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· Now Thank We All Our God ·

We're expecting old friends and family for dinner, all gathering to celebrate our American national holiday today, Thanksgiving.

We're all a happily diverse bunch, with a trio of medical types who speak physiology; two engineers who talk of electrical grids and blackouts; a secretary whose Finnish substitutions of what for which amuse; a soda distributor who with his wife and his two children represent the Pepsi generation; our museum-director son and his wife, an artist, who ooze local memory and imagination; a pianist son who keeps us all soundly entertained; a college student and his mom who both manage a substation of bright light hereabouts, and my wife who will once again keep everyone stylishly cheered and deliciously fed this Thanksgiving.

Of course, this is nothing like the first Thanksgiving, an original report of which I thought to share today — William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation:

And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a [sic] meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Eliot Morrison, Major American Writers, Vol. 1, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963, 27.

So is this report, likewise, though I might feign saying I hear a knock at the door now.

Well, whoever you are, do have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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· Roger Angell on America's Pastime "Gone South" ·

It is hard to wrap your mind around a season, a year, a career, or, even more, a life. Roger Angell has tried to do so in his recent New Yorker piece on the just-finished baseball season. Gone South: In a Last Surprise, The Young Marlins Are Champs, marks his own take on the autumnal collapse of what Angell once called America's Summer Game. Consider his witty, ironic lead:

 · Roger Angell ·

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, in a surprise news conference two days after the conclusion of the recent World Series, announced that Major League Baseball will undertake a radical change in scheduling next fall, when the Divisional and League Championship eliminations will come after the World Series, not before. "Tradition matters," Selig said, "but the fans have made it clear that they much prefer the interest and drama of the earlier rounds of post-season play, and we're going to oblige them. From now on, it's the Fall Classic first and then heartbreak."

As I've noted the Mariner season around here (Birthday Baseball Triple Play shows, though, that I'm a hopeful fan still), I thought to honor Angell's piece as in fact doubly given to the stylish work of American hitting and fielding both. Indeed, as step-son to star New Yorker writer E. B. White — and as natural son of New Yorker fiction editor Katharine White — Angell understands well the struggle (and the heartbreak) of both "Gone South."

But Angell knows too, of course — at 82 — how still to recall some truly fine, northern-seasonal baseball. Yet since "[t]he easy, almost endless run of summer ball was not just over but obsolete, . . . it requires," he says, "effort to bring any part of it back, even the Mets."

Place should be reserved [he writes] for the achievement of the switch-hitting Red Sox infielder Bill Mueller, who twice hit home runs from different sides of the plate in the same game. The second time he did this, against the home-team Texas Rangers, the dingers — first right-handed, then left — came in consequetive innings and were both grand slams. Never before — never nearly before.

For a single game [he adds], I will keep the drizzly, foggy evening of June 13th, at Yankee Stadium, when Roger Clemens, after failing in his three previous tries, at last nailed down his three-hundredth win. He was the twenty-first pitcher to enter this particular club, but on the same night also notched his four-thousandth lifetime strikeout, a level previously attained only by Nolan Ryan and and [sic] Steve Carlton. Clemens, who is forty-one, was retiring after this season, his twentieth, and he had wanted these certifications before the end. The landmark K was odd, because Roger had just given up a home run and a double to the previous Cardinal batters here in the second inning (it was an inter-league game) and because the cheers greeting the whiff, by shortstop Edgar Renteria, now began to blend with a welcome for the next batter, designated hitter Tino Martinez, an old Yankee hero making his first appearance at the Stadium since his departure two years ago. Tino, sensing the moment, stepped back to allow the Roger ovation to reach its full, 55,214-fan volume while the ball was being handed off to a ball boy like a Brinks package, and then at last got into the batter's box for his own "TI-NO! TI-NO! TI-NO!" Nothing came easily on this night, in fact, in a game that repeatedly threatened to be delayed or wiped out by rain, or even won by the wrong team, until a two-run homer by Raul Mondesi in the seventh brought the score to 5-2 Yankees, and safety. Clemens had departed in the top of the same inning (he struck out ten batters) but came back onto the field after the final out, while the scoreboard played Elton John's "Rocket Man" and the fans flashed their digital cameras and wept. Clemens hugged his catcher, Jorge Posada; hugged his other teammates and coaches; hugged the Yankee P.R. honcho, Rick Cerrone; hugged his wife, Debbie; hugged his sons, Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody; hugged the ballpark.

 · Worth Remembering ·

As I attended that Friday-the-13th game, I would add that it was, even more profoundly, a Yankee "Camelot" day too. Immortality falls sometimes on unlucky days, of course (as I once tried to say in Cheap Tickets From Track to Field: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and Here, Here, Where Have You Been Now?).

