Thursday, December 31, 2015

The season for celebrations

In addition to the traditional celebratory December days of Xmas and the anticipation of the New Year, our family has seven December birthdays--covering four generations! Chaucer thoughts, which are always with me, bring memories of our receptions that followed the Chaucer Masses each October.  The first was in 2000, the big anniversary year. That was a "pull out all the stops" affair as it should have been. After that, we continued to have Masses said for Chaucer and a social afterward with refreshments, but they were no grand affairs as the first one had been.
     In 2001, those who attended the church service were invited, afterward, to cross the street to the pastor's house for mead and pasties. Mead is a honey-based "wine" popular in the Middle Ages; the pasties are mushroom-and-cheese-filled turnovers made from a medieval recipe. Those offerings never changed. The following year, the social moved to a couple of adjoining rooms in a parish building.

     Oddly enough, not until 2005 did someone think to take pictures! All we needed then for our buffet was a large dining table with food at one end and mead (and non-alcoholic cider) at the other. You can see the collection of pictures over the years if you click "take a tour" on the home page of my website:
     As time went on, and the event gained notice, it moved to the parish hall. Although, at first, it was more room than we needed, eventually the hall became just large enough to hold the crowd and display a greater quantity of refreshments. It took several tables to set out all the food and drink. It was truly splendid.

Help came from several sources. Eighth graders from the parish school, directed by their teacher, efficiently set up the food and glassware. And a friend from the writers group I attend poured the mead. Besides dispensing libations, he exercised his keen wit and lively imagination. If asked what exactly was mead, he had a store of imaginative and entertaining responses! A group of Chaucer devotees also provided an entertainment, but theirs was delivered in Middle English.
     After more than ten years, as age crept up on me, and my energy level declined, the social festivities came to an end. But the musicians for the Mass insisted on continuing to provide medieval music during the church service.

That part of celebrating Chaucer still continues today. Those who had never come when the reception followed enjoy a special Mass. They're not aware of all that used to be, but I remember.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Totally Teddies

Hooray! The day the Teddy Bears were finished was also the day the last computer problem was solved. You may remember that I worked on the Bears to pass the time while I had computer  problems. So, we have a happy ending.
     The Teddies have been invited to a Christmas Party this week at Uncommon Good. They each hope to find a forever friend who will take them home.


Now I've got to make a confession. There are 12 Teddy Bears, but only 11 of them will go to the party. Why? Because I'm keeping one as my own forever friend. I suppose it's kind of silly, but I just couldn't part with him.

It's a good thing I don't feel that way about all the dolls I make.   :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ah, Chaucer's Leonids!

The Leonid meteor shower has produced some of the most spectacular meteor displays in history, but it is periodic in nature. Did we get an outstanding meteor storm a couple of weeks ago? Hardly. The general definition of a meteor storm is more than 1,000 meteors an hour. Only 10 to 15 were predicted for 2015. But Leonids have had their moments.
     Before 1000 AD, Chinese astronomers and observers in the Mediterranean area reported seeing a Leonid storm. It was said that stars fell like rain. When the famed astronomer Johannes Kepler died on November 15, 1630, a grand Leonid display on the day of his funeral was considered a tribute from God. Meteors remained a scientific puzzle, which startled many, until the renowned German scientist Humboldt recorded the 1799 event and informed the scientific community. After that, even though observers were somewhat familiar with Leonids because of Humboldt's publications, they were not prepared for the intensity of the spectacle of 1833.
     During the hours following sunset on November 12, astronomers noted an unusual number of meteors in the sky, but the early morning hours of the 13th left the greatest impression on people of eastern North America. In the 4 hours, which preceded dawn, the skies were lit up by meteors.
     Reactions to the display varied. Hysterics claimed Judgment Day was at hand (Rev 6:13 "the stars in the sky fell to earth"). For some, it simply proved exciting. Almost no one was left unaware of the happening. If they were not awakened by the shouts of excited neighbors, they were awakened by flashes of light in their normally dark bedrooms.

(Woodcut of the 1833 event)
     After that spectacular showing, no grand event followed for many decades. Leonids, more or less, fell out of interest.
     To demonstrate they could still put on a show, Leonid rates of more than 50 per hour were observed in Texas in 1961 on the mornings of November 16 and 17. And in 1965, Hawaii and Australia saw hourly rates of 120 meteors on November 16. It was the buildup to a peak event in 1966.
     A tremendous storm of tens of thousands of Leonids fell for a short interval timed by skywatchers in the central and western United States on November 17, 1966. This display probably rivaled the historic shower of 1833. Within just 2 hours observed rates increased from about 40 per hour to flurries of as much as 40 per second!
     Local observers recount, "We saw a rain of meteors turn into a hail of meteors too numerous to count." --[San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California]. "The meteors were so intense that we were guessing how many could be seen in a one-second sweep of the observer's head. A rate of about 150,000 per hour was seen for about 20 minutes."--[Kitt Peak in Southern Arizona].

(1966 photo)
It was a night to remember in California and Arizona.
     From 1970 to 1998, the Leonids laid low again. Then, in 1998, during the night of November 16-17, observers all over the world were greeted by numerous fireballs and long lasting persistent trains. And again, in 2001, a spectacular storm was viewed by millions of people all over the US. The display began on Sunday morning, November 18. Thousands of meteors per hour rained over North America and Hawaii. It had been a perfect moonless weekend night.

Twice in this blog I've touched upon the zodiac figure of Leo, the "source" of the Leonids. April 23, 2012 explains how Chaucer uses the 3 prominent stars in Leo to depict a lion in the guise of the Monk. And the entry of July 19, 2014 pursues details of how Chaucer parallels the churchman with that of the celestial lion and its heavenly surroundings.
     In the 2014 entry, I saved the most spectacular feature for last. I am confident that in Chaucer's lifetime (1340-1400) he experienced a grand Leonid display. First, he translates this visual phenomenon to an audible one.  To identify the time as November, the Monk rides "in a whistling wind" while "men might hear his bridle jingling." Unable to give the spectacle only one mention, the poet points to it a second time. This time he addresses the Pilgrim figure regarding what is both a visual and audible array: the "clinking of your bells, / That on your bridle hang on every side." This splendid portrait of Leo is enhanced by a great number of "bells."
     Such an extravagant portrayal and how entertaining! Chaucer's creativity never falters.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In the meantime . . .

About this time last year I had my computer "updated." In hindsight it probably contributed to its demise. In any case, the problems have been going on for a while. They appeared to be solved, but then we ran into "incompatibility"!  So today we (that's me and my kind, nerdy advisers) tracked down the solution. IT --the solution--will be delivered in 2 weeks.
     So, in the meantime, I'm on a teddy bear kick. I'm just gonna make teddy bears--a  strange, wonderful, variety in different sizes--until I can get back to Chaucer.
     BTW, did you see the Leonids last week?   Chaucer saw the Leonids.  What a picture he draws! I'll tell you about it as soon as my computer world settles down.    
     And a Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


On Saturday, November 14 there is going to be an auction. The proceeds will go to assist  a school, an orphanage and help supply water filter systems in rural Haiti.  A medical mission of doctors, dentists, optometrists and physical therapists will spend two weeks in a place called Marbial to aid the people of that area. There is no charge, of course.
     Why am I telling you about this? Because at that auction, that supports such a good cause, five of my dolls will go to generous bidders. They couldn't serve a better cause.

