snow shovel later on--and pay again the kind guy who plows our drive--be even more careful when I walk over to the coffee shop--brush off the car before I go out to the health club this afternoon (if, that is, Desire for Fitness wins out over Desire for Nap)--worry about our son and his family driving up here from Green tomorrow afternoon to celebrate Christmas with us on its Eve--think about how I used to love snow--think about how I dislike it now--remember Dumb Snow Moves I've made ... here's one:
How about driving in a snowstorm from northeastern Ohio into the Berkshires in western Massachusetts (about 570 miles away)--with my wife and son in the car.
Dumb. Arrogant. Irresponsible. Vaguely homicidal--and suicidal.
But I did it. Years ago.
I was young. Dumb. Arrogant. Irresponsible. Etc.
We got there--the place my brothers share for holidays and weekends in the Berkshires--alive, weary, countless hours later. No biggie, right? We did it!
I don't do such things now. I've learned more about ... fragility, I guess. I've realized that Danger has earned his name. I've learned that sloppy snow is more than an inconvenience. It's a murder weapon.
And that, my friends, is something to chew on.
Friday, December 22, 2017
Oh, sure, we like people in our house--viz., those people who live here. (Well, let's not be too generous: Sometimes manifestly don't like the people who live in the house with us!) We like people we've invited here--usually. (But we don't do that very often, invite people. I sigh as I think about the work that involves!) What I'm talking about are the people who don't live with us but the people who come here for various reasons--people like, oh, carpenters, plumbers, etc.
Let me hasten (love that word*) to add that I am not saying that I dislike these people as human beings. Quite the contrary. Joyce and I have become fond of some of the men and women who come to work here over the years--and in an old house (like ours) we tend to see such folks more often than we would if we lived in, you know, Trump Tower.
No, what I'm saying is that it gets ... wearisome (?is that a good word?) ... to have workers in the house, day after day after day. We have a couple of dear Facebook friends who are having some major renovation and addition and remodeling going on, and, based on their posts, I would say they are very near madness by this point.
Of course, in one sense it's a bit churlish and insensitive--isn't it?--to complain about workers in the house. Some people can't afford such things; some people have no home at all. Louis C.K. (remember him?) had a funny bit about how we whine on airplanes--on airplanes, machines that take us to the West Coast in five hours. What are we complaining about?
I acknowledge all of this. I am about to whine about something that lots of people would love to have the chance to whine about ...
Okay, now I don't think I will. I'm feeling ... guilty.
So I won't tell you--again--about the jackhammers** in our basement for two solid days. About how my dreams now feature pneumatic sound effects. About how I have nightmares about the whole house caving in because of the noise.
Nor will I confess that I am wimpy about it all. That Joyce is far more assertive and courageous than I am--about virtually everything in our lives. If she were not here, I would never hire anyone. I'd lie in bed while water pipes burst, electrical connections sizzled and sparked, the gas stove blew up, the refrigerator crashed down into the basement.
Eventually, the house would implode, and I would collapse, in bed, into the rubble, where some doughty fireman or policeman would find me, wrapped in a Pendleton blanket, frozen in a final shudder. With an I-told-you-so smile on my face ...
So, as I said, I will not write about any of that today. Too depressing ...
*goes back to the 16th century--from haste (duh)
**jackhammer = seems, basically, to mean a "man" hammer ... not too PC, eh?
Thursday, December 21, 2017
It's appropriate that the word-of-the-day on our tear-off calendar yesterday was frenetic. A perfect word to describe what was going on around here.
We had no quiet, reflective 48th anniversary day--not until later in the evening. Instead, we had a jackhammer pounding away in our basement.
We'd had some waterproofing done there earlier in the fall, but there's one little alcove-sort-of-a-room under the side porch that had some ... issues. It needed a new floor, so we hired a different crew to come in and do that after the waterproofers were gone, and the new sump pump was humming away merrily, spilling torrents out into the ivy in the garden on the east side of our house.
Turns out that the floor in the alcove was actually two floors: The previous owners had simply poured a new one over the bad one, therefore hiding, not solving, the water issue.
So: Old floor had to come out (thus: jackhammer); new one is going in today.
But there was yet another issue. The alcove had not been tied into the new drainage system from the previous work, so ... a new trench across the basement (jackhammer) with hard-working guys up and downstairs all day, door wide open (brisk, brisk, brisk) while Joyce and I pretended we were having just a perfect day for our anniversary.
They left a little before 4 yesterday, and that's when our quiet anniversary actually commenced. (And I mean quiet in just about every way conceivable!)
About 4:45 we walked on a cool but not all that unpleasant an evening down to 3 Palms, a local pizzeria (and a good one!), a couple of blocks away. Had to wait a few minutes for a table. Then broke all dietary restraints (well, I did). Bread, pizza (with grilled chicken for me); some pasta thingy that Joyce loved.
On our walk down I recited "How Do I Love Thee?" to her; on the way back, "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes." On our anniversary, I've done the latter for many years, the former for about a dozen or so (after I memorized it.)
