‘What the hell is that?': A Thursday at the resale shop

Thursday, 2 July, 2015, at the Leydig Center resale shop, Dixon, Illinois, which shop seems to be located in an old factory. It takes in donations, as below, and what profits it makes go to local charities–a worthy cause. Of course, it’s also a whole store full of stuff people didn’t want, and this gives me a chance to observe the material culture of a certain cross-section of the rural Illinois population.

Exterior, drop-off department.

Exterior, drop-off department.

The sadness of a used "Excellence" poster. Also, note the purple-pink velour folding-wheeled chair -- maybe? -- to the left center. A woman asked the woman carrying it, "What the HELL is THAT?"

The sadness of a used “Excellence” poster. Also, note the purple-pink velour folding-wheeled chair — maybe? — to the left center. A woman asked the woman carrying it, “What the HELL is THAT?”

The world's saddest sample-photo: a dog, possibly abandoned, drinking from a mud puddle.

The world’s saddest sample-photo: a dog, possibly abandoned, drinking from a mud puddle.


Wood things.

Wood things.



In the kids' section!

In the kids’ section!

"Spoons"? How about "Spoons!"

“Spoons”? How about “Spoons!”

Apparently, recycling ceiling fans is a thing to do.

Apparently, recycling ceiling fans is a thing to do.

The first of 2 lavender-velour Bratz wall clocks I saw there today.

The first of 2 lavender-velour-trimmed Bratz wall clocks I saw there today.

An amalgam of a display.

An amalgam of a display. I like to look at such displays as accidental art installations.

Wall o' crutches.

Wall o’ crutches.

Doll on the left is frozen in the moment of being about to shove the doll to her right off the shelf.

Doll on the left is about to murder the doll to her right.

At left, "Solo in the Spotlight" Barbie. At right, "Leaders of the World" action figure of Benjamin Franklin, a "fully poseable figure" with "authentic changeable outfits."

At left, “Solo in the Spotlight” Barbie. At right, “Leaders of the World” action figure of Benjamin Franklin, a “fully poseable figure” with “authentic changeable outfits.”

The wall of fallen price tags. The sign to upper left says "Volunteers GIVE 200+ hours a day for you to have this wonderful store to find great bargains. Please tell someone if you see people changing prices, removing them, or just putting items into their pockets. Stealing is a crime, even worse when it is stealing from charities which is where our money goes. Please help us!"

The wall of fallen price tags. The sign to upper left says “Volunteers GIVE 200+ hours a day for you to have this wonderful store to find great bargains. Please tell someone if you see people changing prices, removing them, or just putting items into their pockets. Stealing is a crime, even worse when it is stealing from charities which is where our money goes. Please help us!”

Seeing this, my mom said "shoes have crept into here." It wasn't clear to me what "here" was: the dolls and Ortho sprayer section?

Seeing this, my mom said, “shoes have crept into here.” It wasn’t clear to me what was the definition of the “here” section: the dolls, Christmas wreaths, and Ortho sprayer section?

In addition to the "Justin Bieber: Always Be Mine" and the "Body Boggle" board games, I also say these titles: Chauvinist Pigs, Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck If..., Think Tank, Duck Dynasty Redneck Wisdom, Mid-Life Crisis, Mulligan Madness Golfers Trivia Game, Strata 5 strategy game, and Speedy Graffiti and Probe word games.

In addition to “Justin Bieber: Always Be Mine” and “Body Boggle,” I also saw these other board game titles: Chauvinist Pigs, Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be a Redneck If…, Think Tank, Duck Dynasty Redneck Wisdom, Mid-Life Crisis, Mulligan Madness Golfers Trivia Game, Strata 5 strategy game, and Speedy Graffiti and Probe word games.

The saddest board game in the world.

The saddest board game in the world.

Danielle Steel on sale, "10-4, Good Buddy CB radio board game," and  "Real Basketball in Miniature."

Danielle Steel on sale, “10-4, Good Buddy CB radio board game,” and “Real Basketball in Miniature.”

In the "Amish" section of the book room, Beverly Lewis's The Shunning: "She only knew the Amish ways, but with one visit to the attic, her world began to crumble."

In the “Amish” section of the book room, Beverly Lewis’s The Shunning: “She only knew the Amish ways, but with one visit to the attic, her world began to crumble.”

Bibles by the tub, 25 cents each.

Bibles by the tub, 25 cents each.

The Life After Death section. While in the book room, I heard one volunteer-employee say to another, "For all those fans of J.D. Robb, got a whole bunch in."

The Life After Death section. While in the book room, I heard one volunteer-employee say to another, “For all those fans of J.D. Robb, [we] got a whole bunch in.”

Sheet music selections, from Pat Boone to Richard Hageman to Michael W. Smith.

Sheet music selections, from Pat Boone to Richard Hageman to Michael W. Smith.

Dixon High graduation gown.

“Dixon High School Reagan Dixon outfits.”

This assortment.

This assortment.

More knicks with the knack.

More knicks with the knack.

Muppets glassware.

Muppets glassware.

One-handed St. Francis.

One-handed St. Francis.

That bear in the back row -- that can't be good.

That bear in the middle of the back row, its expression — that can’t be good.


Note:  I didn’t really take pictures of the people of the Leydig Center, which would’ve been (and could be) a whole other project. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of local color there. At the checkout, I heard this: “We couldn’t win for losin’ there for a while,” said one middle-aged guy who was talking about taking jobs at places that had closed down soon after he was hired.


‘Time Closes One I': Erasures and rewrites of Rod McKuen’s ‘Lonesome Cities’

Rod_for blog (1)

So, last January, about the time Rod McKuen passed away, I picked up his poetry book Lonesome Cities, which I’d obtained long after it’s publication in the 1960s but which I’d never read. I didn’t really like the poems: their language felt too chatty and their subjects too familiar and too precious.

But alongside each poem was plenty of blank space in which I could rewrite the poems to my own taste, to make the poems sharper and stranger, more surprising. Some of the poems are simple erasures (see also resources here), while others have some words replaced by sound-alike words, and all poems have certain amounts of re-arrangement, editing, and rewriting (however those definitions may overlap).

I debated whether to put my new poems alongside McKuen’s originals. I have chosen not to, partly out of concern not to step on his copyrights (and this writing process felt like authentic creation, but it also prompted questions of what, exactly, copying means). But I also don’t think comparing the new to the old is necessary, as the poems below range far beyond the topics of McKuen’s poems to represent their own questions of consciousness and philosophical inquiry.

Here are my poems, with reference to the titles of the originals the new poems came from:

“An Out,” an erasure of McKuen’s poem “An Outstretched Hand”

Each of us was God.

Some of us grew.

The wind bent.

Darkness-up life.

Love is, is.

Each eye turned sound,

shoulders their feet.

It takes a hand.


“Sting,” an erasure of “Rusting in the Rain”

The old world coming stops as it goes.

Did anybody ever grow older?

Come see where we have been.


“I’ve,” a rewrite of “I’ve Saved the Summer”


I give you to winter when new.

I’ve need. Darkness can feed. I’ve kept your smile.

You were 19. You’re older, you’ll know.

I know no answers. Your way lies somewhere.

But I’ll give you the road.


“Like the Window,” a rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “It’s Raining”

It’s like the window if we wait.

There’s here now. Don’t be anymore.

It’s the crickets.

Do you think? You love.



