Friday, June 29, 2018

Brian's Return by Gary Paulsen

 Source of book: Audiobook from the library (but we own this too.)

This book is number four (of five) in the Hatchet series. The rest are reviewed below:

I first heard Hatchet as an audiobook when I was in my late teens. I read it to the kids first, then we listened to the rest in audiobook form. The original book is a true classic. The River was pretty good, but I thought Brian’s Winter was a better (and alternate) continuation of the story. 

I will confess I was a bit disappointed by Brian’s Return. It picks up the story after Brian’s Winter with Brian trying to reintegrate into school and society after nearly a year in the wilderness. It does not go well. A bully attacks him over a girl (who he isn’t even dating), and Brian reacts as he would to a dangerous animal, seriously injuring the bully. This leads to him landing in counseling. As part of this process, he is introduced to Shakespeare, and also told that he would benefit from going back to the wilderness periodically. In Brian’s case, that means he essentially decides he is going back there - and staying this time.

This is where I have a bit of a problem with the direction taken by the series. Paulsen’s afterword makes it clear that Brian is Paulsen in many ways, and Paulsen himself did live mostly in the wilderness for years, until health issues forced him to live closer to civilization. So I get the personal aspect of the desire to return to nature. Honestly, I too love the wilderness (in reasonable doses), but I also realize that isolation like that works for very few people. We are a social species, and lack of human contact isn’t particularly healthy for individuals, and it ultimately precludes the development that makes us human, rather than just smart animals.

Paulsen also never addresses the fact that even a social form of hunting and gathering would require the human species to be one percent or less of the population we have, which is, for obvious reasons, a serious moral problem.

So, this kind of bothered me. Maybe the final book resolves the issue, but I found it unsatisfying to think that the only option was complete isolation from society and near-complete isolation from technology. This general philosophy was all too common in the Fundie circles (although they generally envisioned an early agricultural, rather than hunter-gatherer society as ideal.) Both share a disdain for urban living - and thus urban humanity - which again poses a myriad of ethical and practical questions.

There are some good parts to the book, though. It is nice to see a counselor portrayed as neither the all-knowing savior of the protagonist nor as a bumbling fool, but as an interesting human in his own right. Paulsen is still amazing in describing techniques, and in recounting moments from his own experience: in this book, encounters with a deer and a bear. I also appreciated the episode near the end when he encounters the old woodsman, who speaks his particular language. The writing is good. The problem is in the conception, which seems uncharacteristically naive for Paulsen.

We listened to this on the same trip as The Call of the Wild, which made an interesting pairing. Two authors familiar with the unforgiving laws of nature, as well as the things necessary for survival. Both stories about going feral and returning to instinct. It turns out to be a bit more convincing in the case of the dog.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Source of book: Audiobook from the library (but I own this too.)

As part of our quest to visit the western National Parks, we take a longer camping or road trip each year. To get me through the miles, particularly when I am towing our trailer, we listen to audiobooks. I try to keep a good balance between kids books, and classics.

Earlier this year, a friend brought a book of “campfire stories” along, and had me read them on cool evenings around the campfire. One of those was Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” a classic of the implacability of nature to man’s folly. Having read that, I decided it was probably a good time to listen to London’s best known work, The Call of the Wild

London was perhaps the best known of the naturalist writers of the early 20th Century. His novels and stories portray a highly Darwinistic view of nature, devoid of sympathy, governed by survival of the fittest, and ruled by instinct. London was not wrong about this. Nature is cruel. Well, not “cruel” in the moral sense. As London also noted, mankind is the only creature that kills and hurts for fun. In fact, this is one of the great contrasts in London’s writing. Nature is Darwinistic. Mankind is capable of a difference, both good and bad. Mankind engages in senseless cruelty. Mankind fails or refuses to acknowledge the laws of nature, and finds himself dead as a result. But mankind is also capable of genuine love and goodness.

All of the above is on full display in The Call of the Wild.

The basic story is pretty simple. Buck, a large and magnificent dog of mixed heritage, is stolen from his owner in the Santa Clara Valley, and sold north to work as a sled dog in the Yukon, during the gold rush. London knew this area pretty well, having prospected a bit himself. Buck first works for a government dispatcher running mail between outposts. He defeats the current lead dog, and becomes the leader. After that, he works for a different official carrying heavy loads. However, a season of running wears him out, and he is sold along with the rest of the team near the end of the season. Unfortunately, he is purchased by a naive couple and her brother who set out for the Yukon to look for gold. Overweight, underprepared, and too late in the season, they set out, only to reach utter disaster at the hands of relentless Nature. Fortunately for Buck, he is taken in by John Thornton, who shows him the first real love he has had in a long time. After a few memorable episodes, Buck finds himself growing wilder with time, and reverting to his roots as a wolf. When Thornton and his partners are slaughtered by Native Americans, Buck’s last tie to civilization is broken, and he becomes fully wild.

I read this book (and its companion, White Fang - which we didn’t get to on this trip) back in my teens. I suspect a lot of people did experience it at that age, either as as school assignment or just because it is one of the books you read in your teens. In any case, I read White Fang first, which gave me a different perspective on the two books. In some ways, The Call of the Wild seemed to be a lesser book. It was shorter, and the “growing wild” idea didn’t appeal much to me at the time.

Rereading it, though, by itself, I think I appreciate better what London was trying to do. The short length actually means London wrote concisely, and created a perfectly balanced and tautly written tale. I was struck this time by the parallel structure, the sense of direction in the narrative, and way that every detail matters.

I like long books just fine. I mean, Anthony Trollope and Henry James, right? But there is something to be said for disciplined writing of shorter narratives too. I have always loved short stories for this reason.

Last time I read this, I think I missed the way the incidents are parallels throughout. The opening theft and the final wilding after the massacre. The powerlessness of the beginning with the newfound power at the end. The contrast of the dispatchers and their innate knowledge of the rhythms of nature, and the arrogant prospectors who are broken by nature. The cruelty of the man in the red sweater who breaks Buck to servitude, and the kindness of Thornton, who, while he keeps Buck from going completely feral, also aids the transition by his own closeness to nature. The middle episode of running heavy loads transitions from Buck’s rising action to leadership to his increasing break with civilization. There is a lot of craft in the plotting and writing.

