Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 132


1. AOTW: No one in particular this week. There were some in traffic who flirted with the award, but other than the guy who has taken to riding "my" bike at the health club at the very time I want to use it, nothing too notable--or ignominious. So ...

2. Last night, Joyce and I continued our journey through the films of the Coen Bros. We watched (via Netflix) The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), a black-and-white film featuring Billy Bob Thornton as a laconic, phlegmatic small-town barber whose vague wish for more financial substance leads him into a scheme that turns deadly. Great minor roles by the late James Gandolfini, by Frances McDormand, and by the very young Scarlett Johannson (a teen?!), who makes a very surprising move in the final half-hour. A film about greed, about language and silence--with some shots at a hotshot defense attorney, at our all-too-prevalent cultural ignorance, about, well, sex and its consequences.



I love the look of the thing. The Coens can set up shots about as well as anyone--from the stunning image of a barber pole, spinning, at the beginning to "shocking" scene in prison near the end.

BTW: Thornton must have smoked 6000 cigarettes in the film--and I don't think I saw him blink a single time. Link to film trailer.

3. I finished several books this week--three were from my "Night Stack," books I read slowly most nights, ten pages or so at a time. Just so happened I finished two this week.

     - The first was Selected Essays by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), pretty much a contemporary of Shakespeare (1564-1616). The essays are similar in format: a single theme ("Of Travel," "Of Seeming Wise," etc.), brevity. I blogged a bit about the book a couple of days ago, but today just a few quotations I really liked:



          * from "Of Wisdom for a Man's Self": "An ant is a wise creature for itself, but is a shrewd thing in an orchard or garden. And certainly men that are great lovers of themselves waste the public" (39).

          * from "Of Discourse": "As for jest, there be certain things which ought to be privileged from it; namely religion, matters of state, great persons, any man's present business of importance, and in any case that deserveth pity" (56). [Well, that would leave much to joke about, would it?!?!]

          * from "Of Youth and Age": "Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success" (76).  [Ouch.]

     - John Grisham's most recent novel, The Whistler (2016). I like the first part of it a lot. It's a case involving the investigation of a corrupt judge, and how the story gets going is fun--and deadly. But the last, oh, thirty pages contain basically a re-hash of the relevant arrests, etc., and it seemed to me that Grisham just got tired of the damn thing and just published his notes on what should happen. Disappointment, finally.


     * Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World in Me (2015), an epistolary monograph about race in today's America (with some flashbacks to his own youth), is an eye-opener. Coates writes to his young son, telling him what it's like to be black in America--and warning him about how he ought to behave. It bubbles with rage at times (and why not?!?) but also contains piercing insights about what it's like to be black today, insights that it would benefit every "white" person to read. I like how Coates continually refers to people who think they're white (for, after all, we all come from African ancestors). There is some hope in the book--why write a book otherwise?--but in my view it has well earned the numerous awards it collected for the author (who's a national correspondent for The Atlantic now), including the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.



     - Finally (in more ways than one), I finished the most recent book by Richard Ford (I've now read them all!), which is also is final (?maybe not?) book about his most engaging character, Frank Bascombe, who has appeared (and narrated) The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), The Lay of the Land 2006), and, now, Let Me Be Frank with You (2014), a trio of novellas.

Like the previous Bascombe fiction, this one takes place at holiday time--Christmas this time. And--although I found only one sly allusion to Dickens, Frank is being haunted in all three tales by the Ghost of Christmas Past--or, at least, the Ghost of the Past. In all the fiction, Frank has ruminated about the past--but here it is most prominent. He is sixty-eight years old now and has seen himself evolve from a promising writer of fiction to a fairly successful sportswriter for a national magazine to a fairly successful real estate agent in New Jersey.

It's the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and we see how that vicious storm affected not just people but communities, markets, etc. Frank's own beach house, which he sold before the storm arrived, has been destroyed--as have homes all up and down the beach. He and his wife, Sally (who is not a major presence here--well, a bit), now live back in Haddam, back in the same house where he'd lived years before.

I like how Ford takes a phrase from the end of one novella to use as the title of the next one. Clever. And, of course, I loved an allusion to Billy the Kid on pp. 15-16--Copland's ballet). Frank's allusions are often very literary--vestiges of his past as a writer and teacher. So we get mentions of Naipaul, Auden, Emerson, Henry James, Anthony Trollope, and others.

Frank retains, as well, his sardonic humor--and Ford retains his mastery of the English sentence. "I look at life in terms of failures survived" (189); "He's a thought that might become an act" (243). And on and on.

Well, I have completed my literary journey in my Ford, and I know he has a memoir coming out early this May (so promises Amazon, anyhow), but I hope he is not finished with Frank. I need him; we need him.

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

     - from wordsmith.org
codswallop (KODZ-wol-uhp)
noun: Nonsense.
ETYMOLOGY: Of unknown origin. According to a popular story, a fellow named Hiram Codd came up with the design of a soft-drink bottle with a marble in its neck to keep the fizz. Wallop was slang for beer and those who preferred alcoholic drinks dismissively referred to the soft-drink as Codd’s Wallop. This story is unproven. Earliest documented use: 1959.
USAGE:
“And to think that there are people out there -- including some I used to vaguely respect -- who actually buy into and believe that kind of codswallop.”

Jesus, St John, and Mahatma Gandhi need YOU; Malta Today (San Gwann); Jan 19, 2017.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Clutter, Clutter, Mutter, Mutter

February 25, 2017
After a bit you don't even notice it anymore, right? Clutter, that is. I wish I didn't notice it. I just took a gander* over in the corner of my study, to my left as I type this, and notice a disaster my mother would not have tolerated for a second--not in her study, and certainly not in my room. (Not that I ever had a room that was all that great--but let's not get into that sibling rivalry stuff, okay?)

The only neat things are on the wall: prints (L to R) of an old issue of The Youth's Companion (it contains a short story by Jack London--July 1902),,an image of the "Jack London Cabin" in the Yukon (where he lived a bit in the winter of 1897-98 while looking for gold), and another image of Jack London surrounded by things he loved (ships and boats).

Otherwise, the area is a mess, a Convocation of Clutter. You wouldn't dare open the file cabinets, stuffed with miscellany (and madness?). Atop the cabinet is a digital clock, an external CD/DVD drive, some books about Shakespeare, some audio cassettes, some pictures (Joyce, my dad and older brother, me as a kid), and a little stuffed dog that I bought for my dad when he was dying because I thought it looked a little like Sooner, our favorite family dog. There are a couple of file boxes there, too. Not sure what's in them.

