Like Spending Time in My Brain: Thursday 21 July 2016 journal text

At home, 7:54 a.m. — It’s humid as hell already . It’s forecasted to be 95° F with “hot steams” index of 109°.

I vetted the cat yesterday. He growled during his exam by a new (to the vet office) young woman vet. She gave Justice cat the ol’ up-the-butt thermometer with a drop of, I’m guessing, lube on the tip, which is a nice touch, somehow — a weird touch, too. Sure, it’s medically useful, but I’m not always sure I’ve seen vets do that.

At Oregon, Ill., McDonald’s, a little before 9 a.m. — A BNSF Railway Police dude is here, with sidearm and bulletproof vest, it seems. “So are you out of Chicago, then?” McKaren asks him. He agreed. I didn’t know railroads had their own police forces.

People can’t be on the right of way at all,” said RR cop. McKaren said something to the dude who’s with the cop about BNSF not maintaining fences and working on a track. “It’s just been nonstop out there, something all the time,” she said, and then the two guys wrap up conversation and leave McD’s.

Dog and I had a “standing salad” last night in our garden — we ate peas, carrots, green peppers, and the first two cherry tomatoes of the year. Dog doesn’t eat peppers or tomatoes.

He was brutally handsome; she was terminally pretty,” sings an Eagle over the restaurant radio system.

Get up, Katelyn, and walk,” said a mom to a young girl, and mom did an open-palms, arms-out-to-sides gesture of frustration.

The place where you live may not matter as long as you’re safe and can find work, etc. So national-pride feelings are mere ideas. The idea of where you live doesn’t matter. I used to have an idea that my everyday life would be better if I lived in a college town like Madison, Wis., instead of living in this rural Illinois county. But my life would probably be about the same: I’d probably be the same person, have about the same mental experience of being alive.

A dude in a Jeep in the drive-thru just now held his black box of Marlboros up to his mouth to pull out a cigarette with his lips. His left hand was on the wheel, his right holding the pack.

There’s the amble of Beardy “Jack” McTankTop, with a white tanktop now and his usual blue shorts. “I’m usually a regular here,” said Beardy to a young counter girl. He wasn’t here with the other regulars earlier this morning.

What a tragic thing for her to deal with all her life, you know,” concludes a McSally story about some girl getting shot in the street and some dude throwing himself on top of her to protect her.

If the lid would be off, it’d be down the front of me every time,” said McKaren to an old couple about Karen’s drink cup, I think.

On my dog-walk this morning, I remembered my old question about what was the first word ever spoken by humans. My thought this morning is that, whatever the word was, meaning must have preceded the first word, since humans, and even animals, can learn to read body language before they can read words.

A 5- or 6-year-old boy has jammed his chocolate-dipped cone dip-first into a soda cup McKaren had given the woman who was with the boy. Karen also advised getting a spoon.

It was hot at 4 o’clock this morning,” says McKaren to a customer dude. It’s the second time I’ve heard her say this. “It hits you right in the face — wham!” she said, after the dude said it’s muggy.

This reminds me how hot it was on the walk over to McDonald’s from the courthouse where my wife and I parked our car. It smelled and felt like a laundromat, the air coming out of a just-stopped dryer.

I’m afraid if I do, I might really, really like it … I can be very impulsive,” McKaren said, I think about riding a motorcycle. Of her daughter asking her if she wanted to ride, horse-owner Karen said, “If it’s too hot to ride horses, it’s too hot to ride motorcycles.

An older man three tables west of me has an oversize nose — he looks like cartoon Jimmy Durante in “Frosty the Snowman” Christmas special.

I’m not trying to appeal broadly. I’m writing who I am, what I naturally do, and I’m not trying to become a writer for others. Yes, I’ve said this statement many times lately but I’m still stating it, I think, because it still feels new and good and joyful. There’s the freedom of accepting myself, that I no longer have to try to fit myself and my writing into some existing cubbyhole (by which I mean a familiar form, genre, etc.). I feel I’ve put, in these recent posts, my mind, my existence, as priority over any particular words and ideas. I’m superior to, have priority over, what I say.

Making each day’s journal text from nothing, as it were. It’s cool that there are no topics beforehand, no deciding what to say before I write. Themes emerge as I read and edit. I’m not saying these recent journal-posts (such as this one) are great — they look a bit text-heavy, for one. But they aren’t organized by topic, and they aren’t merely journals in whole (they aren’t every single word) but they are ideas from the journals — so that reading them might be like spending time in my brain!

Interesting People Say Interesting Things: 20 July 2016 journals

Weds. 20 July — While walking my dog this morning through a nearby subdivision, I saw a state cop car pull out of a driveway and a water bottle come rolling downhill toward me, as if it’d been on the car when the cop moved it. He soon stopped and got out and I said, “good thing it’s water and not a cup of coffee or something” — or your gun, I thought but didn’t say.

