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."