The top two shelves of the bookcase are jammed with books about and by Edgar Poe and his times (1809-49). Above them are piled old yearbooks from my school days and from my teaching career. Some replacement cartridges for my printer. Some stuff I can't even identify from here (from my desk chair). There appears to be a bunch of stuff in a plastic bag. No idea.

The lower shelves are even more worthy of ... disgust? disdain? disapprobation? opprobrium? whatever? I see a couple of more Poe things, some boxes that contain small DVDs that used to fit in an earlier-generation digital camera, a notebook (what's in it?), and, in a white box at the far right, a 16mm print of a movie called Secret of Treasure Mountain (1956), a forgettable film starring Raymond Burr (TV's Perry Mason!) and (the reason I bought it), Valerie French, an actress I had a crush on in junior high school. I was writing about her in a memoir--honest!--when I decided I needed to see all her films, and this one I could find only in 16mm. Renting a projector was an issue--but I found one, watched the film, wondered why on earth I'd ever yearned for her ... Now, I see, the whole damn thing is available on YouTube. Link.
Most of the bottom shelf I can't even see from here because it's blocked by piles of notebooks stuffed with doggerel, my journals, my blogs (printed), and other documents of enduring importance to ... no one.

And last, at the right, another shameful bookcase full of things--mostly oversized books about the Shelleys, Jack London, and Heaven-knows-what-else. I'm afraid to go look. So I won't.

On the very bottom shelf (you can just see a sliver of it) is a pink file crate jammed with folders about my public-school teaching career (about the business of it--contracts, newspaper clippings, etc.; the subject-matter folders are crammed in the very file cabinets you can see in the photo).

Also piled on that bottom shelf (though out of sight in the photo) are datebooks dating back decades.

I do not have the energy to do a damn thing about any of it. I know I should (and I can hear Mom's voice issuing some dire orders), but ... I just can't bring myself to do anything.

A couple of years ago, Joyce and I resolved to get rid of one thing apiece, every day. And we did it for quite a while--until we reached things that were no longer easy to dispose of. So ... we conveniently forgot about it.

Still, I know that One of These Days we're going to have to do something about it. Or--just wait until we can't and let our son worry about it?

*gander: Merriam-Webster has this to say about the origin of this expression:

probably from gander; from the outstretched neck of a person craning to look at something


First Known Use: circa 1914

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Finally Read It--About 55 Years Late


The book you see is mine. And thereby hangs a tale ...

In the spring of 1962, when Hiram College accepted me into its freshman class, I was excited. Though not overly so. My dad taught there. Hiram was the only place I'd applied. I figured if I didn't get in (was that even possible?), I'd just, you know, be the catcher for the Cleveland Indians for a coupla decades.

Not long after the acceptance letter, another one from the college arrived: It contained a list of books that incoming freshmen ought to have read. Implication; If you haven't read these, you'd better get cracking.

There were a few problems. I'd never heard of most of the writers. We didn't have many of the titles around the house, but my mom, who at the time was working on her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh (100 miles away!), took the list with her and returned one day with a box stuffed with the books. She'd been to the Pitt bookstore, and if you enlarge the image above, you'll see that the little volume cost her 45¢ at that venue.

I was very grateful for that pile of books--but deeply daunted, too. I knew myself. I knew I was incapable, at age 17, of reading them. So ... I flipped through the pile and found Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I read it. Loved it. Maybe even wept at the end.

Maybe these won't be so bad, I began to think.

I found another novel (I can't remember what it was), but when Mom saw me reading it, she suggested I take on some of the other titles first. Like, you know, Essays by Francis Bacon. I'm not sure what my reply to her was (I doubt that it was civil), but I didn't read much more--not until the fall was upon me, and I had to read three other books for freshman orientation. I remember two of them: James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. (Was the other Dürrenmatt's play The Physicists? Possible. It was published in Feb. 1962.)

I read at least two of those three--but no more of the recommended list for all incoming frosh. (Oh, how I wish I had a copy of it!)

Anyway, a number of those books have remained on my shelf, year after year, decade after decade. They share only one thing: I haven't read them.

Then--as some of you know--we began cataloging our books for sale on ABE, an online book-selling site. (Here's a link to our list--crass, I know; deal with it.) And Essays came off the shelf, had considerable dust blown from its surfaces, and reappeared in my consciousness. Joyce put it on our site, listing it for $18. (Here's a link to that page.) Inflation!

Then Mr. Guilt appeared, once again. And I thought I kinda oughta read it, you know? So I put it among those books I read in bed in the evening--ten pp a night or so. I read just 5/night of the Bacon, though. A bit dense. Full of quotations from the ancients, etc. And, possibly, I was hoping someone would buy the damn thing so I wouldn't have to finish it?

But no. So I finished it. And learned more than a few things--noted some quotations I wanted to remember--some of which I'll share on my blog this coming Sunday--"Sunday Sundries."

I think some more titles from Mom's old Pittsburgh shopping trip remain on our shelves, covered with dust and neglect. When they appear, I'll try to read them. But in some ways I'm no different from that snotty adolescent in the spring/summer of 1962. I want to do only what I want to, dammit! And if things don't work out, if I don't read those books, well, maybe the Tribe could use a back-up catcher?



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 288


Anyway, Mary’s decision is interesting—to set a scene in her novel Lodore at Niagara Falls, which, of course, she had never seen. She would never visit America—though, as I’ve written earlier, she came close (well, not too close) when the amazing social reformer Fanny Wright, in the fall of 1828, invited Mary to join her in Tennessee to try to make a go of it at Nashoba, her settlement near Memphis (where, coincidentally—very coincidentally—Joyce and I spent the second night of our honeymoon journey in December 1969, our drive from Akron, Ohio, where we were married, to New Orleans, a destination we’d picked because neither of us had ever been there)—Nashoba, where Fanny Wright was trying to set up a model settlement, a place to train former slaves for productive lives on the “outside.” The experiment failed (for reasons I discussed earlier), but that, as far as we know, was the only offer Mary entertained (and rejected) concerning a visit to the United States.
So … what did she know about Niagara Falls? And when did she know it? (To steal from Sen. Sam Ervin in the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings.)
Even in Mary’s day the Falls was a popular tourist destination—though, of course, it was a much more rigorous and stressful journey than it is today—although I can testify that traffic on I-90 and I-190 in and around Buffalo, New York, can be what we now call A Major Pain. Slow, tedious, even a bit worrisome when you get to the international border with Canada. (What will they ask me? Am I busted?—foolish worries for a Good Little Boy like me, but still ….)
So Mary had surely read about the Falls somewhere—or seen the many images available in books and newspapers and periodicals. But there is a more interesting possibility, a possibility involving her old friend and sometime-annoyance Edward John Trelawny—the man who’d endeared himself to Bysshe and Byron in that fatal summer of 1822, the man who would travel with Byron to Greece (where Bryon died of illness in Missolonghi, April 19, 1824), the man who, with Mary’s help, published a book of rarely accurate memoirs, the man who would write repeatedly about his association with the Shelley-Byron circle (and create ever more extravagant exaggerations), the man who, in 1833, visited Niagara Falls, a man who was still, during the early 1830s, writing to Mary and her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, the young woman who had fled with Mary and Bysshe when they eloped in 1814.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Word Anniversary

