Tomorrow marks the launch of my twentieth year here in Mondoville. We’re welcoming our largest entering class ever, putting our total enrollment at around 1,300 — also a new high. When I started here, we were at about half that; it was the smallest school with which I had ever been affiliated (including elementary), and the smallest scholarship football school in the NCAA.
While one never really knows the future, I plan to spend another eight or so years here before I hang up my spikes and head off with Mrs. M to wherever the Spawn is by then. That means that I can only expect another eight of these day-before-the-first-days (always assuming that I’m around that long). I need to keep that in mind. Time’s winged chariot is always drawing near, but that doesn’t mean it can’t sneak up on you all the same.
I’ve talked before about how, because Mrs. M and I are both in education and have (as students, grad students, and teachers) spent most of our lives there, I tend to think of each year as beginning in the fall, though we don’t put up the new calendars until winter. I think the fact that my birthday is in September may also tie into that — after all, that marks a new year for me in it’s own way.
But of course, beginnings follow endings, and I find myself thinking about the two friends of mine who died, more or less bookending my summer. Dennis’s funeral is Tuesday, and last night, my friend William passed along scans of a couple of things James had kept through the almost 40 years of our friendship. One was a photo of me that I didn’t know existed. I’m standing against the wall of Old Morrison, the admin building at Transylvania University, somewhere around 1984. I’m wearing a Metro Nashville Fire Dept. uniform shirt, one of the many I inherited from my grandfather after he retired, and an Indiana Jones-style Stetson, although mine was in black. I don’t know why I was standing there, and I have no idea what I was thinking about.
As I see the students moving in this weekend, I find myself wondering what images may surprise them in forty years.
I’m teaching three freshpeep-level classes this term: two sections of Froshcomp and an Inquiry course on conspiracy theories, a new one for me. The fourth course is one I haven’t taught in about fifteen years, on contemporary (well, 20th and 21st C.) fantasy and magic realism. For that one, I’m hitting fewer novels (only two this time — Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes) and more shorts (from Borges, Harlan Ellison, and Peter S. Beagle). I’m hoping they go well.
Speaking of Peter Beagle, I treated myself to a copy of his short 2017 novel, In Calabria. A middle-aged Italian farmer discovers one day that a unicorn has appeared at his farm, and not long after that, he discovers the unicorn is pregnant. He tries to keep it a secret, but that proves impossible, and complications ensue. There’s also a romantic plot, and a fair amount of suspense. Honestly, things happen about the way I would expect them to happen, but as ever, there is so much charm and grace in PSB’s writing that it would be churlish to complain.
I’ve said before that Beagle is a writer for whom I can’t even feel envy. There are very fine writers out there, and while I try not to compare myself to anyone else, I sometimes find myself thinking “That’s like something I could have done, had I thought of it,” or “That’s something I could have done, but s/he did it better than I would have.” But I never feel that when I read Peter Beagle. Complaining about not writing like that is like complaining that you don’t fly as naturally and beautifully as a falcon, or that you have to use technology to do what a spider does naturally. It’s not a difference in degree — it’s a difference in kind.
But when Nature allows us the opportunity to see the things we can’t do, done at their best, we should value that opportunity. So it is with In Calabria, and let’s hope he has some more stories for us, five years after that novel’s publication.
Speaking of writing I can do, and reactions thereto, here’s a reminder that on Thursday, 8 Sep, at 3 p,m,, I’ll be appearing as part of a Bouchercon panel on crime fiction with musical themes. My fellow panelists include Jim Fusilli, Cheryl A. Head, and Holly West, with Denise M. Jendusa moderating. In my experience, panelists head to a signing area after the presentations, so if you’d like my scrawl on any works of mine, that should be a good opportunity. However, if that doesn’t work for you, I’ll be happy to sign work, chat a bit, or otherwise meet friends old and new around the con. I hope to see you there.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pending release of Black Is the Night, an anthology of stories inspired by Cornell Woolrich and his works. You’ll find my story “The Jacket” in there, and if you want it at the first opportunity, you can place an advance order here. El Bee’s Playing Games antho (containing my story “Lightning Round”) should appear on the horizon before long, but in the meantime, you may want to check out his new Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, about which I’ll say more soon.
And what do you know? All that typing and plugging has cheered me up a bit, and warmed me a bit more for tomorrow’s goings-on, so Happy New Year, in Mondo Time. Let’s mark it with a bit of music, huh?
The Godfathers were formed in London by brothers Peter and Chris Coyne, previously of the Sid Pressley Experience. They specialized in tough, punky numbers with Mod and Northern Soul influences, and this was easily their best known track. Besides, I have to love the lines “I’ve felt torture, I’ve felt pain, just like that film with Michael Caine.” From 1988’s album Birth, School, Work, Death, here’s the tough-but-danceable title cut.
See you soon!