That's perfect.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Library gig 2000

To return to recollections of October 2000, here is the story of that library gig--one of my favorite Chaucer memories.
     As a novice in the publishing world, I didn't think beyond getting my books into print. Thank goodness for my friend and mentor Virginia Adair. About two months before the Chaucer Mass that was planned, Virgina asked if I'd contacted the city library. My na├»ve response was "What for?"
     "To get your work and your books recognized in Claremont," she said.
     That had never occurred to me!
     Virginia continued, "Just drop in at the library and ask to talk to Mr Kaufmann. Tell him what you've been doing and tell him you'd like to do a presentation. Mention my name, if you like."
     That's what I did next day. The sign on an office door read "Charles Kaufmann." I asked at the circulation desk if I might speak to him. An affable gentleman came out to the counter and asked if he could be of service.
     Putting my best foot forward I started off with: "Virginia Adair suggested I speak to you about doing a presentation on Chaucer." That got a positive reaction. Mr Kaufmann turned the pages of the library's event calendar to check available dates. October 17 was open. That would be perfect. I reported my success to Virginia, and then continued to concentrate on the Mass and reception arrangements, giving little thought to what I would actually say in my library presentation until mid-October.
     Mr Kaufmann, in contrast--I found out later--went all out to inform the library patrons and the local high schools of the library's Chaucer event. Not only was this attractive flyer displayed in many places around town, but a copy was given to every book borrower for several weeks before the event.

     On that auspicious evening, I got to the library early to look things over. Forty chairs were set up in the meeting room, as well as a lectern for me and a table to display my books. Cookies and punch were set out on a table at the back of the room by a volunteer group called Friends of the Claremont Library.
      The flyer mentioned two of my books. The third book, about the zodiac, would officially be published on October 25 (the Chaucer anniversary date), but I had received a box of pre-publication copies. So all three books--everything I had to say about the Canterbury Pilgrims--were available for the first time. Mr Kaufmann came it to ask if everything was to my liking. I assured him I was pleased and added, "Mrs Adair expects to be here."
     He immediately commented that although she often planned to come to library events, she never had.  "It's mainly because of health issues. She's not well, you know," he added.
     Just after 6:30 people began to drift into the room. First they came a few at a time, but soon it became a steady stream. Mr Kaufmann, who continued to hover nearby, ordered more chairs be brought in--and then more chairs! A group of high school students were especially noticeable when they all entered together. They looked stoic, almost glum. I figured their attendance would gain them extra credit. One boy took a seat in the first row right in front of the lectern, his face solemn and resigned. (That would change.) And the highlight of the evening, Virginia arrived escorted by her friends Judy and Connie. They took seats in the front row. Imagine Mr  Kaufmann's surprise and elation.
     When the clock finally showed 7, I greeted this capacity crowd. I remarked that some faces were those of friends or relatives, but many were new to me and that was a very pleasant surprise. Mr Kaufmann had done a great publicity job!
     I began my presentation with some background about my fascination with Chaucer and then I  passed around a handout of the game about the zodiac. I hadn't brought enough copies for that many people, but they were happy to share. When I got to the point where I ask if anyone sees an image, the stoic high school boy fairly leapt off his chair.
     "It's a bull," he blurted out and almost immediately followed with "It's Taurus!" No more solemn face. He was beaming. His response got  a laugh and a lively period of questions and comments followed. Folks were genuinely interested in this new way of thinking about Chaucer's work. I closed with an invitation to everyone to attend the Chaucer Mass the following week.
     Mr Kaufmann added the finishing touch by thanking me and telling everyone my books were available to purchase. He assigned a young man who volunteered at the library to handle the money while I signed books. That was another new thrill. Many people bought the books.
     As the clock drew near to 8 pm, closing time for the library, there were still several people talking to me and looking at the books. Mr Kaufmann announced to the library staff to feel free to go home on time. He, personally, would close the library.

The next day I returned to contribute 10 percent of my sales to the library. Mr Kaufmann said it wasn't necessary, but after such an evening, I had to show my gratitude.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Here's Sunny

It's been a while since I posted a new clown. This is the latest one. His name is Sunny because of his cheerful disposition and his golden, sunny suit. As you can see, he's 18 inches tall.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rosa and Roberto

Rosa and her brother are wearing blue jeans. They took quite a while to make. Actually, Rosa was not demanding about her hair and clothes, but Roberto was another story. He insisted on having a Mohawk!  hmmmm  Maybe his picture should have been a profile so you could see his "crest."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A provocative thought

I just read this in a review. It seems so akin to the purpose of this blog that I want to include it as a bit of wisdom to ponder. The author is Nicole Coonradt.

In such projects, methods and conclusions will always be liable to complaint; but there is something brave in the foolish attempts to comprehend the life of another in the imperfect evidence of opaque remains, and something sadly timid in the principled refusal to condone any daring speculation about the secrets of an extraordinary mind.  Risks may lead to discoveries when caution leaves us reconciled to ignorance.
[My emphasis]

Friday, October 23, 2015

Purely personal

Last weekend a professional photographer at Our Lady of the Assumption in Claremont, CA took this picture from the balcony of the church.
It's our Secular Franciscan Fraternity renewing profession. We generally do this annually. It brought back many memories for me.
     I'm a Chicago girl who never dreamed she'd see California. I was professed at St Peter's in Chicago. Not the famous one at 110 W. Madison with the marble front and crucifix that extends to the fourth floor of the building. That St Peter's was constructed in the business district to serve the thousands of visitors and countless people employed in the Loop.

So the Franciscan presence moved directly into the heart of downtown Chicago. The new building--with marble surfaces inside and out--is one block from State and Madison. "St Peter's in the Loop," as it is called, was consecrated in 1953. My children remember attending monthly Franciscan meetings there as a family. But that's not where memories led me.

My husband and I were professed at Old St Peter's, which no longer exists. It was not called "old" then. It was just the Franciscan church in Chicago. St Peter's stood at Clark and Polk amid railroad yards and tall commercial buildings. It was graced with a hand-carved communion rail and pulpit created by woodcraft artists in Munich, Germany.

Old St Peter's Church

Old St Peter's Church stands somewhere in this mass of commercial and manufacturing buildings that adjoin the railroad yards.

     Established in 1865, it had been a parish of 1,200 families with a church and school. Over time, however, the neighborhood's ethnic and residential character evolved into an area concentrating on commerce and manufacturing. Proximity to the railroads, no doubt, an influence.    
     The late 1800s brought the Third Order of St Francis to the parish. (The Third Order is now called the  Secular Franciscan Order.) First came a German-speaking branch, but many of Irish ancestry also joined and soon became a second, separate fraternity.
     In 1871, the Chicago fire changed the life of the city. Flames a mile wide and four miles long came within a few blocks of St Peter's. One could claim a miracle when all of a sudden the fire changed its course. The wind veered northward, and St Peter's and its school were spared. Late that evening a heavy rain put out the fire.
     Of the 150 families of the parish left homeless, as many as possible were housed, fed, and otherwise provided for in St Peter's classrooms.
     Afterward, many families moved farther south and St Peter's experienced a rapid decline as a parish. It became, instead, a "chapel of ease" among the railways and huge buildings that surrounded it. A contemporary author expressed the service it provided this way: "Where the boss, the secretary, the doctor, the nurse, the judge, the lawyer, the manager, the clerk, the banker, the teller, the foreman, the laborer forget their differences." A daily noon Mass was introduced in the days of World War I. During these years the Third Order continued to grow and flourish.
     What had been a German and Irish parish gradually became seventy-five percent Italian. Most were poor.
     By 1925, the parish had dwindled to twenty families. The number of school children had been reduced to forty with two nuns in charge. But not until 1942 was the decision made to close the school.
     After that, the school building continued to be used for offices and meeting rooms for the many organizations active at St Peter's. One such group, introduced in the 1930s, was the Antonians, a Third Order Fraternity of young people. My husband and I met, as Antonians, about ten years later.