Other observations: I had forgotten how violent this book is. More accurately, I had forgotten how violent the humans are in this book. I recalled the animal violence well enough. Eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. The law of nature and all. But, perhaps because I remembered the violence better in White Fang, I forgot how much there is in The Call of the Wild. London seems to envision a good portion of humanity as animalistic at best, and brutal at worst. There are times when I agree with him. Not always, but sometimes. And more these days in the era of Trump.

Secondly, and this was no surprise, London is a bit racist. Not much of a surprise for 1903, of course. And also not a surprise for someone of that era who was strongly Darwinist. But this is a complex issue when it comes to London, as it is for Mark Twain, another person progressive for his era, yet with glaring blind spots. Both tended to view Native Americans as lesser - and London wrote a rather xenophobic diatribe on the peril of Chinese immigration. (This wasn’t that long after the Chinese Exclusion Act. The thing with London is that he was self-aware that racism itself has no rational basis, and noted that he suspected that his fears about China might turn out to be as silly as other “race fantasies.” Furthermore, like Twain, he wrote stories that humanized minorities more than his predecessors and contemporaries. Also complicating things was the fact that London believed strongly in determinism: that is, that environment determines behavior. He thus believed that poverty caused crime, for example, and that abused children grow up to be abusers. Because of this, he advocated for socialism, on the grounds that good outcomes required equal starting points, a point that later Civil Rights Activists would adopt as their own.

I find Jack London to be best in small doses. The brutally naturalistic viewpoint can be a bit overwhelming at times, and you kind of want to see some decent humans after a while. Although, to be honest, they can be in short supply in literature - and sometimes in real life too. But London does make you think. He is certainly an antidote to the sort of nature-worshipping story that views animals as if they were fuzzy little humans, and not living according to Nature’s laws. Never forget that that snuggly, purry cat you love will heartlessly slaughter and eat rodents and birds. I find nature to be beautiful, but it is also deadly and cruel if one fails to respect it. Perhaps London’s most unique contribution to the literature, then, is to write animals that think like animals. Buck isn’t just a human who can’t really talk. Rather, he acts according to instinct, according to nature, and according to his circumstances. And yet, he is a sympathetic and nuanced character; and one of the finest animal characters in literature.

In re-reading this, with the kids, I was reminded that London was an excellent writer, whether or not you agree with his philosophy or not.


A side note: I am (as regular readers will know), an avid hiker. The kids and I put on about 120 miles or so a year together, and I often get more than that in. One of the things that stuck with me from reading Jack London was that nature can be unpredictable - so always leave a margin for error and the unexpected, and hike prepared. Thus, we always hike with snacks, a first aid kit, and windbreakers. I have assisted other, less prepared hikers numerous times. Be prepared, be safe, stay alive.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

My kids love the Neil Gaiman we have listened to previously. Which is to say, my kids love creepy stories, and have a high tolerance for horror. Here are our previous Gaiman selections:

One thing I should mention at the outset about Neverwhere, is that, unlike the others, Neverwhere isn’t really a kids book. (Arguably, Good Omens isn’t either. But that book is less terrifying and more humorous, because Terry Pratchett…) That means that it contains some pretty scary and violent moments - little kids will probably have an issue here. And also a fair share of garden-variety vulgarity and profanity. Your approach to this sort of stuff with your kids may vary from mine. (For what it is worth, I am bothered much more by racial slurs, which you find readily in older literature - including children’s literature - than by crass references to bodily functions, extremely hot punishment, and how you get there.) There are also some non-graphic sexual references (the main character is definitely having sex with his fiancee.)

What Neverwhere is, however, is Gaiman’s first real novel (he started with graphic novels), which he based on a TV series he also wrote. The characters are the same, but the story is expanded. It is more or less in the horror genre, and certainly shows all the typical themes that Gaiman continues to work with. Realism with a supernatural element (not exactly magical realism, but a close cousin), lonely and isolated characters, a hidden world hiding in plain sight alongside the “real” one, and a generally Gothic and macabre vibe.

In an opening that O Henry would approve, young businessman Richard Mayhew is running late to a dinner with his fiancee and her famous boss, when a girl appears on the sidewalk, bleeding badly, and asking for help - and that the police not be called. To the horror and disapproval of his fiancee - and against his better judgment - he takes the girl, who calls herself “Door,” back to his apartment. Soon after, two rather Victorian gentlemen gangster sorts calling themselves Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar show up, and attempt to shake him down for the girl. And then things start to get really weird really fast.

First, Richard must summon a mysterious figure, the Marquis de Carabas, who takes Door with him as they both vanish. Then, Richard discovers that he apparently no longer exists. Nobody remembers him, and his flat is being rented to strangers. He has to find his way to “London Underground” to find Door and try to get his life back. Once there, he finds he is caught up in running from a plot to murder Door (having dispatched her family already), which appears to involve very powerful and mysterious forces. Richard, the Marquis, Door, and a badass female bodyguard, Hunter, set out on the quest for the truth and safety.

This being Gaiman, naturally, assassins figure prominently. And nobody is quite who they seem. Along the way, there are a bunch of memorable, fascinating characters that inhabit an equally imaginative world. Gaiman also combines, as usual, suspenseful plotting with good characterization (within the confines of the genre), and solid writing. There is plenty of social satire as well. The Western financial world gets skewered, as do upwardly mobile sorts who grasp at wealth and prestige. London Underground consists of all the people who fall between the cracks, and Gaiman makes them sympathetic and human - if thoroughly rough and tumble. Richard’s experience is that of falling through the cracks – becoming invisible to society. It happens to him – and could happen to us – more easily than we think.

This book is also a confirmation of the axiom that Neil Gaiman should always narrate his own audiobooks. His smooth and slightly sinister voice fits his writing perfectly.

As I noted above, unless you have kids like mine, probably be cautious. The violence is pretty nasty, the language might be an issue, and it is a scary book. On the other hand, for teens who like terror, Gaiman’s writing is above average, and his books have a certain moral heft to them which transcends the genres he writes in. We have really enjoyed them over the last few years. 

 Illustration by Chris Riddell. Richard and the Marquis

 Croup and Vandemar.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean

Source of book: I own this.

Some people line up overnight for the latest smart phone. Other people - like me - get giddy whenever a favorite author releases a new book. I’m a pop-science fan. (Okay, a science fan too.) So, every time Mary Roach, for example, writes something, I am all over it.

One of my favorites is Sam Kean. Sadly, it has been a while since his last book, so I haven’t gotten my fix in three years. Fortunately, my wife got me his new book for Christmas. Here are my reviews of Kean’s other books.