“Summer’s It,” an erasure/rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “Sommerset”


the memories–

times: summer’s set?


day: Sunday

month May,


summer’s it,



“To Glean Sin from the Crows,” a rewrite of the first two stanzas of “Sommerset” made by replacing each word in poem with a sound-alike word:

Several ways were sunny.

Canned eels’ mouths were made.

Sand heavy birds down a long cane;

that seems to compensate

for muddy ears. Comb fuzzy bats.

Tin filters amore.

Hens heal ivy. Where summer went,

him no team ignores.

Cats rhyme some more. They gored some pigs.

Endure, he knew, but how?

Repair in size our wooden trunks.

Two seen beneath a stall.

Cows mainly hear enough of static

to glean sin from the crows.

Whine was learned, yet summer kept

land-cropping all sender’s snows.


“I Live That, Always,” an erasure of “The Single Man”

I live that, always.

For just a night,

the talk wasn’t a better day.

At home, or in his private cloud, I am

a time I can’t remember.

The house might have been help.


“Cans,” an erasure/creative edit of “Cannes”

Cans waking in the morning

sweep down the street.

The empty bottles go back.

As crossword puzzles on the sidewalk,

a new foundation crawls

back under buildings

to avoid the Jets.

Still adjusting our heads,

we shoe up in the hallway

and lose bed.

Thank God for the coasts.


“Form,” an erasure of “For Bimby”

Some things you can put down.

Sheep grazing on the airport stale February days.

Smile balloons look to me.

Surprises held in the day.

A blaze with tourists and cats ruins time.

Her smile is elaboration lost


“The cross Atlantic,” erasure/edit of “Atlantic Crossing”

I gave up a while.

I had written songs to my family’s safe for years.

Had some women liked my animals in luxury?

I’d miss me, but they’d be it.

The way did much paint.

I’ll admit there were eyes I’d keep.

All in all, I was ready, so I pray more.

God had frightened years.

He first did run down.

We’d play together if we weren’t one another.


“Beaching Manhattan,” an edit-rewrite of “Manhattan Beach” as a prose poem

I’m working in a house at Manhattan Beach. Eddie came by last weekend with two women and some books. The books and the women were stacked. (Ha!)

I sleep and breathe the waves. I think of my breathing. I mist my attention on the traffic. Familiar rooms sink past my songs. A half-packed suitcase buys me oughts.

My dog does stuff up on the beach–she doesn’t seem to care that this is the very end of the land. My friends may as well be weathered sticks or bottles sans notes. My dog smells of the smells she smells; they settle on her fur.

Boats fill harbors in a dance stretching back 10 years in a morning. I live mostly in afternoons.

I nearly died. Fever made doubt or walks along. I stayed alive. Letters came, and “I” was the island I would go for. The asshole rides me to see the dog embark a seal.


“Four for Hands,” an erasure-rewrite of “Concerto for four hands”

Shadows time me.



empties forms.

A mattress

grows tired

of some



“Now You’re Even,” an erasure-edit of “New Year’s Eve”

The snow


like cherries.

Wind falls

like windows


The old die.

A hundred


choose me.

I am the green ground.

I have faces.

I need,–I know.

The town slopes

the curtains.

The next room waits.

Villages rain like celebrations.


“Urban Herb,” an erasure-edit of “Suburb”

The mountain winds around petals. A desert country like smoke. Those electric-nows pine for perfume towns. The smile is smiles. Centurions anticipate chopping. Down the trees and down the hills, ants make flat.


“Bag Age,” an erasure-edit of “Baggage”

Only one day shoulders disappearing.

Room crowds your face.

Help me suppose it gone.

Leave me so I stand.


“Boa Rid,” erasure-rewrite of “Boat Ride”

You yawn.

The boredom drove.

God was full.

You were Texas.

Your tongue, again, knows.

Your arms water time, privately.


“In Dian’s Summer,” an erasure-rewrite of “Indians”

In Dian’s summer,

riot-bank frogs

empty man.

Every thicket beds flowers.

Sunshine does the painting.

The hills buy the buffalo tower

and fence. Off the factories,

we’ll build shadows.

Men die but gray.


“Engineer of Pallidity,” an erasure and inversion of “Venice” (pages 34 through 31)

a whole long moment meets time.

I am handsome; a mirror could have a hope.

Find a way to own my reflection.

I excite you with motor cuisine. You, I’ll never smile.

The glance—once—keeps you. I buy. You coin the world, and back a secret.

The sun targets me. The sun beaches you.

My hair lies. I’m your engineer of pallidity.

Tomorrow, sun ends home, shade.

Waiting, the birds.

Feeding. Ignoring me, you, chattering, the pigeons.

Coming. Moving. Eating. Chewing.


“These,” a selection-rewrite of “Three”

I face country tablecloths.

I index fingers.

I till now.

I paint 20 minutes.

Your eyes say grapefruit.

I ruin mornings.

I draw evenings.

I even drawings.


“Tuesday,” an erasure/sound-replacing rewrite of “Two”

Back to look—I, you. No!

Understand: I speak same as I bathe,

with a winnowing and a leafing through.

The heat throws. Off, we wormed each other

into tarps in different booths.

Turning me, months mediate a simile.

In the laboratory at the lakefront,

there were some seaweeds in a hair curler—

my mind looked at them—

I had drained my face from the stairs.


“When,” an erasure/rewrite of “One”

When you corner change

and wrinkle it into day,

you and lovers lose

water to leaded crystal.


“Disbelief,” a re-make of “Morning, Three”

At any “and,”

disbelief smiles “yet, “or.”


‘It’ll be funny SOMEday': Quotes from students in class of ’15

Here are statements made by my students, which I’ve recorded over the last three years from students in the graduating class of 2015.

Vanessa Aburto-Flores:

I am so CLEVER, like SO clever,” Vanessa said, about what, I’m not sure. 17 Nov. 2014.


Handing in an assignment due three weeks earlier, Vanessa told me, “This is from, like, a decade ago.” “You did this when you were 8?” I replied. 30 Jan. 2015.


Brenda Aguila:

He’s stabbing her bun,” she said of Austin Stewart pushing a pencil into Rachel Guerrero’s hair. 11 Nov. 2014.


Are you gonna kill your husband?” said Brenda to Rachel Guerrera, after the final exam for 9th hour. 18 Dec. 2014.


Whitney Altepeter:

I’ll see you later,” she said. “No, you won’t,” answered Sam Moore (see below). 16 Oct. 2014.


Mariah Baker:

To Becca Miller (see below), Mariah said: “Your family came into Aldo’s yesterday and I saw them.” 17 Oct. 2014.


Aaron Belmonte:

I drew a swastika on somebody’s back. I was happy.” 7 May 2014.


Nick Berry:

I don’t think you’ve sewed [or “so’d”?] a day in your life,” Nick said to Kam Hess. 7 Oct. 2014.
To a couple classmates sitting on his desk, Nick said, “Children, I’d like to sit in my seat … I can everybody ‘children.’ Everybody’s a children to me.” 16 Oct. 2014.
Everything up here hurts,” he said, indicating his chest. 23 Oct. 2014.
I’m just the one with the knife,” said Nickberry, about what, I’m not sure. He also said, “You were just being Rose [from “Titanic”?],” said Nick after someone, maybe Nick, put “arms around Drew Slade” (my notes say). 23 Oct. 2014.
“… when you’re born, instead of an umbilical cord, you have a pet lemur,” Nick said. He later explained this was Kam Hess’s sci-fi idea. 17 Nov. 2014.
Angel Bryan told Nick, who has red hair and was carrying a green folder,”Your hair contrasts too much with that folder.” “It’s Christmas, leave me alone,” said Nick. 19 Nov. 2014.
Eleventeen is my favorite number,” Nick said. 16 Dec. 2014.
Where’s Mr. Hagemann’s face?” said Nick, of a picture of me that he’d put on his portfolio. “I usually assume it’s at the top of my neck,” I said. 16 Dec. 2014.
Reliving things: sometimes it’s great; sometimes it’s absolutely disgusting,” Nick said as Eli Valdivieso (below) looked at a 2007 yearbook. 18 Feb. 2015.
Nick also said, “Trying is the best hard thing I can do.” 18 Feb. 2015.