Then back home, where we opened our wee gifts of words: Joyce had written me a prose-poem that made me cry; I had written her a poem that made her cry. (A weepy pair, Joyce and I.) We ate a bit of one of the fruitcakes I'd baked (my grandmother's recipe); we sipped hot drinks. Decaf coffee (me), hot chocolate (she).
Then ... upstairs to snuggle and stream and remember ...
Our first anniversary, December 20, 1970, we spent with Joyce's folks at their home in Firestone Park in Akron--1548 Evergreen Ave. They had saved in their freezer some chunks of our wedding cake, which we consumed greedily. I think we played some bridge with them and enjoyed our time with two of the most wonderful human beings I've ever known.
This morning, we headed, on the solstice, toward Anniversary 49. The workmen are back. Concrete for the alcove room floor. Another pair here, too--working on a leaky shower stall upstairs.
Frenetic, Day Two ...
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
|with our parents on our wedding day,|
Dec. 20, 1969
Concordia Lutheran Church
We had a little extra cash because at our reception, Dr. Fred Bissell (from Aurora--I taught several of his wonderful children; a couple are Facebook friends) had gone around the room getting people to put cash on a little Christmas tree he had. Don't know what we would have done without his generosity. We had no general credit cards then--only ones for gasoline.
Our second night was in Memphis, right on the river. The next day we drove into an ice storm and had to stay in a little nameless motel in a tiny town I can't remember. But we were grateful for the haven.
Next night we drove into New Orleans to the little romantic place we'd reserved for our stay of several days, but when we arrived (around midnight), the desk clerk told us that they'd given the room to someone else ... we were late, you know? No room in the Inn. (One of the pre-cellphone issues!)
We drove downtown, saw a Ramada Inn, checked in there into a less-than-romantic room, but we were safe; we were there; we were married. I think it's still there. We called room service and got some soup for supper--a seafood gumbo. Always good at 1 a.m.
The next few days (it was cool but sunny) we wandered around the city, checked out some jazz places, went on a little cruise up the Mississippi into Bayou Country. (Joyce was already zeroing in on her dissertation subject: Kate Chopin, who lived and wrote in New Orleans.)
We spent our first Christmas in that room, using a little artificial tree Mom had given us, a tree that had faux gumdrops for ornaments. We still have that tree.
That night, we went to see a movie--the latest James Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a film that ends with Bond's marriage (awwww) and, moments later, the murder of his bride. Now wasn't that special for a honeymoon! For Christmas Day!
When we left, we drove up the river to Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain, and we roamed around, already flashing signs of the immense nerdiness that has characterized our marriage--and our vacations (almost all of which have been to literary sites: homes, graveyards, you know ...).
Then we veered into the West, on impulse, to drive to Des Moines, Iowa, where my parents (who were probably figuring out how to pay for our rehearsal dinner) were living and teaching at Drake University. We surprised them (to say the least) and stayed a couple of days there with them. Dad's brother John was visiting with his wife, Juanita, and it was wonderful for Joyce to meet one of my favorite uncles. He worked for John Deere his whole life after WW II and must have loved being in Iowa to see all the equipment! (He lived in Walla Walla, Washington.)
Then it was home--323 College Court, Kent, Ohio, our first apartment (one of four in a little duplex), where we continued our lives. Joyce was now full-time at Kent State University in the English Ph.D. program; I was teaching full-time at the Aurora Middle School (7th graders), taking classes at night and in the summer.
And, impossibly, forty-eight years have flown by. We have a terrific son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, two perfect grandsons (8 and 12). We both have had careers we loved; we are both retired; we are both reading and writing all the time. And laughing and holding hands and doing our best to keep the darkness where it belongs.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
It's possible I've written about this before ... tough.
When I was a kid and would declare my boredom to my mom, her invariable reply was Read a book. To which my reply was (and remains) unprintable.
Not that I would actually ever say anything unprintable (or unspeakable) to either of my parents; that was unthinkable in the late 1940s and 1950s, at least in our household. Keep dark words in dark places--that was my boyhood principle (not that I had a lot of principles, mind you).
Reading a book, through much of my boyhood, was not all that unpleasant. I loved going to our lovely Carnegie Library in Enid, Okla. (razed by Clueless Ones in 1972), loved going home with a pile of books, most of which were about cowboys, mountain men, the Alamo, and baseball players. I would read them in bed--or when I was sick--or when it was raining or cold or I was otherwise without physical option.
Boredom, of course, arises from the ordinary. The usual. The expected. The habitual. The ... you know.
But even in boyhood I knew--at times--that there was something glorious about the ordinary. For example, I wasn't crazy about going to school--until I was sick for a few days and could not go, and all I could do was lie in bed and groan and wait for the Dr. to come (yes, I lived in the days of house calls) and give me (I hoped) pills or (I dreaded) a shot. (I'm still not fond of the latter.)
Then--after a few housebound days--school looked like Brigadoon to me. I couldn't wait to get back to Miss Hula's class and circle nouns on her endless supply of worksheets.
This phenomenon--being bored, realizing later the wonders of the ordinary--has continued to appear throughout my life.
When I was jogging most every day, for example (4-6 miles), I didn't exactly love it. Much of the time I dreaded it. Until I couldn't do it.
