Quote of the Early Morning

A few minutes ago, I ran across a New Criterion review of the new OUP edition of the diaries and journals of Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. I’ve mentioned Hopkins before — how when I first encountered his work (during my teens), I had no idea of how to parse the work, and no understanding of why he was such a big deal. Eventually, I grew up enough to get it (I think), and I find he gains wisdom and beauty every time I read or teach his work. As my hero Northrop Frye once said “Read Blake or go to Hell” (which he meant very nearly literally), I find myself wanting to say “Read Hopkins, for the love of God.”

The quote I want to share, however, is not from Hopkins, but from Paul Dean, the writer of the review. He discusses the profound psychological and spiritual agonies that Hopkins endured for much of his life, and ends the article by noting:

“[A]ll vocations, whether literary or religious, come at a price.”

I’ll try to put a potpourri together when I get up again, some hours from now.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

A Nice Touch

For years, my favorite movie was the original Dawn of the Dead, written and directed by the recently departed George Romero*. The bulk of the movie takes place at an abandoned shopping mall, leading to the three-word synopsis: “Consumers get consumed.” In keeping with Romero’s low-budget ethos, he used a real mall for numerous scenes — specifically, the Monroeville Mall, east of Romero’s Pittsburgh home base. For those of us of a certain age and filmic disposition, the Monroeville Mall became a sort of archetype, and during my first tour of duty at Sears (Store #1730, Florence, KY), I’d always get a little creeped out if I had to close and walk out of the largely darkened Florence Mall.

But as I noted above, Mr. Romero died a few days ago. Lots of folks have written tributes to the man and his work, but I was particularly pleased to see this one a few minutes ago.

Monroeville Mall

Thanks, indeed.

*= In recent years, I’ve grown to love Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past to the point where it is now at the top of my personal hit parade. Still, Romero’s work will be a feature any time I teach the horror film.

Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Goin’ to the Chapel… Hill, That Is.

Just got back to Mondoville with Mrs. M and the Spawn an hour or two ago, after a trip north to visit the U of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill. The Spawn’s academic interests have led her to the idea of postgrad work in library science — in particular, in archival work or special collections. While she doesn’t graduate until 2019, we thought it might be good to look at some programs, and UNC’s programs are highly rated.

We made the trip up on Thursday afternoon — or at least that was the plan. We left Mondoville around 1:15 for what Mapquest told us was a 4-hour trip. And then we hit the traffic jam in Charlotte and the enormous stretch of road destruction construction on I-85, northeast of Charlotte. So we stopped for dinner and got on the road again in time to catch weather delays and further road congestion. All told, with one thing and another, our 4-hour drive took about 7 hours.

Fortunately, the hotel was worth the trip. We use an online travel service to book our trips, and while we were booking this one, Mrs. M saw a “mystery promotion”, offering us a room at an unidentified 3.5-star hotel for what we usually pay when we stay someplace of Ramada quality or less. Figuring “what the heck”, we took a shot, and found we were booked at the Carolina Inn, a hotel that is actually on the UNC campus. It’s seriously posh — our room normally books for about four times what we paid. The Spawn was swivel-necked, looking at the elegant surroundings — she’s been in nice places before (our hotel in Philly last year, for instance), but this was better than Clan Mondo is used to. Things like turn-down service and mints on the pillow were bits of elegance none of us are used to… but we could learn.

The hotel (as one might expect) emphasizes its connection to the University. The hallways are decorated with portraits of famous UNC alumni in a variety of fields — one lounge area was decorated with assorted actors with UNC connections. Mrs. M was particularly fond of a drawing of John Forsythe, the star of a prime-time soap from our youth, while I got a kick out of a portrait of Andy Griffith (Class of 1949). Our room also had plaques honoring alumni in the fields of medicine and public health.

We set up our base camp, and then headed out into the gloaming to walk around a small part of the campus. We took about half an hour, admiring buildings and wandering into one of the library buildings. By then, the heat and humidity, combined with the hours in the car, had us wilting. So we headed back to the room and called it a night.

The next morning, after breakfast in the hotel restaurant (I highly recommend the buffet — the scrambled eggs are amazing), we parted ways. The Spawn went on a guided tour of the campus, and Mrs. M and I took a look at the University’s graduate apartments. Compared to the cinder-block palaces where we lived in my grad school days at Kentucky and Ball State, the accommodations in Chapel Hill are sybaritic. Air conditioning? A dishwasher? Washer and dryer hookups? Elevators? Covered parking? Where are the roaches? Where is the nubby, mud-colored carpeting? Where is the sagging convertible sofa? Get off my lawn!

After that, we elderly types did a bit of shopping, or at least Mrs. M did while I loitered at a bookstore. While we were doing that, the Spawn fell in love:

UNC rare books

This is the Rare Book room at one of the University’s libraries.

Eventually, we met up again at the hotel, and then it was time for the Spawn to have a get acquainted meeting with one of the Library Science department’s professors. She said the meeting was friendly and informative, and it only furthered her interest in the program. When the meeting was done, the Spawn texted us and we came to pick her up and get dinner.

