A week ago tonight I returned safely from my announced Rocky Mountain High I. Having left the consequent circumstances vague, I today thought to clarify them a bit. Fortunately, I need only quote some posts recently shared with a sport-touring group I joined. Happily, they also know me online as Styles.
My FirST Imperative: GO RIDE!
The TSA guy at SEA-TAC hadn't heard the command as he eyed my gear, likely thinking "terrorist." I assured him I wasn't. My Washington license plate maybe helped: "Ok, off to Denver."
Three days later (with 1689 ground miles behind me) I'd in fact done the deal. I'd taken possession of my new bike. When buying it in February online, I'd stored it in Berthoud with a relative whose son was playing the organ May 5 in Fort Collins, CO. Perfect. "The King of Instruments" meets Honda's ST1100. My attachments just hint at bigger sounds.
My ride? Preaching to the assembled ST choir, divine: 713 miles on my first day (semi-circling Teton NP en route to Bozeman), 563 on my second (to Douglas, WA), and 413 on my third (home). If you've avoided DH1 through North Cascades NP, I suggest a sunny-snowy, copless, twisty Monday in May.
My first impressions? Well, this Honda is fast, smooth, and deceptively quiet — with character aplenty.
I'm also quite happy to be aboard, lurking here no more.
I then answered to a thread called
what do u do for work?
Non-Invasive Brain Surgery
I've spent thirty-five years teaching college . . . philosophy and English.
· When It Rains It Pours, In Seattle Superbowl Style ·
Well, it's been 49 days of rain and 2 of sun here! Today was one: too bad, for a "drencher" like yesterday might have reversed the Steeler's trick, since our Seahawks lost in Detroit's Ford Field today, 21 - 10.
· My Boilerplate Baptism Unto Death, Seahawk Style ·
I signed using my full name, Styles Stillwell Stylechoice, and even the law clerks brought in to mark my competence couldn't tell I was attending to a loud rain pounding on the roof. Maybe they were interested, like me, only in getting home to watch Judge Alito's hearings on TV or, with their husbands, to see my Seahawks training to meet the Washington Redskins Saturday. I mean, after twenty-three days of rain, who can endure on a dark and stormy afternoon signing "boilerplate" wills and testaments in law offices?
So what's the word today, you ask? Well, water — though maybe not quite as viewed, "thereunto," in Better Than It Ever Gets. That needs even some fine grain "brewing" in the sun to take. So I've thought to offer my own unlegal boilerplate on death and taxes — those in light of a theme I thought to mark in terms of a question, "How have stylish literary artists used water 'symbolically'?"
At least thematically, Martin Luther best answers this question. "For all our life should be baptism," he writes, "and the fulfilling of the sign, or sacrament, of baptism; we have been set free from all else and wholly given over to baptism alone, that is, to death and resurrection." Although I offer this sentence without sectarian pleading, I find it suggestively resonant. Charles Schulz's memorable Peanuts strip of January 2, 2000, renders its theme with some well-drawn water. In ten reiterating panels of pouring rain, Mr. Schulz plays with his own then-acknowledged leave-taking, not only of life but of art. To begin, Peppermint Patty says: "Hey, Chuck, it's a great game isn't it? . . . We're having fun, aren't we, Chuck? . . . It's still your ball . . . Fourth down . . . What are you gonna do, Chuck . . . You gonna run or pass? . . ." Then under an umbrella, Marcie says: "Everybody's gone home, sir . . . You should go home too . . . It's getting dark." To which Peppermint Patty replies: "We had fun, didn't we, Marcie?" And Marcie, "Yes, sir . . . we had fun." And Patty, "Nobody shook hands and said, 'Good game.'"
From that vale of tears we call life, Schultz suggestively distills for us the essence of the old art of "singing" in the rain — of smiling, playfully, in the face of death. Great or good, every artist of course plays the game well. In his Moby-Dick, Melville plays it perfectly in his chapter entitled "The Grand Armada." "But even so," he writes, "amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mild calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy." So does Thoreau in Walden. When he buys in imagination "all the farms," as he says in "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," he aims to die by water first, "so," as he says, "it may please me the more at last." These artists seem to say, "Come on in, the water's fine. But, please, 'Don't kick the bucket.'"