In the early 1990s I injured my left knee on a hike in Alaska, and it was so bad I didn't think I would ever be able to run again. And suddenly I missed it, horribly. And when--after a few weeks--I was able to get back at it (slowly, slowly), I actually looked forward to my afternoon runs.
Until I didn't.
Now, I can no longer run for a variety of reasons (knees, ankles, persistent dizziness (thank you, blood-pressure meds!)), but I've ... adjusted. And I go to a local health club and do some other things--ride an exercise bike, walk laps around the indoor track, pull on the rowing machine, do some curls with some weights ...
And I dread it, every day.
Until I can't do it. Last spring, I had some severe bouts of vertigo and actually passed out in a health-club shower. EMS ride to the ER, etc.
And then, slowly, I was able to go back to it. Couldn't wait for that to happen.
But now I dread it again ... every afternoon ... out to the club ... sit on that bike that goes nowhere and pedal myself into a soak ...
But here's the dark knowledge that lies, most of the time, below consciousness (where I shove it when it dares to emerge): If I live long enough, the time will come when I can do none of the physical things I've both loved and hated. Both my parents ended up with walkers, then wheelchairs. If I live as long as they do, I'll no doubt find myself in that device as well.
And if I don't live that long? Chances are that my cancer--now in my bones--will put me down. And I will lie there, dreaming of the days I ran ten miles, and hiked the Chilkoot Trail, and rode the exercise bike till I was a Wet Mess, and ... didn't I just love it! All the time!
I will look back at all that Ordinary Glory, and I will briefly grieve.
And then I will reach over, I hope, and pick a book, which, as my mother knew decades ago, is yet another glory that has the power to transport, to erase the present, however grim it may be. Boredom, like a cowardly burglar, flees from a book with pathetic haste.
She was right about so many things, my mom. It's taken me only a lifetime to realize it.
Monday, December 18, 2017
We’re sitting in Starbucks up at Legacy Village right now. It’s 1:08 pm as I type the time “1:08.” I’m in between scans at Seidman Cancer Center.
Late this morning we drove up for a day of tests and needle-piercings. As soon I arrived, they took me in to get my monthly injection of Xgeva, a drug that promotes bone strength, and my bones need some extra strength these days: My prostate cancer has metastasized and found its new home: in my bones. And one of the other drugs I’m taking to discourage my determined disease (Lupron) has the side effect of weakening the bones.
So … the damn shot hurt (always does—every month!), but, hey, I’m a MAN, right, so all I had to do was MAN UP, right? (I sort of did—though I lowered my head so the nurse would not see my … tears.)
Then I walked across the hall to Radiology, where I started drinking water for my CT scan. While doing so, I headed upstairs to get two things: (1) the installation in a vein of a “port” that the technician would use to insert a contrast dye during the scan; (2) an injection of some Spider Man-y radiation that will circulate around in me for a couple of hours, at which time we’ll head back to Seidman for my bone scan, scheduled for about 2:30.
I began the morning in as normal a way as I could—over to Open Door Coffee, where I did my usual reading and writing. I generally get there around 7, stay for a couple of hours, drinking their great coffee the while. But today—as per medical instructions—I could drink only clear liquids after 8, so my friend Nigel (at the counter today—his parents own the shop) accommodated me after 8 by giving me hot water in my cup instead of coffee. The heat was nice. The rest? Kind of pathetic.
Joyce and I then left home about 10:15 for the drive up to Seidman, a drive that can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour, depending on that endless construction project on I-271. It was quick today.
So, after the CT scan, I’m allowed to drink and eat, so that’s why we’re here in Starbucks, Joyce and I, reading, typing, and continuing to do what we’ve done for each other for nearly forty-eight years (our anniversary is on Wednesday)—holding a hand that desperately needs a lover’s touch, a touch that pulsates with the beating of an understanding heart.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
1. AOTW: I feared I was not going to have a winner this week and was accordingly going to have to confer the Award, again, on me (since I earn the Damn Thing just about every day!). But--this morning!--a winner emerged, though Joyce and I barely escaped damage to enable ourselves to crow about it. We were emerging from the grocery store (the Acme in Hudson), and right by the shoppers' exit is a slow-down/stop area for cars. Only a woman on a cell phone, apparently not seeing us emerging from the store, accelerated. If we had not seen her and backed up, she would have hit us, full on. She accelerated even more as she headed out--but not fast enough to escape the faster-than-light AOTW Award!
2. I finished just one book this week, but it was a terrific one--Mrs. Osmond (2017) by John Banville, who has won about every major literary prize there is (not yet the Nobel, but I bet it's on the way). This is a sequel to Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady (1881), a novel I read decades ago and am now going to read again, thanks to Banville.
You do not have to have read Portrait to enjoy/admire this, and even if you read it years ago (as I did), Banville artfully "fills you in" as the text progresses. So ... you can enjoy it either as a stand-alone work or as a worthy sequel to The Master's novel.
Okay ... here. In Portrait, Isabel Archer, a young naive American woman, marries in Europe to Gilbert Osmond, not exactly Mr. Ideal--as she discovers. In Banville's sequel, she discovers some dark secrets about Osmond (some are very dark) and tries to figure out what to do. And does it. (I ain't gonna say no more about that.)