Mark Boehm:

Said to Nick Berry, of their get-rich-by-collecting-others’-change scheme: “Nick, let’s dress like homeless people!” Nick said, “I just got a second dime. Mark, we’re makin’ it!” 20 Nov. 2014.


Lexi Brooks-Larson:

We are making a pact. We cannot take these stickers off unless they fall off,” said Lexi on 31 Aug. 2012, after I handed her and two other girls some stickers.


Lexi told me she had Ebola. I asked if she’d been eating fruit bats or monkeys. “I had a monkey for dinner last night,” she lied (I hoped). 23 Oct. 2014.


They spelled all of my names wrong,” said Lexi of a local-newspaper article about her softball team in which she was wrongly named. 1 May 2015.


Angel Bryan:

Angel said something about a gaggle of boys. Nick Berry said, “Isn’t a gaggle a group of geese?” Angel said, “Aren’t boys geese?” 3 Nov. 2014.
Angel said, “If that’s what I get for being honest, I don’t want to be honest anymore.” Angel said to me, “I’ll tell you the story later. It’s actually a really good story,” but she never told me. 7 Nov. 2014.

 Angel Chavez:

This song makes me want to learn to make moonshine,” said Angel of a Flat & Scruggs banjo music I played in class. 22 Feb. 2013.


Natasha Childers:

I wish there was a hole in the wall so I could stick my feet out,” Natasha said as she sat at the computer along the classroom wall. 12 April 2013.


Alythea Claiborne:

Alythea, apropos nothing: “Mr H., if you had kids and your wife was pushing a stroller in her bikini, would you be mad?” 13 Dec. 2012.


Speaking of Juan, Alythea said to Darline Contreras: “Eww. Oh, wait, isn’t that your boyfriend?” 13 Dec. 2012.


I wanna read, you guys. You guys [who were reading] look smart,” said Alythea to Darline C. and Caitlyn Kirk. 13 Dec. 2012


What do normal guys write about?” asked Alythea. I don’t recall the context. 13 Dec. 2012.


Jon Cupp:

After James Rosenberg (see below) said that Mike Tyne dropped the Rhet. & Comp. class, he wasn’t around to say stupid things. Jon said to James: “Hey, you’re still here, though.” 30 April 2014.


Steven Demoff:

Anything she can write her name on, she does,” he said of Katie Roush (see below), 15 Oct. 2014.


Garrett, you’re adopted,” said Steven as an insult, who added that Garrett Golt deserved it. Garrett responded that just because he doesn’t look like his parents doesn’t mean he’s adopted. 10 Dec. 2014.


Ariana Dickson:

Why is that there? Why is that there? Take it off! Take it off!” she said to Jessica Thomas, about some picture on Jessica’s computer: “Eew, take it off!” added Ariana. “It’s out there for everyone to see anyway. You put it online,” said Jessica’s voice during class 13 May 2015.


Alan Draves:

In study hall his sophomore year, after a senior girl told about chasing a fat squirrel up a tree to exercise it, Draves said, “Squirrels are allowed to be lazy.” The senior girl said, “they’re not allowed to be that fat, though.” 6 Nov. 2012.


Draves told us his snake’s name was “Noodles.” This after a senior boy had said to Draves, “I wanna see your snake,” adding that he didn’t mean that sexually. After I wrote down that quote, the senior boy asked Draves if he’d ever been featured before in my quotes notes, and Draves said, “No.” 4 Dec. 2012.


“[Stop.] You’re touching my face,” said Draves to Tyler Fasulo. “I was touching your beard,” said Tyler. “Which is on my face,” Alan retorted. 17 Dec. 2012.


As long as I have Gary [a sticker of Gary the Snail from SpongeBob], my life is complete,” said Alan on 16 Oct. 2014.


I’m sorry just for sorry’s sake,” said Draves on 23 Oct. 2014.
The glove is still there,” Alan said of a glove in the parking lot that he and I (as I did my parking lot supervision duty) had noted a day or two before. Later in semester, we kept track of a hair tie that stayed on the parking lot surface for weeks. 13 March 2015

Kendra Elliot:

Every spring, our school’s FFA squad puts on an Ag Day where farm animals and farm implements are put on display for high school and younger students to view. On this year’s Ag Day, Kendra said, during my third-hour class, “I wanna hold a chick.” I quipped, “in a different context, that was my entire high-school inner monologue.” 24 April 2015.


David Eychaner:

To junior Ethan Brockwell, David said: “You should give someone your testicles if you don’t know what a Corvette Stingray is.” 31 Jan. 2015.


Tyler Fasulo:

As a sophomore in my study hall, Tyler told a story about wanting to trap a squirrel in a pumpkin — “and then I will have a pet squirrel” — and then keeping that squirrel in a cage until it died so it doesn’t eat his face off. 6 Nov. 2012.


Tyler told the study hall students also that bearcats smell like popcorn, or so he learned on the Internet. 6 Nov. 2012.


One time, I sledded off my roof. I think I broke the gutter,” Tyler said on 6 December 2012. Later that day, Tyler added, “my head is cold,” because he got a hair cut.


This is literally the only homework I’ve done all year,” said Tyler of an assignment I gave him in study hall, which assignment was to click on the random-article button on Wikipedia and write down the titles of the articles it took him to, 11 Dec. 2012. The first four articles he listed were: “Media Nusantara Citra,” an Indonesian media company; “Salvia confertiflora,” a “herbaceous perennial Brazilian shrub”; “Jambugapuram,” a Papanasam village; and “Jan Holub,” a Czech hockey player.


To amuse the students one day, I showed them the minimally branching family tree of the Habsburg ruler Charles II of Spain. After seeing this chart showing many uncle-niece marriages, Tyler suggested that one might “get jiggy with your mom, and then you’d have a sister-daughter.” An older girl in the study hall said, “this study hall is so messed up.” 13 Dec. 2012.


While in In-School Suspension, doing the usual punishment of copying the student handbook by hand, Tyler said the phrase “gross disrespect” seemed funny to him, as if a student would tell a teacher, “‘I don’t like you. I’m gonna throw up on your shoes.’” 7 May 2015.


Ally Fenwick:

It’s so hard to be school appropriate… It’s a struggle — [I have] five filters,” Ally said on 21 Jan. 2015.


Maddi Friday:

Things that don’t make sense to me don’t make sense to me,” said Maddi during the first weeks of last semester’s Creative Writing 1 class, 19 Jan. 2015.


After I told Maddi a joke that, I said, my wife had made, Maddi said, “Do you want to hear a FUNNIER joke?”  17 March 2015.


After Lexi Brooks-Larson (see above) asked me in class one day whether I would save her or her friend Kelsey Kersten if both were drowning, Maddi said, “Plot twist: Maddi’s drowning, too.”  17 March 2015.


