Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On (Semi-) Pause to Finish a Writing Project

Visitors here know that for a couple of years I was serializing a very rough draft of a memoir about chasing Mary Shelley's story. I've been revising, revising. But ... it's taking too long. So I'm going to neglect this blog for a bit until I finish Frankenstein Sundae.

Oh, if there's something I really want to write about here, I will, but I want to finish this book! Time's winged chariot is hurrying near (as some poet once said), very near.

I'll post an update now and then,

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 189

1. AOTW: I think we may be nearing a Lifetime Achievement Award for those drivers who insist that when their lane is closing, they still have the right-of-way.  Dealt with such AOTWs several times this week in several different places. Each time I said several different bad words.

2. I finished a couple of books this week ...

     - The first was the next in the series of novels about Jack Taylor, a former Irish cop who lost his job for alcohol-related reasons. (He appeared for a while, did Jack, in a TV series we streamed; we'd like to see him back.) I've been reading Ken Bruen's novels about him, reading them in the order that Bruen published them. This most recent--Cross (2007)--involves Jack in a couple of cases, the principal one about a death by crucifixion of a young man in Galway (where Bruen sets his novels). Jack is winning his battle with alcoholism in this installment (but he will be sure to fall), and life has battered him and bruised him. But ... into the case he dives, and eventually he ... ain't tellin'.

Next in the series ... Sanctuary, which I've ordered. (For some reason it's not on Kindle, which is how I've read the others.)

     - The second I finished was Barracoon, the recently published early work by Zora Neale Hurston, whose Their Eyes Were Watching God I taught at Western Reserve Academy back in the day. Hurston was studying anthropology (with Franz Boaz) at Columbia Univ., and she latched onto this story of a last surviving slave. With Boaz' encouragement, she went to Alabama late in 1927 to interview Oulale Kossala (now called Cudjo Lewis); she got to know him well; interviewed him multiple times, and this book--for which Hurston could not find a publisher--tells both his story and hers.

His story is a grim one. Captured by other Africans from another tribe and sold, Lewis endured the terror and humiliation of it all; spent some foul time in the Barracoon (barracks) waiting to be shipped out; the trans-Atlantic voyage; the humiliations and horrors of slave labor here. Liberation in the Civil War. The struggle to survive in the South, where he and other freed slaves were hardly welcomed into the fellowship of humanity.

Near the end, Hurston writes: "I am sure that he does not fear death. ... But he is full of trembling awe before the altar of his past" (94).

There's a brief Foreword by Alice Walker (who helped return Hurston to public prominence years ago)--and much other scholarly front- and back-matter.

Informative to read--and wonderful to see Hurston first beginning to spread her writing wings.

3. Joyce and I finished watching (in several installments, via Netflix DVD) the 1971 film The Last Picture Show, based on the eponymous novel by Larry McMurtry (who also co-wrote the screenplay). We had been  married only two years when we first saw it, and I don't think I've seen it since.

Link to film trailer.

But it is something. Astonishing cinematography showing the dying small Texas town, the vast Texas terrain. And the performances were amazing, too--Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan ... so many others.

Director Peter Bogdanavich burst onto the scene with this--and never really (as I recall) matched the power of what he did here. (He filmed the 1990 sequel, also based on a McMurtry novel--Texasville (1987)--but it didn't match the power of the earlier story, though it featured many of the same performers.)

I hadn't remembered the emphasis on the sex lives of the characters--but it is a principal focus. (Hey, the picture show's closing ... what else is there to do?) And the desperation of so many lives ...

4. We finished the latest available streaming season of Death in Paradise, a series we've enjoyed. They did something unusual this year: They phased out their principal detective and phased in a New Guy. We not so sure we like the New Guy so much (shown in the foreground below), but will give him a chance when the current season is available to stream.

5. Last word--a word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from wordsmith.org

Cervantic  (suhr-VAN-tik)
adjective: Of or relating to Miguel de Cervantes, especially his satirizing of the chivalric romances.
ETYMOLOGY: After the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), best known for Don Quixote. Earliest documented use: 1760. Many of Cervantes’s characters have also become eponyms.
USAGE: “The novel’s strong vein of comic dissent is summed up in the figure of Yorick, Shakespearean joker and memento mori, whose Cervantic tilting at windmills has a serious edge.”

Carol Watts; Rereadings; The Guardian (London, UK); Aug 23, 2003.

Friday, May 25, 2018

101 Ways to Be Revolting

It was almost exactly fifty years ago--on May 24, 1968--that I directed my second play at the old Aurora Middle School (102 E. Garfield Rd.; Aurora, Ohio). It was a comedy (?) that I'd written with a group of students throughout the year, a comedy about the American Revolution, and we called it Our War for Independence; or, 101 Ways to Be Revolting. I was 23 years old.

It was long before the days of easy photography, and I don't think I have any pictures from the production--though perhaps others out there do (if so, I'd love to see them).

We had no theater or auditorium in the old middle school, so we mounted our productions on the gym floor. We had, in those infant years, no spotlights or other special effects. Just a record player (!) attached to a speaker system--a very primitive speaker system.

At the bottom of the page are scans of our program. So many 7th and 8th graders ...