Caesar’s Last Breath is about gases. Encompassed in that topic are history, medicine, as well as the science you would expect. As I have noted, Kean’s style - his strong point - is to write stories. You remember the science because it relates to people. And you remember the people because of the science. In this book, he opens with the assassination of Julius Caesar, then speculates about whether he (and you and me) have inhaled the same molecules that he breathed out. Well, “speculate” is entirely the wrong word. He does that math in detail. (The answer: statistically, you would inhale one molecule on average that Caesar breathed out with each and every breath you take.)

After this introduction, Kean looks at a number of gases found in our atmosphere in light of the past, present, and future, using a combination of stories and science. The first section is about the history of the earth’s atmosphere. That part is pretty fascinating, particularly if - like me - you missed out on too much of mainstream science as a kid. We are on at least our fourth atmosphere here on earth, and the history is really fun. The second part is about humans and the atmosphere. The final part is about the effect we humans have had on the atmosphere. Some parts are depressing, particularly our ongoing contributions to carbon dioxide. But you also get crazy stories, like that of Harry Truman (not the president - a crazy old coot who lived on the flanks of Mt. Saint Helens…) And of the Montgolfier brothers (pioneers of balloon flight), Alfred Nobel, and so many more.

I could go on with fun anecdotes and cool scientific facts, but Kean tells it better anyway.

A few things are worth mentioning, though. First is that we seriously underestimate gases. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is 14.7 pounds per square inch. Not that much - bicycle tires are inflated to a far greater pressure. But that’s a whole ton of weight on every square foot - 20 tons pressing on your body. We don’t even notice, of course, but it is there.

On a related note, it is tough to fathom just how tiny molecules are - and how many of them there are. Sure, we memorize Avogadro's Number in high school. (6.022 x 1023, in case you didn’t remember it…) But exponents are hard to translate to reality. The numbers are too big.

Kean uses an interesting technique. At the beginning of each section, he gives the chemical formula for each molecule he will discuss (say, nitrogen - N2, or nitrous oxide - N2O), then indicates how many molecules you inhale with each breath. This is completely astounding.

Are you familiar with acetylene? (C2H2)  It’s a fuel for flame welding torches. It is a negligible proportion of air: at most 0.0001 parts per million. Undetectable for practical purposes. Medically insignificant. And yet. Each breath contains a billion molecules of acetylene. Say what?! As they say, the poison is in the dose, and the numbers this book contains are pretty good evidence of that.

There are two other references that tickled me. One was to William McGonagall, arguably the worst poet ever. And also referenced in Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. McGonagall comes into the book because of his poem on the Tay Bridge Disaster, which was related to defects in the iron - hence a discussion of gas metallurgy.  

The final bit that I found fascinating is the explanation of the workings of the “flame refrigerator” - aka the absorption fridge. You may or may not be familiar with these. Most of our modern refrigerators (and air conditioners) use a heat pump to compress and condense a refrigerant (this is also discussed in the book.) However, there is an alternative method, which was developed by Leo Szilard and...Albert Einstein. It uses liquid and gas to accomplish the same thing, but using less toxic materials than those used by heat pumps at the time. (This was before freons were invented.) I think Kean gets one detail wrong about these. He claims that these never made it into homes - but that isn’t quite true. Kean is correct that the heat pump is more efficient and more powerful, and that this is why our homes today use them. But those of us with rural ancestors know that in places where there was no electricity, these - which run off of propane or natural gas - were in common use. I suspect Kean is from the east coast, not from, say, rural Montana.

And, today, they are ubiquitous in recreational vehicles - my trailer has one. That’s why I have refrigeration when boondocking. A little propane flame - heat - makes cold. It’s amazing.

Anyway, this book is quite fascinating, well written, and informative. Let’s hope Kean doesn’t take three years writing his next one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Assassins by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman

I apologize for the short length of this post. I have been fairly swamped at the office the last few weeks - which is good - I have to work to pay the bills - but it has made blogging a bit harder.

Let me also start off by recognizing the supporting cast of Assassins. Katelyn Evans, Victoria Lusk, Eric Miranda, Victoria Olmos, Eric Tolley, and Salvador Viduarri, Kelsey Morrow, Stephen Bush, Bobby Gamez, Salvador Vidaurri, Daniel Korth: you guys and gals were great. (After my last Empty Space review, I was reminded of my omission of a few smaller - but crucial - parts. Yep, everybody makes a production work, not just the leads.)

I wasn’t even remotely familiar with Assassins before The Empty Space announced it for this season. A musical about presidential assassins? But, Stephen Sondheim, right? So I knew I had to see it.

Assassins is a humorous look at the men and women who assassinated - or at least attempted to assassinate - the President of the United States. The musical isn’t particularly serious. After all, the opening and closing number opines that “everbody’s got the right to be happy.” And if you aren’t, well, have you tried killing the President? TES staged it with a carnival theme. “Shoot a President, win a prize!” But there is a more serious set of themes under the silly surface. The assassins and would-be assassins were a microcosm of their times, specifically the anxieties and neuroses of the times. They were the marginalized, the beaten down, the outcasts, who, for their own reasons, decided the cure was murder. Sorry, “assassination,” not just a pathetic “murder.” The problem is, while their names in some cases might be remembered now, they did nothing to fix the problems that troubled them - and in some cases had the opposite effect.

Some of the names will be household names: everyone knows John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald. Those of us who came of age during the 1980s will remember John Hinckley Jr. But how many could name Leon Czolgosz, let alone spell his name without looking it up? Who did he shoot at? Did he succeed? How about Giuseppe Zangara? Samuel Byck? Charles Guiteau? Sara Jane Moore? Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme? Okay, the last one might be more familiar because of her connection to Charles Manson.

I am probably slightly more than average when it comes to familiarity. In part, because I read about weird stuff all the time. But also because Czolgosz made it into a book on neuroscience, while Guiteau’s assassination of James Garfield was the topic of an outstanding book.

I don’t have time to get into all of the stories here, but Sondheim and Weidman don’t take too many artistic liberties with the facts. They are, of course, presented in an entirely different light. The president is off stage in many cases (although Daniel Korth makes appearances as McKinley and Reagan), and things are simplified a bit.