journal of Wm. Godwin, about his first meeting with
Mary Wollstonecraft--at a dinner with Thomas Paine,
Nov. 13, 1791; they would later marry and have
a daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley,
author of Frankenstein

I recently let an anniversary slip by, unnoticed--no, not that one. Earlier this month was the twentieth anniversary of the birth of ... my journal.

February 1997. I had recently retired from pubic-school teaching (mid-January 1997), and I was working pretty much full-time on a YA biography of Mary Shelley (The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Shelley--available from Kindle Direct--link), a book that took me quite a few years to research and write. I decided to publish it directly when I got some  cancer news, figuring I didn't have a lot of time to fuss with agents and publishers, who tend to go by clocks that run very, very slowly. My clock was ticking much more quickly.

Anyway, I was working on that book--entirely in the research phase--when I realized I should keep track of what I was doing.

And so I did.

In those days I was still using WordPerfect (a program I still prefer to Word), and, at first, I used a calendar template available on WP--which allowed just the briefest entries.

And I should add this: I got the idea to keep that file window open all day, enabling me to add things as I thought of them--or as they occurred. And that idea I got from Mary Shelley's father, novelist and philosopher William Godwin, who kept his diary open on his desk all day, adding things as the days went along. He wrote in it every day, practically to the day he died. He kept it for forty-eight years, filled thirty-two notebooks.

So ... the scan below shows you February 1997--with my first entry on the 8th. (Lightly edited for embarrassment's sake.)

It's readily apparent that using the little calendar boxes for each day's entry was not exactly working out. Too much going on. So by April 1997 I'd switched to a regular text diary/journal; using a smallish font, I filled five pages in April.

Time went one. Years. Decades. And now each month's diary entries consume much more space. Last month for example, (January 2017) I filled thirty-four pages.

So what happened?

Well, for one thing, I started pasting into my journal the letters I had written during the week (several), and I waxed rather than waned during each entry. Mind you, my journal is a record of what I've been doing more than a record of what I've been thinking--although there is some of that. Mostly, I want to have a record of where I've been and what I've done.

This has proved essential in my other writing. Being able to find--quickly--when I last saw Melville's house "Arrowhead," when I saw a certain movie, a play--what Joyce and I gave each other for our wedding anniversary--when I read Infinite Jest--what plays we saw at the Stratford Festival--etc.--all of this is somehow crucial to me now and then.

For example: When I was working on my memoir about reading and my dad (Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss--also on Kindle Direct: link), I was able to be very specific about the events leading up to my father's death in November 1999. I had recorded some of the last things he did and said--to me and to others.

A digital diary also allows a big advantage: Unlike Godwin, who had, back in the 1820s, to do a seek-and-find operation by turning pages, I can do a computer search and find in seconds what I want and need..

I very, very rarely miss a day now--when I do, it's mostly due to illness or travel (though I can keep up by adding to the document on my iPhone or other smart-device).

I print out each month's entries and keep them all in fat notebooks. And I've got numerous online and other digital backups. (Paranoia strikes deep, as Buffalo Springfield once sang.)

Our grandson Logan turned 12 last week, and I read to him from my journal about the day he was born. About what I felt and saw and experienced.

Over the years, I had kept journals--always too briefly--for a variety of reason (one big one: I assigned my students to do it--so I did it, too). But nothing very long-lasting. Joyce has a little diary from her girlhood (it's pink!), and, oh, do I wish I had some writing from my boyhood! What I would give ... in a blue diary?

I now have in the house the diary my great-grandfather Addison Clark Dyer kept during his travels to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898-99. Priceless--especially when I was "into" Jack LondonLand and when I twice traveled to the region. My son and I found, in 1986, the vicinity of his old gold claim on Bonanza Creek. (It's in other hands now--still active, by the way.)

So ... I'm more than glad that I've been keeping this record. I'm ecstatic, actually. And, like Godwin, I intend to keep doing it until I can't.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 287


So what happens at Niagara Falls in Mary’s penultimate novel, Lodore? Not much. Because Lodore is not exactly prominent and/or pervasive in the publishing world these days, I’m going to offer you Mary’s entire paragraph—with a minor cut (nothing significant) indicated by the ellipses, which are mine, not Mary’s
One day … he stood watching that vast and celebrated cataract, whose everlasting and impetuous flow mirrored the dauntless but rash energy of his own soul. A vague desire of plunging into the whirl of waters agitated him. His existence appeared to be a blot in the creation; his hopes, and fears, and resolves, a worthless web of ill-assorted ideas, best swept away at once from the creation. Suddenly his eye caught the little figure of Fanny Derham, standing on a rock not far distant, her meaning eyes fixed on him. The thunder of the waters prevented speech; but as he drew near her, he saw that she had a paper in her hand. She held it out to him; a blush mantled over her usually pale countenance as he took it; and she sprung away up the rocky pathway.[1]
Fanny Derham, 14, is the daughter of an old school friend; he encountered her in New York and agreed to accompany/chaperone her on her return to London. The paper in her hand is a letter from her father.
But … I want to focus on the Falls here. Note that Lodore feels that (quite common, it seems) urge to leap into the Niagara River and surrender to the power of the Falls. (I have actually felt it myself each time I’ve stood by that waterfall; however, I remain dry—and alive.)
In his story “The Imp of the Perverse” (1845) Edgar Poe talks about this compulsion at some length. He says because our reason violently deters it from the brink, therefore, do we the more impetuously approach it.[2] Not surprisingly (this is Poe, after all!), the narrator is not considering a leap over/into a cataract but a murder, which he in fact commits, for which he escapes detection, until … read it yourself! (Link to story.)