I have a script in a file--but I'm afraid to look at it. I would much prefer to remember it as a dazzling comedy that dazzled the audience during our two dazzling performances: one, an afternoon assembly for all students; two, for the parents (and others) in the evening.

Okay, a couple of memories.

  • We staged the old Paul Revere joke. Three women spaced out on the stage. He "rides" to the first: Is your husband at home? Yes! Tell him the British are coming! Woman 2: same thing. Woman 3: Is your husband at home? No! Whoa! (Pretty racy stuff for a middle school?)
  • But the big surprise--and crowd reaction--came at the end when King George III (who, unaccountably, is in America), realizing the war is lost, converts. We had him come running out in full hippie attire with the music of "Georgie Girl" blasting over our sound system (link to that 1967 hit). The audience went nuts for our converted King, played by John Mlinek, 8th grade, who went on to do a lot of acting and directing and has long been a Facebook friend--and real one, too.
It terrifies me that those "kids" are now in their sixties--for that makes me ... never mind.

But this play convinced me that this--directing kids--was something I loved to do. And so I did it for another thirty years, loving it every second, except when I hated it, which wasn't all that often!

The image at the top of the page is a rock that one of those "kids"--Doug "Skip" French--painted for me and gave me. It's been on my desk since 1968. Skip, by the way, went on to become quite an actor himself--and quite a human being. Cover design by Dave Prittie--a great actor, later a professional artist in NYC.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Cheyenne, Cheyenne, where will you be campin' tonight?"

Cheyenne Bodie. RIP. (Link to New York Times obit.)

I watched Cheyenne (with Clint Walker as the eponymous Western hero) throughout my boyhood and youth. It ran from September 1955 (I was about to turn 11) through September 1963 (I was about to turn 19). It was on Tuesday nights (7:30-8:30), then Mondays, then (its final season) Fridays.

It was the era of the TV (and movie) Western. There were many on the tube, every week--and the "picture show" each week offered a steady diet of them, as well. And I devoured them. I grew up in Oklahoma, and although I was a "city" boy (Enid!), I still felt a swoop of emotion whenever I saw the terrain that reminded me of home--or of our car trips into the West to see my dad's family in Oregon.

Oh, my boyhood heroes! Hopalong Cassidy. The Range Rider. The Cisco Kid. Wild Bill Hickok. Billy the Kid (the "good" version). The Three Mesquiteers. Whip Wilson. Lash LaRue. Wyatt Earp. Matt Dillon. Paladin, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry (these latter two were "singing cowboys"--not my favorite but better than no cowboys at all). ...

... Cheyenne Bodie.

He was big (I wasn't), strong (I wasn't), knew right from wrong (I didn't), acted ethically (I didn't), defeated the Bad Guy(s) (I didn't). You get the picture.

I remember one show that ran around Christmas time. Cheyenne was alone in a remote cabin in a blizzard. His only companion? A mule. On Christmas Day, he invited the mule into the cabin, said, "Merry Christmas, Mule." To this day, when I call my younger brother on Christmas (he, too, was a Cheyenne fan), I say, "Merry Christmas, mule."

And we remember those evenings (homework done, of course!), lying on the living room floor, stacks of saltines, some Tang, Cheyenne on our black-and-white TV ... You can buy all of the seasons on DVD (Amazon has them; I don't).

Cheyenne still has a pretty good presence on YouTube (link to one clip), and I can still sing a lot of the theme song--and when I just listened to this clip on YouTube? Tears.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philip Roth, RIP

Roth at 80--from Wall Street Journal
I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise. He was ... older (85). And, a few years ago (2012), he had announced his "retirement" from writing. (Link to story.) An odd thing for a writer: Many of them keep at it until they just can't. Poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) was editing his final book while he lay dying in New York Hospital; John Updike (1932-2008) did the same. Many writers would consider it a Good Death to fall over while typing at the keyboard. (I would, and I'm not Philip Roth nor was meant to be.)

I first read Roth (1933-2018) back in the late 1960s. I'd already heard of him (Goodbye, Columbus--story and movie, 1969), but had not read him. But then I saw a provocative paperback cover "speaking" to me ... can't remember where. Some display. Somewhere. It was his novel When She Was Good (1967). I had no choice. I had to buy it. Read it. Love it. The image you see is that book that "spoke" to me.

Okay, perhaps the blurb at the bottom of the cover got me: A stunning portrait of the all-American bitch. Now there's a blurb you're not likely to see on a book cover in 2018!

I'm pretty sure I read all of his books--not necessarily when they came out. Sometimes they just accumulated, and I would eventually read several to kind of "catch up." Later in his career, this was easier, for as the decades rolled on, he was writing more and more novellas.

As the obits will tell you, he was one of our most celebrated/honored writers--won about everything (sans Nobel). (Link to today's New York Times obit.) Among the biggest honors? He was a living writer who nonetheless had his works collected in the Library of America--a publishing venture generally dedicated to the works of the Dead and Gone (Hawthorne, Jack London, Henry James, etc.). (Link to LOA's Roth books.)

I couldn't always relate to some of Roth's concerns: I am not a Jewish American (he was; his characters often were). But to many of his others, I could--passion, error, excess, obsession--and on and on. He knew what human beings were like--he knew, especially, what men were like. And he exposed them (and himself) with stark, brutal honesty. If you read Roth--if you're a guy--you're not always ... comfortable.