Through a process I don’t quite recall, Maddi, from her position in the front of the class, became the person who kept track of which of her classmates were out of the classroom on a potty mission. One day, Maddi told classmate Cassy Scarborough to hurry back from the bathroom, and Cassy responded with some answer Maddi didn’t like. “I COULD say ‘no,’” Maddi said, adding, “She gave me back-sass… That’s the last time SHE goes to the bathroom.” I said the power was going to Maddi’s head. 13 April 2015.


On Maddi’s first day back to class after knee surgery, I asked her, “Are you on some good pain meds?” She laughed and said, “Heheehee, yeah.” 29 April 2015.


Lizzie Fritsch:

Describing a customer at the restaurant where she worked, a customer who ordered the same meal, and who specifically requested 8 ounces of ketchup, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for two weeks in a row, she said, “What does he eat the other days?” 24 Oct. 2014.
Lizzie, telling story about her freshman-year Homecoming date: “As soon as the lights came on in the commons,” her date asked “‘Will you go out with me?’” She said she then said, “I gotta find my ride.” 24 Oct. 2014.

Garrett Golt:

Me and Steven [Demoff, above] are hilarious and we can’t even get on there,” referring to being quoted in my notes page. “I’m hysterical,” he added., 17 Oct. 2014.
In the back of my head, I knew I was going to come in and not write the journal,” he said, meaning it’s not others’ fault that he’s behind in writing journals for my Creative Writing class. 22 Oct. 2014.
People tend to look different when they’re young,” Garret said in answer to someone who said a certain teacher looked different in a 20-year-old yearbook than that teacher looks now. 6 Nov. 2014.
I’m tired after chasing Steven down the hallway,” Garret said after Steven Demoff knocked Garrett’s books out of his hands, or something. 21 Nov. 2014.

Kyle Helfrich:

[These are the] final days — if you wanna get suspended, get suspended now!” he said, as if addressing his senior classmates who were getting into trouble.  22 April 2015.


Six days later, Kyle, who, for many weeks had worn an arm sling and had talked about breaking his clavicle, said to the class, “I faked an injury, haven’t been in gym in 2 months.


Austin Holmes:

I don’t care; it’s mine,” said Austin after his friend pointed out flaws in the model airplane Austin had just purchased for two dollars from a teacher who’s leaving at the end of the semester. 1 May 2015.


Brittany House:

Just leave it. I’m gonna punch you,” Brittany said to Becca Miller regarding Becca’s obsessive concern over Brittany’s elephant drawing. “I’ve been told … that I’m very violent,” Brittany added. 28 Oct. 2014.


Tanner Huels:

What waitress DOES that? She was a bitch,” Tanner said, after describing some rudeness I didn’t hear. 16 Dec. 2014.


Ahllam Kattab:

It’s a proud day when a guy purrs at you,” she said. 29 Oct. 2014.

Caitlyn Kirk:

Just work already, ya dumb pens.” She later said, “I need to finish all the ones that are not done,” speaking perhaps of her journals? 24 Oct. 2014.
“I wanna get money so I can buy stuff,” Caitlyn said, but when she gets money, she doesn’t want to spend it, she said. 24 Oct. 2014

Elyssa Male:

My dad’s a cop. Don’t tell anybody,” she shouted to class on 21 Nov. 2012.


You know, at home I sneeze really loud, like WAH-Choo,” Elyssa said on 21 Nov. 2012. But at school, “I don’t make a noise and I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”


Joe (formerly “Joey”) Marchesi:

Interruption!” said Joey, who interrupted people every day, getting mad at others interrupting him. 16 Nov. 2012.


After returning from the restroom, Joe said he’d left all his pencils in the bathroom. Why? I asked. Joe said he took his pencils out of his pants because “I didn’t want them to go sideways when I put my pants back on,” he said. He then demonstrated how the pencils shift in his pocket: “You get up, they go like this: fft,” he said. He also instructed others, “Put some pencils in your pocket, squat, and watch them come  out.” 28 Nov. 2012.


How long do you have to rub chapstick on for?” asked Joey, as he applied chapstick. 28 Nov. 2012.


Everything I say could be a quote,” said Joey. I said, “Well, yeah, so could everything anybody says.”  28 Nov. 2012.


I’ve been drunk like seven times. Just kidding,” said Joe. 28 Nov. 2012.


I hate it when I hallucinate,” classmate Ally Fenwick quoted Joe from the day earlier. Joe said he hates when he’s “just sittin’ there … [and I] see a dude in a suit walking around.” He later explained his hallucination with “I got tired once and I stayed up too late.” 28 Nov. 2012.


I have never had dinner with those people ever,” said Joe, of a girl two years older who said she had eaten with Joey. 29 Nov. 2012.


Joey, on returning from the bathroom after he had already come back to class once to ask to use a different bathroom because the nearby bathroom’s two toilets had issues (one had been peed on, and the other’s door wouldn’t lock, Joe said), came back a second time and burst in to class and announced, “Dude, guess what happened in the bathroom? The lights shut off. I was just chillin’ in there.” This was in a bathroom with motion-sensing light controls. 30 Nov. 2012.


Everyday, my journal’s about today,” said Joe. 3 Dec. 2012.


Where’s Ally at? What kind of shirt are you wearing?” Joe asked someone, with both questions in immediate succession. 6 Dec. 2012.


What’s I.M.D.B. stand for?” asked Joe. “Internet Movie Data Base,” said classmate Zack Pauser. “What’s the ‘S’ stand for?” asked Joe. “There is no ‘S,'” Zack said. “I am retarded,” Joe said. 12 Dec. 2012.


I really wish James Franco died. I would totally do him,” Joe said, where “do him” referred to writing a paper whose requirements were that the subject be deceased. 12 Dec. 2012.


You saw my face and you probably thought, ‘I’m gonna get a quote today,’” said Joe to me, in the In-School Suspension room, 7 May 2015.


As students were leaving the In-School Suspension room for lunch, and apropos of nothing, Joey announced, “I got three compliments yesterday from three girls.” 7 May 2015.


Aaron Mehrings:

That’s the most excited I’ve ever seen someone to wash his hands,” said Aaron of Joe Marchesi. 6 Dec. 2012.


Becca Miller:

I felt bad, but then again I didn’t,” Becca said to a friend. 28 August 2014.
They’re not homemade, so they’re probably gross,” she said of cookies she’d made [from a pre-mix?] and brought to class. “I don’t like not making homemade cookies,” she said. 16 Oct. 2014.
Just guess. It’s the one with the pig,” she said, and I forgot to record context. After I said that I write her statements because she says weird things, she said, “I’m brilliant.” 17 Oct. 2014.
I’m VERY smart,” argued Becca to Steven Demoff. When I read this back to her the next day, she said, “When’d I say that?” 22 Oct. 2014.
 After someone said it was a bad day and Becca agreed, she said, “Don’t even get me started. My pants ripped.” 23 Oct. 2014.
To Mariah Baker, Becca said: “You sound like a little guinea pig when you laugh.” Then Becca added, “Mariah, that wasn’t an insult. That wasn’t an insult, for the love of Baby Jesus.” 23 Oct. 2014.
To Steven Demoff, Becca said: “He knows. My brother told him,” about something that had happened two weeks before. Who “he” is was unclear to me. 4 Nov. 2014.
Becca about Mariah, again: “She sounds like a frickin’ guinea pig.” 6 Nov. 2014.
Later, Katie Roush told Becca, “Becca, you sound like a …” “Shut up, Katie,” said Becca. 14 Nov. 2014.
All bald guys look alike,” Becca said, of the guy she mistook for her dad. “He rolled down his window — ‘You are not my dad.’ It looked like my dad,” she said, explaining that he was a distance away “and this is me,” she said, showing where she was. “I was very embarrassed,” Becca concluded. “I could tell,” said Brittany House. 6 Nov. 2014.
Tiffanee called Alyssa me,” said Becca. 21 Nov. 2014.