[1] Ibid., 81.
[2] Tales and Sketches, Vol. 2: 1843–1849, ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000), 1223.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 131


1. AOTW: There were two winners this week of this prestigious award; oddly, both occurred in virtually the same place (see map below showing area of Hudson very near our home on Church St.):

  • The first was a woman driver. I was heading west on Church St. (our street), about to turn left, south, on E. Main. Here came a woman going north on E. Main, but ... problem: E. Main is one-way south at this point, so we nearly had a head-on collision. She smiled--one of those "I-know-I'm-the-AOTW" smiles. And squeezed by me.
  • The second, a male pedestrian. I was heading north on Main Street, about to turn east into Church Street. Then ... I saw AOTW 2 walking across Main, west to east, ignoring the crosswalk about fifty feet north of him. He was a dumb guy on a smart phone. Ignoring traffic (me) and heading onto Church St., east-bound, the same way I was going. He continued walking on Church, talking earnestly on his phone, right down the middle of the street while I crept along behind him, my homicidal thoughts flaring brightly in my imagination.

2. Joyce and I started streaming a new detective/cop series via Acorn TV--a Brit show called Suspects. We watched only the first episode (there are many to follow), and we decided, for the nonce at least, that this would be our new addiction. IMDB tells me there are five seasons, making us 5x more happy (I hope). Link to trailer for episode 1. We haven't learned much yet about the principal characters (we mostly just saw them in action, not in reflection or repose!), so I'm not sure about their personalities, etc. But we'll see ...



3. I spent much of the week reading Paul Auster's new novel, 4 3 2 1, which, I see in today's New York Times Book Review, is Bestseller #13 in Fiction. Hard to believe--not because it's undeserving (it's a wonderful novel), but because it is long--nearly 900 pages--900 large pages. But I hardly noticed as I was turning them.

The novel tells about the boyhood and young manhood of Archibald (Archie) Ferguson, b. 1947. The young man resembles Auster himself in some fundamental ways (as readers of Auster's memoirs--his great memoirs--will recognize): He's obsessed with books, with learning; he loves French literature and France itself; he adores sports--especially baseball and basketball (he's a good, not great, player).

But.

Instead of telling a single story, Auster elects to tell four versions of Ferguson's young life. It's sort of a what-if? novel. What if this happened to his parents? What if Ferguson made that decision instead of this one? What if people's sexuality were different? And on and on. So ... we get four versions of the life, versions that are interwoven rather than told in four discrete segments. We follow Ferguson 1 for a bit, then move to 2 and 3 and 4. (And, yes, there's a quick allusion to "The Road Not Taken.")



The novel had a special resonance for me, principally because Auster is about my age--and leans leftward (as I do). So ... we go through the 60s again--the turbulent 60s. He even has a little bit about Kent State, May 4, 1970--Joyce and I were both attending KSU at the time. All the political things he deals with, the cultural things, the athletic things--all of these were as familiar to me as, well, as today. The Attica riots. The riots at Columbia Univ. Vietnam. The assassinations of JFK and MLK. And on and on.

The emotional power of each version is stunning. He makes us care deeply for each Ferguson--and for the characters around him (parents, friends, relatives). I have to say that I wept freely a few times, right there in the coffee shop where I was reading--reading this book I did not want to end.

I've read Auster for a long, long time--his novels, his memoirs. (Reviewed a couple of them, too.) All good. All remarkable, really. But this, in my view, is a masterwork. One of the greatest novels I've ever read.


4. Final Words: A couple of words I liked this week from my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from dictionary.com

oscitant adjective [OS-i-tuh nt]
1. drowsy or inattentive.
2. yawning, as with drowsiness; gaping.
QUOTES
I dread the arrival of the delivery man, who will be even more oscitant than this man at the take-out phone.
-- J. D. Landis, Lying in Bed, 1995
ORIGIN

The Latin verb ōscitāre means “to yawn, gape (of animals)”; “to turn toward the sun (of plants)”; and by extension “to be listless drowsy, inactive, half asleep.” The word entered English in the early 17th century.

     - from dictionary.com

whiffler \HWIF-ler, WIF-\
noun
1. a person who frequently shifts opinions, attitudes, interests, etc.
2. a person who is vacillating or evasive in an argument.
Quotes
Ay, ay; he's a whiffler, but a good man on a sea-elephant.
-- James Fenimore Cooper, The Sea Lions; or, The Lost Sealers, 1849
Origin of whiffler
Whiffler has a sense that is now sadly obsolete, “one who smokes tobacco,” dating from the early 17th century. Its current sense dates from the mid-17th century.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reaching the End


After lunch, I'm going to walk over to Open Door Coffee Co. and finish Paul Auster's new novel, 4 3 2 1, a long, long novel (nearly 900 pages--big pages) that has taken me more than a week to read. I am not eager to see it end because I recognize that it is among the best novels I've ever read. I will write more about it tomorrow--"Sunday Sundries"--but as I've neared the novel's end, I've been thinking a bit about other experiences I've had like this--reaching the end of something.

I think the first time I was affected by this was back in the 1950s when, via the TV series Disneyland, I watched the three Davy Crockett installments in 1954 and 1955. The final one, which showed Davy swinging "Old Betsy" at the Alamo (but did not show him killed), was the true end of the series, even though Disney, with a hit on his hands, brought out two other episodes later--about events, obviously, earlier in Davy's life.

But I remember that Alamo episode so clearly. I was only ten years old, and Crockett had become my idol (an idolatry subsequently cooled when, years later, I read some authoritative biographies about him--the same with Jim Bowie). And in 1950s TV shows, heroes just did not die. I knew it was going to happen, of course--so this was probably my first intense experience with dramatic irony (when the reader/viewer knows what's going to happen but the characters don't). And I found it impossibly wrenching and emotional. I still do when, you know, I see Hamlet or something.

Anyway, back to what I'm getting at--arriving at the end ...

I have read all of Paul Auster's works (got to review a couple for the Cleveland Plain Dealer), and he is one of my favorites working today. He's about my age; we both have loved baseball; we lean lefty politically; etc. So I'm not just reaching the end of a book; I'm reaching the end of his works--and, as we see painfully in his new novel--more works are not necessarily forthcoming.