But since when are novelists supposed to make us comfortable? Discomfort is a necessary antecedent for learning.

And so ... thank you, Philip Roth. For all you wrote, for all that discomfort, for all you taught.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I Was (Am) a Stutterer

It was much worse when I was a kid in Oklahoma. It was bad enough, in fact, that one of my teachers at Adams Elementary School (1st grade? later?)  referred me to the school district's speech therapist. Years later, my mom told me that my one (and only) session with the therapist went like this:

THERAPIST: So, Danny, why are you here?

DANNY: I d-d-d-d-don't k-k-k-k-now.

And the therapist--seeing that it didn't bother me (hah!)--sent me back to class and told my mom it wasn't all that much of a problem.

Actually, it was. Other kids made fun of me. Which made my stuttering worse. I didn't really strike out, though--fists flailing--because I was a small kid; fisticuffs were not a wise activity for me. And, after some playground whuppings, I had grown ever more wise.

Later, the problem diminished. Though I had to think carefully about what I was going to say before I said it. And there were words I just had to avoid. One of them was statistics. I still avoid that word because I don't get very far into it before my six-year-old self returns and offers "Sta-sta-sta-statistics" instead.

There are a few other words like that--but I won't tell you what they are. I know you: You'll come up to me and ask me questions that will require me to say the very word I can't say.

During my 45-year teaching career, I occasionally encountered stutterers among my students. I always felt a bond with them and would tolerate no joking about it among the other students. Though, I have to say, such situations rarely came up. I think the kids knew I stuttered (a bit) and probably figured--wise ones--that making fun of some stuttering classmate was like making fun of the teacher--not usually a good plan.

Bullying is often about ridiculing someone for something he/she can't help. Height-weight-complexion-hair-accent-stuttering ...

We moved from Oklahoma to northeastern Ohio in August 1956 (I would turn 12 in November), and I hadn't been in town more than a day or so when, at a little pond near our house, I caught a frog. Some local kids saw me with it and told me I had to let it go. "Aw, c-c-c-can't I k-k-k-keep it?" I asked in misery.

"Aw, c-c-c-c-c-c-can't I k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-keep it?" echoed a local kid in what he must have thought was an authentic thick Oklahoma drawl.

I laughed. He was too big to do anything else. And I placed the frog back in the pond. Splash! And off to a lily pad, where he regarded me with disdain.

And did he mock me? "C-c-c-c-c-c-c-roak"?!?!?!?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Musings & Muttering

I've been thinking about a few things--not one is worthy of an entire blog--so here they are, in no particular order ...

1. Even as a little boy--when I first learned what days of the week were, what a calendar was--I never really believed that Sunday was the first day of the week. I still don't.

2. Yesterday, part of a song lyric stuck in my head--"I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you." I could not remember any of the rest of it, but my portable recall machine (iPhone) quickly gave me the answer. The song: "I'll Be Seeing You." 1938. Myriads of artists--in several generations--have covered it. But here's Billie Holiday, 1944, the year I was born. ... LINK. (Lyrics at the bottom of the page.)

I was thinking of the song because near the end of the film RBG, which Joyce and I saw on Saturday night, we hear Ruth Bader Ginsburg read aloud, her voice breaking at the end, the farewell note from her dying husband. (They were married more than a half-century.) Final words. Wrenching and powerful.

3. Earlier this week I posted on Facebook a bit of doggerel I called "Peckerwood in the Neighborhood"--about a noisy, annoying woodpecker assailing houses near us (he has attacked us in previous springs). A former student posted that the word--near where he was living--meant a "redneck." I'd already done a little research on the word. See what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say (bottom of the page).

Oddly, my dad nicknamed our house in Hiram (11917 Garfield R.) "Peckerwood"--I'm sure because of the busy birds in the area.

4. On Saturday, I gave myself a paper cut (turning the pages of a writing tablet). A drop of blood. An ouch! A curse I will not repeat on a Family Site.

Pressure. The blood quickly stopped. The pain (sort of) went away. Every now and then I would do something that would invite the pain back--like knead bread on Sunday, etc.

And I was reminded of that film 36 Hours (I blogged about it last year), a film from 1964 with James Garner, Rod Taylor, Eva Marie Saint. Based on a story by ... Roald Dahl. It tells how the Nazis captured an American intelligence officer (Garner), drugged him, convinced him the war was over. What they were really trying to get him to do was to cough up the details of D-Day. When? Where?

Garner was buying it all (they had installed him in an "American" hospital), when he felt a paper cut he'd given himself the previous day on a finger--a cut the Nazi doctors had not seen. And their plan unraveled ...

Well, I had no such exciting time ... but I did remember that movie again! (Link to film trailer.) I see the entire film is now on YouTube. It's fun to watch.

