Dawn Reader

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 298


• She told, in her entry on Boccaccio, a story about his passion for a married woman. And then this: That the lovers suffered great misery, may serve as a warning as well as an example, of how such attachments, from their very nature, from the separations, suspicions, and violations of delicacy and ruth entailed upon them, must, under the most favourable auspices, be fruitful of solitude and wretchedness.[1] I wonder how Mary’s father reacted when he read this—from the daughter who had run away with a married man in 1814. Well, I guess we can say, at best, that from experience she had learned a few things. Solitude and wretchedness did follow—though not immediately—after her elopement, and she writes about it continually in her journal and letters.
• In her entry about Giambattista Marino (1569–1625), a Neapolitan poet, she relates a tale about his estrangement from his father, who had not been exactly thrilled about his son’s choice of profession: His father, angry at his resistance to his wishes, was doubly indignant when he gave open testimony of his new career, and actually published a volume of poetry; he turned him from his house, and refused to supply him with the necessaries of life.[2] Mary could not have written a word of that without thinking about her late husband, whose father, Sir Timothy Shelley, behaved in exactly the same manner as Marino’s.
• Occasionally in these entries Mary would wax philosophical about art, about writing, about literature, about life itself. In her entry on Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803), an Italian poet and playwright, Mary paused to say this: Ignorance narrows the intellect, and takes the living colours from the imagination.[3] Is it too obvious to note how this resonates so jarringly in our own time?


[1] Ibid., 122.
[2] Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain, Portugal, vol. 2 (London: Longman Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman; John Taylor, 1835), 174.
[3] Ibid., 261–62.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Comma In, Comma Out ...



Commas take a while. Learning how to use them, that is. And there are lots of rules that have evolved over the years. In my old Warriner's: English Grammar and Composition: Complete Course (a book we English teachers used to employ at Western Reserve Academy) "The Comma" consumes some fifteen pages of text, nineteen items in the index, eight rules (some with many subsections).



Of course, we need to remember that we made up both the comma itself and its numerous rules. Commas and comma usage did not come down the mountain with Moses--possibly because God figured it would be a waste of time. People are just going to, you know, scatter them around like seeds at planting time.

Teaching in a middle school, I used to see them all over the place in kids' sentences--proof that God, as usual, was right. I taught rules relentlessly, and some kids got it; others didn't. So it went.

Anyway, I'm not really writing about comma rules today (Whew! sigh those who have bothered to read this much) but about a famous comment about commas, a comment I've often wondered about--and now have the "truth." Maybe.

Throughout my reading life I have occasionally come across this anecdote: Someone asked a writer how he'd spent his day. "Well, he said, "I spent all morning deciding to insert a comma--and all afternoon deciding to take it out."

I've seen this attributed to several writers--but one I can specifically remember is poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), a poet whose work I love, by the way. An early Robinson biographer credited the quotation to EAR.

Today, I was reading someone who attributed it to Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), another writer whose work I love.

So ... who said it? Robinson? Wilde? Flaubert (another favorite)? Someone else? Mr. (or Ms.) Apocrypha?

Off I went to Google, where I quickly found the answer on quoteinvestigator.com. (Here's a link to the entire entry.)

Here's what I learned: The earliest reference discovered is from an 1884 NY newspaper, the Daily Graphic, and here's the quotation:

Oscar Wilde, among his various stories told here of which he was always the aesthetic hero, related that once while on a visit to an English country house he was much annoyed by the pronounced Philistinism of a certain fellow guest, who loudly stated that all artistic employment was a melancholy waste of time.

“Well, Mr. Wilde,” said Oscar’s bugbear one day at lunch, “and pray how have you been passing your morning?” “Oh! I have been immensely busy,” said Oscar with great gravity. “I have spent my whole time over the proof sheets of my book of poems.” The Philistine with a growl inquired the result of that.


“Well, it was very important,” said Oscar. “I took out a comma.” “Indeed,” returned the enemy of literature, “is that all you did?” Oscar, with a sweet smile, said, “By no means; on mature reflection I put back the comma.” This was too much for the Philistine, who took the next train to London.


So ... unless an earlier discovery obliterates this one, let's let Oscar have it--because, you know, after all we did to him ...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 297


I was wrong. Once again.
As I began reading through all the Lives, I very quickly began to notice something: In the lives of her subjects Mary was, from time to time, highlighting experiences that in one fashion or another paralleled her own. Someone once wrote that biography is as much about the biographer as the subject. I’ve read lots of biographies, and I believe I agree with that old bromide—or keen insight, depending on your attitude and experience!
How about a few examples …?
• Of Petrarch, she writes: He believed that travelling was the best school for learning.[1] Well, this is certainly a belief that Mary shared with Petrarch (1304–1374), the Italian poet who popularized what has become known as the “Petrarchan sonnet”—a fourteen-line poem, iambic pentameter, usually with the following rhyme scheme: abbaabba cdecde.
Travel had long been important for Mary—as we’ve seen throughout this account. She loved her mother’s book about her travels in Scandanavia, and, of course, her 1814 elopement with Bysshe Shelley took her through France and Switzerland. The summer of 1816—the famous Frankenstein Summer—took her and Bysshe again to Switzerland (where she would later set some key scenes in Frankenstein). Later—following her marriage on December 30, 1816—she and Bysshe, in March 1818, traveled to Italy, moving up and down the boot like a shine cloth before his drowning in the summer of 1822 ended Mary’s European sojourn.
But just for a while. As we will see in the ensuing pages, in the 1840s she took another extensive and extended trip to Europe—and wrote a book about it. So … travel to Mary was a trigger for her imagination. As it has been for countless writers throughout literary history. (But there are writers, as we know—great ones, like Emily Dickinson—for whom travel was an unnecessary trigger.)




