Friday, March 25, 2016

Faculty hiring, 1950s-style

Yale in those days was an old boys' club into which I was pleased to see that I could fit. The very manner in which I was hired has always amused and gratified me. At the December 1956 Philadelphia meeting of the American Philological Association, Professor Dow had invited me to join his group for dinner at the famous, and expensive, Bookbinders Restaurant in the city, an event charged with hidden significance, since Dow was much too cheap to frequent such places ordinarily. In addition to three or four of his students, Dow had invited Frank Brown, who . . . was the chair of the Yale Classics Department. Fifty years ago when the old-boy network controlled the job process there was no neutral mechanism for those offering jobs and those seeking them. Opportunities were not posted on a public list; young people entering the field had no means for making themselves known other than what their mentors could do for them. Precious little, as you can imagine, for women or Jews or those from obscure institutions.
. . .

The following week I was surprised to receive a note from Brown inviting me to present myself as a candidate for the opening at Yale.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 133

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why sinuses? Who knows?

It's not entirely clear why we have sinuses, aside from their role in providing a huge revenue stream for pharmaceutical companies and over-the-counter drug makers. Some scientists think sinuses evolved mainly to lessen the weight of the front of the skull; others, to protect the eyes and brain against physical blows or rapid temperature changes; still others, to humidify air as we breathe in. An even more out-of-the-box theory holds that their role is to give the human voice more resonance.
Dr. Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson, Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), p.91

Friday, March 18, 2016

Last benefits of Harvard education

I have nothing but grim memories of Harvard University and its Classics Department, but I owe the institution the incomparable glory and status that comes from brandishing a Harvard PhD on my curriculum vitae or in conversation, plus, during the thirty years I spent in Cambridge later on, the chance to swim in the superb Blodgett Pool at the reduced fee offered alumni, and then the crown jewel of my Harvard experience, a yearly pass to the Widener Library, the use of which through the years makes up for any indignity or other horror that I might have sustained.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 112.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Frank McCourt's Six-Word Memoir

Frank McCourt, in Rachel Fershleiser & Larry Smith eds., It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure from SMITH Magazine (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), p. 44

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Missing drugs

Most people think drugs just waste your time and screw up your life. They don't understand the happiness. They think you're off drugs a few months, a few years, you forget about them, put them behind you and good riddance, but this is not the way it goes. Drugs have mass  and  density. Thick and delicious, they fill every crevice inside you. They offer absolute comfort and well-being,  In reverse, their absence leaves you empty and arid. 
Sober, he had to keep busy and purposeful, always moving. If he stopped, he immediately heard the sandstorm inside himself, and it terrified him.
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 86

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March in Columbus, Ohio

In Columbus winter begins to relinquish its grip in March, but only reluctantly. The battle with spring takes place under gray skies, and tree branches with pinhead green sprouts rattle in the wind, and something falls from the sky that is not quite snow, not quite rain, not even sleet, but frozen droplets that tinkle when they hit, almost like the tumbling of thin seashells.
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Publishing, 1998), Kindle loc.6579

Friday, March 11, 2016

Not all journals grab the same readers

I always enjoyed stopping by this doctor’s desk because he had a passion for forensics, and the academic journals he collected featured articles like "Heroin Fatality Due to Penile Injection," and "Sudden Death After a Cold Drink." Compared to those titles, "Apoptosis in Nontumorous and Neoplastic Human Pituitaries: Expression of the Bcl-2 Family of Proteins" didn’t stand a chance of holding my attention. Wouldn’t you rather read "Suicide by Pipe Bomb: A Case Report"? I would—and I did.
Judy Melinek, M.D. & T.J. Mitchell, Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (New York: Scribner: 2014), p. 15.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ecology isn't rocket science—it's more complex!