“I'll Be Seeing You”

I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children's carousel
The chestnut trees
The wishing well
I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you
I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

Songwriters: Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain
I'll Be Seeing You lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

peckerwood, n. and adj.
Forms:  18– peckerwood, 19– peckahwood, 19– peckawood.
Frequency (in current use): 
Etymology: < woodpecker n., with reversal of the two elements. With sense A. 2 ... (Show More)
U.S. regional (chiefly south. and south Midland).
 A. n. 1. A woodpecker.
[1835   in Daily Home (Talladega, Ala.) (1910) 28 Feb. 2/2   The mouth of Peckerwood creek.]
1859   J. R. Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (ed. 2) 314   Peckerwood, Western for Woodpecker.
1893   H. A. Shands Some Peculiarities Speech Mississippi 49   Peckerwood, woodpecker. Bartlett says that this word is Western. It is also heard very frequently in Mississippi, as in Tennessee.
1909   F. B. Calhoun Miss Minerva 140   A big, red-headed peckerwood.
1935   Z. N. Hurston Mules & Men i. vi. 137   Ah wasn't gointer kill no ole tough peckerwood for you to eat, baby.
1947   J. H. Brown Outdoors Unlimited 76   Watching the jays and peckerwoods and listening to the distant shrillings of a hawk.
1968   Harper's Mag. Sept. 61/1   I even liked what the kids at Tuskegee Institute called ‘those crazy li'l ol' peckerwoods’.
2. slang (esp. in African-American usage). depreciative. A white person, esp. a white person regarded as poor, rustic, or unsophisticated; = peck n.4
[1859   Southern Lit. Messenger May 398/2   You must be ixtreemly keerful uv yoself, my deare. I shall be back in a few days... To Mrs. Mozis Addums in rispect. Peckerwood Parrydice, near Kerdsvil, Buckingaim County, Va.]
1928   C. McKay Home to Harlem v. 46   What's the matter, buddy, the peckawoods them was doing you in?
1942   W. Faulkner Go down, Moses & Other Stories 255   Even a Delta peckerwood would look after even a draggle-tail better than that.
1967   C. Major in A. Chapman New Black Voices (1972) 299   How come so many Of us niggers Are dying over there In that white Man's war They say more of us Are dying Than them peckerwoods & it just Don't make sense.
1967   N.Y. Times 7 Sept. 42/4   When I tried to get into the black caucus, they said, ‘No peckerwoods allowed in here, Sonny.’
1974   E. Brawley Rap (1975) ii. xxiv. 374   And we done, peckerwood, we finished.
1995   High Country News 7 Aug. 13/3   Prisons..are often deep in peckerwood territory, where a black prison employee is going to feel about as welcome as a black escaped convict.
(Hide quotations)

 B. adj. Small, poor, inferior; (also) of, relating to, or characteristic of the (poor white) population of the Southern states of America.
1866   C. H. Smith Bill Arp, so Called 95   If it didn't rain any more and the entire crop was prudently gathered, he might probably make a peck to the acre of peckerwood nubbins.
1946   Newsweek 15 Apr. 68/1   Conditions encourage not the efficient experienced producers but the peckerwood..operators.
1989   New Yorker 11 Dec. 136/3   The stern, melodramatic portrait of Earl's older brother Huey as a fantastic demagogue—a Peckerwood Caligula.
1992   U.S.A. Today (Nexis) 10 Apr. 7 d   The redneck, coonass, peckerwood South that you thought had been eaten up by the developers of Sunbelt suburbs.
2003   Austral. Financial Rev. (Nexis) 5 Aug. 64   A glib Democrat with a peckerwood accent and no plans for raising taxes has a better chance than a north-eastern stiff.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 188

1. AOTW: Not even close this week. We were driving north on Ohio 91, approaching Hudson, in that strip of the highway that's divided (near the Regal Cinemas). I was in the left lane (knowing the right one soon disappears). The AOTW zoomed up on my right, passed me, cut right in front of me (brakes! brakes!) and turned left into one of the cut-throughs to the other side, changed his mind, zoomed back out and almost hit us a second time. Somehow, the AOTW designation seems a little ... insufficient ... for this guy.

2. I finished one book this week, the latest by Richard Russo (one of my favorites), The Destiny Thief, a collection of essays (and one graduation speech). And guess what? Russo can write essays with the same power and apparent ease as he does his novels. (Doesn't seem fair.)

It's an eclectic mix of pieces: a speech (as I noted--Colby College, 2004), personal essays (the title piece is a dazzler about his becoming a writer), forewords and afterwords to various books (one about Twain, one about Dickens' Pickwick Papers), and some pieces on craft. Another very powerful piece deals with the transgender surgery of a dear colleague, and if you have a dry eye at the end of it, you fail the I-Am-a-Human-Being test.

He ends with another fine piece about a writers' conference in Bulgaria--how he didn't really want to go--how when he went, he ended up with tears in his eyes.

Such a talent is Russo ... I've read all his work ... hunger for more.

3. We saw two films this week.

     - The first was one of those stage productions, filmed live and shown in a movie theater (we saw it at the Cinemark in Cuyahoga Falls). Macbeth (by you-know-who). (Link to film trailer.)

Rory Kinnear, who played the title role, is about as good a Macbeth as I've ever seen--and I've seen a lot of them. He communicated the fragility of the man as well as his overpowering ambition--not easy to do. Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) was all right--capable. But I didn't really "buy" her sometimes. The witches were fabulous: sinuous, sexy, dark, and ominous. The only thing? The production cut the "cauldron bubble" lines--and "something wicked this way comes." Why? All the other players were strong, and the production--set in the near future when society and order have collapsed (impossible to imagine, I know)--was powerful.