She is in London when the novel begins, attending the funeral of her cousin. Gilbert Osmond remains in Italy (where they were living). And things begin ... The action moves from London to Paris to Italy (Rome, Florence). And all over the mind of Isabel.
As I read about these characters this time, it struck me (again? for the first time?) that all of these principals were Americans; some had moved to Europe long before and become ... European (darkly so, corrupt); others, like Isabel, are newbies.
Anyway, it's difficult to write "like" Henry James without declining into parody, but Banville does it--and masterfully so. (HJ would have smiled in approval, I think.)
How about this passage that opens Chapter XXV:
There is a universal truth which the young are all too infrequently surprised into acknowledging, and then with a sense of having been violently brought up short, which is that, as they are now, so too were the old once. We may figure it otherwise by proposing that every generation considers itself unique, and that each batch newly entered upon its adult estate believes itself to be enjoying or enduring experiences, discoveries and difficulties that are all novel, all singular, and all exclusive to them and their coevals. The world of the young is ever a brave new world populated by brave young people like themselves. They are prepared to entertain the possibility that their parents may once have lived and loved, have rejoiced and suffered, as they themselves do, although they would have done so in a paler, weaker way, of course, and by now would have forgotten most if not all of what it was they used to know; the children of these vague amnesiacs look upon them and smile or scowl, depending on the degree of cordiality that has survived the rigours of twenty or so years of intimate family life, and, like ushers in the interval of the play, helpfully point them in the direction of the exit (247).
The older I get, the more I enjoy passages like this! And, oh, it goes on for a bit more; I just got tired of typing!
3. We've started watching (via Netflix DVD) The Thin Man (1934), a disc I ordered, I think, because the screenplay is by the team that wrote the play The Diary of Anne Frank (Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich), a play I used to teach back at Harmon Middle School in my later years there. (Link to film trailer; the entire film is also available on YouTube.)
What struck us in the first half hour (all we've watched so far) is how prominent a role BOOZE plays in the lives of the principals, Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy). They are woozy and more in the opening scenes. And it's all so ... amusing! And sophisticated! And ... whatever!
By the way, I always liked Myrna Loy for a very boyish reason: I had a crush in sixth grade on a girl named Myrna ... Won't tell you her last name!
4. We're still streaming bits of several series each night: Longmire, Broadchurch, Line of Duty. Line is so tense that I can take only about ten minutes of it before I wimp out. My Younger Self is ashamed ... and incredulous.
5. Final Word: A word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers.
- from dictionary.com
1. pertaining to leave-taking or departing; valedictory.
Obsolete. a farewell address; valedictory.
Only to the fool who believes all truths debatable, who believes true virtue resides not in men but in eulogies, true sorrow not in partings but in apopemptic hymns, and true thought nowhere but in atramentaceous scrollery--only to him is elegant style, mere scent, good food.
-- John Gardner, Jason & Medeia, 1973
The English apopemptic is a straightforward borrowing of the Greek adjective apopemptikós, “pertaining to dismissal, valedictory,” a derivative of the adverb and preposition apό- “off, away” and the verb pémpein “to send,” a verb with no clear etymology. The Greek noun pompḗ, a derivative of pémpein, means “escort, procession, parade, magnificence,” adopted into Latin as pompa (with the same meanings), used in Christian Latin to refer to the ostentations of the devil, especially in baptismal formulas, e.g., “Do you reject the devil and all his pomps?” Apopemptic entered English in the mid-18th century.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
I've sometimes thought that the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--an ending often problematical for readers and scholars (such a letdown in ways from what has gone before)--is the result of Twain's setting aside the manuscript for some years, then returning to it and not being able to find that voice again--rather, that edge to that voice.
He had, in a way, written himself into a corner and could not find an agreeable way out. As some of you surely know, he wrote some other books about Huck and Tom--pretty much terrible books*--after Huck Finn, so I think I subscribe to the theory that Twain just, well, lost it (too much time in the corner?).
So ... I am not Mark Twain nor was meant to be. But I've kind of written myself into a corner, too--oh, nothing like Huck Finn, mind you, but in starting up this blog, I find I am usually (i.e., almost always) incapable of not writing a post each day.
I don't usually have trouble finding something to talk/write about (Old Guys do not have that problem!), but it's just the time involved--and the guilt if I do not do it (curse my Puritan ancestors, my Puritan upbringin').
Take today ... I really wanted to devote most of the morning to working on the revision of Frankenstein Sunday, the mess I serialized here over the past few years. I am making progress. But I just could not get to it until I'd posted something on DawnReader for the day.
So here it is.
Writers in corners. Wondering how they got there. How to escape. Gracefully.
*Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer Among the Indians (unfinished--but available), Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy (unfinished), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896)
Friday, December 15, 2017
I saw a funny cartoon the other day--should have shared it on Facebook but didn't. Its caption said something like this: If earlier generations behaved with phones the way we do now. And it showed some people gathered around an old land-line telephone booth--just staring at it.
Oh my how Telephone Life has changed since my boyhood! Growing up in Oklahoma in the late 1940s and 50s, I remember some things like, well, "party lines." For a cheaper price you could share a phone line with someone else. So you could pick up the phone and hear other people talking. Oops.