After talking with colleagues about the short-story unit we’ll teach in our sophomore English class, I’m looking at this unit now as teaching kids the form, and how to analyze the form, of the short story. I want students to see the limits and the lies of that form — for example, in that story about a gang-member getting stabbed and bleeding out, we have no way to know what a dying person thinks. I want to teach students to be wary of, or at least aware of, being manipulated by fiction. Though I know some students will probably be fiction fans and I don’t want to break their hearts, and yet … I do want to wake them up.

Got an email this week from a former student from 3 years ago who said that my class opened up her mind, got her thinking. I love to hear that, though of course, I’d also like to know examples of what new thoughts she’s had because of my class. But just the fact that she thinks the class opened up her mind means she’s aware of having an open mind, and that might be the necessary first step — perhaps the only step? — to actually having an open mind, being willing to think about things in new ways, etc.

I don’t want to have to convince someone of the value of my writings. Readers will get it or they won’t.

I wouldn’t say that the texts I write can’t be changed. I know editors greatly altered certain classic words of literature — Kerouac’s, Thomas Wolfe’s, Raymond Carver’s. But there’s something OK about a text being whatever I put in it.

“Hello, it’s me,” said my wife, coming into the great room for the first time this day. “Who are you, Todd Rundgren?” I asked. She said she was about to say something similar.

Even if my edited journals aren’t compelling reads (like, say, a plot-driven thriller is compelling), these posts can be worth reading, can be interesting, at least to some readers.

Developing one’s sensibility: how teachers pick out better quotes to use from a story, and teachers find more things, and more-interesting things, to interpret from literary texts than students generally do — this could be an analogy to, and/or an example of, what I’ve been thinking about how interesting people say interesting things. Interesting people are usually older people, and so, frankly, my own younger-me writings may not be as interesting as my more recent ones are. For example, the literature-analysis essays I wrote as a high-schooler: I could’ve done more-interesting analysis, but I didn’t have the mind to do so at age 17.

Earlier this week, I published an edited part of my journal [as this post here is also]. I haven’t always felt motivated to start reading others’ journals — say, Camus’s, a book of whose journals I owned back in college, or Thoreau’s, which I looked at in recent years. But Thoreau’s actually were interesting, maybe more than Walden is. But Walden feels like A Big Work, Thoreau’s One Big Work , and so it feels more important to read that book than his journals. But of course, the book doesn’t have to be seen that way.

Link: ‘The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?’

In an essay at The New York Review of Books, writer Perry Link questions whether Western languages’ emphasis on using nouns over using verbs perhaps contributes to, or even creates, philosophical problems.

Link begins by explaining that:

Indo-European languages tend to prefer nouns, even when talking about things for which verbs might seem more appropriate. The English noun inflation, for example, refers to complex processes that were not a “thing” until language made them so. Things like inflation can even become animate, as when we say “we need to combat inflation” or “inflation is killing us at the check-out counter.” Modern cognitive linguists like George Lakoff at Berkeley call inflation an “ontological metaphor.” (The inflation example is Lakoff’s.)

When I studied Chinese, though, I began to notice a preference for verbs. Modern Chinese does use ontological metaphors, such as fāzhăn (literally “emit and unfold”) to mean “development” or xὶnxīn (“believe mind”) for “confidence.” But these are modern words that derive from Western languages (mostly via Japanese) and carry a Western flavor with them. “I firmly believe that…” is a natural phrase in Chinese; you can also say “I have a lot of confidence that…” but the use of a noun in such a phrase is a borrowing from the West.

Link points out that how we talk about things can shape our thinking. If we label something with a noun, that might lend some sort of existence to that something:

Ancient Chinese philosophers did discuss “being,” but to do it they used the words you, “there is,” and wu, “there is not,” both of which are fundamentally verbs. By contrast ancient Greek thinkers often conceived their puzzles in terms of nouns: What is “justice”? “Beauty”? “The good”? And so on.

I wanted to see whether “assuming that things exist just because nouns that refer to them exist” might cause problems for serious Western philosophers. I read Colin McGinn’s book The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World about the “mind-body problem”—which, briefly put, is the problem of how “mental substance” and “physical substance” can affect each other. Although a major problem in Western philosophy since Descartes, the question has scarcely been noticed in the history of Chinese philosophy. I much admire McGinn’s writing; I chose him purposefully as a powerful representative for the West.

At one point in his book, McGinn focuses on the curious fact that our perceptions of the world are often perceptions of things in space, and yet the perceptions themselves occupy no space. He writes:

Consider the visual experience of seeing a red sphere two feet away with a six-inch diameter. The object of this experience is of course a spatial object with spatial properties, but the experience itself does not have these properties: it is not two feet away from you and six inches in diameter. …When we reflect on the experience itself, we can see that it lacks spatial properties altogether.