I've been through this experience numerous other times. I've become a compulsive complete-works reader as I've gotten older. I read some "series" books when I was a boy (the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew)--but not all of them: That was a mountain that kept getting higher, and I wasn't all that much "into" reading--or endless mountain-climbing--back then.

But in my adulthood? I have had the experience of reading the final work by Shakespeare, Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray. And then those writers nearer my own age who have passed on--or quit writing: Mailer, P. Roth, Vonnegut, Styron, Barth, and many others.

I've done the same with pop-culture writers, too: Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker (I will not read those novels written under his name, novels that are still appearing, even though he died on January 18, 2010).

And there are lots of contemporary writers whose complete works I've read--and whose new works I gobble up as soon as they appear. Joyce Carol Oates (and keeping up with her, my friends, ain't easy!), Tom Perrotta, Jim Harrison (RIP), Tobias Wolff, and on and on. I've read all of thriller-mystery writers John Grisham, Jo Nesbø, and numerous others.

And I'm currently working my way through all of Wilkie Collins and Faulkner (reading now the ones I haven't) and some others.

And today I was wondering why I do this to myself--why do I force myself to the end, the very end, of something that's given me such pleasure?

I remember, just before I retired from Western Reserve Academy (June 2011), I talked with one of my classes about the "end" of Harry Potter. They had all grown up with the books--in most cases had eagerly, obsessively snapped up the newest installment. And they talked about the mixed feeling of accomplishment and loss they experienced when they finished The Deathly Hallows and knew there would be no more.



Of course, some of it is just the old human end-of-the-road stuff--we being the only animals aware of our own mortality. And we see everywhere the metaphors of our evanescence--from the changing weather and seasons to, well, the end of reading an author's complete works.

So, in a way, I guess this kind of reading is also a kind of preparation, of some frail human hope that we will be more "ready" when the losses begin to accumulate, to deepen, to become unimaginable--to become something you do not even want to imagine, to become unendurable.

So ... this afternoon ... the end of 4 3 2 1. And then ...? Well, I will begin chanting to the gods in the hopes that Paul Auster will do some more. And I will pick up Let Me Be Frank with You, the final novel (so far) by Richard Ford, whose complete works I have been reading. I'm getting sad already.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 286


Anyway, Mary takes us back twelve years and tells us Lord Lodore’s story. He’d taken his three-year-old daughter, Ethel, to Illinois (a wilder place in them-thar days), where they lived in solitude in the wilderness. He threw himself into study and reading—just as Mary herself had done at the most painful times of her life. (Just as I have done.) Mary tells us about Lodore’s education of Ethel, and my notes show that I was reminded when I read the book both of the widowed Godwin teaching little Mary—and, of course, of Prospero’s educating Miranda in The Tempest.
Then we flashback even farther—to Lodore’s own boyhood and education (he’d ended up at Oxford). But he was a loner—and, as we’ve seen, would remain so.
Back to the “present”: Lodore and Ethel, now 15, are leaving Illinois to return to England. And then … the scene at … Niagara Falls!
I can’t type those words—Niagara Falls!—(with an exclamation point) without thinking of that old Abbott and Costello film Lost in a Harem (1944), where they performed a famous vaudeville skit in which Niagara Falls! is the trigger. (The scene is easily available to watch on YouTube—and the comedy pair repeated it on some other occasions.) In the film, Lou is in jail with a derelict, who, when he hears the words Niagara Falls, freaks out, for it reminds him of chasing down the lover of his wife, finding him at the Falls … and … (Link to video clip.)

And I guess this connection (Mary Shelley and Niagara Falls and Abbott and Costello) shows—about as well as anything else—the massive clutter in my mind, the mixture of high and low, of pop culture and “high” culture, of the sublime and the ridiculous, of my fourth-grade self and my Ph.D-self; yes, my mind is an eccentric's attic jammed with cartoons and comic books, the Cleveland Orchestra and my love of “Ape Call” (that 1956 hit by Nervous Norvus), Shakespeare plays and 50s TV shows (especially cowboy shows!), of memories of visits to literary archives and boyhood trips to Saturday morning double-features in Enid, Oklahoma—front row: Coke, popcorn, Snickers, newsreels, cartoons, Westerns (The Three Mesquiteers, Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele) … and on and on and on and on.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blue

I don't remember much about my 8th grade Ohio history class--Hiram (Ohio) Schools, 1957-1958, Mr. Walter Wolfe (whose daughter, Debbie, was in our class, too). Mr. Wolfe was one of the most, well, different teachers I had encountered. He was very opinionated about politics--and school and local affairs. He somewhat disdained college professors (a town-gown thing), claiming now and then that they had "no practical knowledge." I kept my mouth shut but thought otherwise: My dad, a professor at Hiram College, had grown up on a farm and was a living refutation.

Still ... I was a bit wussy at the time. Stayed mute. Mr. Wolfe also said he preferred "a gentleman's C" from an all-round student to an A from a nerd (not his word--but his idea). Now that I could relate to! I'm not sure how much of a gentleman I was, but I gathered lots of C's in junior high--something I kept secret from Joyce (a valedictorian of a huge Akron high school) until after we were married.

Anyway, in his class, we had a Current Events Day each week; we had reports to do on geography and history. And one of the places I remember talking about a bit was a place called Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio.

For some reason, this came up the other day in a conversation with Joyce. She'd never heard of the place, so out came the iPhone, and here came Google.

Some background. I had never seen the Blue Hole--could not (quickly) find Castalia on an Ohio map (got a C on the quiz, probably). So ... here's a map image for you ... about seven miles southwest of Sandusky.

I found on Google some images of the place on some old picture postcards.



I had this vague memory of learning in Mr. Wolfe's class that it was presumed bottomless, but I see on some of the sites I visited that it is far from so--about 43-45 ft. says the Wikipedia article (I know, I know). But it was bright, deep blue--and very clear. And oxygen-free (no fish or monsters swim and/or lurk below.) And a constant temperature, year-round, from 45-48F. And so ... an attraction. For years.

But not no more.

It closed its gates to the public in 1990 and is owned by a private trout club--Blue Hole has no trout itself, of course, but it's on land with waterways that do. One source says there's a sign now that says: Private property--keep out.

Let's resist the temptation to talk about the current urge among some to privatize public lands and parks, shall we?