I was professed--that is, I promised to follow the Franciscan Rule as my way of life--as I knelt at the beautifully carved altar rail in the venerable old church by the railyard on October 24, 1948. That's 67 years ago. One week later, my first baby was born. The Franciscans have shaped my life. God bless them.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Limited offer--post paid

Sorry world, this is only for the U.S.  If you email me your name and address by Thursday, October 22, 2015, I'll send you--your choice--one of my books:

Pilgrim Chaucer: Center Stage
Who's Afraid of Middle English?

The number of books is limited, so, if you're interested, email me ASAP.  There's no catch. I won't keep your address or send it to somebody else.
My email is:

Friday, October 16, 2015

So what happened?

The New Chaucer Society conference, in London in July 2000, would be the extent of the British celebration of Chaucer's 600th anniversary. Recalling Dr. Barnes' concern about the cooling trend toward the age of Chaucer, I found the whole thing alarming. If the rest of the world seemed ready to bypass the red-letter day, those of us in Claremont would need to manage our own celebration. But what to do? Where to begin?
     My friend Barbara remarked that Chaucer's last sentiment was a request for prayer. It's true. The closing of the Canterbury Tales says: "All who hear or read this, I beseech you to pray for me." Among Catholics, it is customary to have a Mass said on the anniversary of a death. That would also have been true when Chaucer lived. A small, private Mass at my home seemed appropriate, with eight or ten Chaucer-lovers attending. So, early in September 2000, I spoke with the secretary at our parish office to arrange for a home Mass on the evening of October 25. When the pastor, Father  (now Monsignor) Tom Welbers, got word that a Mass would commemorate the date of Chaucer's death, the event suddenly went public. With unexpected, but gratifying enthusiasm, Father Tom urged, "It's a celebration that needs to be publicized." The Mass would be celebrated in church; invitations would go out to all the English Departments in our area; local newspapers would be notified. Now, to picture many people attending a Mass in church required a whole new plan. Where do we begin? Publicity, music, and food were starters.
    A special Mass needed special music. Shirley Robbins directed medieval instrumental ensembles,  and trained vocalists in the techniques of "early music." When I asked her to help, I got a warm reception, "I'd be delighted to take part," she said.
     With the music arranged for, food came next because such a Mass would have to be followed by a reception. And the menu had to be medieval. The book Pleyn Delit by Constance Hieatt had medieval recipes adjusted for modern cooks, with modern substitutes for 14th-century ingredients. We planned a sit-down dinner of selected recipes the likes of which folks may never have tasted  before.
     Dinner would begin with a salad of greens. (Tomatoes were unknown to Chaucer.) Vinegar and oil added to a combination of minced fresh parsley, sage, mint, fennel, dill and savory can create a palate-pleasing dressing. The greens would be creative--borage, spinach, and whatever else was available, along with thinly sliced small leeks and scallions. Hieatt's one caution for authenticity: avoid iceberg lettuce. Besides the salad, we would make cheese-mushroom pasties, and pork tarts flavored with nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, pepper, and saffron. Dessert would be apple-almond pudding.
     What to drink? Mead for the toast to Chaucer must be found, but what to serve as a dinner beverage? The fourteenth century had no coffee, tea, or chocolate. An email to Professor Hieatt brought a ready answer--apple cider.
     Cider, in October, could be found at any grocery store. Mead, on the other hand, presented a challenge--with a happy ending. While buying 10 pounds of mushrooms at a local store, I talked with the cashier about the dinner. A woman standing behind me interjected, "You'll have mead, of course." I said we hadn't been able to find any. Smiling like a fairy godmother, she offered, "Just give me your phone number. I'll call you when I get home and tell you the number for my regular supplier." Good at her word, I called the number and ordered a case of, wouldn't you know, Chaucer's Mead!
     I had been scheduled to give a talk about Chaucer at the city library a week before our medieval extravaganza. (That's a story of its own.) At the very end of my presentation, I invited everyone to the Chaucer Mass and reception the following week. Perfect timing.
    The week was dominated by preparation for the event. I told the writers' group I would not be attending during that week because of all the baking. Someone offered sympathy saying, "What a lot of work for you!" I smiled and said I didn't consider it "work." It was a celebration I'd been hoping for for 30 years!
     Judy Wenrick and her husband Jon had often provided a helping Chaucer hand; they agreed to oversee the dining activities in the hall. Judy had the last word about serving the food, and the seating arrangements. Jon would open and pour the mead--and propose the toast to Chaucer.

With the Mass about to begin, I welcomed the guests seated in the church with Chaucer's prayer request read in Middle English--followed by the same words in today's English. That signaled the recorder players and the percussionist, with his little drum, to lead the altar servers and Father Tom down the aisle. From the first thump on the drum, a medieval atmosphere filled the church. Shirley had assembled a small consort of instruments and a vocalist. When the Mass ended, many of those in attendance lingered to hear the musicians' final offering.
     Then the crowd headed for the long tables set up in the parish hall. Close to 100 attended. The food was unusual but delicious. The salad was superb. The mead was exquisite. When a guest asked if we would be doing this again next year, the answer was "Yes!" What a great way to give life to Chaucer's name. We had started something.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Special birthday edition

Jolinda, a lovely young lady, takes my German Shepherd for a walk twice a week. My dog is nuts about her. Last week the young lady mentioned her birthday was coming up.  hmmm  She has gotten a kick out of the dolls I make, so . . .  Why not  a miniature Jolinda?
     There is one outstanding feature about Jolinda--her hair! So here she is as a 5 inch replica.

Jolinda, a grown up young lady, does not tie bows in her hair,  but otherwise this is her hair style. It's long enough to sit on! My dog and I hope she has a very happy birthday.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

And the winner is . . .

Virginia's inspiration of a Chaucer contest to stimulate interest in the first great poet of the English language had a successful conclusion. The New Chaucer Society (NCS) spring newsletter announced the competition. Both scholars and students submitted entries limited to one page (500 words). Submissions answered the question, "Why, after 600 years, are we still studying the works of Chaucer?" The entry of Robert Meyer-Lee, a graduate student at Yale, won the prize. Based on two lines from "Pilgrim" Chaucer's intro to the Tale of Thopas, here is what he wrote:

"The Allure of the Phantom Popet"

This were a popet in an arm t'embrace
For any womman, smal and fair of face.

This couplet, spoken by the redoubtable host of the Canterbury Tales about the poet's own pilgrim alter-ego, is, in the fullest sense of the word, charming. Endearingly elusive, it captures in its thematic play and formal sprezzatura [studied nonchalance] the essential reason why, after 600 years, we are still so interested in--and so mystified by--Chaucer's poetry. The lines are at once self-deprecating, self-aggrandizing, and self-effacing. Apparently submitting himself to the mockery of the host, the poet is in fact ostentatiously making his own person the topic of his verse--only to leave us with both a remarkably concrete image and an utter befuddlement as to what the image ultimately suggests. Does he intend it to be a faithful self-depiction, or merely another example of the host's crude and sometimes cruel jocularity? Is his affection a reinforcement of gender stereotypes, or, by placing both himself and woman in opposition to the voice of the host, an ironized subversion of these stereotypes? These and countless other questions exist, however, only in the readerly aftermath of the couplet. Initially, we seem to gain such an intimacy with the author that we, too, wish to embrace him. Only upon reflection may we feel completely hoodwinked into this desire. Once again we have been nudged into mistaking fiction for presence, and, despairing of discovering the latter, we interrogate the former. We unearth dramatic complexity. We notice that underneath the apparently natural, colloquial speech of these lines is a virtually flawless iambic pentameter. And yet, finally, what we most relish is the initial trickery, and behind this we imagine once more an authorial presence--precisely that "elvysh" personality that forms the other half of the host's characterization of the narrator. Like the prodigal son, we return, wiser and wizened, to the scene of our former interpretive innocence. I may be accused in this appreciation of focusing too narrowly on the immanent qualities of Chaucer's verse, failing to call attention, for example, to the immense cultural importance of his work as revealed by not only the texts themselves but also by the institutions that perpetuate their canonicity. Certainly, we continue to study Chaucer's works because we believe we may understand better the anglophone cultures which they both represent and have helped to produce, and--just as certainly if more cynically--because we have already invested so much in this study. Yet I believe that the fundamental reason we remain drawn to Chaucer is the magnetic sense of authorial presence that lurks around the corners of the verse. Over and over this presence reveals itself to be an illusion, yet we cannot make it go away, and the more we pursue it the more it eludes our grasp.