Below, is the sheet they passed out to patrons + one of our ticket stubs! Proof!

Oh, and one sad thing: In the entire Cinemark theater there were only four patrons. Joyce and I comprised half the audience!

     - Last night (Saturday) we drove up to Chagrin to see RBG, the documentary about the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Link to film trailer.) It was terrific--moving in so many ways. (She has won, so far, two battles with cancer; she lost her husband--and I want to tell you: Their relationship was amazing. Love and Devotion with capital letters.

I liked, too, that the producers did not show only her postive attributes (and she has many)--but dealt, as well, with her failures, her mistakes. And we heard from her critics, too. I was surprised to learn that she and Justice Scalia had been good friends--both opera fans.

One of my favorite moments (and I had a lot of those) was when they showed Ginsburg some clips of Kate McKinnon from SNL portraying her on "Weekend Update"; Ginsburg does not watch TV (she is a workaholic--but loves the opera!), and the look on her face as she watched presented me with a tough decision: Do I laugh? Or cry? (Link to SNL clip.) (I did both.)

I was surprised, by the way, that there were quite a few people there to see it.

4. Last Word--a word I liked this week from one of my assorted online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from wordsmith.org

leptodermous  (lep-tuh-DUHR-muhs)
adjective: Having a thin skin.
ETYMOLOGY: From Greek lepto- (thin) + -dermous (skin). Earliest documented use: 1888. The opposite is pachydermous.
USAGE: “The brand new state representative from Artesia County got stuck with that trap -- House Bill 100 -- today. He’s got to throw a party for his colleagues, by an old tradition.”

Cole Not Leptodermous; ‘Pals’ Hope He’s Solvent; The Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico); Jan 28, 1955.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Just Walk Away, Millay ...?

Remember that old song, "Just Walk Away, Renee"? It was released in July 1966 by a group called The Left Banke (here's a YouTube link to it).  That was the summer I graduated from Hiram College, the summer I found out that the Aurora (Ohio) Schools would hire me to teach at their Aurora Middle School, the summer my parents moved to Drake University, where both Mom and Dad would teach, the summer my younger brother had graduated from James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville, Ohio, and would head off to Harvard ...

The song reached #5 on the U. S. charts. See full lyrics below ...

I thought of that song (just now) only because, well, it sort of fit with what I want to talk about today. There was a story in the New York Times this week, a story about the final home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), who died in her remote farmhouse in Austerlitz, NY, after a fall down the stairs. She'd been drinking.

Millay has "walked away" a couple of times. She was once one of the most notable poets in the country--and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. But by the time I was in high school and college, she had pretty much been flying under the cultural radar. She did not appear much (if at all) in literary anthologies my teachers used. Even her name sounded a little ... weird. Until you learn at the "St. Vincent" was the name of the hospital that had saved an uncle's life. She liked "Vincent'--and that's what her intimates called her.

Anyway, she remained in the shadows until 2001 when two major biographies of her appeared--Savage Beauty (by Nancy Milford) and What Lips My Lips Have Kissed (by Daniel Mark Epstein; the title is the beginning line of one of her great sonnets*). I reviewed them both for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and, doing so, read a lot of Millay. And got hooked. Visited key spots in her life. Memorized a fistful of her poems.

Joyce and I have been several times to Steepletop, the name of that home in Austerlitz.

And that home is what the Times story was all about. (Link to the story.) It seems the property is quite costly to maintain--and it looks as if the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society may have to close it. (It's been open to the public in recent years.)

That would be a sad, sad day.

I would guess, of course, that literary sites are hardly the magnets they once were. For obvious reasons. Shakespeare's place in Stratford is probably safe (for the nonce?), but others? I would guess that many survive only because of some very dedicated folks who realize--as I have learned--that there is really nothing like standing on the ground where that writer has stood. Joyce and I have spent decades visiting literary sites, and I always feel, when we arrive, that I am standing, in a way, on holy ground.

Millay and a number of her loved ones are also buried on the property--beneath rough boulders in the woods. It's very moving to walk there, to see those stones, to remember the opening lines of Millay's poem about her deceased mother:

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

I recited these lines for Joyce's mother and for my mother at their respective memorial services.

Anyway, that Times story saddened me. And I thought today I'd just post here some pictures from the several trips Joyce and I have taken there--all in the hope, of course, that Millay will not, once again, "walk away."

"Just Walk Away, Renee"

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

From deep inside the tears that I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me, though they're so small

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

Thursday, May 17, 2018

It's Needle Time Again!

Seidman Cancer Center
Chagrin Highlands
10 a.m.

I've no more than blinked. And it's that time again ...