I want to mention just a few specifics here. Kyle Ken Gaines as John Wilkes Booth was excellent as usual. Just a great voice and stage presence. Also front and center was Alex Mitts as both the narrator (singing snarky songs about the assassins) and Lee Harvey Oswald. Perrin Swanson is no relation, although we share the same last name. He also works for the local yarn shop owned by local thespian Ronnie Warren, so my wife knows him. His turn as John Hinckley Jr. was appropriately pathetic and sad. Al Gains was hilarious as Guiteau - convinced he should be ambassador to France and always selling his book. Finally, Sondheim and Weidman decided to combine Moore and Fromme into one plot. The two of them (independently) attempted to kill Gerald Ford a few weeks apart. Neither was particularly competent. In this play, Moore is played as a total ditz, while Fromme is freaky, creepy, and drugged out. This eventually leads to some funny lines. “You brought your dog to an assassination?” “You brought your KID to an assassination?!” Abby Bowles-Votaw as Moore and the always-outstanding Nancee Steiger as Fromme have great chemistry, and these scenes were riveting. I am still creeped out by Steiger’s stare. Yikes.

Again, sorry this is short. It was fun. Thanks for doing it, TES. See you next time...  

 Perrin Swanson as John Hinckley Jr. 

 Alex Mitts as the Balladeer

 Nancee Steiger as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme

 Al Gaines as Charles Guiteau

Monday, June 11, 2018

Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (adapted by Daniel Sullivan) - Tom Hanks as Falstaff

Back some years ago, probably before we had kids, my wife and I saw Henry IV Part 1 at Bakersfield College, with the usual suspects (and theater professors) Bob Kempf in the role of Falstaff and Randall Messick as Owen Glendower. Either before or after (I forget which), I read through Part 1. Later, I added Part 2 to the list of plays I have at least read. I do not believe I had ever seen Part 2 in live performance.

The last few years, since the kids got a bit older, my wife and I taken a series of quick overnight trips to Los Angeles (a mere two hours away), for some sort of arts-related fun. (Past trips have included Porgy and Bess at the LA Opera, Phantom of the Opera, and Hamilton at the Pantages.) We were poking around for ideas for this year, when my wife ran across the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ production of the Henry IV plays in a conflated and edited version.

With Tom Hanks as Falstaff. Yes, that Tom Hanks.

So what if the only pairs of adjacent tickets were in the back row? It’s a small outdoor theater, and this is the sort of thing you just do when you can.

Scholars differ as to exactly what Shakespeare intended regarding the second play. Was it a sequel made necessary because of the runaway success of Part 1 in general and the character of Sir John Falstaff in particular? Or was a second part always planned? Whatever the case, Falstaff took on a life of his own, eventually getting a play all his own, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

As others have noted before, the Henry IV plays are really about just about anyone other than Henry IV, who is truly a minor character in the play. One could consider there to be a trilogy of Henry V plays, culminating in the Battle of Agincourt and the most epic pregame speech in literature. One could view Part 1 as the tragedy of Hotspur. Or you could view all that political nonsense and battle baloney as filler surrounding a series of Falstaff comedies. Ultimately, what you view as the center of the plays determines the approach you take, and the artistic decisions you make.

In this case, those decisions are even more pronounced because of the decision to conflate the plays. This would obviously require shortening, as a five or six hour version would be too taxing on both the audience and the actors. So, what to cut?

Daniel Sullivan (who also directed), chose to pare away most of the military strategy, some of the material involving Hotspur, everything with Owen Glendower (see below) involved, and quite a few pages of dialogue. The battle scenes are truncated and simplified. Even so, the runtime (with 15 minutes of intermission) was still nearly three and a half hours. I am a committed Shakespeare fan, so I do mind when stuff is cut, even though few productions these days seem to include every last line. But I agree that there was no good way to preserve everything in this case.

Sullivan therefore retains all of the Falstaff scenes; focuses on the drama with Prince Hal, Hotspur, and King Henry; and lets the history part of the play (which is, admittedly, the least relevant to 21st Century American audiences) fade to background noise. I would say that the parts I missed most were the Glendower and Hotspur scene (which is fantastic - and what better insult than to say the earth farted when Glendower was born...) and the explanation of Falstaff’s perfidy in sending unequipped “soldiers” to their deaths.

But, quibbles aside, the edited and conflated version was indeed coherent and focused, and I feel the cuts were defensible.

Now, about the production and the acting. Like the other Shakespeare production involving a fairly famous screen actor we have seen (Richard II, featuring Robert Sean Leonard), the sets and props were minimalist. Nothing fancy, no special effects, just basics enough to let the acting shine through. As much as I have enjoyed amazing stage effects in various productions, I do rather approve of bare-bones Shakespeare. The play’s the thing, after all, and it succeeds or fails on the strength of the acting.

In general, the acting was excellent in this production. I’m not surprised, of course. In Los Angeles (as in New York City, I expect), there are too many outstanding actors for the number of available parts as it is, so mainstream productions never lack for sufficient talent. The various bit parts were handled well, and I can’t really think of any sour notes.

The one part that seemed a bit out of place to me was Joe Morton’s Henry IV. You may have seen Morton in Scandal and Terminator 2 and other big and small screen productions. The thing is, he has a great voice for the part, and formidable gravitas. What was just a bit off (in my view) was the delivery. In retrospect, I wonder if this is an example of the controversy on how to deal with enjambment. If a sentence is carried over to the next line without a comma, do you pause at the end of the line? How long? (I highly recommend The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum if you want an extended discussion of the schools of thought on this.) I am pretty sure that Morton was observing the pause in each case, in contrast with the other actors, who generally used a more flowing, conversational tone. This did have the effect of making him sound more formal, but it also felt kind of weird, almost like he was trying to remember a word in his line, once in a while. (Clearly this was not the case - the pauses happened at the specific point: the end of the line, not randomly.) I personally found this to be a bit distracting, although I’m sure those on the other side of the enjambment argument will likely disagree.

A number of actors played multiple parts, as the two Henry plays have different supporting characters. Raffi Barsoumian brought a manic energy to Hotspur - really a fine portrayal of both his strengths and weaknesses - as well as a broad bawdiness and uncontrolled violence to Pistol in the second part.

Josh Clark was notable as Worcester (Hotspur’s uncle) in the first part - a consummately  professional and Shakespearean performance. He is a long-time veteran of the stage, so no surprise. He also covered the part of the Chief Justice in Part 2.

