Alan’s passing

I think it’s just catching up to me. My friend Alan died about three weeks ago. His brother called, following up on his computer files and all the emails.
Alan had Parkinson’s. It had manifested itself while he was in Poland, expecting to take a summer course at a university. Hania had taken him in hand and, with little help from me, had gotten him home to Cheyenne. A year or so later, he had moved out of his apartment and into an independent living facility. From there, as before, he continued to teach online for Capella University, and he was teaching when the end came.
Alan and I knew each other in Jeddah. We worked together and socialized. When he left there, he started his visits to Poland, and that’s where he met Hania. When Hania’s mother died, he told her, “I can’t marry you, but I know someone who might.” And that was how he got us together.
It was Alan’s idea for us to write the book on logical data modeling. We did it, and it was published by Springer. Alan’s brother says that a copy is out there on the dark web.
Alan wasn’t inclined to share much of himself, and perhaps he was less so after the disease gave him more and more speech problems. The last time I talked to him, I asked questions that he could answer in short. But his brother told me he had a girlfriend there at the residence, a talkative lady named Gracie. She passed away within ten days before or after his death.

The 1976 Threepenny revival, and missing pages

Today I received The Threepenny Opera 1976 revival recording (CD), via ILL. I saw this production, with Raul Julia as Macheath. It used the Manheim/Willett translation (based on the 1962 Suhrkamp edition). According to Stanley Silverman, it also differed from the original score, published in 1928.
Silverman states that he “researched Weill’s ‘Little Threepenny Music,’ commissioned by Otto Klemperer, and the score of the 1931 Pabst film.” I only wish that his commentary hadn’t been inexplicably cut off with the end of p. 6. The page count is correct–pages 1 through 16–but there are pages missing nonetheless:  Silverman’s comments on the orchestration are gone, along with the scene-by-scene for Act I.

Writing user docs? Take note!

I had lots of problems with two laptops. When I had to help myself, I ran into problems with their documentation. So I gave the manufacturer feedback:

  1. Correct grammatical and usage errors. Have a professional editor (native speaker) do it.
  2. Really TEST the website usability according to applicable standards (not just technical standards).
  3. Make sure that navigation is unambiguous and convenient.
  4. Avoid making convenient assumptions about the user’s motives and needs. For example, don’t assume that interest in Warranty means interest in renewing or upgrading. Don’t present a convenient pop-up that is not obviously a link to Sales.
  5. Understand that Sales and Tech Support are not the only things that users are looking for. How about Warranty problems (for example, wrong country of origin assigned)? Or quality feedback (for example, inconsistent handling of technical support issues)?
  6. Provide decent error handling. Don’t just abandon the user to a 404 error.
  7. Make sure that illustrations are unambiguous.
  8. Provide access to model-specific information, not merely generic information or long pages of accumulated information. Provide decent navigation.
  9. Provide a glossary.

And let me add: Publish the documentation so that the document, printed or displayed, is readable. I really hate using a magnifying glass!

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s election

A year ago, I wrote six Facebook entries that, I felt, articulated the attitudes of Trump voters. I called them “Wefts,” because I felt that the “Woof” threads were defined by the election processes.
These six Wefts do not express my personal beliefs. They are just my attempts at understanding.

Weft 1: Sports

You’re a big football fan–pro and college. And your hope for your son going to college includes a football scholarship. But people are pointing out that football players get head injuries, and some are pulling their kids out of football. What will happen to Pop Warner?
What’s happened to football anyway? Soccer is “football.” Girls play it. So do immigrants. And, because of the government, girls’ sports get equal treatment to boys’ sports, in the schools, even on cable.

Weft #2: LGBT

Forty years ago, a lady on one of the soaps said, “We all know that homosexuality exists. We just don’t want to be reminded of it.” And that’s how it’s been. You knew queers, hell, even had one in your family. But they kept a low profile. If they wanted to act like fags, they could move to the big city. As long as they stayed away from kids, you could live with that. And if they wanted to join the church, well, word got around, and they got the message.
But, as Anita Bryant said, the purpose behind the homosexual agenda was respectability. And now the Supreme Court has given them respectability. But the Supreme Court didn’t ask YOU.