Later this morning I will head up to Seidman Cancer Center near Chagrin Falls, where two needles await me:

  • Needle One: Xgeva (ex-JEE-vuh), an injection (generally monthly) intended to strengthen my bones, for some other meds I'm on weaken bones. Catch-22. Sort of. The puncture will occur in my triceps, and for some reason the damn thing always hurts--lots more than, say, a flu shot.
  • Needle Two: Lupron (LOO-prawn), a testosterone-killer that I've been on for several years (quarterly stabs). Prostate cancer loves testosterone, and if there's none there to "eat," well, the cancer grows more slowly--though it does not stop. It just takes a more scenic, leisurely route. This injection takes place in an upper butt cheek (TMI?), and they actually keep track of which cheek's turn it is! (Share the glory!)
    • Actually, the variety I'm taking now is called Trelstar--pretty much the same difference. Here's a link to their site ...
I'm not aware of any evident side-effects of Xgeva (other than (1) pre-poke terror, (2) poke-pain), but Lupron is another puppy altogether. Here's a partial list of the wonders it delivers to me:
  • weariness and depression
  • death of libido--and I mean death of libido
  • heavy sweating (my sweats, for some reason, prefer the hours of the night ... appropriate ... darkness and all ...)
  • bone weakness (see above)
  • some others I will not mention: this is a family site, after all!
I'm also on Casodex (KASS-uh-dex), a drug that does the same thing as Lupron, Same side-effects. I began taking this one, oh, a year ago when my cancer cells began ... evolving. Figuring out Lupron. A workaround. Other drugs will follow when the dastardly disease figures out Casodex ...

I also have Provenge in my system now--the result of the immunotherapy treatments I underwent in January and February. It's a drug that empowers my T-cells to focus more efficiently on my cancer.

Oh, and I take big doses of calcium each day (bone stuff).

I'll pause here and finish the post when I get back this afternoon ...


1:40 p.m.

Back home from PunctureWorld. No real surprises--except they'd scheduled me for a PSA test today--a test I'm also scheduled for in two weeks--so they canceled today's. (Whew.)

The aide who checked me in, hearing my birthday was on 11/11/44, said that hers was 8/8/88. Could not top that one!

So ... puncture-pain ... gone for the nonce ...  I see my oncologist in a couple of weeks, and I'll hear about what's going on in the invisible regions of me ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tom Wolfe, 1930-2018, RIP

from the Times obit

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the news of Wolfe's death arrived the other day--important enough that it popped up on my iPhone from several of the news sources whose pings keep me awake, if not alert. I mean, he was 88 years old (my father died at 87), and his days of swooping around the country--doing, observing, writing, speaking--had reached a few feeble wing flaps in recent years. Here's a link to the New York Times obituary--and they had some follow-up features and reactions today, as well.

I read most--not all--of Wolfe's books and remember the flurry of cultural activity about The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987). I was proud that I'd read it before the film came out. I thought he got a little "full of himself" as the years went on ... but why not? He was everywhere. TV talk shows, the radio, etc. People wanted to know what he thought about ... well, about anything. And he was happy to elaborate in his clever, unique style.

Joyce and I heard him speak one time down at KSU's Stark Campus in October 1995--their Midwest Writers Conference. I checked my faultless file system and saw that I had not taken any notes on his appearance--nor had I saved the program. (And I didn't begin keeping a regular journal until 1997.) We do have (I just looked) a signed copy of Bonfire (1st printing!), but I can't recall if he signed it for us that night? My memory is that that there was no signing at all--but these days my memory is about as reliable as a rusty flintlock: It will fire now and then (after some effort), but it's not all that accurate. And it sometimes blows up in my face.

I checked the Akron Beacon-Journal online (via newspapers.com) and saw that the paper had both a preview and a post-view story about his appearance that long-ago Friday night. And it's a good thing because I don't remember much of what he said--just that slick white-suit appearance and his absolute ease before an audience.

Here's the lead on the piece that ran on October 8:

Author Tom Wolfe, whose press-release biography calls him “the pre-eminent social commentator of our time,” told the Midwest Writers Conference here yesterday that America is in a period of a new proletariat”—a society in which working people live like lords.

Well, that hasn't aged well ...

My Wolfe folder has quite a few clippings--but most are simply reviews and features about him that ran in various periodicals over the years. Sic transit gloria mundi.

I really did enjoy reading him--most of the time. And it was clear that he loved all that writing had done for him: It had elevated him to an eminence from which few are allowed to view their world. And he saw a lot--though not always clearly.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Buh-Bye, Cable-TV ...

I'm not the quickest guy to act on technological changes. Our son had a cellphone before we did (he was in college, late 80s)--and our first cell stayed in the glove compartment of the car. After all, when else would you need such a thing except to call AAA for car trouble?

We stayed with flip-phones for a while, later on, and I did not pop for a Blackberry until just about the time when everyone else had given up on them and was iPhoning.

I wasn't always this ... dilatory. Early in my teaching career, I liked to be one of the first to try new technology in the classroom. I shot video of my class years before it became easy; I showed laserdiscs! (They lasted on the cultural scene about, oh, seven minutes?) And I was one of the first to use cassette audio tapes!

I was using digital projectors, etc. near the end--though I never really got into whiteboards. (Seemed like a lot of hassle for not much?!!?) And I loved using the online school services--GradeQuick, Moodle, Blackboard. (Saved lots of problems.) But I have to say I was S-L-O-W to give up the overhead projector, a device I was using my very first year in the classroom (1966-67) and was using, at times, very near the end (2010-11).

My dad gave up on all of this very quickly. He never used an ATM, had a guy pump gas for him. He didn't learn to use a computer (though my mom became fairly adept with one). As I've written here before (probably more than once), the last device he really knew how to use was a TV remote.

I have some (older) friends who are still resolutely anti-tech. No cellphones. No computers. Etc.

Okay, let's get to the title of this post. Today, I cancelled our cable-TV service--something lots of you did a long, long time ago. We hadn't watched any cable at all--in months. We stream everything now. But ... month after month I paid that cable bill--paid for a service I was no longer using. Now that's loyalty.

Or stupidity. 


Anyway, we are now cable-less for the first time in decades. The company tried to talk me out of it on the phone.

But I was resolute. 

(Okay, they'd talked me out of it on one earlier occasion.)

At the store, where I dropped off our two cable boxes this morning, they tried to talk me out of it again.

But I was resolute.


Meanwhile, we'll see how it goes. But we will not, of course, admit to error. That just ain't American, you know?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Paper Football!

I'm not sure how it came up this morning in the coffee shop, but my friend Nigel (who's 24) mentioned paper football ...

[... I just remembered! I'd slid over toward him (he's a barista) the Reserved sign they put on my table each morning--and the move had reminded him of the game ...]

... and it all came whooshing back to me, that schoolroom, desktop game involving a piece of folded paper. Each kid took turns sliding it toward the other, the object to make it reach the opposite edge of the desk and to extend over the edge.  Touchdown! Then the kid on whom the touchdown was just scored would make "goalposts" with his fingers, and the extra point would come as the other player would prop up the "football" with one finger, then flick it with a finger on the other hand toward the "goalpost" ...

When I was a middle school teacher (1966-78, 1982-97), I saw this game all the time (never, of course, when I was teaching about indirect objects! no, only at, you know, lunch or something), and, until this morning, I had completely forgotten about it.

I checked the Web and YouTube ... jammed with things about the game. Lots of videos. Here's a link to one about how to play the game.

Later this morning, I remembered an Elizabethan game I sometimes taught my 8th graders when we were spending some time with Shakespeare and The Taming of the Shrew (or, later, Much Ado About Nothing)--an Elizabethan game called "slide-thrift." or "shove-groat." Below is a copy of the rules I gave the kids.

A couple of years I arranged an 8th-grade Slide-Thrift Tournament at lunch; I still have a list of kids who participated one year--31 boys, 32 girls. I didn't write down the winners--but I think they got pizza or something. Some of those names made me smile, by the way: They're now Facebook friends! They were in the Aurora High Class of 1999, so I had them in 94-95 in 8th grade.

Anyway, paper football always intrigued me, and I was a bit jealous that my students had a game like that. Back in my own junior high years, all we had was homework and fistfights. I generally lost both of them.

PS--I suggested to Nigel that the coffee shop organize a big Paper Football Tournament--call it the Paper Bowl?

*the picture at the head of this post, by the way, is from a 3-D game app you can get from Amazon--link to it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 187

1. AOTW: Death. (Nuff said.)

2. I finished one book this week--Frankenstein in Baghdad (2018), a novel by Ahmed Saadawi (and translated from Arabic), a writer who was born in Baghdad in 1973--and still lives there. I'd read a strong review of the book somewhere (probably the New York Times--here's a link to it; I was surprised to see the review appeared last January), and, of course, I try to read as much as possible of the new things relating to Mary Shelley and her most famous creation.

The novel takes place in Baghdad during the American occupation in the 1990s. Chaos reigns. Explosions going off all the time. And ... a man finds another man killed by a bomb, sews him up, adds some parts from other victims--not to make a creature a la Victor Frankenstein but to make him ... more presentable. He then runs an errand, butwhen he returns to his place (where he's done the work), the corpse is gone.

And, of course, It's alive! (Words from the 1931 film, not from the novel.) The creature (whose main body parts came from a guy named ... Daniel!) goes around Baghdad exacting revenge on those who are bringing so much death to the city (no irony there, right?!!?), and, of course, eventually discovers that you really can't kill everyone who deserves it, for, soon, that must lead to suicide.

Saadawi tells the story artfully--from multiple points of view--and I love how, at times, he sort of "rewinds" his narrative film and shows us the scene we have just witnessed--but through a different set of eyes, sifted through a different consciousness. (Reminds me at times of a Tarantino film!)

Oh, and one of the characters--who has a late chapter of his own--is "the Writer." Who's telling us this very story.

Okay--one dark quotation for Mother's Day, eh?  One character, a woman, is telling another one (a journalist who's, uh, "interested" in her) what another character has told her (confused yet)--and the journalist summarizes for us what the other guy has told her about a film he wants to make (whew!):

"He told her it would be about the evil we all have inside us, how it resides deep within us, even when we want to put an end to it in the outside world, because we are all criminals to some extent. He said we have all been helping to create the evil creature that is now killing us off" (227).

The story does not directly parallel Mary Shelley's. Yes, there are similarities--but Saadawi has a different agenda. Violence, corruption, selfishness, greed--these and other endearing (and enduring) human traits are his focus.

3. My first Mother's Day without a mother.

4. I was a Good Boy this week, actually going out to the health club six of the seven days that this week provided (!). I always take Sundays off (Bread-Baking Day!), so I conquered my own Nap Addiction all of the other six days. Nobel Prize?