I'd hope you might agree, perhaps by saying Roger Angell's name with a kind, quick, substantively stylish, Memorial Pause.

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· Twain's Helpful Middle Marks: Colons and Semicolons ·

Yesterday I chanced to read Donald Barthelme's essay "Not-Knowing" (1985). Barthelme interestingly writes there that

[i]t's appropriate to pause and say that the writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do. . . . This is not to say that I don't know anything . . . but what I do know comes into being at the instant it's inscribed. Donald Barthelme, 'Not Knowing,' The Art of the Essay, ed. Lydia Fakundiny, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991, 485; below 495.

As I hold to such a view, I was taken by Barthelme's nicely-turned variation on an old writer's query, "How do I know what I'm going to say until I say it?" But I was also puzzled, for, in a later paragraph beginning "Style is not much a matter of choice," he paused then to ask: "Why do I avoid, as much as possible, using the semicolon? Let me be plain: the semicolon is ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog's belly. I pinch them out of my prose."

As I've lately written here, "I'm in academic Nirvana; I have died and gone to heaven!" I was fascinated. Being committeeless, as I explained, I was quite free to weigh the matter of choice and determinism with respect to what I sometimes call style's helpful "middle marks," colons and semicolons.

They are, of course, often tricky. In his fine book Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, John Trimble suggests that they're in fact advanced: "The average college student isn't ready for semicolons," he claims, and by implication, only semi-ready for colons. His main example (one I've employed ever since Writing with Style first appeared in 1975) is from Adlai Stevenson:

A beauty is a woman you notice; a charmer is one who notices you. John Trimble, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, 2nd ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000, 107; above 105.

Although we smile at the linkage, our pleasure comes mostly from Stevenson's semicolon. Try, in paradigmatic substitution, these other alternative linkages:

A beauty. A charmer. (Nicely periodic but clunky.)
A beauty, and a charmer. (Now coordinate but thoughtless.)
A beauty, but a charmer. (Still coordinate but obvious.)
A beauty, a charmer. (Happily comedic but splicy.)
A beauty, while a charmer. (Maybe explanatory but stuffy.)
A beauty a charmer. (Run-together but obviously illiterate.)


So why is Barthelme so determined, I asked myself, to pinch all semicolons out of his prose? Maybe because his dog, I answered, hasn't yet been trained to "mark" their utility.

Which raises novelist Mark Twain's famous use of the colon and semicolon together.

Training is everything: the peach was once a bitter almond; caulliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. John Trimble, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, 2nd ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000, 108.

Your students, employees, friends, or colleagues might now value "Twain's Helpful Middle Marks." Taken together they mean, of course, "Smooth Sailing: Two Fathoms Deep."

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· Triple Cause for Professional Celebration ·

This has been a busy week, as I've had conferences, tests, and papers in each of my three classes. Though I've hardly had time to think, today I thought to recall the week's memorable highlights — from the worlds of sports, learning, and, above all, college teaching.

 · Edgar Martinez · Consider the smiling face you see here, that of the Ancient Seattle Mariner, Edgar Martinez. Though now long in the tooth, Edgar's signed a new contract with the club and will return in 2004 to smack singles, doubles, triples, and homers again. Not since Birthday-Baseball Triple Play have I had such cause for greater celebration.

Consider also my student who modeled Monday the sage advice Father Walter Ong gave me back in '84: "For every good page written, there should ten thousand read." Though I try to reduce that ratio, my student's "Fictional Books Wrote a Non-Fictional Bookworm" suggests we should perhaps keep it just that high:

If I chose to forego pleasure reading entirely, I could, over the next two years, obtain 30 additional college credits at a minute fraction of their usual cost, due to a combination of rare circumstances; such a course would greatly increase my money-making opportunities, yet the bookworm in me could not accept such a decision. In my intense scrutiny of countless works of art from dozens of authors, I could not fail to acquire some fragment of worthy technique. For I have learned to understand the proper flow of a well formed phrase to a greater degree than most ever manage.

Like Martinez this kid knows already the real secret of the pros, or is that of prose? All I could say was: "Now get on with your next piece."

Finally consider my extraordinary luck Wednesday: after getting my mail here, I found myself reading, on returning to my office, not some kid's 101 essay but "Committee Assignments for 2003-2004." On reaching my neighbor's door I found myself saying:

I've an important announcement. I'm ultimately valued and ignored! I'm in Academic Nirvana; I've died and gone to heaven! Not since darkening the doorway in the guise of a teacher in 1968 have I ever been committeeless.

She smiled and, returning then to the novel I'd suggested two weeks ago — David Lodge's comedy, Nice Work — happily said she was nearing the place wittily featuring the very stylish American professor, Dr. Morris Zapp.

Although but distantly related, I am — don't you think? — perhaps partially feeling the power.

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