Sevastopol Sketches

What I missed about reading these stories as opposed to the previous Tolstoy that I’ve read this year is the personal. What I’ve grown to love about Tolstoy is his characters. His insight into humanity and how he can describe the common psychology that binds us – from aristocracy to peasant in his time and our modern equivalents. 

In these “Sketches”, that is gone. Maybe it’s not the point Tolstoy was going for. Or possibly he didn’t have the maturity or skill yet to do that. They are good reading none-the-less and a nice historical insight. But I did get a flash of the Tolstoy to come during the final ‘December’ sketch as the fear of battle came into the character. That Tolstoy communicated brilliantly.

This is my final Tolstoy of the year. But I’m sure I’ll be revisiting him again.

Dracula Thoughts

This novel was a chore.

I enjoyed the first bits – Jonathan Harker heads out to Transylvania and ends up becoming Dracula’s prisoner along with the three women vampires. That part was great: Eager young lawyer Harker slowly realizes a career opportunity is turning life threatening. How many movies have been made on this premise alone? Then Dracula’s passage to England with the ship’s crew disappearing one by one until the ship runs aground and the large dog is seen running from it.

Then we meet the likes of train schedule memorizing Mina and things just get boring.

Bug-eating Renfield offers some enjoyment but as Dracula steps off stage the novel is taken over by some cartoon characters and became a hard to read slog for me. Lucy doesn’t brighten things much. Lucy! Lucy! Lucy! Everyone loves Lucy. A cowboy loves her! A peer of the realm loves her! A doctor loves her! And now Dracula loves her. And then kills her.

And I don’t really care. It’s written like a boy’s adventure story. The gang does this and the gang does that. It’s over written and over wrought and still lacking emotion.

September Poems

In September, I continued with the poems listed in the blog post about the most anthologized poems.

It started with Shakespeare and ended with Ginsberg. I guess I’m really old school because removed from the centuries, Shakespeare is still more accessible – as a human – than Ginsberg is to me. There were a few more modern/modernist poems this month. They make me feel annoyed. Maybe they are showing me my own limitations of imagination or education. But I suspect they annoy me because I have the sense that they, like sneaky thieves, are just getting away with something.


September 1, 2018 Sonnet 73 William Shakespeare Life is short. Love hard. What’s up with that 2nd line?
September 2, 2018 Sonnet 94 William Shakespeare Long ago, I tried & failed to work the last line into a book title.
September 3, 2018 The Passionate Shephard to his Love Christopher Marlowe I like it. Straight and to the point.
September 4, 2018 They Flee from Me Thomas Wyatt Not a fav for me. But growing old and unpopular sucks.
September 5, 2018 Sir Patrick Spens Anonymous Just tell the king to stuff it.
September 6, 2018 Lord Randall Anonymous I like story poems. Did the true love kill him? And why?
September 7, 2018 For The Union Dead Robert Lowell I like what he did here – the expanse of time and theme.
September 8, 2018 Skunk Hour Robert Lowell Nice scene setting/painint of a scene and mood.
September 9, 2018 We Real Cool Gwendolyn Brooks The more I read, the more I like it. Short and punchy.
September 10, 2018 Harlem Langston Hughes Perfection.
September 11, 2018 Daddy Sylvia Plath Poetic rage.
September 12, 2018 My Papa’s Waltz Theodore Roethke Lovely father-son moment.
September 13, 2018 Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Wallace Stevens With Stevens I sometimes feel as if I’m being made fun of.
September 14, 2018 Love Calls Us to the Things of this World Richard Wilbur A nice good morning poem.
September 15, 2018 After Apple-Picking Robert Frost He sounds almost apologetic to me going to sleep.
September 16, 2018 Design Robert Frost A fat, white spide is creepy enough.
September 17, 2018 Those Winter Sundays Roberty Hayden Good eulogy.
September 18, 2018 The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner Randall Jarrell I like when warriors are anti-war.
September 19, 2018 Shine, Perishing Republic Robinson Jeffers I really like the final lines/half of this poem.
September 20, 2018 Facing It Yusef Komunyakaa I’m not connecting with this one.
September 21, 2018 Ars Poetica Archibald MacLeish Very Modernist…very cold.
September 22, 2018 The Day Lady Died Frank O’Hara I like this snapshot of a memorable moment.
September 23, 2018 I Knew a Woman Theodore Roethke He digs this chick. Nice.
September 24, 2018 A Blessing James Wright This is nice and sweet.
September 25, 2018 Dream Song #14 John Berryman I like the grumpiness.
September 26, 2018 Dream Song #29 John Berryman Some of the phrases are nice. Wake up John.
September 27, 2018 The Fish Elizabeth Bishop I know this feeling. Nice.
September 28, 2018 In The Waiting Room Elizabeth Bishop Wonderfully told scene
September 29, 2018 I Know a Man Richard Creely Modernism. Either stupid or above my head.
September 30, 2018 After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes Emily Dickinson She knows everything. And can write it.

Lazarus Lizard – A Poem

Lazarus Lizard

Hello Lazarus Lizard
I almost stepped on you.
But I hopped aside…and fell.
The sidewalk caught my shoe.