And when I picked up the phone in boyhood, an operator would say, "Number please." And I'd tell her (always a her). My grandmother's number in Enid was 5630-J (though it's possible this was our number; whatever--it's stuck with me).
If you wanted to call long distance, you'd tell the operator that was your intent. She (!) would call it for you, get an answer (or not), and then keep track of your time. (If you were at a pay phone, she would interrupt and tell you to drop in another quarter or whatever.)
The best thing; You could call collect--i.e., charge the call to the receiving party. This was great for me, early in my teaching career, when I was impecunious (to say the least). I always called my parents collect--and, bless them, they always accepted the charges.
A receiver of a collect call could refuse:
OPERATOR: I have a college call from Dan Dyer ... do you accept the charges?
PARENTS: No. [Never happened.]
I didn't get a fancy "dial" telephone for quite a while ...
When we got our first portable phone (in the 1970s?), Joyce and I would still sit on the little telephone table we'd acquired from her parents. We could have walked round the room We could have gone into the kitchen, Hell, we could have gone outside and talked.
But we didn't. We sat there as if it were 1950 and we could move only as far as the cord would allow.
Our son had a cell phone before we did. He was just out of college (1994), delivering pizza in the Boston area, waiting for some career (other than pizza-delivery) to open up. And he found a cell phone essential.
We thought it was a laughable extravagance.
When we finally bought our first one, we kept it in the car, had it "on" only when needed.
Then came smart phones. I had a couple of Blackberrys, now various generations of iPhones, Joyce was late to the smart-phone party (she had a flipper that she rarely turned on), but now she ignores me and reads her news feed. (I exaggerate--as I'm sure she'll understand!).
We still have a land line--not sure why. Loyalty? (Stupidity?) We get virtually no personal calls on it--robocalls and the like compose 99.99% of it.
And what's next?
Hard to say. We're already, each of us, walking around with a device with more computing capacity than that available to the moon-landers on July 20, 1969, Joyce's birthday. One of our first dates ...
Thursday, December 14, 2017
When I first began my "scholarly" studies and was learning how to employ the word sic in scholarly writing (meaning thus--the term you use when you're quoting something that's got an error in it--say, you were quoting this from a Shakespeare play recently published: To be or not to been [sic] ....), I remember being somewhat amused by two homophones: sick and, well, sic--the term you bark at a dog to tell him/her to go after something--as in Sic 'em, Sooner! (Sooner was my boyhood dog.)
Okay, so last night, in bed, streaming Line of Duty, Joyce suddenly asked me where that term came from.
I had no freaking clue.
This morning, checking dictionaries, I do!
Merriam-Webster traces it back to 1845 and says it is a version of seek. Sounds reasonable. Let's see what the OED says ,..
[PAUSE WHILE I CHECK THE OED ...]
The dictionary lists it not by sic but by sick (but does list sic as an alternate spelling). It also traces it to 1845, to a novel by J. J. Hooper, Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs. Here's the quotation: "Sick him Pomp,..sick, sick, si-c-k him Bull.)
I just took a look on ABE ... the book is pretty rare, with prices ranging up to $275. But you can get a paperback, too, And it's available in various formats via Amazon, too.
I think I'm going to order and read one ...
Oh, and I should confess: Sooner never once in his life obeyed my command to sic. Maybe I should have said sick, Sooner being a literal thinker and all.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
|right now, my study window|
(that's a young Charles Dickens in the upper right window pane)
Now, don't go all judgmental on me: I did not shovel it last year because it required no shoveling. It was not (merely) lassitude that kept me from bonding with my snow shovel.
It's also Damn Cold today--below twenty, usually a clue for me to wear my heaviest winter coat. My parka. But I didn't. Again--not lassitude but attitude: I refuse to bundle up like that until the solstice.
Which evokes a memory ... During the 1978-79 academic year, Joyce and I were teaching at Lake Forest College; Lake Forest, IL (up the lake from Chicago). Chicagoland had its worst winter on record that year--bitter cold, massive snowfall. (Welcome to Lake Forest!)
Anyway, when the vernal equinox arrived, I decided that since it was officially spring, I was going to wear my spring-weight jacket. Damn the Consequences!
Actually, Damn Me. I froze. Got a bad cold. But, lying in bed, sniffling, I was proud that I had adhered to my standards! I had character (if not wisdom).
I turned thirty-four that year in Lake Forest, and I am happy to say that, in most ways, I'm no longer that stupid. (Though my refusing to don my parka this morning might make you wonder.)
This morning, I had to go to the local medical lab and have a blood draw (tests, tests, tests--it's like being in public school or something!). Anyway, I got to laughing with the phlebotomist, whom I've gotten to know fairly well because of my frequent visits there.
We were laughing about shoveling snow--about having sons so that they could do it. And I was reminded of a time our son was in high school. Snow fell. We asked (!) him to go out and shovel, please. (Not his favorite job.) Joyce and I watched him through a window. He was shoveling, yes, but he was also "acting out"--raging, raging like mad King Lear on the heath. Gestures and all.