[1] Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain, Portugal, vol. 2 (London: Longman Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman; John Taylor, 1835), 73.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Miss Anthropy



I've always thought "Miss Anthropy" would be a good name for a character in a book or play (and, in fact, it probably is ... let me Google).

PAUSE WHILE I GOOGLE

Well, I didn't find anything on first page of results that came up--except this: Some folks have adopted the name for various projects and online identities. Not a bad choice.

I've been thinking about this today (and, okay, for many previous days, as well) because I find, as I age, I'm getting more and more and more misanthropic. People annoy me. And, okay, piss me off--a lot more so than they used to when I was Mellow Young Man.

This reminds me of an old, old joke--one that my father used to tell from the pulpit back in Oklahoma in the 1940s and 50s. (I liked jokes in sermons--they were, I thought back then, the best part). Anyway, here's Dad's joke

Some men were installing a new sidewalk--and talking while they did so. One man--let's call him "Dan"--talked about how much he liked kids. They finished the sidewalk, then went off for lunch. When they came back, they found small human footprints in their work. A careless child has been by. Dan barked: "Darn kids!" Other guy: "I thought you said you liked kids." Dan: "I like them in the abstract, not in the concrete!"

That's the way I've been feeling in recent days--no, decades? I like people. Always have. Just not, you know, actual people.

I find myself annoyed whenever I'm out in public--on the road, at the grocery store, at the health club (it's gotten so bad out there that I am dropping my long-time membership), at the coffee shop(s). I see and hear so much ... superficiality, such narcissism (like, you know, having a blog or something), so much selfishness, greed, bias, racism, ignorance, materialism, etc. It's all I can do at times to keep from swinging away.

The principal reason I don't "swing away," of course, is that in mere seconds afterwards, I would be on the ground in an ever-darkening pool of blood. And I would soon be cuffed and escorted away.

Facebook annoys the hell out of me at times--so much so that I now and then, in high dudgeon and surpassing superiority, sign off--forever, or a couple of days, whichever comes first.

Like other people, of course, I am far better at identifying the motes in others' eyes than in noticing the giant redwood beam in my own. (Thank you, Bible; thank you, Sermon on the Mount).

But still ... I find I go out less and less. I "socialize" very rarely--and almost always reluctantly. I know I should be a better person ... more ... relaxed and accepting and whatever.

But I just can't.

I've morphed into Miss Anthropy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 296


In the months following the publication of her penultimate novel, Lodore, in 1835, Mary had some health problems—and spent some time visiting friends. Encouraged by the sales of Lodore, her publisher, Charles Ollier, urged her to write another novel, and in early November, in a letter to a long-time family friend, Maria Gisborne, she wrote (after praising Maria for her long relationship with her husband, John), as I grow older I look upon fidelity as the first of human virtues—& am going to write a novel to display my opinion.[i]
But Mary was also engaged in a very time-consuming project at the time—a project to bring in some much needed money (Sir Timothy Shelley, Bysshe’s father, was still a bit of a Scrooge). In 1833, two years before the appearance of Lodore, she agreed to write a series of brief biographies for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopedia. It was a massive undertaking, and before it was over, she had published (in two volumes) Lives of the Most Eminent literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain and Portugal (1835–37) and (in three volumes) Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Man of Italy, Spain and Portugal (1838–39).
Needless to say, these volumes are not easy to find—at least not in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was trying to read everything Mary had written. Now—I just this moment looked (March 27, 2017)—they are available online.[ii] Of course.
But back in early 2000, I had to use interlibrary loan, acquiring the volumes from the Ohio State Library, and in January that year I read them. I’ll confess I’d been dreading the prospect. They were the last of Mary’s works that I read—and the thought of volumes of encyclopedia entries about people I’d (mostly) never heard of was, well, deadly.



[i] Letters, vol. 2, 260.
[ii] https://archive.org/details/livesofmostemine02sheliala

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 136


1. AOTW: Okay, this is a close call for the award ... but perhaps my judgment is fading? Last night, arriving at the movies, we realized another film was letting out. People were exiting, entering--a little bit of confusion. As we approached the entrance, a man held the door for us (as he'd held it for a few others); I thought he was waiting to go in, so I stopped to let him go in. But he barked at me (barked!): "Hold it yourself--I'm not the doorman," and he strode away in a huff toward the parking lot. So ... he was leaving, not coming in; I'd misinterpreted; he'd freaked. AOTW.

2. Last night we saw at the Chagrin Cinema (see above!) a very fine film, The Sense of an Ending, based on a 2011 novel, eponymous, by Julian Barnes. (I like Barnes' work--have not read all of it--ordered this one as soon as we got home.)

It's the story of an older man, played by the sterling Jim Broadbent, who is drawn back into thinking about a relationship he'd had in college. He and the girl (her older version is the wonderful Charlotte Rampling) break up because she now prefers his best friend (!). Anyway, at first he recalls writing a kind note to them--and then, later, remembers something more cruel he'd done.

Coming to terms with your own cruelties--your own failures--your own, well, humanity--is what this film is about. The past can bite--and hard--and you can still bleed, decades later.

Wonderful directing and editing, too. Loved the scene where he, as an older man, wanders through a setting and circumstance we'd seen earlier in a flashback; now, we repeat it, but he is older while everyone else is the same as before. A dazzler. (Link to film trailer.)

I wasn't crazy about everything in the film (too many ... resolutions), but ... so much better that most films these days.