The prize was awarded in London, the site of the NCS conference in 2000.

A few years later, when the NCS met at the University of Boulder in Colorado, Meyer-Lee and I, as members, both attended their annual conference. He was a young professor by then. In reflecting on the essay, he said how much he enjoyed thinking about it. "It brought me the greatest financial compensation per word than anything else I've written!"

Here is a personal recollection of mine from the Boulder conference. I found myself in a room full of professors and graduate students, and took the opportunity to ask a question about the Thopas story. "Why, in these days when obscenity is accepted and even encouraged, why, when Chaucer says 'pricking' do the notes continue to advise, as they have for generations, that he means galloping or spurring?" (Pricking is the main activity in the story. Everyone in the room knew that.) One older gentleman allowed that the word may not have been a sexual referent when Chaucer lived. (The MED, however, offers intercourse as a possibility.) Galloping surely dulls down the flavor of the potentially spicy Tale. And, oddly enough, the horse and horse riding are a sexual convention dating back to biblical times. Pilgrim Chaucer does not tell an exceedingly foolish story, as is generally maintained. Instead, he tells the raciest story in the collection. Beyond the gentleman's comment, no one had any more to say. How status quo.

So where is Meyer-Lee now?  This year Robert Meyer-Lee is the Margaret W. Pepperdene Distinguished Visiting Professor of English at Agnes Scott College, a women's college in Decatur, GA near Atlanta.  He is on leave from his usual campus, Indiana University at South Bend, where he is an Associate Professor of English listed as Bobby Meyer Lee.

He is academically well prepared.

B. A., Williams College
M. A. New York University
Ph.D., Yale University

His "Teaching and Scholarly Interests" are described on the Indiana University website as specializing in early English literature, especially the literature of the late medieval period, from about 1350 through the early 1500s. In his teaching, he seeks to foster students' appreciation of both the familiarity and strangeness of these early texts, and how their very distance from us fruitfully complicates such basic questions about the literary enterprise as: what is literature, what do we claim to be its value and function, and how well, in practice, it lives up to these ideals. Such questions also lurk within his scholarly interest with his published work addressing topics ranging from the relations of poetry and political power in the 1400s to the theoretical and practical implications of the way modern editors have put together Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
     You can find Meyer-Lee's name on Amazon as author of Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt, published by Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. It appears he continues to be a "winner" to this day.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Introducing Grandma

Here is Grandma. She's President of the Ladies Library League. She got all dressed up for their monthly tea. The bun in the back of her hair got special attention. And you know she feels this is an important occasion because she's wearing her fancy undies!  (titter)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The 600th year

It was October 1999. The manuscript for my third Chaucer book had been sent off to the publisher. As we approached the year 2000--Chaucer's 600th anniversary--I decided to gather my courage to talk to professors. I'd always felt put off, but things change. After all, I had published two books!
     The place to start would be "square one," my original Chaucer professor, Dr. Elliott, who dismissed my ideas because "Chaucer didn't write allegories." I called the English Department at Cal-Poly, Pomona to inquire about Dr. Elliott's office hours. I chose a convenient time in the early afternoon and took a bus to the campus. I sat waiting outside his office, gathering my confidence. He recognized me even with my gray hair. "I'll be happy to chat for a while," he said, "but there are things I planned to do before my next class, an hour from now."
     I assured him I would stay only a short time. For my first such venture, I planned to be there just long enough to offer him my books and wish him well. (I had heard that he'd been ill. I didn't want to cause him stress.) He accepted my books and set them aside. Chaucer, he said, would not be on the class schedule for the year. What an unhappy revelation!
     We spoke of the whereabouts of other Cal-Poly teachers I had known. We talked on and on, as if time were of no importance. At last he looked at the clock and said his class started in ten minutes. We stood up to leave his office, but our conversation had not ended! We continued to chat as we walked to the adjoining building. When we reached the doorway, I extended my hand. He took it for a moment and said, "Maybe I was wrong."
     With those words, he turned and entered the building. As I strolled across the campus, heading toward the bus for home, I mulled over the meaning of his parting words. Could he be questioning his attitude toward my ideas? I couldn't be sure. Perhaps he felt that, thirty years before, he should have encouraged me. [He retired from teaching soon after. I never saw him again.]
     That first interview had turned out very differently from what I'd imagined. A few days later, for my second venture, I called the English Departments at both Scripps College and Pomona College here in Claremont. I asked the department secretaries the name of the professor who taught Chaucer. Each secretary hesitated. Rephrasing my question, I asked who taught "medieval literature." That gave me the necessary information, names and office hours.
     Each professor received me pleasantly and accepted the books I offered. One professor, when the subject turned to Chaucer, said he covered Chaucer in the first week of a survey course. The second man explained that his course, called "Chaucer and Medieval London," had a sociological as well as an historical emphasis. Both professors claimed that, if a course consisting only of Chaucer's writings were offered, no one would sign up. I expressed amazement, saying, "I thought Chaucer would be required!"  Both professors insisted their college programs were more flexible. "Flexibility" indicated to me that the wishes of students, not the greater knowledge of professors, decided the curriculum.
     The time had come to report the up-to-date picture of local Chaucer studies to Virginia, my friend and mentor. I told her that not one course completely dedicated to Chaucer could be found in our area, not even at the colleges of "high reputation."
     "What is happening to the teaching of literature?" Virginia fumed. With instant self-assurance and certainty she announced, "We must organize a Chaucer contest to stimulate interest."
     I thought a contest was a good idea, but the 600th anniversary year would begin in just a few weeks and I knew nothing about organizing a competition. Virginia suggested I get in touch with a couple of organizations or publications concerned with Chaucer, so I searched reference books at Honnold Library. When I discovered the New Chaucer Society (NCS), my search ended. Virginia and I would offer them the idea, propose the question to be used, and donate the prize.
     That all sounded doable but composing the question brought the two of us to our one and only point of disagreement. I suggested, "Why, after 600 years, is it still important to study Chaucer?" Virginia considered that question trivial. She believed a scholarly comparison, or the analysis of a particular work should be the aim. I could not agree. I saw my question, rather than trivial, as dealing with fundamentals. The answer could be influential, thought-provoking. Considering that we recommended a 500 word limit, she finally granted my question to be more practical.
     I sent the Society a letter about the proposed contest. The holidays and December school break delayed our receiving a much-looked-for response. It arrived in mid-January 2000. The Secretary of the Society said they would sponsor the competition, dependent upon the approval of their Board of Trustees; that approval followed in early February. Virginia and I sent them our agreed upon question and we asked that both faculty and students be allowed to compete. NCS would announce the competition to their worldwide membership, receive the entries, judge them, and award the prize at their annual meeting.
     As for the prize, Virginia and I each contributed half the money, appropriately $600 in this 600th anniversary year. You may recall that Virginia was blind. She lived at Pilgrim Place, a lovely retirement facility here in Claremont. Helen, a woman on the staff, kept track of Virginia's finances. When I came by to pick up Virginia's check she called Helen. Instructed to write out a check for $300 and hand it to me, the woman stared hard at me. I'm sure she suspected that this was a scam. She did, however, do as Virginia instructed.
     The competition made the front page of the NCS spring newsletter. Submissions must answer the question, "Why, after 600 years, are we still studying the works of Chaucer?" and be limited to one page (500 words). Both scholars and students were encouraged to participate as Virginia and I had wished. I read the entire article to Virginia. We were confident that good would come from our plan.
     At the July meeting, it was announced that "The Allure of the Phantom Popet," the entry of Robert Meyer-Lee, a Yale graduate student, had won the prize. Virginia and I were very pleased.
     To be continued . . .