Weft #3: Obamacare

You’ve always taken care of your own. It was hard, but you did it.
Now comes Obamacare, and it sounds like a good idea–for the minorities in the cities. But you live pretty far away from doctors and hospitals. You have to take a day off work just to get treatment.
So here you are. The government is making you pay for something you can’t use. And, with the insurance companies raising their rates or bailing out, it’s just getting worse.

Weft #4: Immigration

You have a job, and when your boy gets old enough, he’ll work where you work, doing what you do. That was how you thought it would happen, until all these immigrants turned up.
They used to pick the fruit and vegetables. They used to do clean-up work. And if a crew came to work on your house, it was all immigrants. Probably illegals–but it wasn’t your business to ask.
But now the government tells the companies that they have to hire so many minorities and women–and where’s the job for your son?

Weft #5: Refugees

You remember how it was when the US brought in those Vietnamese. They were shrimpers, and the government settled them on the Gulf Coast and gave them brand-new boats and nets. The American shrimpers had all old equipment and couldn’t compete. And so they discouraged the Vietnamese from selling their shrimp. And then they got help from the KKK.
Maybe the US owes something to the people who supported us in our wars. But bringing them over here just makes problems. And now the refugees are Muslims, and some of them are terrorists.

Weft #6: Guns

Your family has always been hunters. Your dad taught you, and now you’ve taught your kids. And you keep the rifles and shotguns safe–don’t want them to be stolen.
But you keep your handgun handy. Because the police will always be too late. And it doesn’t matter where you live. Criminals will always be out there, looking for someone to rip off.
You’re protecting your family, and crap about kids and guns and suicides is just a reason to take your guns away.

A letter to my niece, concerning writing

[Long ago, I wrote this. Yes, its details are old. Still, it’s valuable.]

Well, seeing that my niece, like my mother, is a talented writer, I went to Barnes & Noble, thinking to buy equipment. My idea was

Gabrielle Lusser Rico’s Writing the Natural Way
A blank book for journal writing
A pen.

So I looked at Rico’s book, and I saw that, at the beginning, it’s rather academic. I thought, Maybe I could sit down with it and go through it with a highlighter, marking the practical exercises so Kara can just skip over the rest.

Then I checked out the blank books. Some were soppy New Age things, with silly quotations and untrustworthy suggestions. Some of the books were made in China, with lined paper like in a school notebook. Some were from Spain, with quadrille paper—like graph paper. Some were really blank: no lines at all, good for drawing as well as writing. Some, made in Italy, had beautiful bindings. There were leather-bound journals from Italy and China, some designed for travel. Some journals were big and thick. Some were small.

As I looked them over, I thought, Would any of these be something Kara would like? Does she want something big and thick, to fill with all sorts of ideas? Or something small, for carrying with her? The fancy, leather-bound ones might make it harder to write: Is my writing worthy of such a package? Is the next sentence I write worthy of the one I just wrote? Or maybe she wants to keep a diary . . .

My mind kept going back to what a writer needs and wants.

Books like Rico’s can be useful—but I learned what I needed from it because my wife taught it to me. I didn’t read the book myself (though my aunt Marion did, on my recommendation, and found it very valuable).

And blank books are neat—but any blank book will do, if only the dollar-apiece school notebooks I buy at Walgreen’s. I kept my high-school diaries in books like that, bought from the Rice University campus store.

The Writer Reads

Out of all this pondering, one thing remained certain: you learn to write by READING. Now, there are books out there about writing, written by great writers.

Italo Calvino writes five essays about the qualities of experience that we look for in great writing. Nadine Gordimer, the South African novelist, writes about writing and social responsibility.

But that’s writing about writing , and it isn’t what I mean. No, you learn to write by finding writers who do what you admire, and then you see how they do it.

In high school, my model stylist was the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. I read his History of Western Philosophy not because I was so interested in the subject, but because of the way he shaped his sentences. And I wrote short stories shaped like the ones in the science fiction anthologies. Later, when I was in Saudi Arabia, I wrote short stories under the influence of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories.

The Writer Learns a Craft

That’s the fact: writing is a craft, and you learn your craft by apprenticing to the masters. To write well, you have to have vocabularies.

One vocabulary is words.

