Two old friends sit in the sun, serenaded by bumblebees, chatting about their plans for the summer. He thinks she should travel more. She thinks he needs a puppy. They don’t look too far ahead. They resolutely refuse to look at the rear view mirror.
They met in seventh grade, assigned by virtue of their IQ sores to the top academic group.
Within days, they were friends, oddballs clinging together in a sea of conformity. For Halloween, they recruited two others and went Trick or Treating as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She draped their sheets over cold weather gear. He did the makeup.
They sat on the stage during high school graduation. He was the salutatorian, and she was the class poet. They hugged goodbye and moved on to different parts of the country. He didn’t come home for vacations, and they eventually stopped keeping in touch.
A few weeks before she moved to Washington to start her first professional job, she dropped by Brandeis to visit a friend on campus. She heard a familiar voice call her name. There he was, moving swiftly toward her, his full-length blue cape billowing in the wind. They chatted for a few minutes in the cold. He was starting grad school and promised to come to Washington to visit. He never did.
He became a professional opera singer, much in demand for his counter tenor skills. She became a librarian, a wife, and a mother. She was much in demand, crisscrossing the country inspiring teens to read.
His voice began to strain, and he moved on to train managers for a financial company, traveling the world and living out of suitcases. Her marriage failed, and she came back to her childhood home to start over.
They found each other at a high school reunion. They left the festivities early and spent the rest of the night catching up over coffee and cookies. He was preparing to leave his lucrative job to become a minister. He was in love. She was working two jobs and raising children. They promised not to lose touch. This time, they kept the promise.
She went to his ordination. He provided comfort at her father’s funeral. He was diagnosed as HIV positive. She battled breast cancer. They both survived blood clots. They send funny notes to each other. They meet three or four times a year, for coffee and conversation.
Two old friends sit in the sun. The skyline of the city they love twinkles with light. He baked a lemon coffee cake, and she brought fresh berries. A perfect combination–like their friendship.
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater, and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
In 2004, during the long wait for the publication of A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, I sent George R. R. Martin the following email:
“I don’t mean to press you, but I am now over 60 years old, and if you take as long as Tolkien did, I am afraid I will not be here to read the end of your epic. Then I will die unfulfilled. I intend to be more disciplined in my efforts to write my first novel this year. Please make an old guy happy and try to do the same. If you can wrap things up by September 15, you won’t have to experience any guilt while watching the 2004-2005 NFL season.”
Much to my surprise, George responded promptly as follows:
“Ah, sixty isn’t that old anymore. Why don’t you just live to be a hundred? Then you can not only finish Ice and Fire but read all the books I’m planning to write afterward. Me, I’m a Giants and Jets fan, and I refuse to die until I’ve seen a subway Super Bowl. Many thanks for the email, and your kind and encouraging words.”
I read A Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, when it was published in 1996. Martin intended for the saga to consist of six books which would tell a sweeping tale of the political and military contest for the control of Westros followed by the final confrontation between the human armies of Westros and the inhuman hordes from the north. The story is told in the third person, alternating among the limited points of view of numerous major characters. The scene and point of view change with each chapter. The first book has eight major characters and 674 pages. The second book, A Clash of Kings, published in 1999, has two more major characters and 728 pages. The third book, A Storm of Swords, followed quickly in 2000; this one has another two characters and 924 pages. At this point, though, progress seemed to stall. By 2004, when I sent my email, it was rumored that the draft of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, contained eighteen major characters and an additional twenty chapters involving minor characters or single events. The draft exceeded twelve hundred pages, was still growing, and was nowhere near completion.
Succumbing to the pressure of my email, as well as pressure from other fans as well as his publisher, Martin decided to release his planned fourth book in two parts, each containing a separate set of story lines taking place simultaneously. This enabled Martin to publish A Feast for Crows in 2005. It contains sixteen major story lines, seven minor character chapters, and 684 pages.
I waited patiently for another two years for the second half of the fourth book, A Dance for Dragons, and in August 2007, I sent another email:
“The last time I dropped you a note, I was 60 years old and worried that I wouldn’t live to read the end of the saga. Now I am almost 64. So, nu?”
This time George’s response was less chatty:
“You really need to stop all this aging. Hey, I’m not that far behind you—58, going on 59.”
Shortly after this response, George made it clear on his website that further inquiries from fans about his writing progress would go straight to trash. He would notify the world when the book was actually released for sale. So, I quit asking.
His fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons, finally appeared in 2011. The book has more than twenty major characters, another twenty minor character chapters, and 959 pages.
George originally contemplated six books. But as the number of characters and stories expanded, each book did also. With the publication of A Dance with Dragons in 2011, he has completed four of the originally contemplated six books. That would mean at least two more books will be necessary. But at the rate each sequential volume expands, it is not unreasonable to expect that it may take three or four more volumes to finish the tale. We have been waiting eight years to read Winds of Winter, with no publication date yet announced.
Meanwhile, the HBO adaption of the saga has moved way past that of the completed books and is about to begin its final season. The HBO story differs significantly from that contained in the completed books, and unless George is planning to conform his remaining books to the TV series, which is unlikely, we can expect the divergence to increase. With the tremendous TV audience and publicity, the HBO version of Game of Thrones has effectively replaced George Martin’s original vision with the great majority of his fans. The HBO series is an epic undertaking in its own right, visually impressive and powerful, but it is, nevertheless, an abridged, altered, and diluted version of the story he provides in the books. At the current rate of progress, I will be nearing the century mark before the literary saga is complete.
And now, George has betrayed my trust. Instead of making progress on the long overdue A Song of Ice and Fire saga, he has recently been devoting his time to writing a 600-page first volume of Fire and Blood, a two part “prequel” describing the history of the Targaryan kings of Westeros. His unfinished 23-year-old epic seems to have been cast aside. If Tolkien had abandoned Lord of the Rings after The Two Towers, two thirds of the way through his story, he would have been vilified instead of revered.
Is this how George R. R. Martin wants to be remembered by his oldest and most ardent fans?
P.S. Incidentally, I feel obligated to disclose that I have not yet written the memoir that I mentioned to George in my 2004 email. I’m still working on it. If George is correct, I still have plenty of time.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
Yes, it’s that time again, BOLLI friends – sunscreen! Good sunscreen of the right strength prescribed by your doctor. If you have been leaving it off your daily ablutions during the winter months, now is the time to check the dates on the bottles or cans in your bathroom cabinet, car, and purse. You should have one available at all times, especially when traveling with grandkids!
Feel the Burn? That’s Called Skin Cancer.
Yup, the sunshine warming your face as you drive down the Turnpike is full of ultraviolet radiation which causes serious damage to your skin, even if you aren’t blonde. Until a dozen years ago, medical experts did not differentiate between Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B, but we now know that UVB is blocked by the glass and windshield in your car and that the persistent UVA is responsible for over 90% of skin cancers in America. “The increase in left-sided skin cancers may be from the UV exposure we get when driving a car. It is likely that the older women in our study were primarily passengers rather than drivers, and therefore did not show a [significant] left-sided predominance,” explained Dr. Butler, of the California Skin Institute in San Mateo. Over 70% of all melanomas in situ (non-invasive, early detection that have not spread to lymph nodes and other organs) are found on the left side of your face and neck. And yes, there is such a thing as Stage zero Melanoma.
Don’t Let Cancer Get Under Your Skin.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 96,500 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2019, and as many as 7,230 people are expected to die of melanoma this year.
Cancer. It’ll Grow on You.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woosta– educated at BOLLI.”
John Donne leans leisurely against King Arthur. Arthur Rex snuggles soundly with Sweet Will Shakespeare. Towering above them is Fanny Farmer, sans covers, coated with stains from holiday feasts. My books and shelves are home from a long exile in the land of Public Storage. They will never know how challenging it was to rescue them.
The kingdom of Public Storage is ruled by a troll named Chuck. Long of beard and mostly bald, he sits behind a long expanse of counter on a black mesh desk chair with wheels. He never stands or walks. He rolls from side to side, trying mightily to be as unhelpful as possible while appearing to be helpful. King Chuck, like many rulers, is cursed. His computer is always down.
I take a deep breath and walk through the empty room to the counter of power. Chuck squints up at me. “Hello,” he says brightly. “How may I help you today?” He sounds sincere, but I know from previous encounters that he is not.
“I’m emptying my storage unit today. I’ve already done the online notification and canceled the autopay. They said I needed to notify the manager.” Snap! This should be easy.
“They said to notify me?” He looks puzzled and alarmed, as though I had just announced my intention to set fire to his counter.
“Yes.” I begin to sweat. I have deviated from the King Chuck playbook.