The Henry plays are really sparse on female parts, but Rondi Reed (as Mistress Quickly) and Emily Swallow (in a dual role as Lady Percy and prostitute Doll Tearsheet) made the most of the limited lines they had.

Another key part - Poins - was portrayed excellently by Chris Rivera. I enjoyed his work in this one.

But, the real question for Henry always comes down to Hal and Falstaff. If they have chemistry, the play works. If they don’t? Not so much.

In this production, Hal was played by Hamish Linklater. It is no minor task to appear opposite Tom Hanks, to say the least. But Linklater was excellent. Good stage presence, great body language, a verve to his lines, and great chemistry with his counterpart.

It is always a risk going to see a movie star on stage. Some really shine, and others...don’t. This isn’t a knock on them. It takes a different set of skills to play to a closely placed camera, and a rather different set to carry emotion out a hundred feet to the cheap seats.

Hanks is one of the rare actors who is fantastic at both. From the opening scene (the editing placed him at the first and last scenes on stage), he owned the stage. Hidden under a fat suit, long hair, and grey beard, he didn’t look obviously like the Tom Hanks everyone knows. But you could tell as soon as he spoke who it was.

The best things about the performance were things I didn’t entirely expect. First, Hanks is superb at the physical side of acting. He truly inhabited the character - fat, old, dissipated, bawdy, vulgar. When he walked, he looked truly obese - not just a guy in a fat suit. When others helped him up, he sold it. When he fell, he made it look painful. The character didn’t crack until the final bows, when he bounced up on stage like he had taken off the body of his character. Just remarkable.

The other thing that surprised me was the way he handled the language of Shakespeare. I knew he had trained for the stage, so I expected he wouldn’t be awkward. But he might have been formal in his delivery.

Not so. Of all the actors in this production, he seemed the most at home in the Shakespeare vernacular, to the point where it was easy to forget he was speaking Elizabethan English. It truly sounded like he was speaking naturally, the way Falstaff himself might have spoken. All those archaic words, all those iambs. It just rolled off his tongue, modulated in volume and inflection as natural language. It was truly fascinating to watch. It looked so easy. And it looked like he was having fun.

I guess that makes sense. Hanks has made more money than he will ever need. He has won a boatload of awards. He might be one of the most famous people in the world. There is no compelling reason why he would need to spend a summer playing a 400 year old stage work to a few hundred people a night. I imagine he did this because he thought that playing Falstaff would be a whole lot of fun - so he did.

In any event, for me, it was that delightful experience of seeing a master of his or her craft at work, making art for the sheer pleasure of it. 

 Poins (Chris Rivera), Prince Hal (Hamish Linklater), and Falstaff (Tom Hanks)


On Owen Glendower:

It occurs to me that, before there was the Magical Negro, before the Wise Indian Shaman/Chief, there was the Mystical Welshman, aka Owen Glendower. In retrospect, it is kind of funny how much the ideas have in common. The tribal culture, weird primitive dress, the mystical religion, the “crazy like a fox” vibe. And, of course, the way the character is used as either an aid or foil of the main, “civilized white” characters.

Of course, this being Shakespeare, Glendower is more than just a foil. He is a bit of a cautionary tale. One of Hotspur’s fatal mistakes is to get into a “hand measuring” contest with Glendower, rather than solidifying his alliance. We are left to speculate whether Hotspur might have won the day had he played his diplomatic hand better.


On a very tangentially related note, Amanda and I have also made a tradition of unwinding after a performance and talking over our thoughts while sipping cocktails. The first time was inspired by the tiny hotel bar at Maison 140 (former home of Lillian and Dorothy Gish), where we stayed after Porgy and Bess. Amanda wore one of her flapper dresses, so an absinthe was perfect. Then, we discovered The Pikey, a quirky British-style night spot just down Sunset from our hotel.

This time, since we were in West LA, we figured we would try to discover a cool spot on that side of town. Amanda’s skill with a smartphone and excellent instincts led us to Bibo Ergo Sum, next door to Cedars Sinai hospital. (Yeah, how cool of a name is that?) It was practically deserted late on a Sunday night, so we got very attentive service. And truly craft cocktails. I am still thinking about that rye whiskey sour. If you are in the area and want a place with a good vibe and skillfully made classic cocktails, give it a try.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Source of book: I own this.

I came rather late in life to Henry James: my first experience was in my mid thirties. This is probably just as well, as the teenaged me might have gotten the wrong impression.

James writes tragedies, for the most part. If there is one thing he writes best, it would be dysfunctional or failed relationships. I am hard pressed to think of anything of his that I have read that contained a truly great marriage - and the functional ones that do exist are usually at the extreme margins of the plot and do not even function as a foil to the bad relationships.

I have wondered if this is related to the fact that James never had a romantic relationship, and indeed seemed to avoid close relationships in general. This, combined with his brilliancy in observing and writing about the unhappiness of others, gives his writing a generally tragic air. 

The Portrait of a Lady is a devastating tragedy written when James was at the peak of his powers. As with many of his novels and novellas, he focuses on a female protagonist; and, as in other tales, his protagonist is young, naive, and in over her head in a sea of more sophisticated and Machiavellian sharks.

Isabel Archer is a young American woman, whose parents have died, leaving her with neither fortune nor prospects. Her elder sisters have done alright, marrying respectably although not brilliantly, and have settled into ordinary lives. Isabel is the prettiest, and has the most striking personality. In the wake of her father’s death, Isabel’s aunt (who is married to a rich American financier who lives in England), takes an interest in her, and whisks her off to Europe to expand her horizons. In fairly short order, she has managed to turn down two marriage proposals: one from Lord Warburton, a rather decent - and fantastically wealthy - English lord; and from her longtime acquaintance, Caspar Goodwood, a rising American businessman, whose “Americanness,” for lack of a better term, is amusingly caricatured by James. Oh, and her sickly cousin Ralph is also in love with her, but he knows he will die young and has no chance anyway.

Soon afterward, Isabel’s rich uncle dies, and, at the insistence of Ralph (his only child), leaves Isabel a sizeable legacy. This proves to be her undoing. Madam Merle, a friend of Isabel’s aunt, an American expat with a mysterious and lurid past of some sort, takes Isabel in hand. She introduces Isabel to Gilbert Osmond, another American expat, a widow with a daughter, who is somehow connected to her. Gilbert has impeccable taste, can charm anyone, and lacks money. What a perfect match, right? Isabel is too naive to see Gilbert for the narcissist and egoist that he is, or to realize that she is being manipulated by Madam Merle - and that Merle has an uncomfortably close connection with Gilbert. For his part, Gilbert believes he can change Isabel to fit his tastes, and clamp down on her irrepressible originality and independence.