For me, the crucial phrase here is “the experience itself.” Is there such a thing? The noun “experience” exists, but that is not the question. Does the experience exist? We might feel intuitively that it does. But does that intuition arise, in part, from the grammatical habit of using nouns like “experience” and assuming that they refer to things? Classical Chinese poets see, hear, and feel in all sorts of ways—they have no trouble “experiencing.” But they find no need to talk about “experience” as a noun. The modern Chinese word jīngyàn, “experience,” was invented to accommodate Western language.

Link also points out something that I’m often arguing to my students, that numbers and ideas — “mental things” — don’t need to exist:

McGinn goes on to point out that numbers, like the experience of red spots, do not occupy space. “We cannot sensibly ask how much space the number 2 takes up relative to the number 37,” he writes. “It is hardly true that the bigger the number the more space it occupies.” Then he writes:

To attribute spatial properties to numbers is an instance of what philosophers call a category-mistake, trying to talk about something as if it belonged to a category it does not belong to. Only concrete things have spatial properties, not abstract things like numbers or mental things like experiences of red.

In my imagination an ancient Chinese philosopher might well accept McGinn’s point, but then ask him: why do you talk about “mental things”? Is that not also a category-mistake? If I see a red spot, do I not simply see a red spot? The red spot, yes, is a thing, but “I see” is not a thing. I see is I see. If you change it into “my sight” or “my experience of seeing,” you are performing a grammatical act, but that grammatical act has no power to change the way the world is. Your perplexity about how two “things” relate comes only from your grammar.

Link concludes thus, focusing on language contexts of philosophical problems:

Once one enters an Indo-European language, the mind-body problem indeed is hard, and I had not been trying to solve it on that turf. At most, I have discovered only a question: are people who think in Indo-European languages better off because their languages lead them to clear conceptualization of an important puzzle, or are thinkers in Chinese better off because their language gets them through life equally well without the puzzle?

After reading this, I wonder whether Link’s point applies not just to philosophy but also to Buddhist ideas about seeing what things are real.

Writing I love doing, and its value to others: Tuesday 19 July 2016 journal

At home, 8:05 a.m. — As I saw a car drive past me and my dog on our morning walk, I thought that the method and rate of one’s travel shapes or reveals one’s goal or purpose. The car’s driver is getting quickly to a certain place, while my dog and I were walking for the sake of walking.

Idea: In interpreting a text, we assume that if the text has been published (unlike a journal or a private correspondence), what’s there was meant to be there. And that assumption may be worth questioning.

Three neighbor kids came over to our house as my wife and I sat on our front lawn last night. They asked if we’d bring our cat outside, and after we set the cat down, five-year-old Dustin commanded, “Kitty, play!”

Our dog was out front of the house, too, attached to his cable as I did lawn work. He was lying, sphinx-style, and panting, and looking at nothing in particular. I told him he looked like he was just groovin’ on the evening.

How good I thought my Grinch and Frosty the Snowman posts were until I reread them last January for possible use in my English 2 classes. The posts weren’t terrible, but were too complex for my sophomore students to appreciate, and overall not as funny as I remember.

I don’t want my blog to turn political. I don’t want to drive away readers who disagree with my positions, and also politics tends to be either relentlessly of the moment — meaningless — or it’s based in values that are inarguable.

An author can’t wake up people who aren’t interested in waking up, who aren’t seeking or who aren’t at least open to new ideas. I don’t want to praise complete openness — I’m not interested in trying anything, any drug, any experience, just for the sake of experience. There is value in the orientation I have to the world, which is based on all my years of experience and reacting to, thinking about, that experience. Maybe if I took peyote or did a sweat lodge session, I would have an experience that would change — broaden, in a good way — my perspective. On the other hand, not all experience is good. Some experiences are things I’ve wanted to retreat from, and these haven’t taught me much except that there are things I don’t want to experience. Other times, I’ve had experiences that I just couldn’t make sense of, and so I couldn’t assimilate them into my worldview. Some people have really bad experiences, like PTSD, that sorta break them, at least for a while, or send their lives in new directions, which aren’t always bad, but can be. Anyway, I’m not sure having an idea that certain experiences can break a person helps me to live a calm, fear-free life.

I could edit down my journals into single-idea paragraphs, but that seems safe. What’s interesting, what’s the challenge now, is expanding my ideas of what’s permissible, what new forms can be found, or familiar forms exploded. In other words, not editing a text down to a single topic or story seems to go against what I’ve learned, what I’ve internalized, about editing for publication, what’s best or acceptable to publish. And I want to be willing to challenge my own beliefs about what a piece intended for others needs to be.