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A passel of pups

With the computer on the fritz, I had time to fill. Dug out a favorite simple stuffed animal pattern and the piece of plaid I bought a while back especially for making Scotties. Found a couple of other bits of fabric for smaller versions. Here's the litter that resulted.

And when you sew you wind up with scraps of fabric. My collection of scraps needed to be dealt with, so I made patchwork "lap robes." Of course they can have other uses. Each is approximately 24x28 inches. That's the size of my old worktable. (I have a new worktable!)

They are not works of art, but now the heap of scraps has become something useful. A friend has offered to take them to the Christmas collection for the county hospital.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Professor Dick Barnes

In my reading I often encountered a book called Cursor Mundi--the history of the world from creation to the world's end. Never seeing it on the library shelf, I finally asked a librarian about its due date. She said a professor checked it out and could keep it indefinitely. She left him a phone message indicating a "student" had asked about the book. We'd wait to see if he chose to return it.
     Next afternoon my doorbell rang. A tall man with glasses stood at the door, a large book in his hand. He asked my name. When I identified myself as Dolores Cullen, he handed me the book--Cursor Mundi. He explained, "I wanted to see for myself the one other person in Claremont who is interested in this book."
     I thanked him for his kind gesture, and asked his name--Dick Barnes. He taught Chaucer at  Pomona College. Generous Dick Barnes would play a part--sometimes minimal, sometimes disruptive, all unintended--in the three Chaucer books I'd write.
     When the first book (about the Host) neared completion, it needed to be read by someone well-acquainted with medieval literature. I managed to overcome my initial timidness and visit Professor Barnes' office on campus to ask if he'd be willing, and he agreed. When I asked the cost, he smiled and said, "You couldn't afford me, but I'll be glad to do it as a favor." I had packed proof upon proof into one-hundred-eighty pages of text, and another seventy-five pages of notes and bibliography. Though ultimately not enthusiastic, he did call it "a good read." It was two more years before I had a publishing contract.
     In mid-December 1997, a bulging envelope from the publisher contained many items including a copy of Professor Barnes' blurb for the back of the book.
     The following year my project would be book two, Pilgrim Chaucer, about Chaucer himself. Eric, the book designer, settled the question of the cover design for Pilgrim Chaucer when he found a polite, slightly suggestive, little grotesque to greet the reader. And he recommended hunter green for the color, our "in" joke. Chaucer's name is related to the French word chausseur, which means hunter. That volume is dedicated to Professor Dick Barnes.
     Book three (1999), about all the other pilgrims, was coming along when a serious problem arose where none had been anticipated. The problem had to do with helpful Professor Barnes. Though retired in 1998, as a professor at Pomona College, he maintained an office near the campus. In spring of 1999, I chanced to meet him in town. When he asked about Chaucer, I told him of Pilgrim Chaucer on the verge of publication, and about book three now in progress. He said he'd enjoy  seeing book three. So, in June, when a good portion of the text (sans footnotes) looked passable, I dropped off 200 pages for him to read. Though I gladly gave him the manuscript, I didn't count on his being able to review it because he was seriously ill.
     As the year 2000 drew near, I turned my attention to Chaucer's 600th anniversary. I wrote to five well-known journals and scholarly groups to ask about their intentions for commemorating the auspicious occasion. They had no plans! Even the Early English Text Society had not scheduled publication of a volume of Chaucer for this once in a century opportunity!
     I could hardly believe the lack of interest. I emailed Professor Derek Brewer, a British Chaucer scholar, to say, "It is beyond my belief that England would fail to find Chaucer's anniversary significant. I am at a loss to understand."
     His response lamented at length the British disinterest: "There is at present a dominant anti-historic and anti-literary element in our culture," he states, which contrasts with a "rage for the contemporary." I found the indifference to Chaucer alarming.
     With my mind occupied with book three and the disregard for the Chaucer anniversary, I gave little thought to Dr. Barnes and the book three manuscript. But, early in December 1999, a phone call from him surprised me. "I've had your manuscript quite a while, but I have finished looking it over. Would you like to pick it up at my home?" Recovering from my surprise, I said I'd be there Saturday afternoon.
     Dr. Barnes answered the door. We talked for a short time while he sat in an easy chair. It pleased him that someone (meaning me) would actively be working with the Canterbury Tales. "A strong force in academia," he confided, "is attempting to have all literature before Shakespeare removed from the standard curriculum." It worried him that appreciation of early literature had diminished. And what a sad revelation for me! His statement echoed what I had recently learned.
     When I got home I examined the pages he had read. Most were unmarked. Here and there he recommended a better or additional word--specify "temple" instead of "structure," for instance. Two of my examples, he felt, were weak; the evidence given, inadequate. Concrete statements would have to be composed and inserted.
     I had received the second galley pages. Changes now would inevitably create that situation for Eric which I had been so carefully instructed to avoid. You may recall: "At this stage, corrections could be made, but no revisions, no moving text, no changes of any kind are allowed. Content and pagination are set. Even small changes could have a domino effect where succeeding pages, perhaps many of them, would need to be modified. In a word, alterations are verboten."
     I weighed each of Dr. Barnes' criticisms. Substitutions for three words appeared necessary. The paragraphs involved would probably maintain their contours. One or two sentences had to be added to several pages. Those additions would, without doubt, cause the text to need adjustment--and also the subsequent pages.
     I gave scrupulous attention to printing out the proposed insertions, attached them to the pages involved, and highlighted where revisions were to be entered. That process, along with proofing the 425 pages I had received, took many days.
     I mailed back the pages, including the formidable changes, the first week of January 2000--then braced myself for Eric's reaction. On January 18, his reply arrived. It had taken him several days to absorb the shock. The protest I expected was there, but tempered with understanding of my position.

          I've received your page proofs of Chaucer's Pilgrims. To tell you the truth, I received them a week ago, but was so horrified I waited until now to write. . . . Let me say, for the record: Bad, bad, bad author! As you know, this is exactly the kind of thing I hoped to avoid when we discussed it some months ago. . . .  I do understand, however, how important Dr. Barnes's comments are to you, and that we must consider them. It would be a big mistake not to.
     I should tell you that there will probably be some charge to you for revision, after I've made these changes. It may also force us to set the schedule back a few weeks, but not enough to make a big difference.

The situation I had caused would be manageable. The letter ended on a positive note. "The way you've indicated the changes is fine, and I'll have no trouble following it." What a relief to have it settled.
    I wrote a note of acceptance and appreciation.

         Scolding acknowledged. I'm sure you realize the "Barnes" changes were not made to aggravate you, nor were they made because I didn't understand our "little talk." After due consideration, I felt that if I'm not going to make the best presentation I can, what's the point of what I'm doing?

With the give-and-take accomplished, Eric and I returned to our easy-going relationship.
     Professor Barnes died in May 2000, before the book was published, but his contribution will forever benefit the world of Chaucer studies. And I am eternally grateful.

* * *

Dick Barnes was born in San Bernardino, California, in 1932, and grew up in Barstow. He died in 2000, at the age of sixty-eight. Professor Barnes taught medieval literature and creative writing at Pomona College, and was an outstanding poet besides. A critic recently said of his poetry: "I'm convinced that, in the future, any anthology of twentieth-century American poetry which neglects Dick Barnes will seem ridiculous."



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gotta get the glamour shot!