When he came back in, his performances over, we thanked him and hoped to heaven that the tears of laughter were not still evident in our faces.
Anyway, now that he's grown up and left home and has his own sidewalk and driveway to shovel (and two sons of his own), I am left to do it (though Joyce will do it now and again, as well).
And yesterday ... I too felt like Lear and wanted to cry aloud to the Snow Gods: Damn you! It's not even winter yet!
But I restrained myself. I am ... mature now. And--you know?--the neighbors could be watching. Don't want to make them laugh themselves into wetness.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Children are famous for this, aren't they? They keep asking questions until they arrive at the one you can't answer--and so you, adult-like, say, I don't know--let's look that up! Or you lie--make something up. Or, these days, you bark to Alexa, if your child hasn't already done so, realizing (because of Alexa) that he/she doesn't really need you any longer. Sad ...
You know the sequence of questions I mean:
KID: What is that yellow bright thing up there?
YOU: The sun.
KID: What is it?
YOU: It's a star.
KID: Why doesn't it look like other stars?
YOU: It's much closer to us.
KID: Why is it yellow?
YOU: Fire can be yellow.
KID: Why is a fire yellow?
Joyce is like this, too. She keeps asking until we reach the extent of my knowledge (in many cases, a very short journey). At which time, out comes her iPhone ... and I feel a pang of something very like jealousy.
An example from last night. We were driving over to Aurora on an errand to Marc's (I needed some flour), and, somehow, in her monologue, she hit up on the expression hell in a handbasket.
She wasn't quite sure how that expression went; I told her (going to hell in a handbasket). Then--and I knew this was coming, knew what I was going to have to say (I don't know)--she asked another question. Where does that come from?
I said I didn't know.
Fortunately, by the time we got home, we had moved on to other things I don't know, but I remembered it just now, and here is what I found:
Not one of my reference books says anything about it.
Online? Much uncertainty, though people seem to agree (by consulting the same sites, no doubt) that it is an Americanism dating back to the Civil War. (Here's one link to one guy dealing with it.) Apparently there are other variations, too--hell in a handcart, hell in a wheelbarrow. Etc.
My own guess? You are (or things are) going to hell, buddy. And the transportation is not going to be comfy.
Oh, and here's William Safire in 1990 expatiating about it: link. Unfortunately, he mentions no sources for what he's found ... He cites a later origin--1913--and a different form (heaven in a handbasket). Seems he didn't know about the earlier reference.
Monday, December 11, 2017
I remember my mother making a tree-shaped bread back when I was a boy. She didn't do it every year (if you look at the recipe, you'll see it's a bit of a bother)--but enough so that when I married Joyce in 1969, I thought it would be a good tradition to continue.
Not that I did it right away. Although I started baking our bread not long after we got married (for pecuniary rather than gustatory reasons--though the motive very quickly segued into the latter), I did not do the treebread for a few years. It seemed so ... daunting.
But eventually I did it, fashioning it, I think, on some similar recipe I found in a cookbook. I should say here that I do not know what recipe my mother used--probably something she found in a magazine (our source for information before the Net). It's not one of the recipes I acquired from her.
And besides, since the summer of 1986 I've been using sourdough rather than "regular" yeast for virtually all our baking.** So I would have to say the recipe I use has ... evolved.
I got up at seven a.m. on Sunday morning (my wonted baking time). The sourdough starter had been bubbling away during the night (before going to bed I'd fed it with its favorite-and lone--diet: 2 cups of warm water, 3 cups of flour), so, first thing, I put two cups of starter back in the container, then back in the fridge. The rest would become the Christmas trees.
Before doing anything else, I cut up a cup of dried apricots, got a cup of mixed candied fruit ready, a cup of slivered almonds ... the other ingredients. Then mixed and kneaded and huffed and puffed and blew myself down (almost).
The treebread dough is heavy, so it took more than three hours to complete its rise--during which time I cleaned up, headed off for our Sunday morning routines with Joyce (the New York Times and a toasted bagel at Panera, grocery shopping at nearby Acme and Heinen's). Then ... home to unpack and write a letter to my mom and work on my blog and wait for the dough to finish rising.
When I was satisfied it was ready, I sprayed oil on two large baking sheets, then tossed the dough out onto a floured board, cut it in half, then cut one of the halves into half again. I then cut off pieces of the dough, rolled them in my hands into little "ropes," which I laid out on the sheets to resemble a Christmas tree--or (see below) a rattlesnake. One large tree--which I will send to my brothers and their families in Massachusetts, two small trees--which we will consume here. I let them rise again for about an hour and a half, then popped them into a 400-degree oven to bake--and to permeate the house with that bread-baking smell that I adore.
Moments before serving them on Christmas Day, I will warm them up (after thawing them from their days in the freezer), then decorate them, swabbing them with icing (powdered sugar & water) that will make them look exactly like a tree outdoors in winter (or a snow-covered rattler--see below), then sprinkle on the icing some more of the candied fruit (with a maraschino cherry on top!), making it look now exactly like a decorated snowy tree (or--see below--a rattler, who must be rather puzzled by now).
We will peel off and consume some soft, warm chunks while we're opening gifts with our sticky fingers. (I think this year I will begin by biting off the head of the snake--just to be sure.)