So I landed on my ass
And torn my good dress pants
Please take solace in the fact
I’d never hop for ants.

My Daily Zen Items

I am a man of routine. Regimented. This is not a good thing but it’s how I’m built. I think it comes from a childhood of feeling in/un-secure so having something consistent to grasp onto is comforting. To that end, if I don’t do the following things each day, my day feels very off.

Journal – I do a verson of the 5 minute journal I’ve adapted for online use.
German – usually about 15 minutes a day using Duolingo. Last year was french, next year will be Italian in preparation for a trip there.
Read Poetry – or fiction in years past. For the past few years I’ve had an annual reading project. Poetry is this years.
Read Philosophy/Buddhism – It’s good to contemplate the reason for this life. Usually about 15 minutes of reading a book on Stoicism or Buddhism, my two main interests.
Stretch – I have a normal stretch routine I do in the mornings. I got it from an article on helping to recover from a desk job.
Chess – I play on It’s a good barameter for how my mind is working – am I sharp, impatient, foggy, tired? No matter what I think, chess will tell me.
Meditate – 20 minutes at least with brief moments during the day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. if I’m able. Usually guided using HeadSpace
Music – Some kind of music – lately it’s been the recorder…you know that instrument kids play in 5th grade. 15 minutes of practice a day.
Draw – this is more aspirational. I’m on again/off again with this but it bothers me every day that I don’t learn how to express myself with pen and paper.
Exercise – Mostly walking, but I’ve laid off lately but do try to be active at home…doing something.
Mail – check it  every day, go through it. Or else it turns into a big ugly pile.
Water-3 liters – Just drink it.

A Dream of My Father

I awoke to a disturbed, fitful dream of my father’s death early this morning.

My father had passed away not too long ago, his body was found looking as if asleep, in his leather chair in front of his TV, feet set on the ground and a sandwich on a plate in his lap. Peaceful. As if he’d fallen asleep while eating. So I know with fair certainty that he did not know that the next moment of his life was it. We don’t have cause of death but I believe it took him suddenly, like a fast moving shadow of a cloud – where once there was life, death was left; leaving no time for regrets or hopes or dreams or yearns.

While I don’t think he knew the reaper was coming for him at that moment, he knew cancer was eating away at his liver. But the doctors weren’t concerned. Testing had been done, experts had been consulted, a treatment regime planned. While he grew reflective in his illness, he was not saying his goodbyes to friends, family and life.

But I dreamt he saw the end coming. I dreamt he saw the scythe falling. I dreamt of scared eyes, of panic. He was not afraid of what was to come but was left undone. I dreamt the pain of regrets flash through his mind. I dreamt he tried to shout the things he wanted to say and bolted from his chair to do the things he’d put off. I dreamt he grasped for life: to say his goodbye, to share his “Rosebud” moment.

I’m still haunted by the dream. Not for what it may have meant for him but for myself. I’m going to be more diligent to say and do the things I need to so my daughters don’t have the same fitful dreams about my death as I had about my father’s.

Eulogy for my father

Here are the notes/outline for the eulogy I gave for my father, Howard McEwen, Sr., June 25, 1946 – July 25, 2018

The day my dad died, I drove up and got to his empty house. The police and paramedics had left. Tara and Steve were out handling things elsewhere.

I sat in his brown leather chair, HIS chair. Things were quiet, except for one thing. Ticks and tocks. Ticks and tocks. I then noticed something I’d never noticed before. From that chair, I could see 9 clocks. HE could see nine clocks. Every night he was face-to-face with nine clocks. Three of which he had made.

He did tend to do things in extremes.

Whether consciously or not, I think this showed how important time was to him.

Ten years ago, he made a major step and took more control of his time. And his life. He did more woodworking, he visited Marge and Don more, he spent vacations with Bob and Betty – the highlight of his year. He cooked and he read, and read and read those mystery novels – I found a list of 1,000 of them he had read. He was no longer delaying things he wanted to do.

He told Tara the biggest downside of his sickness was that he was finally feeling happy. He was taking the time for himself and, in the process, giving himself to others. He spent his time well, how he wanted to spend it. Until his time ran out.

So the lesson to me, and maybe us, is that remember each moment, be in each moment. The past is past and the future – good or bad – is coming whether we like it or not. Be in the here and now because it’s all we have and life is slipping away with every tick and every tock. And I’m going to go home and put a few more clocks in the my own house.

Thoughts on Mansfield Park

I was excited to read Mansfield Park. What intrigued me was a lower class protagonist. Not upper-middle class like Elizabeth Bennet or the Dashwood sisters. Even if things didn’t turn out well for the women from S&S or P&P, they’d always have a roof and meal.

Fanny didn’t come from those circumstances.

I also thought the fish-out-of-water element would be nice. It was in the beginning but then Fanny did….nothing. She is the protagonist after all. I expected her – who drives the story – to face tough decisions and make difficult choices. I expected her to grow through some kind of adversity.

Maybe that’s just me.

She did nothing. Everything was done to her. The only time she got animated was when scolding people for having a good time.

By the end of the book, she grew tiresome and I couldn’t understand why Edmund would want to marry her.

Plus, there was that whole creepy, incestuous cousin, almost a brother thing between the two of them. Yuck.