Emily Miller:

I know. I’m a human.” she said, context not recorded. 22 Oct. 2014.


What Richie told me today: dating me is like dating himself.” 24 Oct. 2014.
an egg dish … something made with eggs, like French toast, but different,” Emily said, 24 Oct. 2014.
I got one from a robot once,” Emily said. I wasn’t sure what “one” referred to. 28 Oct. 2014.
Emily to Angel Bryan: “No takes-ies backsies” then Emily quaked Angel’s desk, and Angel called Emily “a quaker.” 28 Oct. 2014.
After Emily said, “What am I gonna do for two years in Illinois?” as if to stay here for 2 years after graduating h.s. before moving on, Angel Bryan offered, “Eat corn?” 28 Oct. 2014.
Candy is better than nothing AND everything,” said Emily. 6 Nov. 2014.
Angel said she lost two dollars, which had perhaps been Angel’s lunch money. Emily responded, “Oh, man, that sucks. I had a whole box of cookies for lunch.” 7 Nov. 2014.
One day, I said I’d learned two things from overhearing Emily and Angel talk: that Angel had chihuahuas, and that Emily didn’t know Angel had chihuahuas. Emily said, “I DID know you had chihuahuas. [To me, she said] you learned a lie.” 11 Nov. 2014.
I spelled ‘familiar’ like ‘farm-illyer,’” Emily said, 12 Nov. 2014.
‘Butts are great.’ Wow. Thank you for the advice,” Emily said to Angel Bryan, perhaps after Angel had written “Butts are great” on Emily’s computer. 14 Nov. 2014.
After Angel pretended to stab Emily with a pen, Emily said, “You know what? You’re not the only one who owns a pen, Angel.” 17 Nov. 2014.
After looking at Angel’s computer screen, perhaps after reading a story on the screen, Emily said, “Demons don’t speak Azerbaijani.” 18 Nov. 2014.
Once I go through this door, I’m not saying one more w—,” said Emily, stopping on the “w” sound. Angel Bryan said, “Gotta push her in to get her to shut up.” 19 Nov. 2014.
I’m not talking to you,” said Emily to Angel B. I told Emily that she couldn’t say that statement with the second-person pronoun. I said that Emily said she would have to say, “I’m not talking to her.” Emily said, “Who’m I gonna say that to?” Me: “Not her. Because you’re not talking to her.” 21 Nov. 2014.
Your hair looks like dog hair,” Emily said to me, 1 Dec. 2014.
To Nick Berry, Emily said, “I ground up a bunch of candy canes and used that for the sugar.” 16 Dec. 2014.
It’ll be funny SOMEday,” said senior girl Emily after a senior boy sustained a tooth injury while engaged (with a junior boy) in what the oldtimers would have unironically called “horseplay.” 3 Feb. 2015.
After a junior student at an academic competition said the chemistry test was easy, Emily said, “If it was easy, why didn’t you win?” 5 March 2015.

Sam Moore:

Can I call you ‘Dad’?” said Sam to me as he giggled. I said I’m not entirely comfortable with that. 30 Oct. 2014.


Mr. Hagemann is the greatest thinker of our time,” said Sam, ever so accurately, of me. 16 Nov. 2014.


Briana Ochoa:

Your class is so easy it’s hard,” Briana said after I said she could write a new poem in almost any way she wanted. 3 Oct. 2014.


Sliding her assignment under the pile of others’ assignments, Briana said, “Nobody wants to be on the top.” 24 Oct. 2014.


In her freewriting done in the hallway, Briana wrote: “Three boys … just looked at us funny because they don’t understand Mr. H’s unique and intelligent ideas.” 20 Nov. 2014.


Shut it, close it, do something,” she said to Omar Lopez, about her backpack being open. 18 Dec. 2014.


Bryce Papke:

On the morning of 22 May 2012, the last day of school for the year, Bryce said, “Literally, at 9:31, I’ll be a junior.


Jasmyn Patterson:

If there was a test about jokes, I’d fail,” said Jazmyn, after she did not get a joke, 28 Nov. 2012.


Alec Pease:

Alec, who is in a band, said to someone else in the hallway after school: “I don’t even tell people ’bout our shows that are far away” bec. he doesn’t expect anybody will go to them. 27 Jan. 2015.


Val Perkins:

My family went to Disneyworld without me.” 17 Oct. 2014.


Sarah Pillen:

Can I have the ‘No’ cupcakes for your asking?” Sarah asked this of a guy she walked past in the stairway, a guy who had asked, or was about to ask, a girl to prom using cupcakes with “Yes” and “No” on them. 20 March 2015.


Alexis Piller:

Put this in my hair so it looks cute,” she said to Lexi Brooks-Larson and an older girl when I gave the three of them some stickers, 31 August 2012.


Alex Rivera:

Of James Rosenberg (see below), Alex said, “I could see him living to his 30s.” 7 March 2014.


When I told students that the music they were hearing during their journaling time was by Stan Getz, ALEX  responded, “Is he rich?” I said, “Stan Getz? I don’t know.” This wasn’t the first time this particular student has, seemingly seriously, asked me questions that seem more like non sequitors. 5 May 2014.


If someone [had] pissed on it, it would be all yellow,” said Alex, and it was not, he said, I’m not sure what “it” was referring to. 7 May 2014.


James Rosenberg:

Mrs. Hill never let ME leave the room,” he said to a girl in the hallway during classes. Then James leaned to get a drink from the water fountain and Principal Harper, passing by, and with impeccable timing, said “With good reason, Rosenberg,” who hadn’t seen Mr. Harper coming by and who did a spit take when he heard Harper’s zinger. 6 Dec. 2013.


I could hit you up with some of that,” referring to ADHD drugs, said James on 8 April 2014. Then, “if you’re writing that down, don’t put any names attached to it,” said James Rosenberg.


I ran 4 miles yesterday, Mr. Hagemann. My legs are tired,” said James. Then he said he has blisters from chopping wood and two classmates, Race Nantz and Chris Stone, told James he wasn’t chopping with correct technique. 5 May 2014.
Mine curved that way,” James said about the flight path of a pen cap he had flicked or spun, but I enjoyed taking this quote out of context. 7 May 2014.
I’m a walking prop,” James said, about how he was going to present to his history class the fashion of the 2010s decade while wearing his own clothes. 7 May 2014.
I could chug that stuff,” James said of schnapps, then he said, “WHO KNOWS what I’m talking about?” and “I don’t care how to spell it [schnapps]” and then Abe Marquez said, “WHO KNOWS how to spell?” 7 May 2014.
Also that same day, James invited me to play in the tackle football game he was organizing among his classmates. “Touch football for you,” he said.
James sat with a particular student at a school assembly and that student “did NOT shut up the entire thing,” James said. I laughed because James himself likewise never shut up. 10 May 2014.

Katie Roush:

After teacher Mr. Dobbs told Katie, “Don’t be a spazz,” Katie said, “I just got treated by Mr. Dobbs.” 30 Nov. 2012.