Every year I wonder if this will be the last time for such a routine--no, such a tradition, a ritual. Will I be healthy enough next year? Will ...?
Oh, let's not get into that. Let's just enjoy the treebread, once again, and feel the gratitude that I feel right now--for my mom, for Joyce and family, for the health that has permitted me to do this, year after year after year.
May there be another ...
*a Facebook friend told me it looked like a coiled rattlesnake ... sort of does ... a nice holiday gift!
**I acquired the starter in the summer of 1986 in Skagway, Alaska, on a trip there with our son, 14 at the time, to explore both family history and The Call of the Wild, which had begun to obsess me. I have posted about this before. Google it, if you're interested.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
1. AOTW: Okay, this happened this week--and it has happened myriads of times before. So I'm hoping the AOTW Award will affect its frequency (hah!). I'm driving north on Ohio 91; a guy roars by me on the right (his lane is ending), then--only about a hundred yards ahead--he turns off into a little strip mall. So ... he saved, oh, perhaps seven seconds by his AOTW move. Risked his car, mine, his health, mine, burned unnecessary gas and rubber--all to get into the mini-mart seven seconds earlier than he would have.
2. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to Kent (snow falling--lightly!) to see the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Link to film trailer.) Frances McDormand plays a very frustrated mother and ex-wife (her ex-has left her for a 19-year-old). Her teenage daughter was raped and murdered not long ago, and the cops seem to have given up on the case. So ... she rents three billboards on a local highway and chides the police for not doing anything. And ... stuff happens as a result. (Woody Harrelson does a great job as the local police chief.)
It is a film about anger--the mother's, her ex-husband's (he's physically abusive), one of the local cops (played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell), her son (Lucas Hedges--whom we saw last week in Lady Bird!), the community, and on and on.
And we see the consequences of uncontrolled anger in the lives of just about everyone. And the consequence ain't all that good!
But it's also a film about forgiveness--not everyone for everything--but forgiving for human error rather than human evil. And it's about a change of heart--which, perhaps, is the most difficult change of all.
I did think the film went on a bit too long (my bladder agrees), but I loved how I got surprised a few times--surprise: one of the things I love about films (and books).
So ... do they catch the murderer? Worth going to see to find out!
3. I finished three books this week
- The first is one I've been reading slowly in bed at night--ten pages or so a night: One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858, by Rosemary Ashton (ret. from University College London).
Ashton follows the stories of her three prominent characters throughout that summer when the Thames reeked because of an unresolved sewage-treatment issue--and the temperatures were soaring. Darwin was nearing publication of his classic Origin of Species (1859), Dickens was writing and dealing with a separation from his wife (a scandal in that era--a scandal that threatened his unsurpassed popularity), Disraeli was working to try to do something about the Thames.
The research here is astonishing--the sort of work that in another era would have consumed an entire career. But Ashton was able to read all of the major periodicals of the day because, well, they've been digitized--enabling quick searches and discoveries.
And so we get an incredible amount of detail about these men and that portion of their lives that found its way into the press--which was a lot. (In fact, I think she should have done one more text-pruning before publishing: a bit much here, even for a fact-dork like me!).
Learned a lot ... too bad I can't remember it all!
- As you may know, I'm working my way through all of the Faulkner novels I somehow missed (avoided)? in my Younger Days, and this week I read Requiem for a Nun, a sequel of sorts to Sanctuary (see an earlier post). Temple Drake reappears (now married to Gowan Stevens, nephew of Gavin, who appears in other Faulkner tales).
This one has in it a horrible murder--of an infant. A black woman, Nancy Mannigoe, who works for the Stevenses, is the culprit (she readily admits it)--but things are complicated. (Imagine that! in Faulkner!). Temple and her uncle (Nancy's lawyer) visit the governor at 2 a.m. on the day of Nancy's scheduled execution--a visit intended to explain the complex contexts of the infant's death. But all for nought (though this scene is how Faulkner lets us know all that's been going on).
He originally intended the story to be a play--and it is set up as one (acts, scenes, settings, dialogue), with some lengthy local history and explication prefacing each act. The play, sans explication, has been performed often.
The novel contains one of Faulkner's most oft quoted lines: The lawyer Stevens says, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" (Lib of Amer ed., 535). Earlier, Stevens said, "There's no such thing as past either" (521). So ... gee ... I wonder if the "past" is what's on Faulkner's mind in this novel?
For contemporary readers, Faulkner can be tough to read--for a variety of reasons: (1) the thick paragraphs, the complex sentences; (2) the racial epithets that flow easily from the mouths of his Mississippi characters--sometimes making Huck Finn look almost PC by contrast!
- The third book I finished this week is a short one, the final book by Sam Shepard, who died on July 27 of this year. I've loved Shepard's work--on the stage and elsewhere. Spy of the First Person is a short memoir/novel/hybrid about a dying man, a man whose life and illness (ALS) resemble Shepard's. Someone appears to be watching him--spying on him as he moves through the final stages of his illness.