How much can I push readers, how difficult can I make texts for them? No, actually, that’s not the question, since, as I said not long ago, I’m not writing for others. I could just post what I like. It’s easy for readers to say no to reading my stuff. I don’t want to do the performance, where I publish only a few perfected (whatever that would mean) things — I’m choosing to look messy, to post things that aren’t perfect, because process matters more than product. But with what I was doing with that post last night, editing my journal, I’m not even sure what the product is, and I’m telling myself that it’s OK to accept the uncertainty. Don’t close off this attempt. Go through with it, even if it isn’t, if you’re not sure that it’s, good.

Sure, it might be self-indulgent to post material from a day’s journal — exactly none of it was written for an audience. Yet I persist in thinking that there’s value there. In one sense, this might be a frontier — I mean, I’m not sure there’s value here, but I don’t want to go back to the known forms of nonfiction writing. That would feel like a retreat from exploring, and it would feel unsatisfying. It’d be easy to maintain the distinction between writing-for-oneself (private writing like journals) and writing-for-others (public writing like an essay). The private writing I do because I like to write, and it doesn’t matter much what I say. I can babble joyfully like a baby; I don’t have to try to seem special. Writing for the public, though, that’s a performance, and I feel like I gotta have a topic and a reason for why my topic matters to readers.

I don’t write about my experiences in a novelistic, scene-setting, moment-by-moment way because I don’t want to make certain moments of my day or of my life stand out.

3:30 p.m. — As I edit this (Monday’s) journal, I’m thinking that there may not be a reason for anybody to read this. I mean, there’s no introductory/enticing reason. But also, is there even a reward to reading it? Or is the reward just the chance to be amused and/or challenged by my mind’s words, by an aspect of my mental presence?

What is it that makes people want to read? Or, rather, what is it that we get out of reading? I like getting new ideas. I sometimes like to be merely distracted/minimally entertained, as when I read before bedtime. Sometimes I want to see others agree with me (as when I read political commentary).

I wrote an email to my friend Doug an hour ago in which I said I want there to be a way for the writing I most-love doing to also be interesting to others (at least to some others), worth their time to read. There are certain writers whose every work I’d want to read — I, for a while, would read anything David Foster Wallace wrote (well, his nonfiction). But the writing that I do that seems most-valuable to me, why wouldn’t that also be valuable to others? (In other words, I don’t want to have to write stuff I don’t feel eager to write just for the purpose of being read).

Making a text is strange: Monday 18 July 2016 journal

Lately I’ve been thinking of texts that are written to be published, written for an audience, as performances, and as performances, these texts have a level of artifice that I’d like to question. So what follows below is selections from a text I wrote for myself in my journal. It’s not organized by topic, and it doesn’t fit a typical nonfiction form, but it’s an experiment in editing, in seeing how what final shapes a minimally shaped text can take. I’m wondering why someone might choose to read such an unlabeled, unformed text, and what someone would get from having read it.

At home, a little after 8 a.m. — It’s humid. There’s still much dew-fall on the sliding glass door. More light comes in from the lower half of the door, where rivulets have run.

Just read a piece at New York Times’ The Stone that talked about how brain science seems to suggest that we use the same faculty to look into — to model, presume — our own minds the same way we try to read and model others’ minds. There is no 1st person, the writer says. This piece didn’t upset me in the way that some new theories bother me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this idea goes along with my previous ideas about the unknowability of my own mind. For example, I don’t know where my ideas or the words that I write come from. “The Greeks” Episode Two talked about Greeks taking ideas from other cultures they met while trading and making colonies. “Ideas” is a word that comes to English directly from the Greek. It suggests that an idea is what could be taken from others without them getting pissed. An idea is not property like a ship or a pot is. Of course, you’re not taking at all but making, making your own concept of what you see others doing.

And perhaps an idea isn’t property (a copyrighted work is “intellectual property” in legal terms, but an idea-qua-idea can’t be copyrighted). But maybe the idea of “the idea” is itself Greek. The notion that we can form ideas, that ideas are things that can be labeled, identified, as much as “rock” or “tree” can be. Though, of course, we still can’t see, touch, or taste ideas.

A dog sticking out of driver's window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat.

A dog sticking out of driver’s window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat. (This dog is different from the the RCA dog mentioned below.)

At Oregon, Ill., McDonalds, seated alongside the wall of windows along the south side of dining room, with a view of cars leaving the drive-thru, about 10 a.m., after dropping my wife off to conduct a real estate closing —

At the diner yesterday, talked to Ashli Waitress’s husband, Jason, who’s working to demolish a building in the Chicago suburbs. There’s a steel structure for moving product inside this old warehouse, and he’s using a hydraulic shears for cutting this steel. The shears can cut steel up to 2 inches thick, he said.