3. I finished three books this week--two of them from my read-a-little-every-night pile. A coincidence.

     a. Jay Winik's 1944 (2015) is a fat history of, well, 1944, the year of my birth (which, of course, is why I bought and read it). The book (duh!) is principally about World War II--but with a sharp focus on FDR, on his leadership, his successes, his failures (most egregiously--his slow, slow reaction to the ever-darker news about the Holocaust). We get a good look at his closest advisers, at his struggles with his health (he died, recall, before the war ended), at his interactions with Churchill and Stalin. We also get a sharp portrait of Hitler and his "team." But the Holocaust dominates the tale ... the horrors were unspeakable, and even though I've read a lot about the Holocaust, I was, again, dumbfounded by what the Germans (and their many, sometimes eager, collaborators) did--and about what the West did not do until millions had already died.

     b. The 2nd book I finished (like 1944, one I read over a period of months) was Wilkie Collins' 1861 novel The Dead Secret, the tale of a servant, who, early in the novel, promises not to reveal a secret of her dying mistress, a secret only these two women know; she swears. And then ... the rest of the novel is about the revelation of that secret--and its consequences on those who remain alive. I could tell that  this had been a serialized novel--for there is some "padding" Collins included to "fill out" his quota, I'm guessing. But it also has passages like this one: "Time may claim many victories, but not the victory over grief. The great consolation for the loss of the dead who are gone is to be found in the great necessity of thinking of the living who remain" (Oxford World's Classics edition, 351). The Dead Secret features a crumbling house, a strange relative, a bitter relative, a blind man (!), a devoted wife, and lots more!



As I've written here before, I'm slowly working my way through all of Collins' novels, and tonight I'll start No Name (1862)!

     c. The third book I finished is Faulkner's Flags in the Dust, which is an expanded version of his 1929 novel, Sartoris. He could not find a publisher for the full-length Flags, so he acquiesced and published the shorter version he called Sartoris, and it wasn't until 1973 that the full-meal-deal novel appeared--1973, eleven years after the author's death. The Library of America editions of his novels (we own them all) is what I read, so I got the full-meal-deal experience.

And loved it.

It's the story of the decline of a Southern aristocratic family--the Sartorises. One son lost in WW I, the remaining one with a death wish. But we also meet some characters who will come to dominate some of Faulkner's subsequent fiction--the Snopeses. Creepy from the git-go. And we get yet another instance of a creepy guy stalking a not-creepy young woman with some bizarre encounters (he likes to get on the garage roof at night and spy on her in her room!).

Some uncomfortable things about race in the South--no surprise, of course, but still ...

the Library of America
edition I read
4. A final word--from one of my online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from dictionary.com

orogeny noun [aw-ROJ-uh-nee, oh-ROJ-]
1. Geology. the process of mountain making or upheaval. Also called orogenesis.
QUOTES
Ogden Tweto, the foremost expert on the Laramide orogeny believes the New Rockies began to emerge 72,000,000 years ago, with the process terminating about 43,000,000 years ago.
-- James A. Michener, Centennial, 1974
ORIGIN

The -geny of orogeny is easy to recognize and common, meaning “production, formation,” related to genesis, another Greek noun. The oro- part is not as common or its meaning so obvious. It comes from the Greek noun óros (stem ore-) “mountain, hill,” from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root er-, or-, r- (with other variants) "to move, rise, excite." This root is the source of English are (of the verb to be), and the Latin verb orīrī “to arise, be born,” which has the present participle stem orient- “rising, rising sun, east.” Orogeny entered English in the 19th century.

Hmmm ... is there a word mole-hill-orogeny?


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Going Haywire ...



I've really got to stop saying things out loud. Too many questions ensue.

Yesterday, for example, talking with Joyce, I used the term haywire. I stopped. Wondered. Said aloud, "I wonder where that comes from?!?"

Now I know. And now--if you're doughty enough to read on--you will know, also.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term (which, of course, refers to the wire used to bale hay) came to mean fouled up, etc. because of this: so called from the frequent use of baling wire to make makeshift repairs.  So, yeah, something's messed up--let's get some haywire. Not hard to see that evolution/connection.

Let's see what the OED says--dated back to 1905:

1. Poorly equipped, roughly contrived, inefficient, esp. hay-wire outfit (from the practice of using hay-wire for makeshift repairs). orig. U.S.

1905   Terms Forestry & Logging (Bull. U.S. Dept. Agric., Bureau Forestry, No. 61) 39   Hay wire outfit, a contemptuous term for loggers with poor logging equipment.
1931   ‘D. Stiff’ Milk & Honey Route 207   A haywire outfit is something that is all tied and patched together.
1934   Notes & Queries 166 13/1,   I first heard ‘hay~wire’ in the summer of 1929, when I was living in northern New York State. There is also the expression ‘haywire outfit’, a job on which poor living accommodations are provided for the workers. Also an inefficient factory or shop.
1959   Listener 26 Feb. 388/2   A haywire, unpredictable, one-man business.

1968   R. M. Patterson Finlay's River 145   The..irritating, because man-made, chaos attendant on the intrusion of a haywire railroad into the ordered life of the frontier now lay behind them.

But when applied to a person ... the OED has some examples of great interest to me.

a. Of a person, circumstances, etc.: in an emotional state, tangled, involved, confused, crazy. colloq. (orig. U.S.).