So ... what have  I learned.
  • I should have gone to see it before 1990.
  • I can't see it now.
  • I know where Castalia is. (Population 852 in 2010.)
  • Castalia was a nymph, who, chased by Apollo (hmmm ... wonder why?), leapt into the spring on Mount Parnassus near Delphi. She became part of the waters--some say because Apollo transformed her on the spot. (Source: The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature)



Two more memories of Mr. Wolfe.
  1. While I was in his class, we learned that the Hiram Schools would have a new Executive Head (i.e., superintendent). Won't tell you his name (you'll see why). Several of my classmates and I clipped from the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier the story, with picture, about the appointment. I asked Mr. Wolfe if I could put it on his bulletin board (where resided the Current Events stories he liked that week). He promptly snapped: I don't want that Fish-Face on my wall!
  2. A year later, in ninth grade, I had Mr. Wolfe for a study hall teacher one period. He liked to slip out and have a smoke now and then. One day while he was out, I was getting ready to snap--with a very long rubber band--the back of my older brother, who sat in front of me, studying (no gentleman's C's for him!). Mr. Wolfe came in at that moment. The hush in the room was my warning. He signaled for me to join him in the hall, where he gave me two whacks with his wooden paddle. Both hurt. And it was very loud. I somehow managed not to cry when I returned to study hall. And, of course, my brother told my parents ... more trouble.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

1800


It seems purely impossible to me: This is DawnReader post #1800. Eighteen hundred. One thousand eight hundred. How can this have happened? It seems just the other day that I decided to start this blog, and (stealing its name from the title of the first chapter of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield) wrote the first post, "I Am Born." (Link to that post on January 6, 2012.)

In that initial post, I talk about why I picked "DawnReader," my reading habits, my teaching career, my family. And I ended that post with this: Be patient: I'm starting slowly here, trying to figure out what to put on this site.  What to say.  I hope I'll be what I've always been: informed, annoying, entertaining, annoying, and annoying.

I'm sure I've accomplished three of these things (all starting with the letter a). And I'm still trying to figure out what to put on this site.

Anyway, it's been my custom when I arrive at each new "hundred" to take a look and see how many people have been visiting the site. So, I'm going to look right now ... [PAUSE]

... 320,075. That works out to about 178 hits/day--though I'm very aware (as a closer look at the stats confirms) that the numbers go up, sometimes dramatically so, when I write about political issues--which I don't really do all that often.

But as I've said before, I'm not really concerned about the number of hits; I do it for myself--to get it down while I still can. (The same reason, sort of, that I still exercise regularly--keep doing it until I can't.)

As my posting has evolved over the years (five!), I've come to use M-W-F to post installments of the latest publication I'm working on. Rough drafts. (And I do emphasize the word rough!) Currently, it's a long, rambling memoir about my ten-year pursuit of Mary Shelley, a volume I've titled Frankenstein Sundae in honor of a great sundae I had at Castle Frankenstein (Burg Frankenstein) in Germany, overlooking the Rhine (in the far distance) in 1999. And, of course, the pursuit itself has been like a sundae for me.

On Sunday (!), I do "Sunday Sundries," a sort of potpourri of brief entries about what I'm reading, seeing at the movies and on TV, what Joyce and I have been doing, and, of course, a regular feature--The AOTW, a weekly award to the person(s) earning by behavior the part of the AOTW.

That leaves T-Th-Sat, when I've been posting pieces on all sorts of things--family history, education issues, politics (not all that much), oddities that I've noticed (or have occurred), dreams, my cancer battles, whatever. Sundries, really.

I have to say that I'm still enjoying this--otherwise, of course, I would stop. Most days I look forward to it, and I have not missed all that many days--travel, illness, and depression are the principal reasons for not doing my homework. (I have no dog to eat it, no dog, in other words, to blame.)

I sometimes smile when I think what would have happened (and how I would have felt) if someone had assigned me the writing of 1800 blog posts. Ha! Ha! No way!

Way.

Because here we are, and tomorrow I'll start off toward 1900 and hope that my health and my energy (and whatever) will allow me to get there. I mean, I gotta make 2000, don't I?


**In Coincidence Land--This week, Joyce posted our 1800th book for sale on the site (ABE), where we're selling books from our personal library--now called DJ Dooldebug Books. Check them out here: LINK TO SITE.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday Sundries

No, I'm not starting another "series"; there are just a few little things that have come up that I wanted to write about--but not an entire post about any of them. So ... here goes ...

  • Frederick Douglass has been in the news recently (link to video of Pres. Trump talking about him). I have no political comment to make here--but just a very odd coincidence to record. In yesterday's Akron Beacon-Journal was a story by local historian Mark Price (no, not the Cavs' star of yesteryear) about a commencement speech Douglass made at Western Reserve College here in Hudson--July 12, 1854. (The college campus is now Western Reserve Academy, where I taught for about a decade; the university moved to University Circle and is now Case-Western.)  Joyce and I have known about the speech for a long time--have read it and referred to it now and then. Anyway, here's a link to Price's fine story.
    • Now ... here's the coincidence ... I've been reading The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation (by Randall Fuller, 2017). I read
      about 10 pp a night, and last night, I opened to the bookmark on p. 91 and began reading:
      • On a sweltering day in July 1854, Douglass gave a commencement address at Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio. This in itself was remarkable: black people in antebellum America were not invited to speak to graduating white students. ...
    • Fuller goes on for a couple of pages more to talk about Douglass, about Darwin and the difficulty he presented for white people (i.e., white racists), etc.
    • So ... on the same day that the Beacon-Journal has a feature about Douglass in Hudson, I read, at night, about that same event ... what are the chances?
  • I've been reading Paul Auster's LONG (and amazing) new novel, 4 3 2 1 (about which I'll blog more when I've finished). One of the characters loves baseball and, living in the NYC area in the late 40s and early 1950s, talks about the time when there were three Major League teams there--Yankees,
    Giants, Dodgers. And I got to wondering: Why are they called the Dodgers? I was thinking of the Artful Dodger in Dickens' Oliver Twist. The Brooklyn Conmen? Hustlers? That didn't make sense. I checked the dictionary: no help. So ... I headed to the ever-reliable Internet, where I found on the ever-reliable Wikipedia the information that the team--many years ago (1895)--had the nickname "Trolley Dodgers." Getting to the games, it seems, presented some danger for some people because of the trolleys in the area. Newspapers referred to them as the Trolley Dodgers, so, later, they dropped the "Trolley" and changed from "Brooklyn Grays" to "Dodgers." And so it goes in Nickname Land!
  • I never owned a motorcycle, have ridden on one only a couple of times. And last night ... I dreamed about one. I was riding it (very professionally, I might add, except for a moment when I misjudged the braking power at a stoplight and had to slide in front of a car I otherwise would have hit. That car looked like a late 40s Chevy, and the driver looked an awful lot like my dad). I didn't recognize the town I was in--but I seemed to be on a mission to find Joyce, who was in a RR freight car somewhere with a bunch of kittens--or it could have been puppies. I didn't find her before I woke up--though, after I did wake up, I found her there, right in bed where she belongs. (No sign of kittens--or puppies. Or a RR car.) I have one other bizarre memory about it: Some young woman tried to hop on the back when I slowed for some crossing pedestrians. I shoved her off ... kindly, kindly, kindly.
  • Finally--a complaint I've written about before--and which I noticed yesterday, again, on multiple occasions: the failure of drivers to use turn signals, to turn on their headlights in the gloaming. What on earth ...!?!?!?!?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 285


