Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Daily Insult Rides Again.

Over the dinner table this evening, I express my ignorance of some flimsy piece of teenage slang, which Secundus explains before warning me never to use it.

"You're a good dad," he says, "but not a cool dad."

I take this as a great compliment. Two compliments in fact, because parents simply shouldn't be cool, even if they are. (Hint: they aren't.) But then S. elaborates. "With your British accent and your gray hair, you come across to my friends as my laid-back grandfather."

Uh-huh. Still, with those attributes, I'm apparently two-thirds of the way to qualifying as a wizard in their eyes. I just lack the beard.

Of course, at Christmas, I did have the beginnings of the necessary facial fungus, but I shaved it off before the new year. Just think, I could have been Dumbledore if it weren't for the itchiness.

Monday, March 16, 2015

In beagle years, I'm over four hundred.

To White Plains this morning for my seventh appearance at the annual Young Authors Conference, this year bringing in about 250 talented students from eighteen high schools around Westchester county. Our hosts were the nice people of Pace University, because our customary haunt in Valhalla was being used for something else.

But as if looking at all those bright teenage faces wasn't enough of a reminder of my advancing years, there was a jarring lesson in my workshop.

To set up a prompt for a writing exercise -- come up with an intriguing and magnetic opening line for a story -- I put up a slide with this immortal phrase:

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Now I'm aware not one of them is going to know that its first major appearance was on page one of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. (I only know because I have to.) 

These days, we remember Bulwer-Lytton best because of the annual bad writing awards named in his honor. But in his time, he was a best-selling author who grew phenomenally rich from his work and gave us the phrases "the pen is mightier than the sword" and "the almighty dollar." Edward was also an English member of parliament, ended up in the House of Lords, and is buried in Westminster Abbey, so no slouch. He had his ex-wife committed to a lunatic asylum because she wouldn't stop slanging him off, even after their divorce (although public opinion released her), and in 1862 he was offered the crown of Greece, when the previous King Otto abdicated. (He demurred.)

Anyway, as I said, I didn't expect Bulwer-Lytton's name to be thrown out when I casually asked if any of my young audience had come across the phrase before.

But surely, surely, at least one of them recognizes the work of Snoopy?

Not so. I feel old.

P.S. Happy birthday, Gilly.