This does not go well. Isabel doesn’t change, Gilbert ends up hating her. Even though he never does anything openly wrong, he essentially mentally abuses her. And, eventually, Isabel realizes that she has been duped.

As is typical with James, there are no really clear villains. Madam Merle herself suffered a bad marriage, and has had to use her brains and charm to survive. She is genuinely taken by surprise when the marriage she has arranged goes bad. She thought Gilbert was better than that, and that he would like Isabel. Likewise (although I won’t reveal the plot twist entirely), her ulterior motive is hardly shameful.

Gilbert is a narcissist and egoist, but he deserves some sympathy too. By 19th Century standards, he isn’t a bad spouse. His mental abuse is the natural working out of the views of the time. He expected her to change herself to suit him - quite reasonable for an upper class man in the Victorian Era - and her refusal to cater to him would (and does) earn her condemnation. An additional source of friction here too is that the money is hers, not his. Had it been the other way around (as it is for Gilbert’s sister and her philandering husband the Count), he could have easily controlled her using money. But the shoe is on the other foot.

Likewise, the “heroes” are flawed. Isabel is a bit of a live wire, but she lacks an intellectual foundation to aid her judgment. She ignores the advice of her aunt and cousin, both of which are more observant than she. She likewise ignores her friend Henrietta (a female journalist who is, like Caspar, hilariously American.) While she pays an unfair price for her mistakes, she mostly has herself to blame.

In the case of Caspar, who is cast as the hero - he offers to save her near the end - it is easy to see why Isabel refuses him. He is an egoist in his own way, and too over eager to be charming rather than slightly creepy. Would she have been happy with him? Probably not. Or with Lord Warburton, who is thoroughly nice, but not Isabel’s type at all.

Perhaps the most fascinating character is that of Ralph, who unwittingly causes the tragedy, and ends up regretting it. Ralph is the cynical observer, except he really isn’t that cynical. He is, how does one even put it? Disinterested, perhaps? (Not uninterested, which is most certainly NOT a synonym.) Ralph has no dog in the race, other than curiosity to see what someone like Isabel might do with enough money to enable her to chart her own course without financial considerations limiting her choices.

It perhaps says something about James that he has his character make terrible choices. I was tempted for a moment to say that James is sexist - his female characters rarely have good judgment. Except that his male characters are no better. They just tend not to pay for their mistakes the same way the women do. And that has little to do with James and everything to do with how late Victorian society functioned. If anything, the men tend to be indecisive and weak at all the wrong moments. It also occurs to me that Catherine from Washington Square is a fantastically strong and admirable character who pays for her virtues, not her mistakes.

One of the two best things about The Portrait of a Lady is the psychological portraits of the characters. The title itself is a clue to that: this book is a portrait of Isabel - a deep look at her psyche, her strengths, weaknesses, hopes, dreams, and emotions. And James is fantastic at the art of showing these rather than stating them. But there is more than that. We are given insights into many of the characters as we go along. Ralph, Henrietta, Mrs. Touchett, Madam Merle, Gilbert, Lord Warburton, Edward Rosier, and Pansy in particular are given special treatment throughout the book. The one blank slate seems to be Caspar, who one wonders if he even has an inner life.

The other strength of this book is the writing. James’ isn’t the easiest writing to read quickly (although it is by no means unusual for his era), but it is fantastically well crafted. At multiple points in this long book (600+ pages), I went back and re-read a passage just for the amazing way it was written.

Here are a few of the best moments - ones I couldn’t resist writing down. First is the opening line:

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

James was an American by birth, who, like his characters, spent much of his life in Europe. Lines like this elicit his admiration for the Old World and its ceremonies. It also sets the stage beautifully for what is to follow. In this opening scene, when Isabel first meets her uncle, cousin, and Lord Warburton, much of what will occur later can be seen in the interactions of the characters.

This initial scene occurs at the beginning, but the narrative is already in motion. Later, James circles back to introduce us to Isabel and exactly how she ended up in England. There are two lines in that chapter which are good in themselves, but also form a contrast with the final scenes in the book.

[T]his young lady had been seated alone with a book. To say that she had a book is to say that her solitude did not press upon her; for her love of knowledge had a fertilising quality and her imagination was strong.

And later:

Her reputation of reading a great deal hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic; it was supposed to engender difficult questions, and to keep the conversation at a low temperature. The poor girl liked to be thought clever, but she hated to be thought bookish; she used to read in secret, and, though her memory was excellent, to abstain from quotation.

As an aside here, take a look at the masterful use of semicolons in those two sentences. James’ sentences are written with such a beautiful awareness of how clauses and ideas relate.

This scene is revisited at various points throughout the book. The Touchett’s massive and impressive library, where Isabel spends hours during her initial visit pairs with her last visit, where she cannot bring herself to read. Her early love for reading is crushed by Gilbert’s disdain for books and imagination in general.

James is nothing if not perceptive when it comes to the hypocrisies of his - or any - age. In an early conversation between Mr. Touchett (the rich uncle) and Isabel, they discuss Lord Warburton, who is both fabulously rich and politically progressive - even radical. Mr. Touchett, the capitalist banker, doesn’t think much of this.

“Don’t you think they are sincere?” Isabel asked.
“Well, they are very conscientious,” Mr. Touchett allowed; “but it seems as if the took it out in theories, mostly. Their radical views are a kind of amusement; they have go to have some amusement, and they might have coarser tastes than that. You see they are very luxurious, and these progressive ideas are about their biggest luxury.”

What a delightfully cynical observation. And kind of true too, both about the British aristocracy in the twilight of the Victorian Era and in our own times. It’s easy to be progressive as long as your own status isn’t really threatened. On the other hand, I suppose that one of the reasons the British Empire faded without a bloody revolution is that the Bertie Woosters of the Edwardian Era were content to allow needed reform to happen, rather than double down on increasing inequality like some of our current American plutocrats.

Mr. Touchett is hardly the only cynic in his family, however. Ralph is rather delightful, and this exchange between he and Isabel about Henrietta is fantastically witty.