Jason also told me about a former job delivering and repossessing furniture for a rental store in Rockford. How he once had to step over a passed-out dude in the hallway of an apartment building, and how he once got intentionally hit by a woman in a car and he was carried along until his feet got loose, and how he got shot at. Once sofas were repossessed, the employees had a way of opening them with wedges so as to not get stabbed with drug needles. Employees also called cops after discovering certain images on repossessed computers, he said.

“… 40 years old, dropped of a cardiac arrest … they revived her in the hospital after shocking her seven times … she passed a month ago — had her 42nd birthday” at the hospital, said a 60-year-old-ish man to an 80-year-old-ish man sitting at the table west of me.

“I couldn’t hold a frickin’ gallon of milk,” said the 60-ish man, who had slipped and fallen during a winter and thought he’d have to get rotator cuff surgery, but he didn’t.

“Could I get a discount, please?” said McSally. A dark-haired 30-ish McManager came over to a register where another McWorker was on the client side of the counter.

“I’m gonna run up to Rockford. I gotta jump on a conference call,” said 60-year-old guy. “Alright, pop,” said the 60-ish guy. “Alright, kiddo,” said the 80-ish guy as both left their table.

A certain customer will “ask for a senior coffee. He can’t hardly hold it … he should NOT  be driving,” said McSally to McKaren, who responded that the old man might cause an accident and not even get hurt himself.

Dark-haired McManager said, “lunchtime” at 10:30. She said it in a low-energy shout, like “Lunch. Time.”

I was thinking this spring that it IS hard — emotionally upsetting — to have one’s beliefs challenged, as I was challenging my high school students’ beliefs during our philosophy unit.

“Can I help you, hun, now that I’m done complaining?” said McKaren to a customer about how she thought the humidity at 6:30 this morning was bad but it’s worse now.

Not that the statement above is such a great quote. Rather, it was a little distracting, so I wanted to get it out of my mind. But also, there’s something about how she really said it — it’s somewhat banal (not entirely, since it does reveal character), but also … I don’t know. I just wanted to record it as a real statement that was really said, a small moment but now it’s recorded. It was made a “moment” by my recording it? That maybe there is something special about me writing real things down — that writing them down, that making a text, is an act that is strange — estranged from? — living life, regular life. It’s normal for me to write, but maybe I forget how weird it is to write, actually.

There was a short-coated dog hanging out a passenger window of an SUV — it looked a little like the RCA Victor dog.

“They got it off Pinterest or somethin’,” said McSally. Pinterest is a thing, now.

I try to figure things out sometimes and shut out — mentally shut out, ignore — my surroundings. Yet, why bother? So many texts are written that way. And when I read, I like to shut out outside input — like, just now, the horn solo of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” and like McSally saying, “What are cheeseburger cupcakes?” and McDark Hair Manager saying, “They look like cheeseburgers.”

Ogle County soldiers' memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

Ogle County soldiers’ memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

Shutting out one’s surroundings, being able to focus on the text, both as writer and as reader, can be really nice at times. But also, it could be nice to read texts where (like this text), the writer is out in public and includes what he hears and sees going on around him while also writing whatever ideas come into the writer’s head.

A dude asks the McCounter workers — he’s new to the area, he says — and he asks how to get Internet and/or cable. They name some utilities for him, fulfilling their community-information function.

What I write — I’m of this area, this county. I publish on my own blog rather than submitting my writing to edited websites. There’d be a sense in leaving my community, of having to go away to make it big, in submitting my work to others. I saw corn plants in a certain field on the drive to McDonald’s today — Ogle County is cornfields, and is not people and culture. I’ve developed as a writer while living in this rural area, without much influence from other writers, and that lack of influence is perhaps a result of, a mark of, having developed while out here in this open place. Sometimes this place can feel desolate, empty of smart people who share my interests, but this morning I wasn’t feeling that. I was feeling that there’s something meditation-promoting about this cornfield. I didn’t feel desolate. I felt that this corn — tassling out, the row curving — was as good as any. That I could stop and meditate there.

“Do we have cookies back, Sal?” asked McKaren. “I don’t think so,” said McSal. “I’m taking the last of the chocolate chip,” said McKaren, as a client stood at the counter. The client wore pajama pants printed with what looked like heart-shapes with sashes across them, with the sashes reading “LOVE” — upcloser (I used the ruse of getting napkins), I saw that there was a sword through the red shape and a flower and that some of the designs were mirror-imaged (or flipped?) so that “LOVE” was spelled “backwards-E,” “O,” “V,” “backwards-L.”

There’s a sense that people who write about rural areas have to do so in the forms approved y city-dwelling editors — intellectuals, in other words (although right-wing propaganda, less so, I’d think).

Having my own website is less glamorous than publishing with the imprimatur of an imprint, but publishing on my own website is wonderfully direct.  These are the words coming directly from this author, without intercession.

At the Diner, noon:05, after having picked up my wife after her real estate closing and taken her to lunch — I could post this day’s writing. I don’t need to write on a topic, so I could put up whatever. But I also don’t need to blurt.

But if the point of publishing isn’t to tell a message but just to share my mind, share a text that comes from my experience, to share a bit of my mind — a mystical aspect of a text.

“I don’t think Lucinda cares for him too good,” said a 60-year-old-ish woman to another woman eating across from her in the booth behind my wife.

Back at home, 10:45 p.m. — I typed in some, not all, of today’s journal. I was tempted to cut down what I entered — I had the idea to take just one paragraph’s worth of idea out of any one day’s journal. But then I thought, I’m not sure I should cut down. Give it a try, type in a long piece. There’s no need to include everything from the journal entry, yet I wonder if I’m judging by traditional, too-narrow standards if I cut down my texts. Leave it long, don’t talk yourself out of doing it before you try it.

Of course, what I like is to write. I write for the engaged writing experience — publishing comes second as a priority. But maybe what I want is to have a text that reveals a nimble mind — maybe that’s my organizing guideline. I could even have a long version and a short version (an Abstract, or a “TL;DR” section).

‘Weird things are already happening’: Byronfest 2016

This is the latest post on my town’s annual festival. See posts for Byronfest 2014 and Byronfest 2015.

Carnies at repose.

Carnies at repose.

Before Byronfest 2016 had even begun, my friend Nina said a Greek food booth’s proprietor had brought a tin can of olive oil from Greece as a gift for one of the festival’s organizers. Nina said, “It’s 11:30, and weird things are already happening.” 8 July.

Festival goers.

Festival-goers.

Surveying the food-booth line-up, my wife said, “everything about this says gastric distress to me.” 8 July.

Crusty weiner.

“Is that someone’s crusty weiner?” I asked as I sat down next to my wife and our friends.

Nina said she normally doesn’t respond to a certain angry friend, but she had responded the night before. “I got mean back — it was the WHISKEY! [she whisper-shouted, and then paused] and maybe the Rumple Minze, too.” She’d puked Saturday morning. “And THEN you ate crab cakes?” from a festival food booth, I asked. She said, “I felt like a DREAM after I threw up.” Also, her dad had tasted the crab cakes and he’s fine, she added, quoting him: “‘Well, it’s not the worst one I ever had.'”

Someone with the band Amperage asked the few fans sitting in the noontime sunlight Saturday, “has anybody every heard of a band called AC/DC?” which question was not answered, so the band guy said,“we’re gonna play it anyway, even though they suck, apparently,” and he laughed. 9 July.

Drew Baldridge

Performer Drew Baldridge and his crew as they launched into a medley of songs celebrating lady-butts: “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “Baby Got Back.”

Drew Baldridge said these things from stage during his set: “This is so much FUN, y’all!” and “I have a brand-new album, y’all — SO exciting!” A few minutes later, his band played a bit of “All About That Bass.” Later, when Drew sang “Friends in Low Places,” I realized that I remember hearing that song at high school dances back before Drewwas even born. I felt old.

Is anybody in the crowd from Byron, asked a singer with the band “Whoa Nellie” at about 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, “can you walk home from here? Then head over to that beer tent, please,” he said. 9 July.

crowd

Edge of the crowd of fans at Saturday night’s Drew Baldridge concert. I had fun saying his name as my neighborhood’s kids would have said it: Dwoo Bawdwidge.

Nina said of the crowd hearing Dwoo Bawdwidge, “this is good people-watching. Lotta crop tops.”

One of the people working the festival to earn community service hours said, of the beverages on the reefer truck, “the beer I’d give away. The Pepsi I’d guard with my life.” 9 July.

A can of America with Mexican food.

A can of America with Mexican food.

Saturday afternoon, I heard over the walkie-talkies used by festival organizers that there was a child who’d lost his mom. The mom’s name was Anna, and the child’s name was Gabriel, we heard. “Does Gabriel know his last name?” asked one organizer. Gabriel did, and we were told his full name, and a few minutes later, we were told that there was a mother and child reunion. “Yay!” walkie-talkie’d someone at headquarters. 9 July.

Linden tree

Linden tree at the edge of festival grounds Friday night. The building on the lower right is city hall.

“You sound familiar,” I said after first hearing my wife’s voice as the voice of headquarters over the walkie-talkies. “I’d better,” my wife said. Saturday 9 July.

Later, when I went to headquarters, someone there said I take notes on everything. No, “just when people say stuff,” I said. Then my friend Becca said I should write that down.

Goldfish in stroller

Goldfish wedged in stroller

“Stop giving my kids goldfish!” one festival-goer said she told, or felt like telling, one of the carnival booth workers. 9 July.

“Could I have an officer [go] across the street from McDonald’s to talk to a lady about a situation?” asked someone on the walkie-talkie. My wife said she heard people in headquarters debating what “situation” could mean. A naked 70-year-old might qualify as a situation, someone said. 9 July.

Feats of strength.

Feats of strength.

When my friend Becca, whose husband is a sheriff’s deputy, was offered an alcohol beverage, she declined by saying, “I don’t want my own husband pulling me over. It’s such an awkward thing.” Saturday night.

Chamber of Commerce beer tent.

At the Chamber of Commerce beer tent Saturday night. Earlier, I’d heard one festival official tell beer tent volunteer servers, “You’ll probably have your friends come up and try to get a beer for two tickets or three tickets — tell ’em that they’re cheap-asses.”

“I don’t criticize the help, unless it’s you,” said one festival committee member to another, who’d just teased the volunteers. 9 July.

“We’re going to Disneyland in four days. We’re NOT going to Byronfest,” said Caitlyn Two Waitress about her son wanting to ride on carnival rides. 10 July.

A neighbor's feet with goldfish in a box.

A neighbor’s feet with goldfish in a box.

A singer with the band Soap Stone explained his band’s name this way: “‘Soap’ like you lather with, and ‘stone’ like you might chuck at people.” 10 July.

After learning how much beer was consumed by the servers themselves at the Lions Club beer tent, the beer distributor’s representative said, “How were you volunteering?” 10 July.

‘Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound’: Notes from a week in the South

The full name of this store is "Crabs - We Got 'Em"

The full name of this restaurant at the public parking lot at Pensacola Beach is “Crabs – We Got ‘Em.” 19 June 2016.

“Have fun on your stupid trip,” said Caitlyn One Waitress at our diner as we ate breakfast before leaving for a 14-hour drive to Pensacola, Florida. Of course, Caitlyn One also told us, “I could barely go to Wisconsin Dells,” a two-hour drive away. 18 June.

"Pensacola Bch"? Pensacola Bitch?

Pensacola Bitch?

Crossing the Ohio River from Illinois into Kentucky, my wife said, “Now it’s really vacation. We’re not in Illinois anymore … though I’m not really sure now much ‘Kentucky’ says ‘vacation.'” 18 June.

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men's room near the Drowsy Poet

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men’s room near the Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. The Quietwater Beach is on the left, the south-facing, gulf-facing beach is out of sight beyond the center of the photo.

“Alabama is definitely the Nebraska of the south: a long frustrating state … between me and where I want to be,” my wife said as we drove south on I-65. Alabama is “prettier,” she said, but “just as unrelenting in its nothingness” of roadsides showing but wall-to-wall forests. 19 June.

Truck-nuts of a state highway logo.

Alabama exit sign.

“Truck nuts of a state road sign,” my wife said of the Alabama logo, where the gulf coast part of the state does seem to dangle a bit. 19 June.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

As M. drove on I-65, she said of other drivers as she was speeding up, “Alright, fukkers, you’re between me and my beach.” 19 June.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

At lunch in the Boardwalk Cafe at the Quietwater Beach at Pensacola Beach: A mom-ish woman said to a teen-ish girl, who’d been talking about parasailing: “You know what you’re gonna do? You’re gonna end up talkin’ yourself out of it … and it’ll all work, and if you did drop your sunglasses, you can say, ‘remember when I went parasailing and watched ’em go smash?’ It’ll be a better memory.” And then the young woman said, “Are you guys gonna be out on the boat with us?” And the older woman answered, “No, we’re goin’ shoppin.” 20 June.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

“Think of Jeezus as you’re doin’ me from behind,” I heard someone say as we both spied a woman with a crucifix tramp stamp. 20 June.

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

“No shirt, no shoes, no problem, but please, no Speedos,” said a guy on a dolphin cruise boat — the “CHASE-N-FINS” — over his loudspeaker. 20 June.

Two days later, I heard a roll-call coming from that same boat. A young adult was calling out these names, to which elementary students answered “… Analise, Oliver, Micah, Isabelle, Hunter, Kaden, Isaac, Riley … Scarlett…” 22 June.

No booze, except at the beach.

No booze, except at the beach.

“Atticus was the daddy I always wanted,” said a woman at the hotel pool who saw me reading To Kill a Mockingbird. 21 June.

Alligator heads at Alvin's Island store.

Alligator head end cap display at Alvin’s Island store.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

“Wur ’bout to do this thang,” said a white guy, seemingly in all seriousness of accent, outside of a watercraft rental place at Pensacola Beach. 20 June.

A beach corrugation with white sand.

A beach corrugation with white sand and sand dollar.

“Life and death. There it is, right off the end of the marina,” I said of big fish chasing little ones. 20 June.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

“seh-CURE-ih-tee!” mock-shouted a 50-60-year-old dark-haired woman at the hotel pool as she tried to adjust her chaise lounge. She finally said, “I got it!” Another of the women in her party said, “I doubt it.” “Security!” was about the only spoken word of hers that I could make out through her southern accent. 21 June.

“He’s swimmin’ nay-ow!” said the dark-haired older woman to a gray-haired women, who had been teaching water-motility skills to a young boy. “And that’s how you can float on your back,” she’d said to the boy earlier. 21 June.

Please don't crap in the Hampton hotel's pool.

Please don’t crap in the Hampton hotel’s pool.

 

At the beach at evening, a woman said to a toddler, “Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound,” with that last word having two syllables. 20 June.

The view on walking into Flounder's boutique.

The view on walking into Flounder’s boutique.

“I’m almost sick of the ocean — there’s too much of it,” said my wife as she was a little overwhelmed on the morning of our second day at the beach. She was less overwhelmed after a nap. 21 June.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

“Now he’s walking slow as molasses … he hasn’t gone all day,” said a woman to another woman, perhaps about the 3-4-year-old boy as they and my wife and I all rode the hotel elevator one floor. 21 June.

At the Cactus Flower restaurant on the boardwalk, a 40-ish-year-old woman whose button-down shirt stopped well short of her white-patterned bikini bottoms came in with her family. A posted sign said that shirt and shoes were required, but the sign hadn’t claimed the necessity of pants. 21 June.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo's at Pensacola Beach.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo’s at Pensacola Beach. 22 June.

Be “ready to catch the meatball,” said the sax player at Lillo’s Tuscan Grill as he picked up his horn and aimed it toward my wife and me. His guitarist had already started playing a jazz version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Later, near the end of the song, the sax player added, “meatball’s comin’.” 21 June.

We went to Lillo’s the next night, too, and we heard him joke of the place, “you can tell it’s a classy place when they have lefthanded forks,” said Joe, the sax guy, 22 June.

“Don’t try to jump on that, dude. It’s pretty unpredictable,” said an adult guy in the pool. He had a full (but not long) beard, sunglasses, and a rust-orange baseball cap with an outline of the state of Texas on it. He said this to a young boy who was trying to jump on a floating object from the edge of the pool. After warning the boy a second time, the man said, “I did that one time; it didn’t feel good.” 22 June.

A little later, that boy, or his brother, was told by their mother, “five minutes time out. If he wants to act dumb at the pool, I’m gonna act dumb with him, too.” 22 June.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A waitress asked if she could get the plates “out of yer-all’s way?” 21 June.

“Would you stop talking like that? You’re gonna do it in public and then we’re gonna have to get killed,” my wife said of my repeating certain southern-accented phrases, such as when I heard a man at a breakfast place order “a sahd of” hash browns or something. 22 June.

A young girl declared that she was about to do a “butt-sit” on the bottom of the pool. 23 June.

From the balconies above the hotel pool, I heard a Southern- accented teenage female voice shout: “Let me see ’em — Ah get to pick!” A short time later, I heard the same voice shout, “You take one mo-er and this goes off the balcony!” 23 June.

My journal in front of a palm tree

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal in front of a palm tree at Pensacola Beach.

I asked a serious-seeming woman about the fairy tales books on her table at the Pensacola Beach Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. She said she was doing academic research about fairy tales and Shakespeare, and we talked about teaching writing. It was a fun conversation. Later that day, I searched her name, “Tana” (short for “Montana,” she said), and “Shakespeare,” and I found this website that seems to be hers, and it lists a number of her publications, several of which I was glad to read. It was neat to find out someone I had just met was so accomplished, but had I known that before meeting her, I might have acted like an awed fan, and then I might not have had as good a conversation. This was something I thought about again when I went to the Harper Lee hometown and thought of Lee not as a regular person but as an idea, quasi-magical Writer Harper Lee.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse. 25 June.

After a tense couple minutes during which several lifeguards had searched for a missing boy at the Quietwater Boardwalk, the boy was found and he was safe, and as the lifeguards were leaving the boardwalk, a bystander teasingly asked if there were any sharks out there. “We checked all the waters: you’re set, man,” responded one lifeguard. 24 June.

The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right.

Swimming with wild dolphins off the Panama City Beach coast. The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by our boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right. 23 June.

A dolphin.

A dolphin in clear blue water. As this was the best view I could get from above the water, I decided to push off the front of the pontoon boat with the others and see through the goggles. We saw dolphins several times, including babies with big ones, and my wife got within arm’s length of one big dolphin that glided slowly below her. I also heard some of the dolphin’s squeaks when my head was below water line.

View of Shell Island near Panama City Beach from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins.

View of Shell Island near from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins. Floating facedown and parallel to the waves, I felt lifted and dropped, like I was in a car getting a little airborne over a hill.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Lewisburg, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Cornersville, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers. 25 June.