If all you know is the words spoken by your friends, you’re limited to expressing what your friends know and think. The spoken vocabulary is pretty small, and the less education you have, the smaller it is. So the only way to develop a writer’s vocabulary, one adequate to express a range of thought and feeling, is by reading.

But there’s another vocabulary, and that’s the vocabulary of sentence structures: ways to say things.

Spoken sentences have to be relatively simple, because they’ve got to be understood as they are heard. Written sentences can be reread, if need be. So they can be more complex and less repetitive, and they can express more complicated thoughts.

The Writer Expresses Ideas

So reading exposes you to different ways to say or write ideas. And that, Kara, is the key! Because you don’t really write ideas at all, or, rather, when you write in one way, you express one idea, and when you write in another way, you express a different one.

In high school, I remember, I’d have ideas, but they were really vague and general. And when I’d try to write them down, I found that they changed as I wrote. What happened was, when I had to choose a particular word or phrase, I had to decide whether I meant the idea that I was writing, or a different idea that I hadn’t yet written. I’d write a sentence, and then I’d read it, and I’d say to myself, That isn’t what I was thinking, but it’s interesting. And then I’d rewrite, to say what I now thought was true.

Writing as Self-Discovery

Maybe you can see where this process was going. For me, writing is a way I can find out what I think (discovery) and determine what I think (commitment). Another way to put it: it’s a process of defining who I am.

Writing down words on the page is committing to one idea rather than another, being one me out of a whole chorus of potential mes. It’s a way of engaging in debate with myself, talking things over with myself.

I’ve always said that, for the money, I liked my own cooking best. The same is true for my own writing, and maybe my own company as well.

Of course, that gives another reason to value reading: it lets you engage OTHER minds, listen to OTHER voices. 

And sometimes you decide that reading trashy writing is like hanging out with trashy people. Unless you’re deliberately slumming, you tend to avoid it. 

But you understand, too, that what you read is as much part of you as who you make friends with. If you keep a book close to you, it’s because it’s part of you. It appeals to one of those potential selves that waits inside you. We are all bigger than our skins, you know.

Oh, well . . .

Anyway, I gave up on shopping at Barnes & Noble. I decided to give you a gift certificate instead, so that you could choose what’s right for you. Maybe you want a big (or small), leather-bound (or cloth-, plastic-, or cardboard-bound) blank book. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve decided you’d like to take a chance on Rico’s book, or even have me mark it up for you. Or maybe not. Maybe you want some fantasy novels or a best-seller or a picture book or a dictionary . . . whatever you want to read and explore.

Uncle Don’s search for a mate, Part 2: Domestic

Later in 1954, Don tried again to find a mate, this time with more success. His letter “Tall Texas Bachelor Would Like To Know” was published in the Palm Beach Post-Times for Sunday, September 19, 1954. He inquires regarding an article in the September issue of Real magazine entitled “Paradise for Lonely Men,” which says that Florida’s “chief import is widows and divorcees”: “If so, this is one tall Texas bachelor who would not mind getting acquainted with a few.”

Including his address, both there and in his letter to “Colonel Clearwater” in the Clearwater Sun, was effective. He got postcards from Sofi Weiss in Clearwater and M. English in West Palm Beach. He got over a dozen letters from Florida, including letters from two nurses, colleagues at a hospital, and a couple from a lonely lady in Portland, Maine, who had a friend in Florida. One lady writes, “I never did anything like this in my life, but thought it would be fun to try.” Sometimes the letters contained pictures.

Don followed up. He responded to Theresa Green, of West Palm Beach, on September 24. “So far,” he tells her, “I have received five replys [to the newspaper letter] and all were very favorable except one I received from a divorcee in Lake Worth, Florida who came to your state to get away from it all and who signed her name a divorcee who wants to stay divorced. That is her privilege, however, as it is a free country . . . and it does not make dampen my Texas sense of humor in the least. I always look for peoples good qualities and try to ignore the bad ones if possible.”

He is, he tells her, a member of the DAV, chapter 31 (previously in DAV chapter 11), and a past member of the Dallas Council on World Affairs. “I have had three years of college, one at Oklahoma A&M College, Stillwater, Okla in 1934 and two years at North Texas Agricultural College, Arlington, Texas from 1935 to 1937.” He enclosed a photo and asked for one from her. That letter was returned undeliverable.