The subtleties required to get habitat right for birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians, especially in highly modified or restored lands, are often beyond our initial naive understanding. As such, the practice of ecology, particularly in dynamic environments influenced by the unpredictable hand of humans, is much more complex than the practice of building a rocket capable of ferrying a person to the moon.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 181.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Boss's appraisal of Amy Tan

Former boss: "Writing's your worst skill!"
Amy Tan, in Rachel Fershleiser & Larry Smith eds., It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure from SMITH Magazine (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), p. 10

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A boy's mother learns he's gay, circa 1946

"I have just been talking with Father Putnam," she began in the coldest, most serious voice I think I had ever heard her use. "He has told me awful things—"

Waves of reaction crashed into my brain with howling sounds. I was desperately attempting to gain a purchase as the ground shifted, swayed, opened under me. Aristotle defined that moment in tragedy when the character realizes everything as anagnorisis. The moment, for instance, when Oedipus realizes that he is not the successful king of Thebes so much as he is the murder of his father and the bed partner of his mother, the taboo created by a destiny that mocked his pathetic attempts to escape his fate. This was that moment for me. . . . The jeers of the students, the cruel barbs I could somehow let pass me by. They did not describe for me my condition, my situation. But that cold, precise voice coming from those almost pursed lips: "That your name is written on lavatory walls. That you are doing terrible things. I don't understand what he is talking about." That hit home.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 49

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ancient Greek view of misfortune as the luck of the draw

Instead of trying to justify evil with a system of sin and punishment, the ancient Greeks accepted misfortune as the luck of the draw. It made complete sense to me—how could it not?—having fallen from a balcony at four, having lost my father at six, watching my mother's way of life disappear while at the same time discovering my community turning on me as an object of scorn and derision, living in an age when the newsreels projected death and destruction and the industrial annihilation of an entire people. Somehow the Christian notion that one gets what one deserves was too odious.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 82.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Gay man feels under-chic

When I used to find myself in a gay ghetto I always felt like one of those women in a Helen Hokinson cartoon—the heavyset body, bad hairdo, shapeless dress, bulky thick purse, sensible shoes with thick legs thrust into them; in short, a matron from the Midwest. Just not chic enough for a gay ghetto, that's my problem.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 7.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How Pat Conroy's dad helped his writing career

“One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family,” Mr. Conroy told the writer John Berendt for a Vanity Fair profile in 1995. “I could not have been born into a better one.” He added: “I don’t have to look very far for melodrama. It’s all right there.”
William Grimes, Pat Conroy, Author of ‘The Prince of Tides’ and ‘The Great Santini,’ Dies at 70, N.Y. Times, March 5, 2016.
Donald Conroy, the father known to his children as Godzilla, was a special case. Initially enraged by his portrayal in “The Great Santini,” he came to relish the role. . . .
. . .
Literary fame did not win Mr. Conroy any points with his father. When asked by an Atlanta magazine to identify who read his son’s books, the elder Mr. Conroy replied, “That’s easy: psychiatrists, homosexuals, extreme liberals and women.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

Unscented fawns

Deer and elk, cervids, are graced with a natural survival trait that helps protect their offspring. Newborn deer fawns and elk calves have very little smell, so when the mother moves away from the herd to give birth, it's harder for predators to find the virtually odorless babies. But even with this protection, bears and other predators know when calving is going on and the smell of blood from the birthing process allows them to home in on the newborns.

Immediately after the calf is born, many of the mothers eat the afterbirth, the placenta, to lessen the chances for detection by predators. Then they move the calf away from the birth site, hide it in thick vegetation, and walk away. The scentless calf lies perfectly still until the mother returns, so a hungry predator can walk very, very close to the baby and pass it by without even realizing the calf is there.
Kim DeLozier & Carolyn Jourdan, Bear in the Back Seat II: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2014)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

What inspires innovation?

It is now received wisdom that innovation and competitiveness are closely linked. Companies that are good at innovating are good at competing in the market; the uncompromising nature of the market, in turn is a powerful force on companies to innovate. But Bell Labs' history demonstrates that the truth is actually far more complicated. It also suggests that we tend to misinterpret the value of markets. What seems more likely, as the science writer Steven Johnson has noted in a broad study of scientific innovations, is that creative environments that foster a rich exchange of ideas are far more important in eliciting important new insights than are the forces of competition.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 352