1934   J. O'Hara Appointment in Samarra vii. 226   A married man..and absolutely haywire on the subject of another woman.
1939   W. Faulkner Wild Palms 223   Now you can eat something. Or do you think that will send you haywire again?
1942   D. Powell Time to be Born (1943) xiv. 330   Everything seems so haywire, lately.
1955   ‘E. C. R. Lorac’ Ask Policeman viii. 89   The time element's all haywire.

The first three examples are from writers I know a bit about! Appointment in Samarra was the first novel by John O'Hara; I've been reading the lesser-known Faulkner novels in recent weeks; and Dawn Powell, whose girlhood home in Mt. Gilead, OH, Joyce and I visited a couple of years ago--and whose novels I'm heading into after Faulkner's, novels available through the Library of America, novels edited by a FB friend Tim Page!

One more: I checked the authoritative Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang--and found that it confirms all of the above--but lists many other sources, including Sinclair Lewis and Raymond Chandler.

Finally, searching for an image to perch atop this page, I was reminded that Haywire is also the title of a film (2011) directed by Steven Soederbergh. (Link to trailer for the film.)

Enough ... all of this is driving me haywire!



Friday, March 24, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 295


Back in England, it’s not long before Lodore gets into an argument with an American, a Mr. Hatfield, who's saying unpleasant things about Englishmen. A duel ensues. The men fire pistols at each other, and Lodore takes a bullet in the heart and dies instantly.  Ethel grieves horribly for the loss of her beloved father. She goes to live with Elizabeth, her aunt. There, she meets and begin to socialize with a young man named Villiers—the young man who had served as Lodore’s second in his fatal duel.

One night at the opera, Ethel and Villiers accidentally run into Lady Lodore, Ethel’s mother, who does not recognize them. Next day, Villiers calls on her, and then we learn about Villiers’ history—and about what Lady Lodore has been doing all these years that Lodore and Ethel were in America.
The relationship between Ethel and Villiers fluctuates, but eventually they marry and travel to Naples, Italy; when they arrive, Mt. Vesuvius greets them with a blood-red flash.[i]

They travel to Rome before heading back to England, where they begin to experience financial difficulties: Villiers’ father has been spending all the money the family has.  Villiers cannot pay even the lowest of his debts, and he and Ethel must hide from the bill-collectors (just as Shelley and Mary had once had to do).

Lady Lodore learns of Ethel’s financial problems and wants to help.  he decides to visit her daughter, with whom she has not spoken for many years. Edith is thrilled to see her—but she will not leave her struggling husband to live with Lady Lodore. But Lady Lodore has made a decision: She was resolved to sacrifice every thing to her daughter—to liberate Villiers, and to establish her in ease and comfort.[i] She decides to surrender all her fortune to Villiers (anonymously) and then move to Wales and live in poverty. She makes the arrangements, and Villiers and Ethel move into the fine Lodore house while Lady Lodore disappears into the Welsh countryside.

But Elizabeth (Lord Lodore’s sister) finds Lady Lodore, who is sick.  Ethel, who has learned that her mother has surrendered everything to her, finds her, and they reconcile.  ary ends the novel by observing that human beings need two things in life: a love of truth in ourselves, and a sincere sympathy with our fellow-creatures.[i]
 


[i] Ed. Lisa Vargo, (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Literary Texts, 1997), 257. 
[i] Ibid., 367. 
[i] Ibid., 448.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dripping Along



I remember thinking it was funny to hear "older" people (i.e., in their forties or so) using the slang of MY generation! When words like groovy and man (that pervasive noun of address at one point) and hip, etc. came from the lips of my elders, I remember thinking it was, well, pathetic.

And, of course, I used to smirk (in all my adolescent sophistication) at the outdated slang my "elders" would use.

Now, I'm, oh, about twice as old as the people I used to think were OLD, and this morning I got a little reminder of the evanescence of slang.

At the coffee shop ...

DAN: Time for a refill ...
BARISTA: The kind you like is almost through dripping.
DAN: Drips for a drip.
BARISTA: ???

She had never heard drip employed to mean, you know, dork. I promptly showed her the dictionary.com meaning of drip--it's now the 7th meaning under drip as a noun:

Slang. an unattractive, boring, or colorless person.

It is also definition #7 in my old Random House College Dictionary  (1975), as it is in my Webster's Third

But where does this expression come from? How old is it?

I checked my Dictionary of American Slang (2nd edition) and found the date of 1948 (appropriate: I was four years old then, well on my way to becoming a drip). I loved the definition in full
Any person, usu. a male teenager or student, who is disliked or who is objectionable, usu. because he is a bore, introverted, overly solicitous or is not hip [!!!] to the fads, fashions, and typical behaviour patterns of his age group.

The Random House Dictionary of Historical Slang traces it to 1932 (an obnoxious, esp. a tedious person), to a novel called Men Are like Streetcars, by Graeme and Sarah Lorimer; "I was just thinking over the drips she goes with." I had a hard time finding a copy of the book--but there's one for sale on Amazon. A bit much to satisfy a curiosity! ($65 for a 1932 edition.)



Last look for a source for this--the OED. But ... no luck. Just some other sources ...

c. A stupid, feeble, or dull person; a fool; a bore. slang.

1932   G. Lorimer & S. Lorimer Men are like Street Cars v. 114   He's no drip... Ted's a darn good egg.
1936   N. Marsh Death in Ecstasy xviii. 215   What about that little drip Claude?
1938   J. Cary Castle Corner 279   Ah, ye dirty devil, and what sort of a drip are ye to be dropped in a medical hall.
1951   I. J. C. Brown I break my Word 123   We now more often call a feeble, foolish creature a drip.
1951   J. Cannan And All I Learned xi. 197   Of all the wet drips!
1959   I. Opie & P. Opie Lore & Lang. Schoolchildren xv. 326   Someone considered over-affectionate is said to be soppy, sloppy, gormless, a drip, or a clot.