This was not his only avenue for meeting women. In 1954 he became a member of “Help Company” and received a typed list of over 60 women looking for mates. He received the name, address, age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, religion, and the woman’s own characterization of herself. Doubtless, he provided the same information about himself, to be passed along.

Don marked the items that interested him: eighteen in all. Georgia Warf, 40, from Bluefield, WV, says she “Enjoys all sports, theatres, but most of all loves a good home where there is a real companion to share it and make it complete.” He wrote her. She wrote back. Veronica Schaffer, 27, of Concordia, Kansas, answered his letter and enclosed a picture.

His diligence didn’t pay off. Nonetheless, he continued to have an active social life. He was a member of Dallas’s Baha’i community. A cousin tells me:

In the mid to late 1970’s I had several experiences in Dallas that involved Don. Many, many times I was asked if I was related to Don SoRelle of Dallas. I attended a teachers’ workshop at the Museum of Natural History in Dallas, maybe ca. 1975, and members of the Audubon Society asked me, after they knew my name, if I was related to Don SoRelle. He was highly regarded by their society. Later, around 1976, when I worked in a Montessori school, a teacher at the school, of the Baha’i faith, also expressed that high regard for Don. I assume, since he was an honorary member of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, that he was also highly regarded by them.

Don’s involvement with the American Indian Center provided, as far as I know, his last opportunity to find a mate. He met a Native American woman with children, proposed to her, and was accepted. His sister met her and explained Don’s situation to her. The woman took it well, and that was that.

Uncle Don’s search for a mate, Part 1: Overseas

I found a bag of my Uncle Don’s correspondence from the 1950s. The most interesting subject was his attempts to find a mate.

I should start out by saying that Don SoRelle (1914-1996) was a strange fellow. What I know from before the 195os is limited. He graduated magna cum laude from W. C. Stripling High School, Fort Worth, in June 1933 and probably entered Panhandle A&M College, Goodwell, Oklahoma, that September. When war broke out in 1941, Don was drafted, and he was deployed to Panama, to guard the canal. I am told that soldiers from Brooklyn or thereabouts bullied him. He had a nervous breakdown and thereafter received disability payments from the Army.

I don’t think Don ever held a regular job after that. But in the ’50s, when I knew him, he ran a newspaper clippings service out of the home he shared with his mother and his sister Bernice.

From 1949 to 1956, Don collected news stories about the post-War shortage of men and many women’s attempts to find mates. Denton opened its Old Maid’s Day to bachelors. A Catholic priest in St. Louis tried to organize get-togethers as an alternative to bars and dance halls. Women in England were desperate, Irish women complained of too many bachelors, and pictures of English, German, and Italian women were published, with captions describing their desires.

Don combed these articles for the names of women and where they were. The place where the story originated was helpful, and he made lists of newspapers as well as women.

On February 5, 1954, came an announcement that the German Consulate had opened in Houston. Don wasted no time. On the 10th he mailed three letters to the Consulate, for forwarding.

He wrote one to the Mayor of Frankfurt, asking “If there are any single unmarried German girls who would be interested in corresponding with a single American man.” He enclosed a photo, and he described himself: “I am 40 years old, have brown hair, blue eyes, and am six feet tall. I am a totally disabled war veteran, World War II, now drawing a pension of $172.50 a month and earn extra money by running a news clipping bureau.”

He wrote a similar letter to the Mayor of Hamburg, but inquired about a woman who had been living there in 1949, and he wrote to the Mayor of Oldenburg, this time inquiring after Sigrid von Haessler. He must have been particularly taken by her, because he purchased a clipping from True: The Man’s Magazine. It was a long letter from Sigrid, with picture, that had appeared in the November 1949 issue. Sadly, the clipping arrived after February 11.

All was for nought: the German Consul turned him down flat. But Don wrote to a German woman in Washington, DC, and, in March, 1954, he received a kind response from her. She asked him to tell her about himself and to enclose a photo; she and a colleague provided their addresses in Germany. In July, 1954, Don wrote to the Hamburger Abendblatt, providing a photo and a paragraph for the Personals, which states that his purpose is eventual marriage. He is quoted a price with photo (over 100 marks) and without (DM 17.60), to be paid by international money order.