Wrinkles in Time


“Chaos resolves into a pattern if viewed from the right distance.”
The Book of Rhino

I recently read The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. About halfway through, I decided that Captain Queeg and Donald Trump were remarkably similar in their behavior. I wondered how Herman Wouk could so accurately paint a portrait of the current president. Did he somehow get on board a time machine and travel to 2016? A more realistic possibility is that Wouk met or knew of someone like Donald Trump and used him for the character of Captain Queeg; perhaps Queegs and Trumps pop up in every generation.

(Note to self: If that is the case, then I think our current ship of state will make it to safe harbor.)

The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952. I wonder what the members of the Pulitzer committee saw in the novel. Did one or two of them encounter their own versions of Captain Queeg and so awarded Wouk for his accurate depiction of American life? It’s possible. After all, the novels that achieve greatness are not about people we don’t know but about people that we do.

Novelists who write about their own time periods reveal the culture of their world in a way that history books do not. For example, one of the fascinating aspects of The Age of Innocence and Bonfire of the Vanities is the culture they both reveal about New York City and its society. It runs like a connecting thread through the transient tastes in style, language, and status. Even though the novels are set roughly one hundred years apart, Edith Wharton and Tom Wolfe knew the same types of people.

The fictional works of authors who write contemporary novels bridge the gap in time for later generations of readers, enabling them to trace patterns in human behavior. These books are “wrinkles in time.” It’s no wonder that all my favorite authors are dead! In their novels, I can travel through time—not as a voyeur who is merely nosy about the past—but as an Observer and a mathematician who is always searching for patterns. Patterns help me make sense of real world phenomena, including human relationships. In a world of reactive effects, patterns help me see causes. Novels of the past smooth out the wrinkles of the present.

Daily Post WOTD:Wrinkle


Mencken’s Worst Trade

H.L. Mencken

I love H. L. Mencken. He is intelligent, witty, and a prolific writer. I use the present tense because, even though he is technically dead, the words he left behind are still alive. They speak to the present moment. Here is an example:

Why do men and women take to literary endeavor? The answer must be another question: Why does a hen lay eggs? The impulse to say something to make people sit up and take notice is universal to humankind. The ego craves attention almost as violently as it craves life. Well, who can think of an easier, safer, and more effective way to give it what it wants than by writing? Alone in his gloomy cage, the writer addresses, at least potentially, the whole human race, not only of the living generation but also of the generations to come.

“The life of a man of letters,” said Gustave Flaubert, ” is a dog’s life, but the only one worth living.” His judgment was probably sound on both counts. Rewards of the author at their best are stupendous—and every one knows they are. His troubles are easily forgotten.

I have tried in these paragraphs to set forth a few of them. If I printed the whole list, the readers of this magazine would drown the nation with their tears and many would curse the day they learned to read and write.
H. L. Mencken ~ The Worst Trade of Them All

Thank goodness, I am not a writer; I am merely an observer who writes.


George MacDonald ~ Mary Cassatt


“Here I lay in a delicious reverie for some time, during which all lovely forms, and colours, and sounds seemed to use my brain as a common hall, where they could come and go, unbidden and unexcused.

“I had never imagined that such capacity for simple happiness lay in me, as was now awakened by this assembly of forms and spiritual sensation, which yet were far too vague to admit of being translated into any shape common to my own and another mind.”

George MacDonald ~ Phantastes (1858)

Painting by Mary Cassatt



Thoughts on the Cove


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless see.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearig tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ Kubla Khan

The world of the insensible appreciates the benefits of peace.
Erasmus ~ The Complaint of Peace

As interesting as I find speculation, I do not invest my emotions in it. It makes for a poor return.
The Book of Rhino

Magic Mushrooms


The Daily Prompt word-of-the-day is Mushroom

There are two literary references to mushrooms that immediately come to mind: the mushroom upon which sat the Caterpillar in Alice Through the Looking Glass and the basket of mushrooms given to Frodo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring.

I was young when I read both stories and was bothered by the fact that magic came in the form of a mushroom. At the time, I did not like mushrooms and thought that biting into one was too high a price to pay for fantasy. I certainly could not see why the hobbits were so greedy for them. A nice, tasty basket of strawberries would have been more agreeable. However, in the hands of Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, the mushroom motif made more sense.

I had a book of fairy tales that showed illustrations of little creatures such as mice, rabbits, fairies, and brownies sitting on or under mushrooms. There were even tiny mushroom houses. Those pictures indelibly linked mushrooms with magic in my mind. At one time, I wanted to live in a little mushroom (but not eat it.)

I wonder why mushrooms are so cute. Walt Disney animated them in the movie Fantasia. Perfect. One of my favorite sequences. I wonder why that is.

(Note to self: Think about the magic of mushroom–but not the ones from Grace Slick. Those are scary.)

Curious Cats Do Strut


The Daily Press word-of-the-day is Strut . Friday’s are the days l like to write about authors and books connected to the prompt. Today’s word reminded me of two writers, a poet, and a singer/songwriter. The first offering is by T. S. Eliot and the second is by Brian Setzer. I hope you enjoy their works.

Rum Tum Tugger by T. S. Eliot ~ Cats

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat.
If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
Yes, the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore:
When you let him in, then he wants to be out;
He’s always on the wrong side of every door,
And as soon as he’s at home, then he’d like to get about.
He likes to lie in the bureau drawer,
But he makes such a fuss if he can’t get out.

Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any use for you to doubt it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious beast:
His disobliging ways are a matter of habit.
If you offer him fish, then he always wants a feast.
When there isn’t any fish, then he won’t eat rabbit.
If you offer him cream, then he sniffs and sneers,
For he only likes what he finds for himself;

So you’ll catch him in it right up to the ears,
If you put it away on the larder shelf.
The Rum Tum Tugger is artful and knowing,
The Rum Tum Tugger doesn’t care for a cuddle;
But he’ll leap on your lap in the middle of your sewing,
For there’s nothing he enjoys like a horrible muddle.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any need for me to spout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

Stray Cat Strut by Brian Selzer ~“The Stray Cats”

Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence,
I ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent.
I’m flat broke, but I don’t care.
I strut right by with my tail in the air.

Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies cat.
I’m a feline Casanova, hey man, that’s that.
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man.
Get my dinner from a garbage can.

Don’t go crossing my path.

I don’t bother chasing mice around.
I slink down the alleyway looking for a fight,
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night.
Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry,
“Wild stray cat, you’re a real gone guy.”
I wish I could be as carefree and wild,
But I got cat class and I got cat style.

(Note to self: My sister recently pointed out how many expressions we get from cats: cat nap, pussyfoot, hightail it, scaredy cat, curiosity killed the cat.)

Martian Neighbor

The Daily Press word-of-the-day is Neighbors. This calls for a poem by Craig Raine about our Martian neighbors.



A Martian Sends a Postcard Home

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings–

They cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek with pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground;

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Modelt T is a room with the lock inside–
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anythings missed.

But time is tide to the wrist
of kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to supper
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

At night, when all the colors dies
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves–
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

Craig Raine 1979



I am currently reading The Tontine, a two-volume novel by Thomas B. Costain, published in 1955. Two brief facts: Thomas Costain was born in Ontario, Canada in 1885 and died in New York City in 1965. A tontine, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “an annuity scheme in which subscribers share a common fund with the benefit of survivorship, the survivors’ shares being increased as the subscribers die, until the whole goes to the last survivor.”

That is the only quote I am providing because The Tontine is a destination, not a journey book. It’s a page-turner in the sense that one keeps reading to see what happens; but it is not a page-stopper in that there are no memorable spiritual or philosophical gems over which to ponder. Costain wrote in a similar manner in The Silver Chalice and The Darkness and the Dawn; it’s straightforward storytelling without any stops along the way for a cup a tea at an old mill.

The Tontine, however, takes a diversion into another country with two of the characters. I am not too keen on diversions; I don’t know how much information about a new setting and new characters I should retain for future reference. If something about the diversion is central to the plot, I will have to go back and re-read it, something I don’t like to do with a destination book. It is a non-preferred activity.

A tontine itself is an interesting concept for a story. One knows from the beginning that there will be only one survivor; the question is whom will it be? In reading about a tontine, one must settle in for a decades-long story. If the storyteller is skillful (as Costain is), the reader will make an emotional investment in his or her favorite character and will want to see them win.

(Note to self: I don’t think George R. R. Martin would do well with a tontine—he kills off so many characters, it’s not worth caring about them.)

(Note to self: That is an uncharitable remark. The chemo must be getting to me.)

That is all I have to say about The Tontine. Why belabor the point?

A Dab of Dobbin


Please, release me, let me go, for I don’t love you anymore.

To waste our lives would be a sin. Release me and let me love again.

(Song written in 1949 by Eddie Miller and Robert Yount)

The Daily Press word-of-the-day is Release . If there is one literary character that personifies the song Release Me, it is William Dobbin in the novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. Dobbin remains faithful to Amelia Sedley for years, even after her marriage to George Osborne. His name crops up occasionally in other literature as a byword for faithfulness and unrequited love. In one of Agatha Christie’s novels, a character is described as “a regular Dobbin”; that one word reveals volumes about the person.

There is another “Dobbin” in Vanity Fair and that is Amelia Sedley, the character about which Dobbin is so Dobbinish. She marries Dobbin’s best friend, George Osborne and when he is killed in battle, makes her life a shrine to his existence. Cherishing the memory of George, she rebuffs Dobbin’s offers of marriage, treating him very shabbily.

Now whenever I encounter a literary Dobbin, I always analyze the object of their devotion. Many times it’s a real head-scratcher. Take, for example, George Osborne. He is the spoiled son of a rich man. A vain, self-centered spendthrift, he squanders his inheritance and leaves Amalia pregnant and penniless at the time of his death. He also flirts shamelessly with Amalia’s best friend, Becky Sharp. While reading the book, I could find no qualities he possessed that compelled his wife’s steadfast devotion. Over and over, I asked myself, “Why, Amelia, why?”

I can understand why there are Dobbin characters in the first place. They can be interesting. However, when I consider all of the Dobbins I have encountered in literature, most of them are like Amelia. Why is that? Why do the worst characters bring out a person’s Dobbinishness?

(Note to self: Don’t be a Dobbin—if you must, make sure that he or she is worthy.)

So my advice to all you literary characters out there is this: If you are considering being a Dobbin, I suggest you dabble in it first. Begin by being a Dob and investigate your Dobbee thoroughly and objectively. It could save you a lifetime of grief.