Greetings, all! I'm dealing with a limping computer. It's headed for the "hospital." But I wanted you to see the glamorous clown before it goes. Don't know how long it will be gone.   :(
I think I'll call her Collette--unless you have a better idea.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pagliacci, and all that

If you're going to have a clutch of clowns, you have to have many sorts represented. At least that's my excuse for the new example. You've got to have a sad clown--so here he is:

The witty friend who chose him as a companion has named him "Tinker Bawl" because of the tears.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The adventure of researching the Host

There were two directions to take in identifying Chaucer's Host as Christ on the covert level, the whole purpose of Book 1. First, there were Chaucer's words that demanded double interpretation. Besides that I had to discover the 14th century image of Christ; that's where research was important. Fortunately, Claremont residents were privileged to use the libraries of the Claremont colleges.
     We'll look at Chaucer's words first. I mentioned in the previous entry that the Host providing best food and strong wine to pilgrims is a clear reference to the Eucharist.
     Later, the Pardoner offers absolution to the pilgrims, and proclaims:
          I advise that our Host here shall begin
          For he is most enveloped in sin.
Notice that Chaucer indicates sin is external to the Host, it envelops the Host. Elsewhere Chaucer says, "Jesus Christ took upon Himself . . . all our wickednesses," but "in Him is no imperfection." Sin is external to Christ; it envelops Him. The same is said of the Host.
     Next, in one of Chaucer's troublesome sections, the Host alludes to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
          And well I know the substance is in me,
          If anything shall well-reported be.
The surface meaning has been difficult to interpret. But we'll pursue the underlying mystical intention of "substance." Dictionaries help. In the OED, the primary definition of Substance, says: "Essential nature, essence; esp. Theol., with regard to the being of God, the divine nature or essence." And the first entry in the MED says substance is "used of the incarnate Christ." Chaucer's Host indicates his covert identity as Christ, and wants this fact well reported.
     On the surface the Host's references to the crucifixion have been judged blasphemous. But if a covert Christ speaks of nails and blood they recall details of Christ's death. Medieval poems and prayers, as well, depict Christ alluding to his death:

           All  . . . for thy sake
           . . . . . . . . .
          The nails, the scourges, and the spear,
          The gall, and thorns sharp--
          All these will witness bear
          That I have thee abiding in my heart.
These lines were characteristic of Chaucer's day.
     I soon found the play called "The Harrowing of Hell." It gave real meaning to the Host's use of "harrow," which on the surface is said to be "obscure." The harrowing of hell had been prophesied. The crucified Christ descended to hell to release the righteous souls. Here is an account of His arrival:
          A voice spoke then terrifyingly, 
              as if it were a thunder's blast:
          undo your gates at once, bid I,
               they may no longer last,
           . . . . . . . .
               Then Jesus struck so fast,
          The gates went asunder
               And iron bands all burst.
This is not a mild-mannered Christ, but a bold, heroic knight.
     Ultimately the pilgrimage becomes symbolic. If the covert journey is symbolic, what happens to the Tabard? That's the last word we'll pursue.
     Note that Chaucer never refers to the "Tabard Inn." Scholars, nevertheless, consistently attach "Inn." What Chaucer presents is a Tabard that shelters pilgrims, and it belongs to the Host. We must acquire a medieval mindset here.
     A tabard is an overgarment of coarse material, usually sleeveless. In Chaucer's day, it was poor men's garb. Christ is poetically described wearing poor men's clothing. While Christ in a tabard is not difficult to fix in our mind's eye, the composite of all the pilgrims sharing the Host's tabard seems beyond out "visual" capability. But this is Chaucer's ingenious portrayal of a mystery, the Mystical Body, "a doctrine of the faith . . . which human reason is incapable of solving." In the Host's Tabard, the pilgrims are part of the Mystical Body of Christ.
     This may be problematic for the modern mind to grasp, but the following excerpts found in medieval Festivals of the Church will help. Marginalia to the first excerpt reads: "The Lord is a householder, he feasts and clothes his folk."
          The Lord who is a householder
          With fair feasts folk he feeds
          Giveth them clothes He Himself doth wear
           . . . . . . . . .
          With Him on the bed, man, thou sat
          On the bolster of heavenly bliss.
          With His flesh He feeds thee, 
          thou knowest this well, 
          Thy soul shall be clad as His
          In life that nevermore ends.
           . . . . . . . . .
          He saith God is truly the Son
          And in the same thy soul is clad
          Thy Lord's garment then hast thou worn.
For all of mankind to wear the garment of the Lord may seem an odd expression for relationship with God. Oddity doesn't matter. This was a typical medieval expression in England. And Chaucer's choice of the name of a garment for the pilgrims' shelter captured the idea. Chaucer's Host provides "feasts," "beds," and the "clothes he himself doth wear." We recognize that Chaucer's Host is portrayed with the same attributes that describe Christ.

The following poem--"How Christ Shall Come"--was a startling find in Carleton Brown's Religious Lyrics of the 14th Century. Christ's depiction mirrors what Chaucer says of the Host!
          I come from the wedding as a sweet spouse,
               who has brought my wife with me
          I come from the fight a stalwart knight,
               who has overcome my foe
          I come from bargaining as a powerful chapman (businessman),
               who has bought mankind
          I come from an unknown land as a blessed pilgrim,
               who has searched over a great distance.
These are reverent images of the day. Christ is a spouse whose wife is with Him, a stalwart knight in harrowing hell, a successful businessman, and, lastly, a simple pilgrim. This is how Christ came to Chaucer's mind--and to the Canterbury Tales.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Talked to my dear old friend Anne the other day. She's an old friend because she's been dear to me for all the years I've known her. Must be 40 years by now. And she's old because she'll be 93 next month. We don't see each other anymore. She's in assisted living near San Diego and I don't drive. But we do fine on the telephone.
     Of course, we don't always connect on the phone. When that happens, I send her a note. About a month ago I included pictures of the dolls I'm making. (She isn't online.) She's a neat, tidy person. Doesn't like clutter. So it surprised me when she asked if I'd make a doll for her! I said of course I would.
     "How big are they," she asked.
      "They're usually about 18 inches."
      "O my, can you make a smaller one?" she said, with hesitation in her voice.
      "Sure. How about 12 inches?"
      "That'd be great!"
I already had an idea. It wouldn't be a clown or a brownie. It didn't take long, and it was fun. Mailed it a few days ago.
I talked to Anne today. The new doll is "Tootsie." She said she especially likes the buttons. Me too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The adventure of publication--Book 1

Publisher John Daniel accepted my manuscript for Chaucer's Host in June 1997, even though it presented a problem involving the language in the Chaucer  quotes. Two letters common in the Middle English alphabet--thorn and yogh--are no longer in use, and were not available in any font in 1997. I sent a photocopied page with examples as a guide, and a thorn and yogh were created.
     Before composing the dedication page, I visited my cherished mentor, the poet Virginia Adair. I wanted permission to name her as a dedicatee. She said she felt undeserving until I reported that another professor had told me "mind your humility." After her peppery response to his words, she acquiesced. When I got home I wrote the following:
Ted, my husband
Virginia Hamilton Adair
because they were there for me
from the beginning
With the dedication completed, all the required pages had been sent.
     The first proof pages arrived in late October. The quotes from Chaucer, as well as the general text, were set flush with the left margin. The book designer, Eric Larson, wanted my comments. To see my words in print thrilled me, of course, but I returned the proofs with a note saying, "I assume you don't intend to have all the poetry against the left margin." I enclosed copies of a couple of pages illustrating centered quotes, the way they ought to be.
     Eric sent a  lengthy reply explaining that "flush left" is the logical and the most attractive way to display poetry. To do otherwise, he claimed "makes the whole page look raggedy and disheveled."
     I begged to differ, at length and in detail. "My aim is aesthetics," I declared, "not logic." I don't think I've ever been as forceful, before or since. I offered two alternatives for poetry arrangement--neither flush left--and waited.
     The anticipated letter from Eric finally came after Thanksgiving. He chose my second suggestion and closed his letter with, "Thanks for your help." The kindness of a professional toward a novice.
     Soon I received this design of the front cover for my approval.
I had an idea and a a question. I phoned Eric to suggest placing a white "disk" behind the cross as a symbolic Host. He thought it would look like blank space, but I assured him it would be seen as an illustration of the Eucharist. Then I asked, "Eric, where did you get the M?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "My middle initial is L!" Both changes were made and I happily approved the result. 