Last look: Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang, and he suggests it could have come from drivel.

Okay. I didn't really check any online sources (except the OED), and I bet there's a site out there that has the answer.

But ... anyone who pursues this more than I already have risks becoming, you know, a drip.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 294


It’s probably time to return to our subject, eh? Mary’s 1835 novel, Lodore, which features a scene at Niagara Falls, a place she’d never visited? As I look back through this text, I see that I started a sub-section on Lodore on page 430; on page 449 I finally started writing about the plot of the text (earlier pages had dealt with her preparations and with some things that were going on in her life at the time she was thinking about and writing the novel); on page 450 I began dealing with Mary’s use of Niagara Falls—and with the role of the Falls in the lives of some others she knew (and some she didn’t). Now I’m on page 460 in the total manuscript, and I guess there’s no better evidence of my tendency to wander into the wilds of this story than this: a thirty-page series of digressions from the plot.
I’m betting not many of you remember any of the plot at this point—so a quick refresher: The grieving widower, Lord Lodore, takes his small daughter, from England to Illinois, where they live, pretty much away from society, for a dozen years. He decides to return to England—and it’s on their return trip that they visit Niagara Falls—and that he once again encounters a young woman, the daughter of an old school friend. Her name is Fanny Derham. She sees Lodore at the Falls and gives him a letter from her father, who wants to see Lodore. Who is delighted.
Okay … now we’re back on track (probably not—knowing me). But we’ll pick it up again in a few days and continue the story of Mary Shelley’s penultimate novel.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"School Days"



Yesterday, on Facebook, Joyce posted two pictures I'd posted a couple of years ago (see above). They showed Joyce and me in fourth grade. She was living in Akron's Firestone Park at the time; I, in Enid, Oklahoma. (I am three years older.) We both have laughed that it's  a good thing we didn't know each other then!

So perhaps it was that post that, later on yesterday, got me to thinking of this old school song I remember from boyhood:

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
'Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful, barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate, "I Love You, Joe"
When we were a couple o' kids.

Trusty Wikipedia tells me the song was written in 1907 by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards. Doing a bit more Wikipediaing, I discovered that this was only the chorus. Here's a link to the sheet music for the entire song; it contains all the lyrics. And here's a link to an old, old recording.

I have no memory of when/how I learned the song; it's just one of those things from childhood that, later, you seem just to have always known. Like how to eat. Or breathe.

I do have one (uncomfortable) memory of the song. When I was in elementary school, I had a strong soprano voice (!!), and, as a result, teachers sometimes picked me to sing things. In public. And one year (3rd grade, I think--Mrs. Ziegler's class!) the teacher decided it would be cute (I guess) to have me and some girl (whose name I cannot recover) dress up like Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher and sing the song at an open house in our Adams School classroom.

I do remember I didn't want to do what the teacher insisted we do: hold hands and swing them while we sang. At that age, I had no desire to hold a girl's hand--and certainly NOT in public! But I did, wishing and praying that Time would accelerate to warp speed (though at the time I'd never heard of that term--Star Trek lay in the future). Time didn't cooperate. It d-r-a-g-g-e-d. But the parents all smiled and swayed in their seats while I blushed as red as an ashamed sunrise.

As I look at the lyrics, I don't believe we sang the verses to the song. (They don't look/sound at all familiar.) But ... anything's possible. All this happened sixty-four years ago.

So ... perhaps it was those FB pictures--and thinking about 4th grade--that popped those lyrics into my head once again. Joyce and I were driving back from an evening visit to the Starbucks drive-thru in Aurora when I started singing--my soprano long gone.

And what a dark coincidence that barely a half-day later I got the horrible news that Mike Lenzo, one of the first principals I worked for early in my middle school teaching career--beginning in 1968--passed away this morning. He was a profound influence on me--educationally, personally--and his loss is a mighty blow to the stability of the heart of the world.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 293


In her diary entry for July 17, 1833, Fanny Kemble wrote about her increasing excitement as they slowly approached the vicinity of the Falls. A perfect frenzy of impatience seized upon me, she wrote. I could have set off and run the whole way. When the carriage stopped at their hotel, she raced for a view. I stood upon Table Rock. Trelawny seized me by the arm, and without speaking a word, dragged me to the edge of the rapids, to the brink of the abyss. I saw Niagara—Oh God! Who can describe that sight!!![1]
Appropriately, she did not even try. Her journal—at least in its published version (1990)—ends there.

I can’t leave these passages about Niagara Falls without mentioning the story of a previous literary passion of mine. Jack London. In late June 1894, Johnny London (he did not alter this to “Jack” until he began writing and publishing stories) was near Buffalo, New York. He’d been off on quite an adventure—hopping trains (illegally) all across the country from his home in Oakland. He was eighteen years old. A school dropout.
He’d come to the area because he wanted to see Niagara Falls. On June 28, he viewed the Falls in late afternoon and evening, then decided to sleep in a nearby field so that he could get a better look at them in the morning.
In his 1907 account of his tramping around (The Road), London wrote his first impression of the Falls: Once my eyes were filled with that wonder-vision of down-rushing water, I was lost. I could not tear myself away …. There was a good moon that night, and he says that he stayed until after eleven.[2]
The following morning, he rose, early, and walked into town. Where he was promptly nabbed by John Law.[3] Arrested for vagrancy. Off he went to court for a quick conviction. Then … thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary (he could not pay the fine), a grim place with cells stacked atop one another like animal cages, a grim place full of grim experiences he writes about at length in the book. He would not see the Falls again. Released, he headed home (indirectly!), where he returned to school and began to prepare himself to be a writer.
photo included in London's THE ROAD (1907)





[1] Ibid., 195–6.
[2] (New York: Macmillan), 74.
[3] Ibid., 75.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 135


1. AOTW: No on qualified this week, so instead ... WOTW (Wonder of the Week), a young father I saw in the health club locker room on Saturday; his son looked 3-ish. Dad was teaching, holding, answering countless questions, being gentle, patient ... wish I had a video that all young parents could watch.

