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.