“Huh.” Chuck wheels his way to his computer and peers at the screen. He strokes his beard thoughtfully. “Gee, my computer is down.”
I say nothing. I checked when I came in. His wifi is up and running.
“Did you take your lock?” he barks into the silence. I hold up the padlock to prove I’ve obeyed orders. Then drop it on my big toe. A genuine Chuck smile emerges. He enjoys his customers’ pain.
“Well, when my computer is working I will email your receipt. I hope you have had a good experience with Public Storage. It’s been a pleasure serving you.” OK, so maybe I’ve been a little harsh.
I walk back through the parking lot to the loading dock. My daughter and her boyfriend, who are the muscle behind the moving operation, are cramming a bed frame into the crowded UHaul. It doesn’t fit, so they break it up. It is not my bed. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter had thrown her old bed in my storage space. They head upstairs in the elevator to retrieve the last remaining occupant of my storage space: a mattress.
I wait outside the elevator doors for their return. Then my cell phone rings. I answer and a nasal voice demands, “Are you in the lobby?”
“Excuse me?” I answer. “Who is this?”
“It’s Chuck. Are you in the lobby?” I look around in confusion. As near as I can tell, this isn’t a lobby, it’s a loading dock. I was in the lobby when I last saw the demon Chuck.
“No. At least I don’t think I’m in the lobby. I’m….”
“I know you’re in the lobby. I can see you.” He chuckles, a rusty sound straight out of a Stephen King movie.
I resist the impulse to hide behind a pillar. I look around and realize there are security cameras pointed at me. “Well, OK then, I guess this is the lobby.”
“There is a mattress in your storage unit.” Contempt drips from every word. “Did you think you could just leave it behind? That’s against the rules.”
A pause while I resist the impulse to run for my life. “They’re picking it up now,” I blurt. The phone goes dead. I never even get the chance to say goodbye.
The kids arrive right after the phone call. We quickly shove the mattress into the truck, and we speed out of the parking lot of Public Storage, never ever to return. Chuck waved as we passed his window. We didn’t wave back.
This morning, I fill the empty bookcases with my beloved books. As I dust each one, I promise, “You’ll never have to live in the land of Public Storage again.”
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
A great many of our BOLLI members have been exploring new avenues of expression since arriving at 60 Turner Street. Writing and photography classes have been fully subscribed, and our Special Interest Groups in these areas have offered additional venues for creative endeavor as well. Wonderful work has come from these sources which has, in some cases, actually been something of a surprise to the artists and writers themselves!
I know that’s true–because that’s what happened to me.
When I first joined BOLLI, I signed up to take Betsy Campbell’s “Five Short Stories in Five Weeks” writing course and got really nervous. While I had always toyed with writing and had always dreamed of being published one day, I had never actually finished anything. So, I figured this was going to be one last shot–if I couldn’t finish one story, much less five, I was going to just bag the whole thing.
To my delight, when the course ended, I found that I had actually finished not one but five short pieces. I was thrilled! But what had made the difference, I wondered. Why had I finally been able to actually finish something after decades of not having been able to do so. The answer was actually an easy one: the class. And I don’t mean the class content (although that was fun). I mean the class members and instructor.
You see, in that class, we read our work out loud. Every week. And the class and instructor made comments. The group made excellent observations and suggestions. The strengths that we noted in each other’s pieces helped each of us to strengthen our own. None of us, I realized, was in this thing alone.
But when it comes to the Journal, we don’t have that kind of support, do we? Well, actually, yes, we do.
This year, we have decided to operate in a somewhat different way. Our editors will be reading and viewing work all along the way. They will offer suggestions that they feel will strengthen the work and provide you with an opportunity to revise and resubmit it if you choose to do so. Clearly, this applies more to literary work than visual art–but when it comes to images of your paintings, mosaics, furniture, sculpture, and the like, they may be able to help you show off those pieces in an even more positive light.
We hope that, by working with our writers and artists in this way, more of our BOLLI members will experience the satisfaction of seeing their items in print.
After all, none of us is in this thing alone!
It’s hard to believe that this is already my fourth year at BOLLI–it’s been quite a ride!
With the clarity of 20-20 vision, the Police Action in Vietnam was my first war. I was too young to know anything about the earlier Police Action north of the DMZ. M*A*S*H provided me with an education about both fronts.