Of course, these "Waters of Separation," as Annie Dillard calls them in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, haven't much to do with size, as one can drown as easily in a backyard spore as in a small pond, in a nasty virus as in a vast, vacant sea. But for artists herein lies the fascination of rivers — for they always run in medias res. And from small to large — from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi — their watery message is ever the same: the snag of death downstream and the current song of life. Think here of Walt Whitman's East River in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," or of the gentle-cycling "embrace" of the River Liffey in James Joyce's Finnigans Wake (wherein his "riverrun" goes "round and round").
And of course, that's our own recurring theme. And I hope we all drown in it — joyfully and sadly — maybe along with Norman MacLean, whose A River Runs Through It ends with this arresting sentence: "I am haunted by waters." Just think about it. In a strictly non-sectarian sense, it's like Luther's, especially as our theme "passes away" and our new one "runs" — but doesn't "punt" — now into eternity. I'm here for the plunge.
That Redskin who goes down in Moby-Dick at last — Tashtego is his name — is not quite taking another Seahawk with him. Care to bet on that? For win or lose, there's always-already, folks, another game, or year, or life to look forward to.
Doubly framed by Boston Red Sox, I'm celebrating. This is not to say I'd not like my own sox washed, Mariner-Style, in Simple Green, but it's to express gratitude that one curse (the Babe's) is behind us, and another (Bush's) maybe in eclipse. A true patriotism, I mean to say, seems to be on a roll! Go Kerry!Stop Bush!
· All Eyes on Ronald Reagan, Ruth-Rockne-Lusetti-Hazlitt Style ·
Two days ago I read a bright piece of sports commentary. Bearing on concerns at · You Got Style ·, it came in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (6/9/04) in a short review of Michael Mandelbaum's book, The Meaning of Sports (2004). A professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Mandelbaum, Fred Barnes writes, embellishes his subject "with so many fresh ideas, clever insights and bits of anthropology that The Meaning . . . is not only fascinating but enormously entertaining."
I was of course impressed, but yesterday with C-SPAN in the background, I happily recalled Barnes's apt take on Mandelbaum's "brightest insight":
One of Mr. Mandelbaum's brighest insights [Barnes writes] is that Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne and Hank Lusetti turned their sports into national obsessions in a similar thrilling fashion — by making the ball easier for spectators to see. In baseball, Ruth did it with the home run in the 1920s. Rockne, the Notre Dame football coach, popularized the forward pass in 1913. In basketball, Lusetti, playing for Stanford in the 1930s, invented the jump shot.
While channel-surfing today over breakfast, I, too, had an insight — recalling, "in a similar thrilling fashion," the lesser-known invention of English sports writing itself, this by William Hazlitt. You might recall Hazlitt's The Fight (1822), a short, personal essay on the Neate-Hickman fight of 1821. Though without a ball, Hazlitt keeps his eye fixed there on a much deeper subject: nationalism and, as Scott Juengel aptly argues, macho conversational pugilism.
So today's post links such inventions (national and international) in the much-honored personage of America's fortieth president, Ronald Reagan, whose just-completed ride into the sunset you may have seen on TV. I did — and cannot help but recall The Announcer's, The Gipper's, The Californian's last thrilling flight into history.
Meanwhile, back in Washington remains archrival Hickman-Gorbachev (a bit bloodied about the head still) taking hits in re-runs while attentive sports scribes worldwide praise Neate-Reagan — The Cold Warrior — in Grand Presidential Death.
Real Grand Slams, Hail Marys, Jump Shots, and Knock Outs are, I suspect, being scripted still, and I think we have seen them all today.
It's good, I tell my students, to have varied interests. Their advantage is clear: if you're ever fooled or frustrated by one, you can perhaps pursue another for support. Take, for instance, my own Seattle Mariners. They blew their annual opener yesterday by losing 10-5 against the Angels, so what I needed today was solace. And who should offer it but my stylish, poetry-writing daughter-in-law, whom you first read in Flight Song for Wren Marie. She also happens to be a very talented artist.
Last Friday night at her latest opening she drew many who declared, over wine and hors d'oeuvres, how she'd hit the artistic equivalent of a grand slam. She sold all but one of her new art works. But as the title of her show makes clear, "Solace" is in fact her larger interest, and I thought to say so here by sharing her "Artist's Statement":
My works [she writes] derive from the physical beauty of natural landscapes and/or the emotional landscapes of literature. They are intended to evoke a sense of those physical and emotional spaces — "windows" into transformative views.
The process of creating them is, in part, a meditation. Elements of watercolor, colored pencil, and fine papers are juxtaposed, cut or torn, layered and reworked. Seemingly disparate "bits" are assembled into a unified whole, much as glass tesseræ combine to form a mosaic, much as the snippets of one's existence are woven together and transformed to shape a life.
Perhaps somewhere between the luminous washes of color and the obsessive rigidity of the rectangular bits, one finds a balanced hush, a safe and quiet space of solace.
"Broken and Mended" is but a sample of her art, yet more to the point is the quiet substance of her style. Note how in three short paragraphs she moves deftly from a personal to impersonal vision, from "My works" to "one finds." Then focusing on elemental things inbetween, she gives precise meaning to the subtle use of the passive voice: "are intended," "are juxtaposed, cut or torn, layered and reworked," are assembled," "are woven." We feel wrapped in the warm embrace of truth and beauty, goodness, solace, and (perhaps) soul.
As I was saying, if baseball just doesn't work for you today, maybe give art a chance tomorrow.
If you've been paying attention, I've been wavering between first and last things here, apparently never quite hitting them solidly. But now, I thought, maybe I should try.
Yet here, alas, I'm somewhat off in my old swing and stance — for opening-day baseball at least. I mean April 1st seems already that day to me, so I'm just waiting foolishly for my real baseball passions to appear.
The Yankees and the Devil Rays have already gone overseas to Japan.
And some harborview games are being played today in California.
Major League Baseball's main web page says Opening Day is the 4th.
And here I am, teary-eyed and waiting, foolishly, for the 6th.
· 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:
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.
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.
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.
You might recall that two days ago was this site's first birthday. Last September, with Wetting the Line, Whetting the Points, I began my takes on style and have been at them since, happily and productively. I thought to add that it was my birthday Sunday, too, so I thought to celebrate with a John Updike passage triply fit to my also taking in the season's last Seattle Mariners' game.
So how did it go? Just great! The M's beat Oakland 9 - 3, Jamie Moyer collected his 21st win, and Edgar Martinez — "Poppy," as we call him — may have batted in his last game. "It doesn't get any better than that," as I told my son, but since I have seen Roger Clemens pitch his 300th, and read John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, I have known, of course, that occasionally it does.
Updike's great passage recounts Ted Williams' last time at bat. "Understand," Updike recalled of that magical September 28, 1960, "that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will," but this "was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future."
Updike's two paragraphs describing Williams' achievement are gems:
There it was [he writes]. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass, the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and vanished.
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ''We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.
I told my daughter-in-law Sunday, "If Edgar hits a homer" — it was the bottom half of the 8th — "he's almost sure to retire. If he doesn't, certainly we'll know soon." And so we're waiting.
Forgive me, but stylistically and substantively, this is one 60-year-old "Poppy" speaking.
I spent last week away attending to academic essays on literary style "Back East." As I've said, academics make much of the view, adduced directly last week even, that style is sometimes more important than substance. Now while I have never held to that view, I am still intrigued by those who do so, as well as by those who don't. For there's something to be said for both.