Lodore remains in print (as do Mary’s other books—though some are print-on-demand), and my copy, which I bought and read very early in my research (May 1997, only about six months after I retired from public-school teaching and began spending most of my time reading about Mary and her circle). Edited by Lisa Vargo (and published by Broadview, 1997), the volume features a photograph from ca. 1855 (an unknown photographer) showing a formally dressed man (complete with an Abe-Lincoln top hat) sitting on Table Rock, which has, due to various collapses, considerably diminished from its once expansive dimensions. In 1850, a huge chunk fell. At the time a man and his carriage were on it; he escaped; the carriage didn’t.


Lodore has a scene at Niagara Falls—and we’ll get to that in a bit—and to the various ways that Niagara Falls figured in the lives of some people she knew well, especially Edward John Trelawny, the bold braggadocio who had helped with the cremation of her husband in 1822 and whose life and writing intertwined with Mary’s until her death in 1851—and even beyond.
Lodore—as was the custom at the time—appeared in three volumes. There was a reason for these many multi-volume publications. The private lending libraries—popular and pervasive at the time—could satisfy more customers by checking out the volumes in sequence so that one reader, say, didn’t hog the entire book for weeks on end.
Volume I begins, writes Mary, in the flattest and least agreeable part of the county of Essex, about five miles from the sea ….[1] A small village. A mansion, rarely inhabited by the Fitzhenry family. Henry Fitzhenry—also called Lord Lodore—married a beautiful and mysterious woman—An angel bright with celestial hues, breathing heaven, and spreading a halo of calm and light around ….[2]
Mary, Mary … a bit excessive, eh? Florid?
Anyway, Lord Lodore’s young wife—who seems to have stepped from the pages of a contemporary romance novel—has died. And Lodore disappears, leaving only his sister, Elizabeth, behind in the house. Years have passed, and he is now fifty years old.
Mary, I’m sure, used the number fifty as a way to communicate agebeing old—but I, seventy-two as I write these words, can think only of the youth of fifty years!



[1] Ibid. 49.
[2] Ibid., 52.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 130


1. AOTW: I had a couple of candidates this week, but the Clear Winner emerged just yesterday. I was at the gas station on the corner of busy Rt. 91 and Norton Road. There's a stoplight. But the AOTW seemed to believe that stoplights are for wusses, so while I was getting gas, he, heading west on Norton Rd., decided he didn't want to wait for the light and zoomed through the gas-station lot, instead, about 40 mph, taking the hypotenuse over to Rt. 91. I'm glad I was looking at him: He missed me by only feet--and when I say "me" I mean me, not my car!

2. As some of you know, I recently did a series of three posts about an odd portion of a bookshelf in my study ("Self on a Shelf"). I just noticed, though, that I failed to mention one of the items (see pic below).



Dead center, in the foreground, is a yellow pin. The large print on it says POE MUSEUM. (Inside the O is a raven ... wonder why?) And on top it says Richmond; below, Virginia. I got that button when Joyce and I visited that museum on Friday, June 11, 2004--one of our summer trips to see a bunch of literary sites--and there are a lot of Poe-related ones in Richmond. The Allans adopted him there after his mother died (Dad was long gone somewhere ... no one's sure), and he grew up in the city. Anyway, the museum was great, and I got that pin--as well as about 500 other things.

3. I finished just one book this week--reading too many long ones right now! Richard Ford's 2012 novel, Canada, revisits the terrain he used in his earlier works--the West. Montana, in particular. It's narrated fifty years after the events when the narrator was fifteen years old and living in Great Falls with his parents. Things are not going well financially, and Dad decides, Hey, let's rob a bank! (The son is unaware of these preparations between Dad and reluctant Mom.) So ... off his folks go to pull the job in North Dakota--and, of course, they're quickly caught and head off to prison.

And our narrator, Dell, goes to Canada (see title!) to live with some acquaintances, principal among them a guy named Arthur Remlinger, who runs a hotel in a small town. Dell works there at the hotel (and does some other jobs--e.g., helping geese hunters)--but doesn't go to school. Then ... he discovers a dark secret in Remlinger's life ... and the plot roars to its conclusion.

Ford is so damn good--and I'm sad that I'm nearing the end of my journey through his complete works. He has somehow found the key to the human heart--to all of our hearts--and roams about in them making discoveries and observations that are deeply emotional, often shattering, always true. And there is a flow to his prose, his plots. Things just seem to move along "normally"--until, of course, they don't.

4. Good News/Bad News

  • GOOD: This morning, in Heinen's (local grocery store), I ran into a former student whom I'd taught in seventh grade, 1967-68. I've seen him, oh, a half-dozen times since. Today he approached me, and I called him by name! (What a memory!) I even remembered the names of his brother and sister.
  • BAD: This morning, shaving before we headed out, I stopped before the first stroke and tried to remember: Do I start with a down- or an up-stroke? I've been shaving the exact same way since the early 1960s, and today I could not remember what that way was! I tried a down-stroke (I always begin on the left side of my neck, by the way--that I remembered) but knew immediately that that was wrong. Now ... will I remember how to do it the next time? (I'm bearded and shave only my neck and my upper cheeks, in case your curious--twice a week: Thursday, Sunday. Habit, habit, habit-- / A most predictable rabbit.)
5. We saw the wonderful film Moonlight on Thursday night--we realized it was going to be in Kent only a week, so off we went on a weeknight. Not crowded, by the way. Joyce and I both loved it--a three-part story about a young African American; we see him in boyhood, youth, young manhood. And his dawning awareness that he's gay. It's a love story in many ways--learning to love yourself as you realize you love another. And it's a fairly stark look at the "streets"--at the drug culture, about how even good people can be drawn into it.