“Shall I love her, or shall I hate here?” asked Ralph, while they stood on the platform, before the advent of the train.
“Whichever you do will matter very little to her,” said Isabel. “She doesn’t care a straw what men think of her.”
“As a man I am bound to dislike her, then. She must be a kind of monster. Is she very ugly?”
“No, she is decidedly pretty.”
“A female interviewer -- a reporter in petticoats? I am very curious to see her,” Ralph declared.
“It is very easy to laugh at her, but it is not easy to be as brave as she.”
“I should think not; interviewing requires bravery. Do you suppose she will interview me?”
“Never in the world. She will not think you of enough importance.”
“You will see,” said Ralph. “She will send a description of us all, including Bunchie, to her newspaper.”
“I shall ask her not to,” Isabel answered.
“You think she is capable of it, then.”
“And yet you have made her your bosom-friend?”
“I have not made her my bosom-friend; but I like her, in spite of her faults.”
“Ah, well,” said Ralph, “I am afraid I shall dislike her, in spite of her merits.”

That is an exchange worthy of Oscar Wilde.

Later, there is another one, this time about Henrietta’s ambiguous relationship with Mr. Bantling, a minor British aristocrat.

“She has made a conquest. He thinks here a brilliant woman. It may go far,” said Ralph.
Isabel was silent a moment.
“I call Henrietta a very brilliant woman; but I don’t think it will go far,” she rejoined at last. “They would never really know each other. He has not the least idea what she really is, and she has no just comprehension of Mr. Bantling.”
“There is no more usual basis of matrimony than a mutual misunderstanding.”

What an outstanding line. For better or worse, Ralph is right. Henrietta and Bantling do eventually square it up -- although not for a number of years. But, alas, Isabel herself will marry on the basis of a mutual misunderstanding.

Not too long after this, Caspar Goodwood makes his first appearance, and attempts to convince Isabel to marry him. It does not go well. She turns him down, and he won’t let it go.

“What good do you expect to get by insisting?”
“The good of not losing you.”
“You have no right to talk about losing what is not yours. And even from your own point of view,” Isabel added, “you ought to know when to let one alone.”

I’ve met a few people like this in my law practice. The ones who feel they have some entitlement. (And, whether it comes through in this short excerpt, Caspar does feel he has a claim on her, if he can just assert it strongly enough.) However, Caspar does get one thing right about Isabel:

“Do you think I am so very easily pleased?” she asked suddenly, changing her tone.
“No I don’t; I shall try and console myself with that. But there are a certain number of very clever men in the world; if there were only one, it would be enough. You will be sure to take no one who is not?”
“I don’t need the aid of a clever man to teach me how to live,” said Isabel. “I can find it out for myself.”

Isabel speaks the truth -- but not the truth about her, and that is the problem. All it will take is a very clever man (aided by an even more clever woman), and she will marry to be “taught how to live.” Isabel is the one person who can’t see this about herself. Later, Mrs. Touchett has some misgivings about Isabel and Gilbert having met, but she consoles herself that Isabel refused Lord Warburton. I love this line about Mrs. Touchett’s view of marriage:

Mrs. Touchett easily remembered that the girl had refused an English peer; and that a young lady for whom Lord Warburton had not been up to the mark should content herself with an obscure American dilettante, a middle aged widower with an overgrown daughter and an income of nothing - this answered to nothing in Mrs. Touchett’s conception of success. She took, it will be observed, not the sentimental, but the political view of matrimony -- a view which has always had much to recommend it.

I am, shall we say, not of Mrs. Touchett’s opinion. However, I will grant one thing: there is much to be said for marrying someone in one’s general income class. Much less gold digging -- and that goes both directions. But that is probably the attorney in me talking. (Also, how good is that last sentence? Delaying “political” until the end of the clause is perfection.)

There is another witty exchange on the general topic of materialism later on. Edward Rosier, the star-crossed would-be suitor of Gilbert’s daughter Pansy, tries to enlist Madame Merle’s assistance. Edward isn’t the sharpest tool, but he is rather earnest.

Rosier’s eyes wandered, lingeringly, around the room again.
“You have some very good things.”
“Yes, but I hate them.”
“Do you want to get rid of them?” the young man asked quickly.
“No, it’s good to have something to hate; one works it off.”
“I love my things,” said Rosier, as he sat there smiling.

I did snicker when I read that one.

Notwithstanding all this sparkling wit, the story turns darker and darker as it progresses. A particularly devastating moment is when Isabel comes to terms with the fact that her husband hates her.

She remembered perfectly the first sign he had given of it -- it had been like the bell that was to ring up the curtain upon the real drama of their life. He said to her one day that she had too many ideas, and that she must get rid of them. He had told her that already, before their marriage; but then she had not noticed it; it came back to her only afterwards.

And then later:

The real offense, as she ultimately perceived, was her having a mind of her own at all. Her mind was to be his -- attached to his own like a small garden-plot to a deer-park. He would rake the soil gently and water her flowers; he would weed the beds and gather an occasional nosegay. It would be a pretty piece of property for a proprietor already far-reaching. He didn’t wish her to be stupid. On the contrary, it was because she was clever that she had pleased him. But he expected her intelligence to operate altogether in his favour, and so far from desiring her mind to be a blank, he had flattered himself that it would be richly receptive. He had expected his wife to feel with him, and for him, to enter into his opinions, his ambitions, his preferences; and Isabel was obliged to confess that this was no very unwarrantable demand on the part of a husband. But there were certain things she could never take in.

James here betrays the values of his time -- and pushes back on them. Indeed, it really was considered a reasonable demand that a woman “submit” to her husband in all things including her very ideas. In fact, this is precisely what is expected within the Christian Patriarchy circles my wife and I spent time in. At least in theory. And there were more than a few narcissists who, like Gilbert Osmond, came to hate their wives for having their own minds. Isabel may concede this in theory, but not in practice. And I can say for certain that my wife would never tolerate it. Likewise, I would never expect it. I love that she has a sharp mind - and a sharp tongue on occasion. I have no wish to have it any other way.

Sadly, Isabel really has no one with whom she can be honest. Except for Henrietta.