For example, here's a short piece of writing showing how both are reciprocal. Its apparent subject is a "stylish" take on Henry David Thoreau by a student:
It would be another age-of-reason novelist, Henry David Thoreau, who consequently shows that style is more important than substance. In his novel Walden, Thoreau wrote with such beautiful academic prose that — even reaching a poetic voice throughout the novel (although the book is one of many of the somniferous school of literature) — it is still considered to be in the American literary cannon of literature, thus showing that style is more important than substance.
Don't you think that even "substantively" charming? By taking a novel approach to Walden, the student has marked the end of modern American schooling, providing us a "somniferous" acquaintance with literature which even "cannon" fire can't really disturb. Of course, the irony is that students themselves are now quite capable of saying so, stylistically and substantively.
Which is maybe why "Rocket" firing was the real news last week — Roger Clemens going 300 in The Bronx Friday.
· Cheap Tickets from Track to Field: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda ·
Funny Cide's showing at Belmont Saturday put me in mind of another, luckier race some years ago at Churchill Downs. Writing in an essay called "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda," a bright student — a Vietnam veteran, quick of wit and wise of word — happily marked his lucky day in this stylish sentence:
I leaned on the rail near the finish line at Churchill Downs and waited for the race to start because I knew the horse I picked would win even though my "sure things" had never finished better than second but "Jeanne's Faith" loved mud and the odds were indeed in her favor and they were off and I yelled "C'mon Jeannie Baby!" and she broke on top with her stiff-legged gait and left the rest of the pack far behind and won going away and a $200 bet would pay $3800 so I took my soggy ticket to the two dollar place window where I collected $11.40 and went to the bar in the clubhouse and ordered a double bourbon.
Last Saturday, Roger Clemens' loss in Chicago put me in mind, too, of the student's point: that our holding even wrong tickets — on Friday the 13th, say — can occasionally make luckless days lucky:
It is easy for us to view the past subjectively [he writes]. Instead let us consider it objectively, as a part of our existence, like rocks and trees, wind and rain. . . . Preoccupation with the past can be a type of slavery, with coulda, woulda, shoulda as overseers. By looking toward the future, the haggard and hopeless coulda, woulda, shoulda fade away, replaced by the three new and untarnished personages, filled with anticipation and hope, of can, will, and shall.
I'm happy to report that bleacher seat I bought in April for Friday's Yankees game in the Bronx now seems right. Even "cheap tickets" can mark Roger Clemens' 300th win.
Wendell Berry, in his 1990 book What Are People For? happily links style to fishing and gives me a convenient place to start.
Farmer-essayist Berry understands well Thoreau's dictum that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, and he understands like Izaak Walton how to make points about style in some taut, intelligent lines about angling. Maybe that's why he focuses on Ernest Hemingway and Norman Maclean in his short essay, "Style and Grace."
The essay is about Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River" (1925) and Maclean's A River Runs through It (1976). Berry notes the clear strengths of these contrasting masterpieces of English style, praising Hemingway's craftsmanly fastidiousness — his "refusing clutter" in not fishing the narrative's famous swamp at last — and Maclean's "not so neat or self-contained, but just as fine," messiness — his choosing to fish in a story of loss, bewilderment, and misunderstanding for "the essential mysteriousness of our experience." I like his contrast, fastidiousness and messiness, and I recommend them both.
But I can't help noting Berry's ending:
I am only trying to make a distinction between two literary attitudes and their manifestations in styles.
Hemingway's art, in "Big Two-Hearted River," seems to me an art determined by its style. This style, like a victorious general, imposes its terms on its subject. We are meant always to be conscious of the art, and to be conscious of it as a feat of style.
Mr. Maclean's, in contrast, seems to me to be a used, rather than an exhibited art, one that ultimately subjects itself to its subject. It is an art not like that of the bullfighter, which is public, all to be observed, but instead is modest, solitary, somewhat secretive — used, like fishing, to catch what cannot be seen.
What cannot be seen, of course, is the big fish — named Grace — which, as Maclean's story makes clear (and you might note here), "comes by art and art does not come easy."