As I've written here before, I hate going to work out now. The meds I'm on (permanently--for my c****r) sap my strength and doing the mildest things wears me out--and quickly so. But I gotta do it, I know (prostate c****r loves fat cells!), and so I drag myself out there, most days. Ride a stationary bike, walk laps, rowing machine, some curls with weights ... muttering curses the while.

5. Didn't go to any films this week ... but still stream little ten-minute chunks of several things each night. I'm thinking of getting rid of cable TV altogether: We never watch it nowadays.

6. Last word--a word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from dictionary.com

hypocorism [hahy-pok-uh-riz-uhm, hi-]
1. a pet name.
2. the practice of using a pet name.
QUOTES: Powsoddy, a now obsolete name for a pudding, was also used as a hypocorism in the late sixteenth century, paralleling the affectionate use of the word pudding itself in our own century, though lovers usually alter the pronunciation to puddin.
— Mark Morton, The Lover's Tongue, 2003

ORIGIN: The very rare English noun hypocorism comes from the equally rare Latin noun hypocorisma “a diminutive (word),” a direct borrowing of Greek hypokórisma “pet name, endearing name; diminutive (word),” a derivative of the verb hypokorízesthai “to play the child, call by an endearing name.” Hypokorízesthai is a compound formed from the prefix hypo-, here meaning “slightly, somewhat,” and korízesthai “to caress, fondle.” The root of korízesthai is the noun kórē “girl, maiden” or kóros “boy, youth.” The Greek nouns are from the same Proto-Indo-European root ker- “to grow” as the Latin Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and its derivative adjective cereālis “pertaining to Ceres,” the source of English cereal. Hypocorism entered English in the 19th century.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Oh, Where We Build Our Nests ...

Last evening, driving home from Aurora, we saw (on Old Mill Road) a sight we'd noticed before: a couple of geese have made their home about six inches from the north side of the road. The new-hatched goslings are staggering around within a foot of  the cars that roll by.

How dumb is that? I thought.

A few years ago, a mallard family built a nest right beside our back steps, the steps we use multiple times every day.

How dumb is that? I thought.

Just this spring a sparrow built a nest in an outdoor Christmas wreath still hanging on the wall of our side porch. Every time we walked by (multiple times a day), every time we drove in the driveway (multiple times a day), the sparrow had to dart away, startled wings fanning the air furiously.

How dumb is that? I thought.

We built cities in the volcanic vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius, (Pompeii, Naples), of Mt. Hood (Portland, OR), of Mt. Rainier (Seattle, WA).

We built a city (San Francisco) on the San Andreas Fault.

We built cities in the deserts of our country (Los Angeles, Phoenix, etc.).

We built towns and cities on the flood plains of great rivers (the Mississippi).

We built cities in the favored paths of hurricanes.

How dumb is that? I thought.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Do We Admit ... ?

I'm reading this amazing new novel--Frankenstein in Baghdad--by Ahmed Saadawi (translated from the Arabic), a Frankenstein-like story set in Baghdad after the arrival of the Americans in the Iraq War. (More about this book in this space on Sunday--in "Sunday Sundries.")

This morning, I read this comment that one of the main characters, a journalist, writes in a magazine:

"People are deluded and never admit their ignorance" (130).

It can be hard, can't it? Admitting that you may not know what you're talking about? We don't hear or see such admissions all that often. The Talking Heads on TV rarely (ever?) say something like this: "I don't know what I'm talking about." No, instead they blather on ... and on ... and on ... feigning knowledge, offering firm opinions based on that most fragile of foundations: ignorance.

I had a teacher in high school who didn't like to admit she'd made a mistake. A math teacher. She would say--when someone caught her in a mistake (it was never I who caught her!)--"I was just trying to see if you were paying attention."

Yeah, right.

Early in my own teaching career, I did much the same thing, fearing that if I admitted I didn't know something, then the kids would lose respect for me.

Actually, quite the opposite is true: Kids lose respect for you if they realize you're faking it--and kids are very adept at smelling the rot of fakery.

So, later in my career, I had less and less trouble saying, "I don't know--does anyone here know? How can we find out?" (That last question, as smart phones arrived, became unnecessary!)

The most intelligent people I've ever known are not those who knew everything (there are no such critters) but those who readily admitted their ignorance, who knew where to find the answers, who were unafraid and even eager to learn from others.

And these qualities, I fear, are rapidly vanishing from today's public discourse. These days so many of us seem determined to Stand Firm, even on shaky ground--on very shaky ground. We think our asking questions is an admission of stupidity. (No, ignorance and stupidity are not the same thing: ignorance is not knowing something; stupidity is the inability--or, nowadays, the unwillingness, to learn.) We are terrified of telling others that they are right, that we are wrong. We fear our entire house of cards will collapse if one turns out to be the Joker.

Actually, I'm being a little disingenuous by using we here. Because, you see, I like finding out when I'm mistaken. I don't want to walk around, my brain a bag full of error and half-truth and bias. Nothing good can come of that.

So, maybe we should all lighten up a little--or "unlax," as Bugs Bunny would say. We really can learn from one another--but first we have to have the courage to admit that we need to learn from one another.