The performances--by all--were stellar. We've seen two films with just astonishing performances by young boys--Lion and now this. Amazing. (Link to film trailer.)

Joyce and I were talking about how absurd a "Best Picture" Oscar is. Those nominated this year are so different from one another--have different aims, accomplish different things. Calling one "best" is a bit much, I think.



6. Streaming the most recent season of Portlandia. Don't think I've ever seen a series more odd--and more fun to watch. (One episode, with Louis C.K., is a dazzler.)


7. Last Words--Some words I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from Oxford English Dictionary
brumation, n. A state or condition of semi-dormancy exhibited by reptiles and amphibians in response to cold weather, characterized by lethargy and a decrease in metabolic activity. Cf. aestivation n. 3.
Brumation differs from hibernation in the degree of dormancy and the metabolic processes involved.

Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymon: -ation suffix.
Etymology: < classical Latin brūma winter (see brumal adj.) + -ation suffix 

1965   W. W. Mayhew in Compar. Biochem. & Physiol. 16 103   The term brumation is proposed to indicate winter dormancy in ectothermic vertebrates that demonstrate physiological changes which are independent of body temperature.
1976   Amer. Zoologist 16 731/1   A typical female [of the salamander Desmognathus ochropheus] emerged from brumation in April with reduced lipid reserves and enlarged ova.
1996   D. Wagner Boas 44/2   Brumation is more common in animals living in areas where winter temperatures do not remain below freezing.

2015   Hays (Kansas) Daily News 5 Apr. b4/5   With warmer weather, more snakes are coming out of brumation.

     - from dictionary.com
whiffler \HWIF-ler, WIF-\ noun
1. a person who frequently shifts opinions, attitudes, interests, etc.
2. a person who is vacillating or evasive in an argument.
Quotes
Ay, ay; he's a whiffler, but a good man on a sea-elephant.
-- James Fenimore Cooper, The Sea Lions; or, The Lost Sealers, 1849 
Origin of whiffler
Whiffler has a sense that is now sadly obsolete, “one who smokes tobacco,” dating from the early 17th century. Its current sense dates from the mid-17th century.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Under the Influence

This morning I got a Facebook comment/question from Bob (he was "Bobby" then), a student from years ago ... okay, decades ago. And here it is ...

I've always pondered ... who was your most influential colleague?

Well, that's a good question (as I replied to him) because I had all kinds of colleagues in my 45-year career. In my earliest days at the Aurora Middle School (1966-74, the year we moved to a new building, Harmon School) there were a number of veteran teachers (hah! they were about 30-40 years younger than I am now!) from whom I learned different things.
  • Jim Wright (math), Wiletta Thomas (reading), Eileen Kutinsky--all showed me that you can have fun while you're doing your job, an insight I was not really prepared for.
My younger colleagues were important too.
  • Judy Thornton (who shared the 7th graders with me for English and Amer history), Gale Peck (math), Marty Klipec (science)--all showed me different ways of coping with the difficulties of being a first-year teacher: all the new preparations, finding time for grading, etc., dealing with misbehavior, etc. And they were my first friends in the profession. So important.
Later, some other wonderful teachers joined our faculty (and I'm going to insult some by forgetting--but give a 72-yr-old some sympathy!).
  • Andy Kmetz (art), Ted Clawson (instrumental music), the Brookharts (ditto), history-teaching wizards Luckay and Balbach, English-teaching colleagues Fayth Shirkey, Jerry Hayes, Tim DeFrange, Penny Wolfe. Again, from each of them I learned different things. From Fayth, for example, I learned that there is no necessary correlation between being demanding and being liked. There were kids who adored her--despite her insistence on standards, on behavior, on working
And I was blessed, throughout my Aurora years, to have excellent building principals, men who supported me (when I deserved it) and made me feel that this was something I could do. Ray Clough (first year), Lino DeAnna (second year), Mike Lenzo (many years), Jerry Brodsky (final years)--I never had the experience of, you know, Battling with a Boss--or hating one of them. Hard to imagine: thirty years of working with men whom I respected--and who respected me. Not many people--anywhere--have that kind of good fortune.

When I retired from public-school teaching and worked at Western Reserve Academy about a dozen years, I had some other magnificent models to learn from.
  • Tom Davis (the English department chair who hired me and became a dear friend; he had a ball in class--loved reading brand-new books with the kids, both teaching and learning at the same time); James "Mac" McClelland (who also had so much fun with the kids in class), Eric Gustavson (a scholar in every way), Bob Pryce (French) was a great intellectual example for me. William Appling (vocal music--perhaps the most talented man I've ever known; our son, later, adored him), John Haile (valued colleague and deeply supportive administrator), Diccon and Donalee Ong (he had been a student--then a gifted colleague; she is one of the best play directors I've ever seen). Midge Karam (vocal music--and still on the faculty) is a wonder, too: She does so much for her students, in and out of class. She has often left me dazzled by what she's able to accomplish.
  • There were some younger ones, too, at WRA--three young men (Nick Lewis, Kevin O'Brien, Jason Gough)--all have moved on elsewhere). They were bright, dedicated, determined, effective. Jeannie Kidera (who's also moved on) was the creative writing teacher who had a devoted and grateful Band of Followers. And my final year at WRA (2010-11) there was an intern with us, Walter Klyce, who, all-around, is unbelievably talented (music, theater, literature--whatever the hell he wanted to do he could do). After a couple of years at WRA he left ... and got his M.D. at Brown Univ.
Oh, there are so many others, Bob--and I'm embarrassed (in advance) for (a) not remembering them, (b) not including them.

But--now that I've evaded your question about the most influential, well, that one's actually easy.

It's Joyce Dyer, whom I met and married in 1969. We met in a summer-school graduate English course at Kent State, and I'd never known anyone remotely like her--someone who was so similar to me in some ways, so delightfully different in others.

But, oh, what a teacher she has been (she retired a couple of years ago from Hiram College). We taught together for a couple of years at WRA and one at Lake Forest College. I've never known anyone who worked so hard for her students, who was so absolutely devoted to them and to her subject. She reads all the time, has written many articles and books, has taught me so much about writing and literature and, well, about just being a person. Watching her work and play with our son was an education in itself. The best mother I've ever seen.

And so, Bob, I was blessed: I've gotten to live in the same house with my greatest influence--for more than 47 years now.

Short question, long answer--that's what you get with an Old Guy!