Daddy was in the Army before I was even thought of; uniforms, photographs, souvenirs, and tangible memories were stored down cellar. At the age of eight, I watched and learned about Cossacks who were murdering students in my father’s homeland. When the cousins arrived in late December, I practiced my Hungarian phrases on them.
Here’s where the 20-20 gets a little foggy. There was a man on television—a sailor, a soldier, a cowboy. A super hero. Our parents told us that John Wayne was the real deal.
But he wasn’t.
His films taught us to hate and fear Indians. And Japanese people. And German people. And then, in real life, Communists.
And while Duke was considered a patriot, appearing on posters for savings bonds, seeming to live a life of True Grit, he never served in the military, in any capacity, in any war.
At the end of the day, the man never wore a uniform of his own.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woosta–and is educated at BOLLI.” Lydia co-chairs BOLLI’s Writers Guild and takes writing courses every term.
I’m very new to this writing business and still experience a thrill upon seeing my own words in print. This past year or so, I have had over a dozen short articles published in the highly regarded BOLLI Journal and in the BOLLI Matters blog. I now sometimes dare to refer to myself half seriously as a “writer” instead of a “story teller,” and I confess that, deep down, I feel smugly pleased with the idea. But “pride often goes before the fall.”
In the interludes between the important activities that occupy my time, like watching tv series, doing BOLLI homework, reading my ever-growing pile of recommended books, and watching the stock market, I occasionally take a beak to reread and admire my published work. Today, I was happily perusing my recent piece on Harry Potter when I came upon a paragraph that didn’t sound correct. I realized I had violated one of the cardinal rules of non-fiction writing. I had relied on my memory (which has lately become less and less reliable) to recall some facts which led me reach an unjustified conclusion. I didn’t check the facts. While fact checking does not seem currently in vogue, I highly recommend it for those with integrity.
Here is what happened. I had recalled that Professor Slughorn, a character first appearing in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had formed a “club” to which he invited only students who were either from very noteworthy wizarding families or students from less notable wizarding families who themselves possessed extraordinary talents and were likely to become noteworthy. The Professor sought to elevate himself by cultivating contacts with rich and famous wizards. Based on this recollection. I speculated that the Slughorn character might have been based on Professor Harold Bloom, the Yale literary critic. I suggested the possibility that Professor Slughorn, and by implication, Professor Bloom, was an insufferable snob, a social climber and a bigot.
When I checked the source, I confirmed that Professor Slughorn did select his invitees based on family prominence or extraordinary talents. Those receiving invitations included Neville (famous Auror parents), Harry (the Chosen one) and Ginny (because of her amazing hexing powers). All three were “purebloods.” But Professor Slughorn’s favorite student had been Harry’s mother Lily, who was not a pureblood but, rather, a “Muggle.” Furthermore, when the Professor became aware of Hermione’s extraordinary talents, she was invited to join without regard to her Muggle antecedents.
So I owe Professor Slughorn, and, by implication, Professor Bloom an apology and a retraction. Professor Slughorn is an insufferable snob and a social climber, but he is not a bigot. I should have checked my facts before I rushed to print. Mea Culpa.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
Once again, Larry took the Writers Guild prompt, “Gotcha!” to an unusual place. After all, we never know, do we?
by Larry Schwirian
It was only the middle of the month, but it was the third time the man’s flight had been delayed or cancelled. As he sat at the gate, trying not to become too frustrated or aggravated, he looked around the lounge and tried to determine which of his fellow travelers might be worth engaging in conversation. There was the svelte young woman, impeccably dressed with perfect posture who was diligently working on her I-pad; probably a preppie and an MBA graduate from an Ivy League school. Then, there was the grizzled middle-aged businessman, somewhat overweight, who hadn’t shaved this morning and obviously checking her out. Another younger college-age woman had her headphones on and her eyes closed, clearly immersed in something on her I-phone. Finally, there was an older, seemingly genteel man reading The Sum of All Fears who appeared to be so engrossed in the novel that he was oblivious to everything else.
The man picked up his carry-on bag and moved to the seat next to the older gentleman. As he sat down, he said, “If you don’t mind, I noticed that you seem to be totally absorbed by Clancy’s novel. I am also a big fan and have read all his books. I wondered if you would like to discuss the book with me.” The gentleman introduced himself as William Dingle and indicated that this was only his second Clancy novel but that he was certain he would be reading others. The man introduced himself as Hermes Papadopoulos and asked where Dingle was in the book as he didn’t want to spoil what was to come.