Of course, we figure out very quickly that it is Shepard himself doing the "spying." Outside himself watching himself. Memories flow. Some regrets. Some conundrums. He still wonders at nature (he's in Arizona, visiting the Mayo Clinic branch there). But he thinks about the other places he's lived in the West; he thinks about parents and grandparents and children and siblings. As he slowly loses the ability to do anything physically.
This book is very affecting for a variety of reasons. We know, of course, that Shepard did not survive. We know what an fantastic effort it must have been to complete this book (with the help of his family and Patti Smith). By the end, he could only dictate.
On a personal level ... I've had three friends die of ALS. And every moment of this reminded me of every moment of that. Deeply painful memories.
But Shepard somehow retained a buoyancy that comes across in these pages. A tremendous final feat of imagination, determination, celebration.
Oh, will I miss Sam Shepard!
4. Final Word: a word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers. I knew fell but had not seen this version of it ... let's give it a comeback!
- from the Oxford English Dictionary
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: fell adj.1, -ish suffix1.
Etymology: < fell adj.1 + -ish suffix1.
1638 R. Brathwait Barnabees Journall (new ed.) iii. sig. S3 Never was wild Boare more fellish.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
I have just uploaded to Kindle Direct my most recent collection of light verse--the series based on the years of my life. (When it's up and ready to buy--for a mere $2.99!--I'll post it on Facebook ... probably a couple of hours from now.
Meanwhile--here is the Foreword and some other front matter ...
And Other Doggerel and Wolferel
(September 2–December 4, 2017)
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Dyer
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
For Open Door Coffee Company
Home away from home …
I’ve lost count of how many of these little volumes I’ve assembled and uploaded to Kindle Direct. And this is probably a good thing: It’s not all that wise to keep a close tally of your follies. (Someone Else is no doubt doing that anyway—Santa or … Someone.) So … no need to add things up.
I do know that I enjoyed doing this one—a lot. A trip through the years of my life, from 1944 (my year of birth) to now. Enjoyed may not be the best word, I realize. I had to revisit some of the most painful of memories—the death of my father in 1999—the losses of others who meant so much to me. Oh, and then there’s the Damn Cancer I’ve been battling since late in 2004. (The winner is certain; the date is not.)
But I also got to write about some of my great good fortune in this life. The family I grew up with. My long teaching career (about forty-five years), most of which I loved. I say “most of which” because, well, any job—any career—has those … unpleasant aspects. Things you’d just as soon forget (or submerge). For me—an English teacher—it was those endless hours of grading I most dreaded—entire weekends consumed by it. On Friday evening I sat down; I looked up: It was Sunday night. Year after year after year …
And there were other quotidian teacher tasks I didn’t exactly look forward to—lunch duty, bus duty, faculty meetings (okay, some were good), in-service days (don’t get me started), and on and on.
But the rest of it? The kids? The classes? My colleagues and mentors? The plays I directed? Gifts, my friends. They were gifts.
And there were many other things I enjoyed writing about during the seventy-five days or so I spent on this project. Meeting my wife, Joyce, and her spectacular family in 1969. The birth of our son in 1972. His marriage in 1999. The births of our two grandsons (2005 and 2009). Journeys. Books. Laughter. To complain about the life I’ve had would be a bit like a mouse, who, having grown up in a cheese factory, complains that there’s not been enough cheddar.
So … there is a little “poem” here for each year of my life. Some of them are obviously better than others, and I did fuss (in a minor way) with some of them for this volume. But I didn’t leave any out—can’t excise time from our lives (as much as we sometimes would love to!).
I’ve also included what I call “Desultory Doggerel”—verse about wee things I saw or experienced or thought about, verse that I swiftly composed and uploaded to Facebook to give my friends there cause for shudder. I’ve left pretty much all of them here—some lightly revised, if not improved.
Finally, there’s a section I call “Wolferel”—a term I (proudly) coined a couple of years ago, a term that refers to verse that is a step above doggerel but still a step below poetry. I know what good poems are. As I’ve said, I was an English teacher, and I’ve memorized more than two hundred wonderful poems, lines that I must continually rehearse throughout the week lest they flee from me, as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once wrote, “like bandits from a burglar alarm.”*
And so I’ll leave you with this—a moment from The Taming of the Shrew, a play I used to read with my eighth graders back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The groom, Petruchio, has returned with his new wife, Katherine (the “shrew”), to his wild and raucous home in Verona. His reluctant servant Grumio has ridden ahead to prepare the welcome for the less-than-happy couple.
When he arrives, Petruchio rails about the appearance of his servants (they look … ragged). And Grumio launches into this explanation:
Nathaniel’s coat, sir, was not fully made,
And Gabriel’s pumps were all unpink’d** i’ the heel;
There was no link*** to colour Peter’s hat,
And Walter’s dagger was not come from sheathing:
There were none fine but Adam, Ralph, and Gregory;
The rest were ragged, old, and beggarly;
Yet, as they are, here are they come to meet you. (4.1)
I like those final two lines—so appropriate here. Yes, some of the Wolferel are all right, and as for the others,… ragged, old, and beggarly; / Yet, as they are, here are they come to meet you.
December 4, 2017
*from his story “Harrison Bergeron”
** lacking ornamentation
*** torch (to provide blacking)