2. Last night, Joyce and I watched, via Netflix DVD, a PBS documentary: Niagara Falls (2006), an hour-long (too rushed) history of the Falls--geographically, geologically, socially, culturally. They should have done a 6-parter. So much more they could have gotten into. Still, some great stuff, well worth watching. Just now I checked: The whole damn thing is on YouTube! (Link to the video!)

2. Good news: Just saw on Amazon that another season of Bosch (based on the Michael Connelly LA detective novels) will commence on April 21. We will be there!


3. And we were thrilled to discover that we had missed two seasons of Endeavour, the Brit detective series, so we are greedily consuming them in the evening in bed!

4. I finished two books this week.

     - First was The Book That Changed  America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation (2017), by Randall Fuller, Chapman Professor of English at the University of Tulsa. In 1859 were two major events that Fuller focuses on here: the execution of abolitionist John Brown and the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species--two events that both divided a nation and in some ways galvanized people. Darwin and Brown appear frequently in the text, of course, but also some of the superstars from Concord, Mass.: Thoreau, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne. Those scientific thinkers who supported and condemned Darwin also appear throughout; among the latter, of course, were those who realized, reading the book, that Darwin's theory made very questionable the role of a Creator--especially as related in Genesis. This did not go down well with many--and, of course, still doesn't, all these years later.

The prose was lively and bright; the illustrations (textual and visual) glowed with relevance; the arguments convincing. One error struck me: He mentions Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899) and says that in "the two decades before her novel," Darwin's ideas had appeared in the works of Stephen Crane and Jack London" (179). Well ... London didn't publish his first book (The Son of the Wolf) until 1900. So ... I think I know what he meant--but the passage lacks clarity.

Still--so glad I read it, and Joyce is waiting nearby to snap it up because of its John Brown aspects.


     - I also finished Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988). I've been a fan of Chabon's for a long time but have not read everything ... so ... I'm reading now the ones I missed. (Not that many--but still ...)

Mysteries is a young man's novel in a number of ways: he was only about 25 when the novel appeared, and it's the story of a young man--his friends, his loves, his mistakes, his family, his epiphanies--a young man spending the summer in Pittsburgh, working at a "book store" that sells many other things and doesn't seem to give all that much of a damn about books.

He becomes involved with a young library worker named Phlox (!!), becomes friends with a biker/semi-hardass named Cleveland (!), a gay friend named Arthur (Art is the narrator's name, too), and his own father, who is deeply involved in mob business. He ends up sleeping with both Phlox (who's virulently homophobic) and with Arthur (not at the same time!). Cleveland makes some mistakes, and the novel accelerates toward a violent conclusion. Art can't seem to decide if he's gay or not--bisexual?

I enjoyed the novel--saw the seeds of talent that have flowered--truly flowered--later on. But ... it's a first novel with problems that sometimes overwhelm the promise.

Oh, and it's got some "literary" aspects, as well--allusions to Poe, to Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," and, of course, two principal locations are a library and a bookstore!


5. Some final words--words I liked this week from my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from wordsmith.org
appetence (A-puh-tuhns)
noun: A strong desire or inclination.
ETYMOLOGY:
From French appétence (desire), from Latin appetentia, from appetere (to seek after), ad- (to) + petere (to seek). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pet- (to rush or fly), which also gave us appetite, feather, petition, compete, perpetual, propitious, impetuous, petulant, pteridology, pinnate, and lepidopterology. Earliest documented use: 1610.
USAGE:
“Conservatives will now be able to test the national appetence for more individualistic solutions to social policy problems.”

James Travers; Cautious Voters Keep New PM on Tight Leash; Toronto Star (Canada); Jan 24, 2006.

     - from wordsmith.org
analphabetic (an-al-fuh-BET-ik)
adjective: 1. Illiterate. 2. Not alphabetical.
noun: An illiterate person.
ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek analphabetos (not knowing the alphabet), from an- (not) + alphabetos (alphabet), from alpha + beta. Earliest documented use: 1876.
USAGE:
“While it was not true that he was totally analphabetic, the printed word gave him a rough time.”
Allan Seager; A Frieze of Girls; University of Michigan Press; 2004.
“In Chapter Fifteen, Laura Santone discusses the ‘Dictionnaire critique’ ... whose entries appeared in analphabetic order.”
John Considine; Adventuring in Dictionaries; Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 2010.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Anti-Social?



I ain't all that social anymore. In elementary and high school, I believed (as did many of my coevals) that being in a swarm of friends was evidence that I was alive. The more there were, the more alive I was. Later, friendships dwindled as I began hanging out more and more with those (few) folks who shared my interests--and, okay, my social and religious and political beliefs.