“Yes, I am miserable,” she said, very gently. She hated to hear herself say it; she tried to say it as judicially as possible.
“What does he do to you?” Henrietta asked, frowning as if she were inquiring into the operations of a quack doctor.
“He does nothing. But he doesn’t like me.”
“He’s very difficult!” cried Miss Stackpole. “Why don’t you leave him?”
“I can’t change that way,” Isabel said.
“Why not, I should like to know? You won’t confess that you have made a mistake. You are too proud.”
“I don’t know whether I am too proud. But I can’t publish my mistake. I don’t think that’s decent. I would much rather die.”
“You won’t think so always,” said Henrietta.
“I don’t know what great unhappiness might bring me to; but it seems to me that I shall always be ashamed. One must accept one’s deeds. I married him before all the world; I was perfectly free; it was impossible to do anything more deliberate. One can’t change that way,” Isabel repeated.

There is something particularly devastating about this passage. Isabel, obviously, would lose if she left. Probably her fortune, which would now be Gilbert’s - the laws were unfavorable to women. But also her “respectability,” for whatever that was worth. Caspar would take her. He offered as much. I have seen other people (male and female these days) stay in doomed relationships for years - decades even - because of this misplaced sense of pride. It would be better if more people were willing to admit a mistake - and to grant grace to others who have left failed marriages too.

There is one more amazingly perceptive line from this terrible relationship. Gilbert, naturally, loathes Henrietta. But, because his life consists of showing contempt for the world while craving its approval, he wishes to do the socially proper thing.

Isabel presently saw that Osmond would have liked her to urge a little the cause of her friend, insist a little upon his receiving her, so that he might appear to suffer for good manners’ sake. Her immediate acceptance of his objections put him too much in the wrong -- it being in effect one of the disadvantages of expressing contempt, that you cannot enjoy at the same time the credit of expressing sympathy.

At the end, Ralph finally succumbs to his illness. As he is dying, Caspar and Henrietta agree to take him back to England. Soon afterward, Isabel is told the end is near, and she decides to defy her husband’s wishes, and go see him one last time. The book ends without telling us what the fallout will be. It is implied that she is going back to Gilbert, but it is far from clear if he will take her back or not. If he does, he will presumably punish her forever for her disobedience. But, as one of the above exchanges indicates, she herself wonders if enough suffering will make her leave. Yes, she’d lose her fortune. (Laws were not favorable to women…) Caspar would take her -- he offered. But would she take him? It seems unlikely. So we are left to wonder.

As a final thought, here is the exchange with Caspar when he realizes she is miserable, even if she won’t admit it.

“But I do ask one sole satisfaction -- that you tell me -- that you tell me -----”
“That I tell you what?”
“Whether I may pity you.”
“Should you like that?” Isabel asked, trying to smile again.
“To pity you? Most assuredly! That at least would be doing something. I would give my life to it.”
She raised her fan to her face, which it covered, all except her eyes. They rested a moment on his.
“Don’t give your life to it; but give a thought to it every now and then.”

This actually would have been a great way to end the book. There are another 80 pages to go, and the ending as it is is okay, even if it is a cliffhanger. But, man, what a great final line that one would have been.

I rather love Henry James, and this is one of his finest works. While I noted at the outset that I thought his writing might have been wasted on the teenage me, I also wonder if books like this might be good reading for teens in general, at an age when they are likely to become enamored of charming narcissists like Osmond, or fall prey to the machinations of more sophisticated manipulators like Madame Merle.

Henry James had a brother, William James, considered one of the most influential psychologists - and philosophers - of all time. Henry shared his brother’s keen insights into the working of the human mind, and it is arguable which one has had the most profound influence. Given the power of stories, I lean toward Henry. Not everyone will take a philosophy course. But anyone can appreciate the insight demonstrated in novels like this. It is a difficult task indeed to read The Portrait of a Lady, and not come away deeply moved and troubled by its truths.  


Other Henry James works I have read and reviewed:

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Prime Marriage

Seventeen is a prime number - the seventh prime number (assuming you don’t count 1) to be specific. Prime numbers are important in math for many reasons, and are foundational to the encryption which allows us to have secure internet transactions.

Amanda and I have now been married seventeen years. As has been my tradition since I started this blog, I have written a little something for our anniversary. This year, I am going with “prime” as the theme, in honor of the seventh prime number - and an equal number of years. All definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. Prime (adjective): Of first importance; main.

My relationship with Amanda is my most important - and main relationship. She is my best friend, my lover, my favorite person in the world.

2. Prime (adjective): From which another thing may derive or proceed.

For the last 17 years, everything has derived or proceeded from our marriage. Well, certainly the 5 kids, but also our life has centered around each other. The lives we have built together directly derive and proceed from the relationship. Without each other, things would likely have turned out quite differently for us.

3. Prime (adjective): Of the best possible quality; excellent.

Amanda is a woman (and person) of the best possible quality. Excellence is one of her salient attributes. As a result, I am in a marriage of the highest quality.

4. Prime (adjective): Having all the typical characteristics of something.

Amanda is a prime example - she has all the typical characteristics of a good spouse. She is loving, hard working, honest, competent, affectionate, patient, and more. I cannot imagine a better person to share my life with.

5. Prime (adjective): Most suitable or likely.

Amanda is, as it turns out, highly suitable to be my spouse. I’m not so sure it was likely, however. I still can’t believe she chose me. But, since she did, I suppose the chances are 100%...

6. Prime [number] (adjective): divisible only by itself and unity

Amanda and I are two and one in that mysterious way that a good marriage works. We are divisible by ourselves and unity only.

7. Prime (noun): The state or time of greatest vigour or success in a person's life.

My time with Amanda has indeed been the best time of my life. If you count the time we were dating, we are rapidly approaching half of my life together. (And already half of hers.)

8: Prime (noun): The beginning of something. (archaic)

When we met, it was indeed the beginning of something. Eventually, our life together.

9. Prime (verb): Make (something) ready for use or action.

We both make each other better. We are able to function as we best can, because the other covers for the other’s weakness, and carries the other when needed.

10: Prime (verb): Induce a susceptibility or proclivity in (an animal, person, or tissue)

Amanda definitely induces a susceptibility or proclivity in me. A proclivity toward mushiness, obviously, and, ahem, other things.

11. Prime (verb): Prepare (someone) for a situation, typically by supplying them with relevant information.

My relationship with Amanda prepares me for the rest of life. She is a source of stability and purpose, and a source of advice and assistance whenever I need it.

Well, couldn’t quite get to 17 definitions, but 11 is a prime too, so I’ll go with that.

Happy anniversary, dearest Amanda, and may we have many more!

 At Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park, on our anniversary last year.


If you want to read prior installments, here is the list: