‘What did I used to think was here?’: Notes from the last 2 weeks

First quote of the new year was 1 January. My wife, as we considered leaving our diner after breakfast, said, “I’m still enjoying my various fluids,” her coffee and her diet soda.


Can I punch somebody in the face with my foot?” asked my young friend Amin, definitionally. 1 Jan.


Are you giving me dirty looks? They don’t affect me — I teach middle school,” said my young teacher friend Nina. 1 Jan.


Cold day, country road. Steam clouds from nuclear generating station. 4 Jan. 2016

Cold day, country road. Steam clouds from nuclear generating station. 4 Jan. 2016


Nobody should have to face this kind of boringness alone,” said my wife as she stayed by my side as I watched an online training video about the ADAAA. 3 Jan.


I’m as particular a person — as biased, judgmental — a person now as I have ever been. My point is that, while I hope to become wiser and make fairer judgments as I get older, I can’t claim to ever achieve some perspective beyond the particular circumstances of my mind at any particular time. 4 Jan.


Perhaps there is no meaning to any experience or any physical event until a person makes (thinks, says, or writes) language, until one puts together an interpretation of the experience or event. Meaning is more made than found. 5 Jan.


Felt a bit of sadness at last night’s sunset (over the prairie grasses and trees where I walked my dog) — but it’s just a mood. Perhaps the sadness was that it’ll still be winter for quite a while yet. 6 Jan.


I do a lot of weird things,” admitted a teacher colleague, as she described her quest on a snowy day to get her “Brussels [sprouts] and yogurt — can’t mess with” these, she said. 6 Jan.


Ideas as mental states that exist only once. To write down a thought and later read it back, that’s a different experience than the original thinking — for myself as well as for others who might read and experience the idea. 7 Jan.


How long it takes to come to terms with — to accept — my own life, with its particulars and limitations. I don’t mean this in a sad way; rather, that it’s taken me years to overcome the ambitious, self-aggrandizing ideas I had for whom I should be, how I should live, etc. 8 Jan.


As I walked my dog in the street, I saw through a neighbor’s kitchen window that I could see his wooden cabinets. I had heard that this neighbor might have a terminal health condition, and I thought how he may be able to look at his own cabinets now but perhaps one day, he won’t be able to. Of course, he’s not always in his kitchen; he’s often somewhere else. But being dead means one will be “somewhere else” to every place. 8 Jan.


From now on, order your OWN food,” said my mother-in-law to my father-in-law, after he complained about cheese being sticky in the baked mostacciolis that he shared with her. 8 Jan.


Are you HERE?” said my mother-in-law to my father-in-law, after he asked about something that had just been said. 8 Jan.


You don’t lie to people, that’s rude,” said my friend Nina as she related a story about how her grandpa came to the U.S. before she thought he had. 8 Jan.


At our diner, Ashli Waitress asked if everything were good. “As good as YOU can make us,” my wife said. 9 Jan.


The more I can get, why not?” said Ashli Waitress of some woman who may have been hitting on her. 9 Jan.


What did I used to think was here?” my mom asked of her smartphone home-screen after my wife and I changed her settings from “easy” to “standard.” 9 Jan.


In a Slate interview, Dean Strang, a defense attorney in Making a Murderer, is quoted as follows:

shows like CSI foster …  an illusion that courtrooms are places where scientific certainty often can be attained, that it’s the norm to be able to come to scientific certainty in a courtroom. And it’s not, of course. Courtrooms usually are not places where we can come to anything like scientific certainty, where we’re dealing with much more uncertainty even after we’ve heard everything.

After reading that, I thought that science deals with generalizations about things that can be repeated, like how certain chemicals will react when combined in certain conditions. These chemicals always will react this way under the same conditions. But of course, in a crime case, there are not general materials, but particular samples, gathered under unique and particular circumstances — and these are not repeatable at all! Even if a certain blood sample contains a DNA match to a defendant, we don’t know how or when the blood got to the place it was found. There’s far more interpretation required to interpret the data from scientific tests from a crime scene than from a lab setting — basic science seems far simpler in comparison. 9 Jan.


When English teachers present their students with the definitions of certain terms, and then ask students to classify literary samples by applying these terms, that seems like an Aristotelian autopsy — which is to say, that’s a classic approach, but also a backwards one. As a writer myself, I suspect that most other authors do not write by stringing together a bunch of literary terms and rhetorical structures and calling it a text. Writers don’t start from analyzing but from having an idea or hearing a voice, and I (and, I’m sure, others) write out the words that come to mind, and some of these may use rhetorical devices, but not consciously so. Also, when I write something, it’s because I’m excited to do it, because I feel passion in the doing. I write what I like, and I read what I like. When we ask students to apply terms to texts they don’t really care about, I suspect it’s alienating students from their own passions, their own feelings. This makes me sad because it took me years after completing my collegiate education to learn to trust my own mind, to learn that my own interests and my own ways of using words are good enough, and that this trust and confidence are the real foundation for my intellectual explorations. 11 and 17 Jan.


Learning who I am from others’ reactions to me, at least partly. Since I was a boy, others told me I’m smart, and I believed them. It’s easy to see how others, defined differently, might grow up to play different roles, and some of these may not be healthy, of course. 13 Jan.


Illinois floodplain snowstorm. 9 January.

Illinois floodplain snowstorm. 9 January.


We need cheer elves to clean our mats,” said a cheerleader student of mine. 13 Jan.


As I was reading this article at The Atlantic, I focused on this quote:

Why would the brain evolve such an inaccurate, simplified model of the world? The reason is efficiency. The brain didn’t evolve to get all the scientific details right. That would be a waste of energy and computing time. Instead, it evolved to process information about the world just well enough, and quickly enough, to guide behavior. All the brain’s internal models are simplified caricatures of the world it models.

and this:

The brain processes information. It focuses its processing resources on this or that chunk of data. That’s the complex, mechanistic act of a massive computer. The brain also describes this act to itself. That description, shaped by millions of years of evolution, weird and quirky and stripped of details, depicts a “me” and a state of subjective consciousness.

I’m not sure I share the author’s optimism that these descriptions actually make consciousness “not mysterious,” as the article title claims, but after reading this idea of the brain as having internal models, I thought about maybe the “ego,” the sense of a “me” (as author says), is a program that can get shut down when people meditate or have weird sleep or take certain drugs, such that some of the feelings of “all-is-one”-ness that some people report after meditating is not transcendently true, but is just a different way of experiencing the mind. 14 Jan.


It’s nice outside. What the heck — I’m skippin’ work,” said a high school girl after school in the student parking lot. It’s nice to know that it’s not just school but also work that receives consideration of whether to skip or not. 14 Jan.


I could tell my sophomore English class students to hold two ideas in their minds as we read published literary essays: 1., there are no right answers, and 2. keep trying to find right answers. Also, as both a teacher and a writer, I find myself valuing openness (not being attached to any particular idea, argument, or perspective) as a higher value than particular idea I might advocate. 15 Jan.


Also, what we’re trying to teach students can be more vague in a literature-and-writing class than in, say, a science or math class. But then, what we’re asking students to do is more fundamental: make meaning. As a teacher, I’m trying to get my students to think, to say interesting things about the texts we read. I want these teenagers to move toward, though they won’t likely arrive at, having the abilities to analyze and create that I, as an adult, have. Of course, my ability to do this has taken me nearly 40 years to develop, and I’m far from perfect, and I don’t exactly know how to teach this, but helping my students develop this ability seems much more a useful goal of education than simply asking students to memorize certain things. 15 Jan.


Photos are framed and/or cropped so as to remove context. 15 Jan. (See related idea here.)


Red sky in evening. 14 Jan. 2016

Red sky in evening. 14 Jan. 2016


I see where your priorities are,” said L.L. to I.C., as a form of what I called “nerd-taunting.” 15 Jan.


As my WYSE team members looked at a sample English test, one question — finding a synonym for “arrant” in the sentence “Such arrant nonsense!” — drew derision from my students. “If someone said, ‘such arrant nonsense!’ to me, I would beat them up,” said P.M. 15 Jan.


At a scholastic bowl competition, a boy about 12 years old said to a competitor (who may have also been his older sister): “Lexi, can you graph pi?” She responded, “yeah, it’s a straight line.” The boy said, “Nice!” 16 Jan.


Later, that same Lexi told her teammate Eric, “You just said the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me” and as she retold this anecdote to someone else, she said, “He was like, ‘I wouldn’t say you’re ugly.’” 16 Jan.

‘T’was the night before the end of time’: Exquisite Corpse poems, January 2016

Here are my current semester’s students’ Exquisite Corpse poems. See the explanation for how we created these here. See earlier samples here, here, and here.

Snow tracks.

Snow tracks.


I am in love with only one friend: you.

Small towns are full of pumpkins all in the front yard of the house.

Love the way you lie like the wind.

Have you ever felt like I have never felt, like a lion?

Cold air hurts my face-to-face conversations.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha want whatcha really really diamonds.

Women are men except when Tyler Perry get(s) annoying.

The girl loves to be or not to be the change I need to get home by bus.

The fat whale with a chimney blowhole is what you are.

Illinois is a joke like the kid next to buy many drugs for my baby brother.

Shame on you for thinking of my mom and dad, so I car-crashed into the side of an apple pie.

All the plants were stinky like father, like son.

Who are you talking to, the girl next to fish in the ocean of dead whales?

With respect, he shot her and him.

To the bank we went, to rob it.

What did you do to the mall with my little pony farts?

Yes, she said, for a date at the bakery in town.

Anytime he sang, he broke the mirror because she is wrong for you.

Daddy never came home, for I tell you nothing was the same, but I shot him.

He was a dark man who killed civil society under the sea, under the spider.

The spider crawled down slowly, took a breath[e], and the boy ran home.

Go tell it on the end to that story.

Bad times for saddle-makers since I was sleeping with liberty and justice for the old lady’s dog.

Hobby Lobby is a rockin’ place to go when it’s lit up nightly.

During the night, we stared at people.

Scared little children yelling at the trees softly.

Softly and quietly, he walked the dog sideways.

Angelina said mean stuff to her stepmother because I’m so fancy.

I’m so fancy; you are the kindest person.

The rain cries to the moon tonight.

Shouting at the sky rudely interrupted the class.

They duel with mice that have no sense of direction.

Hell is where they go, saying he will change, wrong or right, it doesn’t matter.

Matter doesn’t affect the brain that searches for answers.

My pet cactus Tim has a big forehead.

You never know when I’ll eat bananas.

People like to do bad things in rentals.

Miley Cyrus, she makes me feel like I’m a baby, it’s very cold outside.

T’was the night before the end of time.

Time heals all, and snow flakes fall freely.

Can’t go to work, so I opened that poem, but I don’t know who likes you.

Why would you say whatever you want to this day? You’re weird.

Strange children live under my leg.

My grandma makes cookies with or without you.

I’m so afraid that bird just landed on the top of her mom.

You can’t believe the dinosaurs like to eat people.

Friends don’t murder each other.

Are you a laughable kitten in my hand?

Rhyme time for the apples of your eyes.

Stupid homework-giving teachers wrote your legacy on paper.

You can shut up to the top of the small birds.

I can’t wait to go to the bathroom spiders on my face.

Can you please rush into the great beyond?

Humans are the bane of my inner self-image.

He told me he brings joy to the weird kid.

Scary like the girls from that one IHOP down the road he drove through.

Now (or how) you decide what you can’t always say.

No two things are the moose.

The same type of songs describe the meaning of life.

But today, I will not today, not tomorrow, never fathom the bottom depths of the fiery Hell.

Small dogs are bait, for only two can tango.

With him I felt good, so that he became the love of my shoes and my dress.

Little moose in my pizza.

The man stood. Still, he fell off. The dog ran after him.

Dessert pizza is kinda disgusting between the good.

It was black shoes, white hat, with my favorite person in time.

“Luke Skywalker is my son” is my cat’s name.

So colorful and funny at the bus stop, and she wanted more than God said.

A feline tree-topper

A feline tree-topper

The block-quoted section below is the entirety of one paper passed around the class. A few lines were skipped, but the remainder felt like it shared a mood.

In the light,

she never wanted to keep going fast.

In the night, he (thought), why are you a weirdo?

A weirdo was singing loud.

Today is quite dark,

and he wasn’t home today.

Today is really boring,

so freaking bright and cold.

Cold makes me chilly- hot.  … [1 line skipped]

I don’t know what teen drinking is.

Very hairy Mary said snow is super freakin’ cold.

Cold heart sucks, but whatever you want, I don’t.

Play with a dog. … [skipped 8 lines]

Without her, I’m falling.  [skipped 2 lines]

All about my mother told me to hurt your bestie.

You look like grass.

Weird children should go to make a cake with time.

Everything will fall from the top stair. [skipped 3 lines]

When you see me — and my friends are a cute couple — so we took a trip in our favorite rocket ship in space.



Collected Notes and Quotes from 2015

A listing in chronological order:

At Busy Grocery Store: ‘YOU are gonna hafta be a good listener’

‘We Need More Bus’: My Students Explain Things

‘Dose ahr not liess’: The week in quotes

‘An Undigested Bit of Beef’: Pocket pages week in review

‘What I’m doing NOW as opposed to what I’m doing NOW’: This week in quotes

‘Dinging on my thingy’: Things I overheard this week

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

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

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

‘I guess we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll’: Byronfest 2015

Limits of storytelling: Notes from 17 to 27 August 2015

Random high fives and ‘how we’re gonna scale that’: Images from six days in Boulder

Everything’s true except for the monkey’: My week in review

Let’s stay friends’: Quotes of this day

See ya, nerd king’: November’s overheard quotes

A little stranger than I thought’: December notes & quotes

‘A little stranger than I thought’: December notes & quotes

Trojan Horse spotted at Chicago Ave. and State Street, Chicago, IL, 11 Dec. 2015

Trojan Horse spotted at Chicago Ave. and State Street, Chicago, IL, 11 Dec. 2015

Living a lifestyle — say, being mindful — isn’t an end in itself. 1 Dec.

My student M.R. said she didn’t feel like cheering at the basketball game later that day. I said her coach shouldn’t make her cheer unless she’s really feeling that her school’s team is the best. 1 Dec.

Writing classes teach the forms (the compare-contrast essay, the research essay, etc.), BUT we can also inspire, show students new ideas. As a teacher, I can point beyond the common forms — where I have found my writing niche. 1 Dec.

My student Taylor showed support for her awesomest teacher. 21 Dec.

My student Taylor showed support for her awesomest teacher. 21 Dec.

“I think they went to another dimension … so don’t quote me,” said student A.F. of the whereabouts of two of his classmates. 1 Dec.

“Someday, I want to be on that green paper,” said student K.S., referring to the color of the paper on which I was recording notes and quotes that day. “You can’t just say that you want to be on the green paper and get on the green paper,”  said student K.C., who has herself been quoted before, and whom I thanked for defending the integrity of the green note paper. Student A.F. added, “I think my greatest achievement is getting on the green paper. [It’s] the greatest honor I can achieve.” “I’m sorry,” I said. 1 Dec.

New menus at one of my favorite local restaurants. 30 Dec.

New menus at one of my favorite local restaurants. 30 Dec.

Avoiding iconic photos — I’m less interested now in taking pics — say, of that dead tree in the hay field I drive past on my way to work every morning, a tree that is denuded and leaning and isolated. What I’m calling iconic pics are too abstract, suggesting Decay or Rugged Isolation or whatever. I want to take pictures that are more particular. 2 Dec.

People don’t want to be merely an idea (of sex, or of fame, or of foolishness) to each other. I don’t want to be treated that way by others, diminished to an idea. But of course, celebrities ARE just an idea because fans don’t really know them. 2 Dec.

My local Subway store. 6 Dec.

My local Subway store. 6 Dec.

How hard it is to teach meaning-making. Reading Shakespeare (“The Taming of the Shrew”) with sophomore students: how to get the unfamiliar words and word-order and then also the understanding of the context. 3 Dec.

“No. You think I’M pretty, not her,” said student M.R. about social media usage by any of her potential significant others. 3 Dec.

My cat and my wife. 20 Dec.

My cat and my wife. 20 Dec.

Texts live only when they are read. 3 Dec.

Attraction is mysterious. I can’t even explain my own attraction to my wife, let alone try to understand anyone else’s attraction to whomever they’re attracted to. 3 Dec.

Student P.B. told me how it’s easy for me to record others’ statements compared to how hard it is to record others’ actions (gestures, etc.). I said that’s a really good point: When I quote others, I’m just recording the words they supply. But to record their actions, the words have to be supplied by me (and my bias, my characterization of the actions I’ve seen). 3 Dec.

A smoker outside my grocery store. 6 Dec.

A smoker outside my grocery store. 6 Dec.

Later, student P.B. sang “O Tannenbaum” tune with the lyrics of my last name, “O Hagemann.” 3 Dec.

You can look at any particular tree (or at any particular thing), but it’s you, looking, that’s special, not the tree (or whatever thing). There’s the particularity (that’s an abstraction? huh) that’s special. Well, yes and no. And my attention too is both special and not-special. It’s self-evident, when you’re standing there looking, that those leaves, that tree, and you, exist. Maybe looking at a real thing, and being aware of that, is less a thought itself, more a reset of thinking, resetting one’s mind back from abstracts to here, now. 4 Dec.

An article I read about heroin-addition recovery talked about adult life as a series of administrative duties, getting things taken of. Yeah, sometimes being an adult feels like that. 3 Dec.

“I always look up stuff on Google — worst idea ever,” said my student M.D., about seeing photos of terrible diseases, etc. 4 Dec.

A spoon in the chair at my local diner. Our diner employee friend Amin said we could replace it with a fork to surprise the next sitter. Then he said, "Just put a bear trap. Fukk it." 6 Dec.

A spoon in the chair at my local diner. Our diner-employee friend Amin said we could replace it with a fork to surprise the next sitter. Then he said, “Just put a bear trap. Fukk it.” 6 Dec.

Reading last night about Terry Southern, I’m glad that I have a regular gig, that I don’t have to try to make a living from my writing only. 6 Dec.

Even more ridiculous than the word ridiculous? Diculous, which describes the ridiculousness of a naked man, his genitals just a-wavin’ in the breeze. That’s just diculous. 6 Dec.

To despair of describing parts of nature: give directions of each of the spears in a clump of grass. 6 Dec.

Movies sometimes use music to communicate a character’s mood — normally a person’s mood is private, subjective –not communicable. But music can communicate mood. 9 Dec.

As a writer, I turn time — my living-time, my time alive — into texts. 9 Dec.

How Shakespeare uses English language, a whole other way to use the same (ok, very similar) language we use today. All the figurative language is like real speech, even if we use different figures of speech now. 10 Dec.

My journals do not tell one story — but of course they don’t. If there’s no story, there’s no place to go (no conflict to resolve, no plot to finish), no progress, all’s now. There are new moments, ideas, days, but not necessarily progress. 10 Dec.

Looking at a tree as I drive past: I wish I could just stop and look at the tree and not have to go to work and participate in my life for a while. The tree gives respite, or the idea of respite. But what seeing the tree does is that it reminds me of moods, mindsets, calm feelings, I have had before and can have again. 10 Dec.

“You have a gluten allergy. Just sayin,'” said student P.B. to me, as she wrote a story in which I was a character. She had earlier asked if I had an allergy, and I had said, “like I’m tellin’ you.” 10 Dec.

“Hey, guys, let them melt before you start moving them around with the tooth pics,” said an adult teacher or aide in a classroom for students with developmental disabilities. I don’t know what she was talking about. 10 Dec.

“I DID turn them in! (pause) Wait, which ones?” said student K.C. about some missing assignments she saw on a grade report. 10 Dec.

Two women talked in the booth behind me at the diner about their appreciation for IKEA and its furniture: “It’s well-made. Only thing is, it comes in pieces,” said one. Also, “you can haul it yourself! You don’t need a 10-ton truck!” You can put it in your car, especially if you’re 90 miles away from the store, like we are, she added. 11 Dec.

“I just stood there, reveling in my cookie,” said my wife, of why she hadn’t noticed me clearing the plates off our table at Panera Bread restaurant. 13 Dec.

When I’m grading student work under a time crunch, I have to forget to hurry. Having a second voice (sorta) in my head doesn’t help. This is why it’s hard to watch one’s self work, or to talk about what my mind is doing while it’s engaged in work. (I had earlier thought about how little art there is that depicts what our minds are doing during those many hours a day when we’re at work.) 14 Dec.

I’m writing about being alive. Kinda. But each day, each journal, each particular moment. In my journals, I’m writing what comes to mind at the time of the writing. The date doesn’t matter, except as a season (how some yearly things repeat, like my stress at the end of each semester). My point: this is what the journals are, at a basic level. 15-16 Dec.

“Bailey, you look like a goat,” said student A.P. Surprised, Bailey said, “why?” A.P. answered, “‘cuz … I was watching a video of a goat, and it looked like you.” Then others in class said, “Bailey goat, billy goat.” 15 Dec.

“It’s not my fault they sell them to me,” said student M.P. about smoking the cigarettes that he gets at the drive-thru window at the tobacco shop that opened in a former Taco Bell. 15 Dec.

Moss near light post in grass near Mercedes dealership, Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill., 5 Dec.

Moss near light post in grass near Mercedes dealership, Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill., 5 Dec.

Looking at things — tells more about the looker than the things (as Eagleman’s “Brain” show reminded me). As when I notice things, like, say, moss near a light post, and take a picture as if the show others that this moss scene matters. Perhaps it doesn’t matter at all! Perhaps it’s just me declaring/claiming that this matters. 16 Dec.

“I don’t think I washed my hair right this morning,” said student A.P. as she entered my classroom this morning. 16 Dec.

My sophomore student F.V. said his freshman year English teacher was a mellow person. “You can punch Doctor Perrin in the face and he would laugh about it.” Later, I checked with Dr. Perrin and he assured me this would not be the case. 16 Dec.

“I think it should go down in history that I’m better at doing this than I am at doing math,” said student A.F. as he tossed and caught a spool of threat. This was before he dropped the spool. 16 Dec.

Oil-stain art. 12 Dec.

Oil-stain art. 12 Dec.

Being apolitical to be creative — to be partisan, to hold and defend certain views, is tedious, is uncreative. 16 Dec.

One type of meta-fiction is when characters know they’re in a story (as in a story my student M.W. wrote, where characters knew they had to keep talking until they reached the assigned word count). As people, we don’t feel we’re in a story as we live, or even when someone tells a story about us. I don’t think of myself as a character. 17 Dec., 19 Dec.

“I regret talking to idiots the whole time I should’ve been writing,” said student G.V. She said she broke her hand finishing up her writings. I said I should post this statement above my classroom whiteboard. 18 Dec.

“You almost like it but then you hate it and it won’t go away,” said my wife of Pomplamoose songs such as this and this. 19 Dec.

While walking my dog at the forest preserve tonight, I thought how our human eyes and minds are good at quickly apprehending patterns, less good at seeing all the details, say, of all the branches and twigs, or all the leaves piled. 19 Dec.

“Mine’s super-lumpy and weird,” said Ashli Waitress of her head. 20 Dec.

The language I use is a phenomenon in my own mind. Others just get to listen in. This is one way of looking at my journals as texts. 22 Dec.

How much one has to learn to first develop a mental model of things against which to compare new things. How, as an adult of 41+ years, I have a sense of what’s normal adult behavior, for example. So I can judge, in art and in reality, what’s not normal. I didn’t know this as a younger person. 22, 29 Dec.

“It’s like shootin’ fish in my hand — it’s easy, but it hurts a lot afterwards,” I said, paraphrasing the old saying. 24 Dec.

“Add some sugar and grease and fix it,” said my brother Dan after my mom said a batch of cookies tasted bland and she’d frost them. Dec. 24.

Elsa at Christmas table. 25 Dec.

Elsa at Christmas table. 25 Dec.

“Hey, I need my plate!” said a three-year old girl at my wife’s family Christmas party, as her plate was taken so that it could be filled with food. 25 Dec.

That same three-year-old girl pushed on my wife’s belly and said, “You have a baby in there? You have a Marcello [her little brother’s name] in there!” My wife does not have a baby in there. 25 Dec.

“He lost his pants — it was one of them nights!” said a father of one-year-old Marcello at the Christmas party. 25 Dec.

“Chuck, how old is the sky?” asked homeowner Jose of the sunset-colored clouds and blue background that artist Chuck had painted on the ceiling of the dining room a few years back. 25 Dec.

On Christmas day, my wife posted on Facebook that “I did both my make-up AND my hair. Jesus better appreciate it.” The next day, I showed her that her post had received 29 likes. “People LIKE it when I threaten Jesus, apparently,” she said. 26 Dec.

“That’s life — ‘a little stranger than I thought,'” my wife said, after I said a call to the local park district was not a big deal but was just a little stranger than I thought it’d be. 30 Dec.

“I have scoliosis — I cannot be the wind,” said a friend after he told a story about having to take a theater class in college where he was asked to “be the wind.” H said he dropped the class. 30 Dec.

At a family New Year’s Eve gathering, my grandpa Lorin said he was about to tell us something he’d never said to his kids or grandkids: “The only reason we’ve been poor is because of butter.” This admission came after grandma Phoebe said she saw him, early in their marriage, putting butter on his cake, because he had the philosophy that butter makes a good cake better, and a bad cake needs it. 31 Dec.

An old man who looks disturbingly like my father appears in cafe foyer's glass ahead of me. Meg's Daily Grind, near Perryville and Riverside, Rockford, IL, 31 Dec. 2015.

An old man who looks disturbingly like my father appears in cafe foyer’s glass ahead of me. Meg’s Daily Grind, near Perryville and Riverside, Rockford, IL, 31 Dec. 2015.


Winter sky

The blue and pink-lavender of the sky opposite the sunrise and sunset in the winter months.

Eastern sky at sunset, 2 Jan. 2016

Eastern sky at sunset, 2 Jan. 2016

Links: Narrative empathy, for good or ill

For good:  This article by Amy McLay Paterson at Vox cites these articles suggesting that reading literary fiction improves readers’ ability to empathize.

For ill: “How Stories Deceive” suggests that “when we become swept up in powerful narrative, our reason often falls by the wayside,” and people can get conned.

Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University and the director of its Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, studies the power of story in our daily interactions with friends, strangers, books, television, and other media. Repeatedly, he has found that nothing makes us receptive, emotionally and behaviorally, quite like narrative flow.”

Narrative ads, like some of Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads, “work because they appeal to your emotions by drawing you into a story that you can’t help but be moved by. From that point on, you are governed by something other than reason. Emotion is the key to empathy. Arouse us emotionally and we will identify with you and your plight. Keep us cold, and empathy won’t blossom.”

Paterson gives an example of how empathizing with imaginary characters can be frustrating: “I cursed myself for wasting energy on an unworthy title, hate-reading the last 200 pages of The Rosie Effect because I’d liked The Rosie Project and wanted to make sure that everything turned out okay.”

In other recent news about narratives: “All Stories Are the Same“: This article makes a claim about the universality of this narrative:

All plunge their characters into a strange new world; all involve a quest to find a way out of it; and in whatever form they choose to take, in every story “monsters” are vanquished. All, at some level, too, have as their goal safety, security, completion, and the importance of home.

But this article oversimplifies when it claims that “all stories are forged from the same template, writers simply don’t have any choice as to the structure they use; the laws of physics, of logic, and of form dictate they must all follow the very same path.” And I don’t agree with this article’s emphasis on following the “template” — “a piano played without knowledge of time and key soon becomes wearisome to listen to”  — as if an artwork being “wearisome” were a sin.

And this:Christmas: The Greatest Story Ever Told?” at The Atlantic points out that this narrative “contained many of the time-tested elements of good storytelling.” But of course, this narrative is significantly fictionalized in its basic facts:

The beautiful Nativity story in Luke, for instance, in which a Roman census forces the Holy Family to go back to its ancestral city of Bethlehem, is an obvious invention, since there was no Empire-wide census at that moment, and no sane Roman bureaucrat would have dreamed of ordering people back to be counted in cities that their families had left hundreds of years before. The author of Luke, whoever he might have been, invented Bethlehem in order to put Jesus in David’s city.

Rain road

Huntley Road at Randall Road, Kane County, Illinois, 4:30-ish p.m., 13 Dec. 2015.

Huntley Road at Randall Road, Kane County, Illinois, 4:30-ish p.m., 13 Dec. 2015.