Before beginning a discussion of the novel, William had to ask about his inquisitor’s name. “How did you end up with a name like Hermes?”
“My father was a college professor and a Greek scholar; he named me Hermes because Homer described Hermes as the Greek god who was the chief benefactor of mortals. Hermes was also considered be very cunning and a trickster. My father always said my mother, who loved to play tricks on him, had tricked him into getting her pregnant. Speaking of names, I can see why you don’t use your nickname: Bill-ding-le.”
“You have me there, my name was a topic of much derision in my youth, so I learned to use my proper name. So, why don’t you tell me more about Jack Ryan, as I gather this is not the first Tom Clancy book in which he is the chief protagonist.”
“The Sum of All Fears is actually the sixth in a series of eleven novels featuring Jack Ryan as the protagonist and the fourth of those novels to be turned into a major motion pictures,” Hermes replied. “What is it that you find interesting about Jack Ryan?”
“He just seems to be a larger-than-life action hero who’s always in danger from someone or something; he’s smarter, more prescient, more of a man’s man than his contemporaries and seems to enjoy life to the fullest. I sometimes wonder if there are real people like him out there somewhere.”
Hermes reminded him that all Tom Clancy novels are fiction and that authors generally want their characters to be anything but boring. They continued to discuss the nuances, characters, and sub-plots of the novel for the next hour or so. Then the gate attendant picked up her microphone and requested that Tom Clancy please check in at the gate. William craned his neck to see who would be stepping to the desk. Could it be the writer himself?
Hermes reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card, picked up William’s book, and signed it. “Gotcha,” he whispered. The very plain card was printed simply in large letters: Tom Clancy – Author
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
I am sure I’m not the only one who feels about 40 or so years younger than my birthdate reveals. When I pass a mirror, I wonder why my mother is looking at me before I shockingly acknowledge it’s me in the glass. Where have the years gone? Why do I feel they are flying by?
These are the kinds of questions that made me think about offering a new course at BOLLI. This past fall (2018), I offered a new five-week class, “Aging with Resilience, Cheerfulness, and Enthusiasm.” Twenty people signed up., and when the class ended, everyone wanted more time.
So, with help and advice from Avi Bernstein, we agreed that a new Special Interest Group on Aging could be a good solution. Three members of the class (Ruth Kandel, Bonnie Seider, and Linda Wolfson) volunteered to help organize the SIG with me. And the new SIG, “Aging with Resilience and Enthusiasm,” was born!
The weather wasn’t great the first time our SIG met on March 6, 2019. I was quite sure that a meeting at 9:30am, with the temperature at 18 degrees, was not going to be conducive to people showing up. Imagine my surprise when 23 people filled the Blue Room with positive energy! Everyone was excited to meet each other and share their ideas about aging. We were impressed by the interesting lives people are living and eager to hear about the issues of aging we each face. We had time to reflect on six quotations gathered by Linda and Sandy, which were hung around the room. People gravitated to discuss the one that resonated the most with them. The conversations were engaging! It was hard to get the group to leave the room to let the second period class enter.
Here’s just one quote from Michael Altshuler you might want to ponder: “The bad news is that time flies; the good news is that you’re the pilot!”
Come and join us for informative and energizing discussions. Our monthly meetings will be April 3rd, May 8th, and June 5th in the Blue Room at 9:30am. Our topic for April is “Living a Meaningful Life.”
Questions? Contact Sandy Miller-Jacobs at email@example.com
Join Waltham Matters SIG for a discussion of Cornelia Warren and the properties she gave to the University of Massachusetts, the Girl Scouts, and the City of Waltham. Dee Kricker, an active member of the Waltham community, will meet with us at BOLLI on Friday, April 12 from 10:30 AM to 12 Noon to lead the discussion.
Cornelia Lyman Warren, her Wikipedia entry indicates, was an American farmer and an educational and social service philanthropist, widely known for her investment in social improvement projects. She was a trustee of Wellesley College, bought the location for Denison House, and ran a large model dairy farm on Cedar Hill in Waltham.
When she died in 1921, Warren’s will divided the farm among several non-profit organizations, but now, the future of the 58-acre U. Mass Extension Center property on Beaver Street is uncertain.
Dee will explain the situation and tell us about the activities on the site that are now in jeopardy. She will also focus on Cornelia Warren’s amazing life.
Questions? Contact Sue Adams at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A blog devoted to the interests of BOLLI members and potential members