When I began teaching in the fall of 1966, I attached myself to those teachers whom I most admired. I was determined to learn from them--and this is a tactic I employed until my final day in June 2011. I'd long ago discovered that you learn most from people you admire--whatever age they are. Occasionally, I would "officially" observe classes of younger colleagues (as part of some evaluation process or another), and, even near the end, I marveled at how much more I had to learn.

l had some close friends when I was teaching. But lives get complicated. I became a father, a grandfather. I retired. But there remain in the world quite a few people--men and women--whom I admire and love. But I don't see them very often. Weeks, even months, can go by when I socialize only with family. It happens--or, at least, it's happened to me.

But this week has been an exception. On Sunday past we did have a nice dinner-and-visit with our son and his family. On Wednesday night, Joyce and I had dinner with a former colleague and principal, Jerry Brodsky, who had invited us to do a joint presentation at his book club--a presentation about writing: how we proceed and organize, that sort of thing. We had a great time, and I vowed that I would never again let a month go by without seeing Jerry and Cindy, who have been friends since the early 1970s.

On Friday morning, an old friend from college days, Jim Vincent, stopped by the coffee shop for a talk of a couple hours. Jim was one of my mother's finest students at Garfield High School in Garrettsville, but I got to know him better at Hiram College (he's a year older). He's had a great career--teaching, traveling (it seems he's always overseas--and plans to teach in Cyprus next year), though he still lives in the Garrettsville house he grew up in.

And this morning, in that same coffee shop, I got a surprise visit from Len Spacek, who replaced me at Harmon School in Aurora when I retired in January 1997. The school--knowing I was going to retire mid-year--had hired him as a kind of permanent sub for the fall, but he spent a lot of time in my room and with my students.He's still there, still teaching 8th graders. He still teaches some of the texts I did: The Call of the Wild, Much Ado about Nothing among them. We had a great talk for a while this morning, and I may go back to Harmon one day this spring to do my Wild PowerPoint and talk about the book and the Yukon etc. with his kids.

He's just recently published on Kindle Direct a YA novel about a football team--The Final Play (link to Amazon listing for the book). I bought a copy; it's not here yet. Food for a future post!

Anyway, I enjoyed these visits and "outings." As I said, as I've gotten older, retreating into routine: coffee shop (for early-morning reading), writing, lunch with Joyce, coffee shop (afternoon reading and doggerel-writing!), health club, supper and "evening drive" with Joyce. To bed with a pile of books ... and some streaming TV ...

Old Guys are notorious for being annoyed at having their routines disturbed by ... you know ... people. But I have to say that this week--although Annoyance did stand in the shadows (distant shadows)--I resisted him. And had a wonderful time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Slashing NEA, NEH ...



So now we're reading that the new Trump budget is slashing spending for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. There will not be much savings here--not much at all: The two combined are barely visible on a federal budget pie chart. A story today in the Chicago Tribune labels these cultural agencies (and two others under the gun) "negligible" in the overall federal budget. (Link to article.)

Rather than fling statistics around--rather than look at slices of pie charts--let me tell you a story.

In 1990 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected me to be one of a dozen secondary school teachers in the nation to attend a six-week summer seminar on Jack London out in Rohnert Park, California, not far from Glen Ellen, where London owned a ranch (now a park), the ranch where he died in 1916.

Leading our seminar was Prof. Earle C. Labor, one of the principal London scholars in the world. (His biography of London--based on a long life of scholarly ... labor--appeared in 2013. Jack London: An American Life is a wonderful book--detailed, accurate, accessible to general readers.) I was soon to discover, what a warm, engaging man Earle is. We were soon fast friends. And still are.


The NEH paid for me to drive out to California--provided a small living stipend--and, in its way, let me know that I was, well, important. I didn't know much about London at the time. I'd been teaching The Call of the Wild for a few years, had been reading London's other 49 books (!!), and was profoundly curious about this man and his work.

Day after day, I sat with Earle and with the other teachers (wonderful people), talking about what we'd read the night before. In the afternoons we would go on local trips (to the ranch and other relevant sites). And we each had a "project" to complete.

I settled on doing annotations for The Call of the Wild. Place-names, historical allusions to the Klondike Gold Rush, slang, names of characters--these are the sorts of things I began to research and annotate. It was a far larger project than I'd ever expected, and I knew I was going to be able to scratch only the surface of the topic. Earle understood this quite well. He was encouraging, and at the end of the summer he suggested I continue my work and publish my results in a new edition of Wild.

And so I did. For several years I chased down everything I could about that short novel, and in 1995 the University of Oklahoma Press published my The Call of the Wild, by Jack London: With an Illustrated Reader's Companion. It was full of old photographs, maps, charts. And many end notes and annotations.

Two years later the Press published a paperback version of the book--fewer photographs and notes--suitable for more general readers, classrooms, etc.  They also published my brief teacher's guide to the novel.


So ... all the work I'd done that summer--funded by the NEH--was now "out there"--available for all those other readers and teachers and students who could use it. And I hoped there would be many.

But the NEH and I were not through with each other. During the 1992-93 academic year, they awarded me one of fifty Teacher-Scholar Awards (one going to one teacher in each state)--an award my wife, Joyce, had won a few years earlier (always the follower, I!), an award that enabled me to spend a year doing more of the research for the editions of Wild I was working on.

In the summer of 1993 I got a research grant from the NEH to read the plays written by Shakespeare's contemporaries--a project that enabled me to enrich my students' experiences with the Bard--and to inform my writing about Shakespeare.

These grants led to other things: In 1997, I published with Scholastic Press (who also published that series about that little fellow Harry Potter!) Jack London: A Biography, a YA book that won some awards. But the best thing--It re-introduced many more young readers to London's astonishing life--and his varied works (only four of his fifty books are about dogs!).