Dinner was at the Spawn’s favorite chain restaurant, and we enjoyed dinner in the company of a high school friend of mine, along with her husband and son, all of whom live nearby in Raleigh. The conversation was lively, but again, it had been a long day, so Clan Mondo retreated to the Carolina Inn. I was out cold by about ten.

We woke up this morning (da DAH da DAH dum) and got breakfast at a Bob Evans while Mrs. M scoped out a nearby thrift store. We then set out for home, and after a couple of minor traffic delays and a side trip to claim the Hound of the Basketballs from her lodgings, we made it home about five this evening.

The Spawn’s take? “The campus is beautiful, and I like the vibe.” She’s definitely interested, although she thought it was funny that tour guides and the like kept referring to Chapel Hill as a “small town” — it has six times the population of Mondoville. More accurately, it feels very much like what I think a college/university town should be. And of course, there’s a part of me that gets a little envious of settings like that one. But there’s also something to be said for getting back to one’s own home and hearth.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family | Leave a comment

In Which the Universe Yells at the Prof

I was at the grocery the other day, and as I got out of the van, I saw a woman who seemed to recognize me. I wish I could tell you who she was, but in a small town like Mondoville, there are always people you know you’ve met, but can’t quite place. Meanwhile, at 6’4″, I’m pretty easy to spot, so lots of folks have me at a disadvantage. I did the friendly smile-and-wave bit one does around here — even at 4-way stops, much less in the Food Lion parking lot — and she said, “I think about your stories a lot.”

OK — I’m used to people asking me about the college, or how many students we’re going to have, or how I think our sports teams will do, but I wasn’t expecting that one. I thanked her (although she didn’t say why or how she thought of them — maybe I cure her insomnia), and mentioned that I have another one coming out later this year. She went to her car, and I bought my groceries, and that was that.

Then yesterday, I was doing a little reading when my e-mail chirped and I saw that Lawrence Block had sent an e-galley of the very book I had mentioned in the above paragraph. I’ve gone over my story a couple of times since yesterday, and spent some of last night after band practice reading some of the other stories. There’s some really good stuff in there, and again, I’m honored to be in there with folks like David Morrell, Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Lansdale, and Jeffrey Deaver, along with rising stars like Jill Block and Thomas Pluck. But I no longer feel quite so odd seeing my work with theirs.

While I was looking at that, my phone sounded the slurred two-note sax phrase that lets me know something is happening on Twitter. I checked the screen and saw that my friend and colleague David Rachels had posted this:

A quick check revealed that Down & Out Books has announced the upcoming re-release of Broken Glass Waltzes, complete with links to some information about Your Genial Host. This shouldn’t have surprised me — publishers want to sell their books, after all — but I hadn’t known precisely when this was going to happen, and on the heels of the other stuff this week, it just surprised me a bit.

Because I’m the kind of person I am, I’m inclined to see sequences of events like this as occasions for Einstein’s purported quote that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. And as it happens, I have another story in process for an anthology I’ll talk about later. Maybe I should get to work, huh?

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Faith, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Dodging the Bullet

This year’s Bouchercon is in Toronto, which in my case, is extra incentive to go, as I love the city, but haven’t been there since 2010. I was somewhat tickled this morning when I saw a blurb from B’Con on the Book of Faces:

Attendees…

Do you have a criminal conviction in your past?

Canada, like most countries, has laws excluding visitors with criminal convictions in their past[s].

This would include things like: theft, assault, manslaughter, dangerous driving, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or possession of or trafficking in drugs or other controlled substances — and more. Some are major and some minor.

The blurb goes on with links to Canadian immigration. I think it’s good of the B’con people to provide this warning; it’d be a drag to show up at the border only to be sent back, especially if it was for some youthful indiscretion. As for me, I guess if I can hold out until mid-October, I’m cool. I’ll just try to keep the crimes fictive.

Posted in Culture, Literature, Politics | Leave a comment

In Which the Prof Answers Doorbells

A few minutes ago, the doorbell rang, and since Mrs. M was at the gym and the Spawn was in dishabille, it fell to me to respond. I wasn’t exactly dressed for company myself, not having put on a shirt yet, but hey, I live here. I came up the stairs, and on my way to the door, I saw a nice SUV in the drive. I glanced through the blinds, and saw that my visitors were a couple of African American ladies of a certain age, and I realized who they were.

I opened the door enough to get my head out, and one of the ladies said, “It looks like we caught you at a bad time.”

“Yes, ma’am.” So she handed me a Watch Tower, we exchanged smiles, and they went on their way.

I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses have become a punchline in popular culture (one I’ve been known to use myself), and a lot of people like to complain about how annoying they are. I can understand that, but they’ve never really bothered me. I don’t subscribe to their particular brand of Christianity, but I understand that they’re trying to help me when they come by — they’re trying to gain me the blessings of Heaven, and they’re taking time out of their day to do that. I suspect that’s more than a lot of us do. My time is not so valuable that I can’t spare a little to receive someone’s effort to bless me.