Katelyn Kalata found a fly in her salad…It was disgusting. She thought she was eating fly legs the rest of the day,” said Katie, 10 Sept . 2014.


K.T. Roush: “Can I use the word ‘ho’ or not?” in her assignment, she asked me. I said sure. “Thank you,” she said. I told her I’d write “Katie” as “K.T.” in my pocket page (where all these quotes were recorded). 31 Oct. 2014.


Cassy Scarborough:

I think it would be different if you were tall, but you’re short,” said Cassy said to her classmate Sylver Johnson-Kirksy, about Sylver talking to a guy who’s her own height — 5’3″ — when her last boyfriend was 6’3″. 18 March 2015.


On seeing another senior girl’s translucent lunch sack, Cassy said, “You have a banana and water — that’s it!”  6 May 2015.


Pablo Silva:

Yes, totally do that, thank you. It’s a very good idea,” he said at end of 2nd hour Creative Writing, about what, I wasn’t sure. 3 Sept. 2014.


Drew Slade:

If I was a bug, I’d want to be a tick,” Drew said , 17 Oct. 2014.


Chris Stone:

Of James Rosenberg (see above), Chris said, “You’re not gonna survive long in the world we live in,” after James told him to recycle (or not) the Puffs tissues box in the classroom. 19 March 2014.


Richie Stofflett:

After standing in line to get coffee for himself and for me after an academic competition at Northern Illinois University, Richie said that standing in line is his only skill. I told him not to sell himself short — surely he has other skills. He said, “Selling myself short is my other skill.” 5 March 2015.


I can’t play pool, but I can lie professionally” as an actor, Richie said, also on 5 March 2015.


Richie said he didn’t want to stand up to clap for award winners at an academic competition. Emily Miller said, “You also don’t tip.” Richie retorted, “Grow up with a Jewish grandmother and see if you tip,” to which Emily said, “I can’t grow up with a Jewish grandmother.” 5 March 2015.


After Emily offered to draw a picture of Richie as “a different kind of animal,” she drew him “as a duck.” Richie said, “That’s quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t know I’d enjoy being a duck so much.” Then, after Emily suggested Richie date a certain person, Richie said, “Just because I’m a duck doesn’t mean I don’t have standards.” 5 March 2015.


Jessica Thomas:

What did you print out, Ben [Worthington] — your whole life?” said Jessica, while at the printer. 16 May 2013.


One day it’s like, ‘huh-huh, huh-huh'; the other, it’s ‘heh-heh, heh-heh,’” said Jessica, describing another girl’s changing laugh. 1 May 2015.


Tatum Wagner:

Why are you laughing? I can’t remember putting anything funny in that note,” said Tatum to a student a year older, when both were near lockers after school on 11 Nov. 2013.


I was sitting through class with a fish in my pocket,” Tatum said of an episode where she was trying to sneak a betta fish into the ag-teacher’s classroom and deposit it in some vase of water and flowers the teacher had. And Tatum had offered the fish to her sister, but “she didn’t want it. She told me it was ugly.” 11 March 2015.


THAT’S why you don’t ride horses bareback when they’re in heat,” said Tatum, explaining why she had scrapes and bruises on her face and arms. April, 2015.


Savannah Williams:

On freshman sitting in the hallway after being kicked out of their English teacher’s classroom, Savannah said: “Freshmen in their natural habitat.” 5 Dec. 2014.


Eli Valdivieso:

Of someone he saw while looking through the 2007 yearbook, Eli said: “He did not pubertize.” 18 Feb. 2015.


Sarah Vogeler:

On the seniors’ last day of school, 20 May 2015, Sarah said to me: “Have a good life, Mr. Hagemann.

Ogle County Cultural Achievement Parade

Oregon, Illinois, 23 June 2015, about 9:42 a.m., on Madison street, just east of Fourth Street.

Oregon, Illinois, 23 June 2015, about 9:42 a.m., on Madison street, just east of Fourth Street.

I’m not sure, but the beard may be real.

This was my view this morning as I sat inside Oregon’s McDonald’s. I took the picture because last week, I saw this same rig headed westbound on Madison with a load of mulch spilling out of some garbage cans in back of the wagon, and the dog running unleashed alongside. Today I saw either the homebound leg of a four-day outing, or an additional cross-town lawn-mower venture.

‘Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood': Overheard 6 May thru 16 May

Some of my sophomore students drew my plant form last week.

Some of my sophomore students drew me as a plant two weeks ago.

Closer up, me as a flower. I'm pleased the students used the black (and not the

Closer up, me as a flower. I’m pleased the students used the black (and not the “rapidly graying”) marker to depict my hair.

We were debating whether you were here or not. And then, as an evidentiary claim, you showed up,” I said to a student who arrived late to my 3rd hour class.

I was such a child back then,” said a senior girl in my creative writing class as she read through her journal. When, I asked. “January 14th,” she said.

I just wanna wear pants,” said a student who continued to wear shorts above her leg brace two weeks after her knee surgery. Another student who had previously had knee surgery said, “I just wanted to wear pants after I had MY surgery.”

On seeing another senior girl’s translucent lunch sack, another senior girl said, “You have a banana and water — that’s it!

A senior boy announced to others as they were going to lunch, apropos of nothing, “I got three compliments yesterday from three girls.

Student M.P. said Student M.M. almost gotten him flunked from 8th grade. M.M. answered, “He plagiarized the whole thing!” M.P. answered: “At least I was trying.”

After Student L. announced that he was done with the reading assignment, his classmate J. said, “No, you’re not. My nose itches.”

Say ‘booty’ when we get in the hallway,” said Student I. to Student J., after I’d told them not to shout “booty” in the classroom, per their prior practice. After class, in the hallway, both boys shouted, “Booty, what?”

After Student R. said she had a job interview but didn’t want to tuck in her t-shirt for the interview, because tucking in the shirt would make her look like a nerd, Student S. answered: “If you want a job, you’re gonna be a nerd.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

I heard a male teacher conversing in the school library with a female teacher say: “Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood.” After I said that was a quote worth writing down, they both said they were talking about fencing at their respective homes.

On Mother’s Day, my mom cooked homemade vegetable patties for me. “Does this look like something you want more than one of?” she asked as she spatula’d one onto my plate. I did.

All I have to do is type the words,” said a student in my writing class explaining how he was going to get caught up on a semester’s worth of missing writing assignments in the last week of class.

I asked a sophomore student how she was doing last Tuesday. “Dees,” she said, presumably for the first syllable in “decent.”

A student and I were counting up the number of days he’d been alive. Maybe he’d been dead for some of those days, he suggested. Being dead a minute, maybe, I said. “Being dead a day, it’s hard to come back from that,” I said. By the way, this student had been alive for his 6,714th day last Thursday.

After I mentioned to a couple students that I'd written many stories for my college French classes about a

During 10th hour on 8 May, I mentioned to a couple students that I’d written many stories for my college French classes about a “marmotte,” because it was so close to its English equivalent “marmot.” After students left, I noticed all three computers where those students sat had had new pictures installed for backgrounds.

The chicks’ll cream” were the words in the “Greased Lightning” song played for teachers to dance to, in the teachers-versus-students dance-off at my school’s end-of-year assembly last Friday.

Also at the assembly, in a separate dancing exhibition, the teacher leading three groups of seniors through some so-called “games” told them to perform a “native dance,” which involved students getting dressed up with what looked like Swiffer duster-sheets as headdresses and cones over their mouths. “Let’s see some indigenous movements,” she actually said.

Announcing a prize of two free pork chops at a fall football game next school year, that same teacher described the prize as “Oh, nice, nice, nice, nice.”

This is not ‘Fun with Lasers.’ This is ‘Measuring with Lasers,’ which is even MORE fun than ‘Fun with Lasers,’” propagandized a math teacher to his 7th hour students as they gathered in the hallway Friday. Minutes later, I heard him call out, “two feet, six and a half inches.”

Link: Marvel movies avoid character growth

This piece by Sady Doyle describes a problem she sees in too many Marvel films: a willingness to nearly forego characters in service of fights and set-pieces.

Character arcs aren’t negotiable. They’re not highbrow or pretentious or complicated. Character arcs are essential to the success of any story in any genre. To understand why all this matters, look at the Hulk’s arc in the first Avengers, which many people consider to be the most successful part of that movie. I would argue that it’s actually the most successful element of any Marvel movie to date. In the first Avengers, the Hulk (1) hates being the Hulk, (2) encounters a situation that can only be resolved by becoming the Hulk, and (3) embraces being the Hulk. Simple, right? Stupid simple. Yet it landed like a ton of bricks in the theater, because that’s what stories are. Stories use cause and effect to dramatize a process whereby a person is forced to change.

Hulk’s arc, simple as it might be, was a cause-and-effect process that dramatized a universal human problem: You might not always like yourself, so you can identify with someone who doesn’t like himself, and therefore,you will experience catharsis when a story gives the both of you permission to love yourselves. When he goes on that final rampage and slams Loki into the floor, that’s not just a cartoon causing some corporate-mandated violence: That’s you, loving your body despite being the “wrong” size, or making feminist points in a conversation without worrying that someone will call you a buzzkill, or being proud of your art despite the fact that it’s been rejected, or deciding that you can leave your abusive relationship because you are worthy of respect. Hulk smash inner self-loathing, and thereby becomes the most powerful force in the universe.

So finally, our hero, a suicidal man who has spent the whole movie telling himself he’s worthless and intrinsically inferior to other people, encounters Loki, an arrogant, sneering, hyper-critical, hyper-verbal character — a character who mysteriously chooses that very moment to begin a monologue about how worthless the Avengers are, and how inferior they are to him — and suddenly, Loki hits the floor. Hard. And every time Loki hits that floor, all over the world, the theater erupts with screams of joy. There is a release that goes beyond the rational or the personal, here: The noise of hundreds of strangers united for just one second in the realization that deep down, despite all the pain, despite all the shit they put themselves through, despite the endless cruelty that inner critical voice subjects them to, they don’t have to let it keep talking. Deep down, they are not ugly or stupid or unlovable or bad or worthless. Deep down, they are strong. They are heroes.

Speaking of heroes, here’s Joseph Campbell: “Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster — the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).” When the superego’s judgment is no longer powerful enough to annihilate us (puny God) and the id is accepted by the ego without fear (I’m always angry), our wholeness is restored, our place in the cosmos is found, and we are free. It hits us so hard, all we can do is scream.

Don’t let anyone tell you that silly popcorn movies don’t matter, or that they can’t be smart or beautiful or profound. A silly popcorn movie can change your life. All it has to do is create characters with identifiable, human problems, and let them work out those problems over the course of the story. Stories are about change, and about people, because ultimately, they are about you, the person sitting in a dark theater, working out your baggage by projecting it onto CGI cartoons of overly handsome actors.

Here’s another way to put it: The extent to which a movie invests in character-based, character-driven storytelling is the extent to which it recognizes, appreciates, and honors the humanity of its audience.

So when Age of Ultron doesn’t invest — when it goes by the assumption that the formula, and the formula alone, is enough to appease the popcorn-eaters — it says something pretty bad.

And Doyle describes how short-cutting a story means the story relies on cliches and stereotypes:

But when the character-based screenwriting breaks down, so does the feminism. Black Widow is just as ill-served as every other character in that story, but because she’s a woman, it’s politically offensive as well as aesthetically offensive.

Let’s take a moment to recognize that, given the paucity of time for character work in Age of Ultron, nearly all of the character development is done with shortcuts. I’m talking real hack stuff, like “each character has a hallucination establishing his inner conflicts and backstory,” or “we know this character is old-fashioned because he doesn’t like swearing” (brought up so many times that I get the sense it was meant to pay off, in the same way the constant questions about Banner’s “secret” paid off last time — was there a climactic F-bomb from Steve that got cut for the rating?) or even “the circle of life is established by naming a baby after the dead guy.” (This, aside from giving me flashbacks to the infamously terrible ending of Harry Potter, is especially egregious because the baby’s mother never met the dead guy — and, if she ever knew that the dead guy existed, which is highly debatable, she knew him as “that guy who’s trying to murder my husband.” She names her baby after someone she never met, on the premise that her husband once slightly got along with him for about two hours. Stirring!) Jokes get underlined by characters explaining them and noting that they were humorous. Some characters just walk into a room, announce their backstory, and leave. (“How are you, Sam?” “I AM HAPPY PURSUING OUR MISSING PERSONS CASE IN DC.”) Nothing ever really gets written, or earned, just vaguely outlined. It’s a whole script made of placeholders.

But when you’re doing all your character work with shortcuts, and you have to write a shortcut for your female character, what do you come up with?She’s that one dude’s girlfriend, obviously, is a time-honored shortcut, used or teased by every Marvel writer who’s put Black Widow in a movie — as a woman, she’s an Other, and a sexual object, and therefore must be deployed as a potential or actual sexual reward for a male viewpoint character, rather than being a viewpoint herself. But that’s the same problem you find with every woman in every Marvel movie (Gamora, Agent Carter, Pepper, whatever Natalie Portman’s name is supposed to be) except for Maria Hill, who is clearly saving herself for her one true love, Exposition. If you want to deepen your female character past being a sexual object, in a movie that has no time or patience for anything resembling “depth,” what conflicts do you give her? Well, women have babies, right? Women want babies. Okay. She can’t have babies. She’s sad because she can’t have babies. There you go! Depth established!

I mean, it’s disgusting. Defining your female character’s motivation solely around the Betty Crocker axis of “wants boyfriend” and “wants babies” is 100% disgusting. But if you look around, all of this is disgusting, because all of the characters are exactly this vapid, because [“Avengers: Age of Ultron” writer and director Joss] Whedon can’t get more than five or ten minutes to establish or complicate their motivations, because Marvel is mandating that he not waste screen time on things like the characters’ motivations when he could be shooting ads for their other movies, because Marvel doesn’t care about men, women, or anything except getting you to show up in a few years for the next installment of Avengers.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who believed that a crime against feminism was less important than a crime against storytelling, but in this case, they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to tell the difference. When you can’t write, you can’t write women.

And Doyle is concerned that maybe there’s a more depressing reason for the poor character development:

There’s an alternate interpretation for that Hulk-slams-Loki scene in the first Avengers. I try, very hard, to believe it’s not the correct one. Because it’s an evil message, which cynics will tell you is at the heart of every comic book movie. It is: Punching is better than talking.

It happens in a lot of big, commercial movies, right? There’s a guy who talks a lot, thinks, plans, tries to get somewhere by thinking. In the end, that guy is evil, because thinking is bad. He has to be subdued by the heroic brute: The guy who’s just “normal,” who’s more like you, more pure, because instead of thinking and analyzing, he just feels and does. Loki thinks he can get somewhere with a monologue, but surprise! Giant biceps trump clever monologue, every time.