So ... the National Endowment for the Humanities had a profound influence on my life, my career. It cost them very, very little, but it stimulated me, encouraged me, supported me as I sought both to satisfy my curiosity and improve my abilities to engage kids about Jack London, about Shakespeare, about reading and literature.

(Oh, I've also published (2012) a Shakespeare bio for YA readers on Kindle Direct. Thank you again, NEH.)

So ... the recent news about the Trump budget is that the administration and Congress are hoping to cut--drastically--the abilities of the NEA and NEH to fund and encourage people like me. And Joyce.

In my view this has not a thing to do with saving money but has everything to do with a kind of petty vindictiveness against those whom Trumpies like to label "elites." People like me. A retired schoolteacher. A writer. Living on a sufficient but hardly enriching pension. Hoping his health insurance will remain in force until his unrelenting cancer inevitably wins.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 292


And yet another visitor—who was there at the same time as Trelawny—was Fanny Kemble, a member of the celebrated acting family, the Kembles, who lit the London stages for decades. Her father, Charles Kemble (brother to the talented performers John Kemble and Sarah Siddons), was part-owner of the Theater Royal, Covent Garden, and when Fanny was nineteen, he decided to “risk” casting her as Juliet in a production of the Bard’s play in October 1829. Charles was having financial “issues.” Fanny had not performed on the stage before—despite her family’s long history.
She was an immediate hit—and crowd favorite. Among those seeing her were William Makepeace Thackeray and Washington Irving. The latter was a family friend, and, according to a 1982 biography of Kemble, She ran to him with great excitement following a production when he called on the Kembles to offer his congratulations.[1] She remained a London stage favorite and soon was traveling around for assorted reasons—performing, sight-seeing, working for social reform. (She was virulently opposed to slavery.) This is not the place to dive into Kemble’s remarkable life—but just to see what she had to say about Niagara Falls, a site she was visiting, as I said, at the same time as Trelawny. Who’d claimed to have swum the river below the Falls.
On August 1, 1832, Fanny and her family set sail for America, where they’d planned a performing tour—a tour that was very successful for them. Fanny kept a journal of that visit, and very near the end of it, she records her visit to the Falls. She and her family had met Trelawny late in June 1833, on a steam-boat departing from New York Harbor, heading up the Hudson River. Trelawny—no surprise (oh, did he ever attach himself like a refrigerator magnet to sturdy (and sexy) notables, wherever he found them!)—swopped in. Here’s what Fanny says in her journal that day:
Mr. Trelawney [sic] came and stood by me for a considerable time after we started. It is agreeable to talk to him, because he has known and seen so much. He has traversed the world in every direction, and been the friend of Byron and Shelley. … he is an uncommon man, and it is very interesting to hear him talk of what he has seen, and those he has known.[2]




[1] J. C. Furnas, Fanny Kemble: Leading Lady of the Nineteenth-Century Stage (New York: Dial), 52.
[2] Journal of a Young Actress, ed. Monica Gough (New York: Columbia UP, 1990), 173.

Fanny Kemble, 1831

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Of Fire Departments and Health Care



Last Friday we called the local fire department for the first time in our marriage. Joyce had smelled natural gas in the basement; we called; an officer was here in mere minutes. He checked our entire system, found two small leaks (nothing too immediately worrisome), marked them. We called our HVAC company, who sent someone here in less than an hour. Repairs. VISA. And all is well--for the nonce.

Perhaps some of you have forgotten that American fire departments used to be private enterprises? Until about the Civil War? Individual customers paid for the service of a company, and if you had a fire and lived right next door to a rival company, you were out of luck. You'd paid only for yours. So it's really not been all that long that we've had public, tax-supported fire departments. A good idea, I hope you agree.

As I've written here before, there are other services that I just do not believe should be privatized entirely--like schools, like police protection, like health care.

And now--as we face a looming crisis in health care--we find ourselves once again debating whether we, the taxpayers, should supply funds for everyone--the way we do with Medicare.

I am deeply committed to the answer "Yes." As I've written here before, without medical insurance, Joyce and I long ago would have been bankrupt, living in a box under the freeway. Both she and I have chronic illnesses, and even though we still spend a lot of our own money on medications and doctors' visits and other therapies, we can handle it. But we could not handle it without Medicare and without our supplementary policies.

So ... why do Joyce and I "deserve" this and other people don't? Because she and I have been fortunate in our lives? Solid families, good educations, steady employment opportunities?

We didn't have to go to bad schools, live in impoverished and/or dangerous neighborhoods, have to settle for minimum-wage jobs. We were lucky. Fortunate. Oh, and did I mention that we're white? Neither of us had anything to do with that, did we? But that has given us an enormous advantage in this far-from-colorblind culture of ours.

I believe in covering everyone. Everyone. It is the only humane thing to do. Debates about who "deserves" it and who doesn't are disgusting. Are unworthy of us. We all "deserve" help.

But the only way such a plan will work is if everyone pays in--just as we must do if we want to own a car or buy a house. Insurance for both is mandatory. Few people bitch about it. When you're healthy, you help pay for those who are not; when you're unhealthy, the rest of us pay to help you.

Sure, we don't need to own a car. Or a house. Be we will be using the health-care system. Sooner. Later.

I repeat: I believe we must help those whose circumstances just don't permit them to pay a lot. And that is one of the reasons we're here for, isn't it? To help one another? To promote the general welfare (as the Preamble to the Constitution says)? I am  happy to pay taxes to help those who need it. Happy to pay for public schools, for public roads and bridges, for water and sewer services, for streetlights and stoplights and sidewalks, for police protection.

For fire departments.

For health care for everyone.