My first encounter with the Witnesses came when I was fifteen and living in Kentucky. I was in an agnostic period of my life then, a couple of years after the death of my closest childhood friend. It was a time that lasted until I got to college, and during that time I read the texts of a number of major religions, from the Quran to the Tao Te Ching to The Book of Mormon. So when the doorbell rang one morning when my folks were at work, I opened the door, and when the two women on my porch asked me if I knew there would be a new Heaven and a new Earth, I said, “Revelations 21.”

Their eyebrows rose — “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?”

“No, ma’am. Just a backsliding Presbyterian.” They seemed a bit surprised that I could talk about Biblical stuff with them, and I guess I asked good questions, including some they said I might need to discuss with folks higher on the food chain.

We talked for at least half an hour, and they left me not only the usual pamphlets, but a small hardbound book about their beliefs. I remember it as being orange, but I could be wrong. They said they’d like to talk to me some more in the future. I told them I would read the book and get back to them. They came back about a month later, but my mom was home, and explained to them that their attendance was no longer needed. She told me later that once a Witness had told her that since my brother had heart surgery as a baby and received a blood transfusion, he was likely damned. Of course, Mom also had heart surgery and received blood, so she was on the hit list, too — but the idea of Mike being condemned for something that happened when he was six months old cut little ice with her. As for me, I have a blood donation appointment on Friday.

As I said, I know a lot of folks see them as a nuisance, but I don’t. In fact, I’m glad I live in a place where people of good will — even those with whom I disagree — can visit and try to help other people. So even though I’m not going to visit the Kingdom Hall any time soon, I’m glad they’re out there, and I’m grateful that they think about me enough to try to save me.

And if we’re all lucky, I’ll be wearing a shirt next time.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Family | 2 Comments

Independence Day Potpourri

Let’s start by remembering the men who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to reject a government they considered oppressive. The nation they spawned continues, and while we’ve made wrong turns along the way, we’ve still done more to advance the liberty that is necessary for human flourishing than any nation in history. Thanks, gentlemen. And for the rest of us — could we try not to screw things up any further?

As part of our observance of same, Clan Mondo will likely head to the local high school football stadium for the annual fireworks display. The Spawn will probably pull her usual disappearing act and catch the fireworks with a high school friend who is home for the summer, and Mrs. M and I will swelter in the grandstand before the explosions and Lee Greenwood music begin. It’s a very small town sort of thing, but there’s a lot to be said for that — at least, I think so.

***

Mrs. M and I have been on the road for the past few days, rolling back into Mondoville last night. We spent Friday and Saturday nights in Knoxville with the Mads, where we ate (too much), shopped (about enough), and spent time with our friends (too little, as ever). I picked up a half-dozen paperbacks — a couple of Bosches from Connelly, another of Christopher Stasheff’s Wizard in Rhyme series, Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, a Louis L’Amour, and Donald Westlake’s 361. Mrs. M chose to squander her money on silly things like attractive clothing, rather than the necessities I purchased, but chacun a son gout. We also filled a pop culture gap for Mrs. M, as she saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. She seemed to enjoy it.

On Sunday afternoon, the two of us drove halfway home, deciding to stay overnight in Asheville. We spent the night at a Holiday Inn near Biltmore, a cut above our typical choice in lodging, but it was a nice splurge, as the hotel has just been renovated (and has a very nice breakfast buffet). We drove through the funky downtown area after dinner, and we found enough cool places that we’re already planning a return trip. Yesterday we had planned to visit Biltmore, but the weather was iffy so we contented ourselves with a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s visitor center and some more shopping, where I got — surprise! — another book, along with the latest copy of Shindig magazine. We got home around five, a little tired but pleased with the trip, our friends, and ourselves. I’ll call that a success.

***

I registered for Bouchercon last week, and hope to let you know about things like readings, panels and such in the coming weeks. A bonus this time is that all this is happening in my favorite city, which I haven’t visited in several years, so I’m hoping this will prove to be an embarrassment of riches. Add to that the reissue of Broken Glass Waltzes this fall, the new story that will come out later this year, and some additional writer news I hope to drop on you before long, and with luck, my Pinocchio story will continue.

***

The Berries had their first rehearsal in a while last week, as we begin to get ready for three shows over the next couple of months. Details will follow.

***

And I’ll close with a bit of music — a very little bit. Those who know me know that Bob Seger is not one of my favorite musicians, and those who know me well recognize the litotes in that statement. While there are a few songs of his I like (generally from early in his career), they’re more than offset by his overplayed classic rawk stuff from the 70s, including my all-time least favorite song, “Turn the Page.” Tired of being a rock star, Bob? Taco Bell is hiring smiling faces.

This song is a lesser known track, and includes a pre-fame Seger. It’s a 1969 parody of Barry Sadler’s hit, and was released under the name “The Beach Bums.” Much more of an intro would be breaking a butterfly — or perhaps a stinkbug — on the wheel, so here’s “The Ballad of the Yellow Beret.”

See you soon.

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Politics | 1 Comment