So there’s your other interpretation, the thing I think is at the core of Marvel’s contempt for people: Punching is better than talking. Doing is better than thinking. Instinct is better than intellect; big is better than smart. We don’t need to understand the Stormtroopers; we don’t need to talk to them. That’s thinking, which is boring. We just need to kill: They don’t have names or histories or families or feelings, and by slaughtering them, thousands of them, we prove that we can do.

The audience doesn’t need dialogue or character or psychological growth. The audience needs explosions, because they’re animals, and all they want is blood on the floor. The audience doesn’t need to be surprised or challenged with a new story. The audience wants the old story, because they’ve bought it ten times already, and at the end of the day, we just convinced these f*cking yahoos to wait three years and pay us twenty dollars so we could tell them to come back in four years and pay us $40. Now you think they want personal growth? Give me a break. They’re barely even people.

I mean: You pump this message out into the atmosphere, and then you’resurprised when the biggest fans are ready to send death threats to a director to save the Almighty Brand? Punching is better than talking, rage is better than understanding, conflicts are resolved by annihilating the other person without feeling bad about it: You just told them that. Over and over, and made them pay for the privilege of hearing it. You can’t possibly be surprised that they believe it’s true.

It kills me that I am so bothered by this. I understand that these movies are power fantasies for nine-year-olds: At the end of the day, accepting that they’re stupid is probably smarter than wishing for them to be smart. But this is the epicenter of pop culture. Everyone is expected to share power fantasies with nine-year-olds now, and worse than that, to take them seriously; to make them into a lifestyle. The Marvel virus has already overtaken movies; now, it’s infiltrated a new host, TV, and is hollowing it out from within.

The aim is not one or two bad movies a year, it’s a total lifestyle regimen of bad pop culture: In order to keep up with the Avengers, you need to keep up with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, and in order to keep up with those, you should probably be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which will really help you keep up with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, andGuardians of the Galaxy, and in order to make sure you’re on top of these nine essential movie franchises and able to make sense of their plots, you’ll need to keep a constant stream of Marvel product in your life, so make sure to tune in for Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and, of course, the forthcoming Hulu triumphs, Ant-Man’s One Weird Friend Gary and Guy Running Away From Explosion In Panel 17.

The problems with Marvel’s storytelling will be the problems of narrative storytelling for the foreseeable future. Once this is over, we’ll be dealing with a generation raised on this stuff, who believes it’s how storytelling ought to work: Harry Potter came out when I was in high school. I’m in my thirties, and I still haven’t seen the end of the “serialized YA fantasy” onslaught. Something this big sticks around.

I love stupid popcorn movies. I do. I believe they can be emotionally resonant, mythic, that they can do the same thing all stories are meant to do — speak to the soul; challenge us to be more and better than we were — and can use big, fantastic elements to tell big, human truths. I also believe that Marvel has no investment in doing so; that, even if they manage to grab a director who is capable of doing those things, the prioritization of the brand and the formula over individual creators will ultimately sabotage the attempt.

Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t just bad. It was, to me, proof that Marvel movies, even at their best, can only be bad. And that they are going to get worse. The human mission has been lost: these are faceless Stormtrooper movies, unleashed in waves upon the presumed-to-be-faceless Stormtrooper audience. Stories are an affirmation of our human value; they teach us what life means, make and keep us human. Marvel, by removing the human from its storytelling, may be bringing about the end of story altogether. F*ck Ultron: Marvel Comics has built the army of machines that might really end the world.

Links: Nell Zink, A Wedding Bust, Kathy Acker

1. A profile of intriguing writer Nell Zink by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker. Some extracts:

For the next four years, Zink worked as a bricklayer in the Tidewater region of Virginia. “That job was more valuable for my intellectual life than my entire college career,” she says. “In college, they allow you to be entertained and let your mind wander, which is not good training to do anything difficult.” Bricklaying, by contrast, cultivated discipline. When she started, she was teaching herself French by reading Sartre’s memoirs, “Les Mots,” with a dictionary in hand. The longer she worked in construction, she found, the longer she could stick with Sartre.


In 1997, not long after Zink moved to Israel, Eitan took her to Haifa to introduce her to a friend of his, a writer named Avner Shats. By the end of the evening, Shats and Zink had launched an extraordinary friendship. The two lived some sixty miles apart and did not see each other often, but they began corresponding nearly every day. Zink also set about trying to read his first book, “Sailing Toward the Sunset,” but Shats regarded that as “an impossible task”: it was a difficult postmodern novel written in Hebrew, a language that Zink had barely begun learning. Either in defiance or in accord, Zink gave up trying to read it and started rewriting it in English instead.

Zink wrote “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats” in three weeks. The novel has, Shats clarifies, “absolutely no similarities to my story”—or, for that matter, to any other story ever written. In addition to the seal-woman (a figure from Celtic mythology called a silkie) and the Mossad agent with the preposterous mission, the book features Zink herself, Eitan, and a mysterious submarine powered by a slip of paper on which is written the name of Moshe Dayan. Toward the end of the novel, that paper is transferred to and animates, with arresting results, the agent’s childhood Teddy bear.

Plenty weird, and plenty plenty, but that is not the sixteenth of it. “Sailing Toward the Sunset” also contains, among other things, an inquiry into the nature of translation; a translation proper, by Zink, of Robert Walser’s “The Job Application”; a lovely, controlled short story based on a diary entry by Kafka; a lot of incisive, off-the-cuff literary criticism (of Proust, Richardson, Faulkner, Eliot, Melville, Sterne, Solzhenitsyn); and a short work of science fiction, set in Long Island City, in a future where the global population has shrunk radically and those who remain in the planet’s skeletal, sky-high cities are “doomed, like the great whales: so few were left, in so large a space.” Avner Shats, the first and for many years the only reader of “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats,” was, he says, “overwhelmed by her ability to write such excellent stuff so fast.” He liked it so much that he translated it into Hebrew.

“Sailing Toward the Sunset” is representative: until last year, all of Zink’s work was written for a tiny audience—generally as tiny as one or zero. While working as a bricklayer, she wrote a series of stories about a construction worker, then threw them all away. In Germany, she made friends with a Russian composer, and wrote, for his amusement only, a libretto for an operetta—in rhymed couplets, in German. In 2005, she wrote another novel for Shats, “European Story.” Set at an artists’ retreat in Florence, it is slightly less madcap than “Sunset,” but no less funny and smart. I know that only because Shats held onto his copy; Zink deleted hers. Later, she wrote another novel, “The Baron of Orschel-Hagen,” about a patron of the arts obsessed with commissioning a very particular work. Afterward, Zink decided she didn’t like it, and erased the original and all the backups.

2. A really funny story of a Michigan drug bust in the form of a wedding.

3. A brief introduction to experimental writer Kathy Acker.

4. Why not more poetry audiobooks?

5. An essay suggesting that those who welcome and those who fear the effects of Artificial Intelligence in the near future may both be exaggerating the power of A.I.

6. Advice from Colin Mochrie in an interview with the AVClub:

CM: … my very first Whose Line appearance. I psyched myself out, and I was very tentative, very nervous, and I’d go back now, just not caring and, you know, I‘d just do it. The older you get, you just don’t care anymore.

AVC: Is that the key to success? Not caring?

CM: Oh, absolutely. When you really care, stuff doesn’t come to you. When you don’t care, that’s when you start getting free coffees and people thinking you’re Colin Farrell.