Publication was set for July. The processes were exciting but laden with responsibility. If I missed something during proofing, the oversight would become permanent printed history!
     In January 1998 came a request for author photos. A style-conscious friend insisted I wear a plain dark top, with, perhaps, a string of pearls. I went along with the advice, sans pearls. An appropriate accent to complement my black sweater, is, instead, the Middle English Dictionary. Embracing my favorite research tool represents "me" more than wearing pearls. 
     The second proof pages arrived in late February. Corrections indicated in the first proofing had been made. This read-through constituted final approval. At this stage, corrections could be made but no revisions, no moving text, no changes of any kind. Content and pagination were set. Even small changes could have a domino effect requiring succeeding pages to be modified. That could delay the publishing schedule. In a word, alterations were verboten. When I mailed the proofs back, my part of the job was over.
     Galley proofs were sent out to "blurbers," individuals who would read the printout and provide responses to be printed on the back cover. Professor Barnes, who taught Chaucer at Pomona College, called the book a "good read." Dr. McCray, a college president noted for his interest in Chaucer, said,  "it meets a need thus far unfulfilled." Hugh Hewitt, host of the series Searching for God in America, on PBS TV, generously declared, "Cullen's expertise and passion draws in even readers who swore off Chaucer decades ago."
     When I received the back cover design I called Eric again.
     "Eric," I asked, "who chose the quote 'Harrow!' said he, 'by nails and by blood!' at the top of the cover?"
     "I did," he said, rather defensively. "Why?"
     "It's perfect," I said. "It characterizes the whole book!"
"The Harrowing of Hell" is Christ's action after being crucified. He destroys the gates of hell and releases the souls waiting for the Redeemer.
     With all of the book in order, publicity and distribution took over. The publisher's website said, "Cullen posits a secret identity of Herry Bailly, keeper of the Tabard . . . and proposes convincingly that Chaucer's Host is none other than Jesus Christ." Chaucer's Host could be purchased through Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Borders online. It all came together in a rush.
     A small, heavy box arrived from Santa Barbara the first week of July 1998. I knew what it contained. I set the box on my kitchen table, slit the tape, and folded down the edges. I lifted out a copy of my beautifully finished book. I expected to be overjoyed, laughing and dancing with a sense of accomplishment. My spontaneous reaction, however, caught me by surprise. Instead of dancing, I groped for a chair, sat down, hugged Chaucer's Host to my breast, and sobbed. I felt the release of almost thirty years of waiting.
     A few weeks later, as a lark, I went to our city library just for the fun of seeing my book on the shelf. I asked the reference librarian where I could find "Chaucer's Host" by the author "Dolores Cullen." After studying her computer screen, she wrote on a small slip of paper  PR 1875 H67 C85 1998 and the title--Chaucer's Ghost! I was too amused to correct her.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lilac sibs

I'll call them Lilac sibs for want of a better way to refer to them. The boy's pants are purple, even though they look like black. The girl's shoes are sparkly with sequins. They'll be heading out soon. Someone else will be giving them names. If I hear about it, I'll let you know. It's fun.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Living the adventure again

This afternoon, just for the heck of it, I read a  chapter in my book about being "ensnared" by Chaucer's words. When I finished the chapter, I laughed because I had found it so entertaining. It was like living the adventure over again. How wonderful!
     The first word that had ensnared me was "Host." It pointed so clearly to a covert image of Christ. The Host's actions confirmed that first impression: providing the best food and strong wine for pilgrims he would guide.

While working on my Master's in 1976, I wrote a paper about the Host and submitted it to a conference on Christianity and Literature. Sounds like the perfect place, doesn't it? Yes--and no. The paper was accepted. After I presented "Chaucer's Host in 14th Century Perspective" the audience had questions. I incorporated material brought out in the questions and sent the paper to the Christian journal that sponsored the conference. But getting it published would not be a shoo in. The reviewer's verdict said, "Do not touch this with a 100 foot pole." So much for a new and different idea.
     That paper, however, became the nucleus of my first book, Chaucer's Host: Up-so-doun. The "up-so-doun" hinted that the contents would be upside down compared to what might be expected. The writers' group I attended heard and critiqued the whole book. I wrote and rewrote until everyone understood. This group typified the average reader I aimed for.
     The internet did not yet exist! Writers relied on the US Post Office. I sent the manuscript and a return envelope with sufficient postage attached to have the manuscript returned to me. Once sent out, weeks (months?) would go by before a reply arrived. My manuscript came back repeatedly, with the typical rejection: Thank you for thinking of us; your manuscript does not fit our current needs; but good luck. I'd prepare new envelopes and send it out again. When I began I had an extensive list of publishers. A few addressees were academic presses, but mainly they were small presses. All were listed under "literary criticism" in the book called Writer's Market. The mailings--and rejections--went on for several years.
     When there were just two names of small presses left on the list--one in New York City, the other in Santa Barbara, CA--I chose Santa Barbara because it was the closer of the two. I lived in Southern California. That was 1997. On June 17th I received a letter from John Daniel, the publisher. He said, "I wish my brother had lived to read your book." Eureka! His brother had been a medievalist and chairman of a University English Department. John had understood my every word and, what's more important, he knew the value of the message.
     That's how our long, meaningful association began.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reminiscing III

This is the third and last of the reminiscences. It's intended as complete nonsense. I could have improved the writing, but I'm giving you just what I was capable of at the time. So, here it is.

Chaucer was really the king of England. He traveled incognito / he liked flying in airplanes / but preferred traveling by car. When he was in France he always spoke English. When he was in Italy he always spoke French that way no one on the Continent ever knew what he was saying & they couldn't steal the plot for his next book.
     He lived on the royalties from his books and had the legal entries about being a customs worker, etc. placed in the records to confuse historians. He bribed the record keepers to make the entries by giving them 1/2 of his daily wine allotment. He also had a stable of horses and used to rent them out to pilgrims who were going to St James Compostela. After a while, he ran out of horses because they didn't swim well enough to get the pilgrims across the English Channel.
     He & his wife never got along, that's one reason he made all those trips. Of course the reason they started not to get along was because he went on the trips & refused to take her with him. She wanted to visit her mama in Switzerland & Chaucer had a fear of heights but wouldn't admit it. That fact was only recently discovered in a secret diary of his that was discovered behind some books in the library at Westminster Abbey. And besides, it also said he couldn't stand his mother-in-law & his wife's 8 sisters who all still lived at home with Mama.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reminiscing II

The is the second of three "exercises" I did in the 1980s just to let off steam. The first was fictional. This one is really a record of how I felt. The book about the Host, that I talk about, wasn't published until 1998--after a long search for a publisher.

Dear Geoffrey Chaucer,
I hope you don't mind my using a comma instead of a colon. I feel I know you well enough for a comma. Try not to think me forward.
     I have read most of your works and find you the most fascinating author I've known. Other authors are entertaining, paint great pictures, introduce interesting characters, have clever story lines--but you do all these things and so much more. The depth, the complexity I felt almost from the first moment was a strange and new experience. It remains to this day the most stimulating intellectual experience of my life. [And in 2015, I still feel the same way.]
     I am sorry to admit that I have so much difficulty explaining what I see to others. But I guess that is as it should be. Your genius put it together. It should be very difficult to take all the pieces apart one at a time and still be able to have someone recognize all these bits and pieces as your work of art.
     I'll keep trying. I so want someone else to enjoy what I see. Do you suppose if I give them a pretty good outline, over all description, analysis--whatever--that others will be able to continue, enlarge, discover the things remaining that I don't mention or haven't seen myself? I sure hope so. For one reason, because I can't do the whole job--I don't have the time [I was almost 60], nor do I have training in all the fields that you knew. (What, in your world, did you not know?) Was there anything that did not interest you? Was there any area of life of which you were totally ignorant? I doubt there were any.
     That's one of the most amazing things--but, if I think about it, why shouldn't it be? Each person today knows about many things in many areas of life. The remarkable thing about you is that you seemed to fit the whole world into your writing. I have trouble just trying to organize the proper details, sufficient background, adequate description. I seem to have to labor over a simple scene, work it over and over just to get minimal interest into it. Did you work and rework your verses? I don't see how you could have had time.
     I'm quite sure that you have three layers of a story line running through the CT. I'm so anxious to finish the book about the Host, and the book about Pilgrim Chaucer and the Host, so I can work on the pilgrims. You must have been spellbound by your own ideas. How amazing! How all the little pieces fit together--it overwhelms me thinking of it. Did you have a chart to keep it all straight? Or was you memory so powerful (photographic memory before photographs?) that it all stayed in order and emerged as you needed it?
     I have to say that I don't intend to just rush through the Host book to get it finished. I plan to do as good a job as I possibly can. (Pray for me.) What is it I'm really trying to express? Let me see . . . I am anxious for others to know what I know so they can be even more amazed with your writing. And I am anxious to know more and more myself. And you don't go on to the next task before you finish with the first. So, in the end, what I am feeling is the excitement in store when I start to learn more about the pilgrims. But I just want everything NOW.   :)
     I'm sure there is a pattern in the pilgrim descriptions, but chances are it is not a simple and consistent pattern. Perhaps there is one pattern for the constellations, and another for the planets--that makes a lot of sense because you'd want to point out particular stars as an identifying clue and I already know you did that in several places.--You see, there I go getting carried away when I have two long jobs to do before I get to sort out all those wonderful gems you left for us. It truly overwhelms me to know that I understand--even though I don't have all the information I need yet.
     Anything you can do to help me, I would really appreciate. I really want to do a good job. I want people to get excited about your writing. And I want them to have a new interest in the Middle Ages. I'm sure there is so much there, just waiting to be discovered. You knew it, many writers knew it. It's time to let the secrets out.
 Respectfully yours,
Dolores Cullen

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reminiscing I

While looking through an old file for something, I came across a folder I'd forgotten about. Thought you might find the contents of interest. It comes from the 1980s. It was a time when my dear friend and mentor, Virginia Adair,  had moved out of the area; she would return a few years later. A note attached to the papers sets the scene. The first "exercise" follows.

These are "exercises" [3 of them]  I did in the 1980s, just to let off steam. I felt like I'd burst from all I could see in Chaucer and no one would listen.

I was with Master Chaucer this afternoon. He returned from Italy a few days ago. It was a hard journey. He saw many things that filled his mind and heart with pain. Sad and terrible things are happening. It must be that the Lord will soon come and make an end of this foul world. All the signs are there. 
     Master Chaucer and I talked quietly for a long while. He told me of terrors he had seen and heard about. We pray God will not allow such things to come to England.
     He is working carefully on his pilgrimage story. It is wonderful to see. His words are heavy with meaning and yet the lines are so cheery that one might never notice unless they will look deeply for what is stored there as a treasure. There are those who will handle his words and never feel their weight. He is so great a master--it is a gift from God, I have no doubt. 
     When I put my feeble words together and my lines grow, one follows the other and all they hold is clear and plain--how the master does it is a skill beyond my humble ability.
     His skill he uses as it was intended, to say what he knows so that others may benefit from what God has taught him or allowed him to see and hear. He takes these happenings, these truths, and applies his powers to them and--as if by magic--they become creatures of complexity and variety. From one side we see a simple picture; from another a noble truth and--if we are skillful enough--from a third side a message as if the Lord himself is speaking to mankind.
     It is a blessing and a wonder to know Master Chaucer, to hear him speak and to see how he weaves his thoughts into his words.
                                                                     --Master Chaucer's humble servant

Monday, July 13, 2015

Wearin' 'o' the green

Meet a couple of leprechauns. They're just lounging around, not in their formal attire--no green top hats or swallow tail coats.  They've only dropped in for a short visit.
Here's venerable old Finian--

And this is lively young Kilroy.  Don't know what they did with their pot of gold.  hmmmmm

Friday, July 10, 2015

The thrill continued

As I said in the previous entry, "I had something I had to say." The fact that Professor Trigg assumed I "sidestepped" a lot of Chaucer criticism published in the preceding forty years did not mean I was careless or sparing in my searches. It only meant that the books I read almost never connected to more recent scholarship.
     V. A. Kolve is an exception. His The Play Called Corpus Christi provides exciting information. He demonstrates, for example, that action in medieval plays mimics the action of games! Kolve intends to assist today's readers to recognize images that were a "major vocabulary" in the medieval mind-set. This enhances the "possibility of divergent readings" of the Canterbury Tales.
     I pursued other books he'd written. His Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative has been called "the best and most important book on Chaucer to appear in twenty-five years."
     The name of Augustine seemed to touch everything medieval, all aspects of my research. I needed to know more about him. I could hardly believe he had died in 430 A.D.  That's 1000 years before the death of Chaucer. His influence not only continued uninterrupted through the Middle Ages, but it is still forceful today. What a powerful figure!
     To return to Professor Stephanie Trigg, she sees my reading as dependent on the Middle English Dictionary when I looked for "possible alternative meanings for Chaucer's lines." In truth, the dictionary proved to be a treasure trove. I'll demonstrate with the "outstanding" word I mentioned last time. You'll need a little background first.
     The word is found in the story of Thopas, which is a litany of sexual encounters told in two parts. At the end of part one, Pilgrim Chaucer leaves the decision to continue in the hands of his audience as he offers: If you will [have] any more of it, To tell it will I fonde. In the MED, fonde has ten definitions. Editors choose number seven, which says, "to try or strive to do something." That fits the surface story.
     To understand the startling alternate meaning of the line, however, it is essential to recognize that Chaucer's Host is the covert image of Christ, guide of pilgrims. (The Christic identity is established in great detail in my first book, which deals exclusively with the Host. I coverered that topic first because Christ is the heart of Chaucer's hidden message.)
     Now let's check the first definition of fonde: "to try the patience of God." Astonishing! But knowing that Christ is listening to this bawdy story, the definition comes as no surprise. After only twenty-two lines--in the middle of a sentence--the Host/Christ calls a halt as he says: "No more of this, for you make me so weary . . . My ears ache." That shows unmistakably that Christ's patience is at an end. Fonde foreshadowed the interruption.
     Near the closing of her review, Professor Trigg says "most presses would have insisted on major rewriting to update Cullen's research." She goes on to confide, that, as they exist, few teachers would recommend my Chaucer books to their students. Then, in spite of all her prior objections, the professor muses, "And yet I suspect many such teachers would be secretly quite glad if they could inspire their own students to write a series of three volumes on Chaucer." Professor Trigg is a woman who is not merely echoing Ivory Tower pronouncements. Her seeing an unspoken value in the unconventional can't help but warm this aged heart.   :)

My presentation may not abide by the academic formula, but students will know that research can be an adventure.