Lit like a lightning bug

I’ve tried several times to get photos of lightning bugs doing their thing, but their small size, swift mobility, twilight environment and unpredictable illuminations have always made this a challenge. Last night, I got some of the best I’ve taken, in my backyard in Northern Illinois, between 8:45 and 9 p.m. I had my camera’s ISO speed up to 3200, aperture set one full stop below camera’s recommendation, and I just kept focus on a particular spot and waited to see what crawled and flew into frame.

I like the contrast of the luminescence in top left against the yellow of the plant flower in lower right.

I like the beetle on the left just starting to fly, and the smear of the one on the right already flying.

I count 5 lit up.

I like the green butt-glow of the lightning bug against the foliage, and I like the spider web (I think) and clover in upper right corner.

I like the composition here, and the distant light-dot at top-right.

Lawyer-vanity plates

My attorney wife has brought me to the summer meeting of the Illinois State Bar Association for several years now, and every year I’ve noticed several special license plates. Here are some from this year:


Additional photo, not from ISBA meeting but from a different lawyerly event:

Rockford, Ill. 29 June 2017.

Water-splash and deep-fryer fat: Freewriting at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, lakefront

My right knee at the lakeshore. Photo shows lakewall and view east. 16 June 2017

Sky boat headed to the lake north of where I was sitting at the picnic table. Brick apartments/condos are to left side of photo. 16 June 2017.

Friday, 16 June 2017, 1:43 p.m., Lakeside at Geneva Lake — it’s about 15 feet in front of me, east of me. To my right is a little tented sales counter for Jerry’s Majestic Marine (whose sign has these bulleted points: boat sales, boat storage/service, pontoon boat rentals, waverunner rentals, parasail rides), and slightly to my right are boats at Pier 4 (near where my wife, M, and I were sitting an hour or so ago, before she went to her meeting at the Abbey a couple blocks west). I took pics of Lake Geneva/Geneva Lake — a dead fish with algae — for my blog post “Famous things close up” (approximate title, from 2015) — and there are two women in bikinis at the back end of a boat off Pier 4. And before coming to this spot, I went to my park spot a bit north of here, where I sat and wrote a few years ago — jeez, several years ago by now — but the benches weren’t in shade. This was the little park across from public (I think) boat launch, and next to the 5-story brick apartments/condos. I was reading while sitting here for 20 mins or so, reading about politics-as-identity making compromise hard, and Trump tweets, and etc. But it’s too damn nice here. I heard something like splashing over the concrete lake-wall. Writing left-handed is slowing me down (as it usually does) in a way that seems fitting to this lovely day: sunny, a few puffy in-the-distance clouds, a light breeze from behind me. If I lived within walking distance of a big lake, I wonder how often I’d come down and sit. Once in a while I get a smell of deep-fryer fat from the restaurants across the street behind me (Gordy’s Boathouse  and, south, Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn).

There passes, from my left to my right, a big sightseeing boat, perhaps the boat that delivers mail to piers, as I saw years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, I think it was. This boat passed right at about 2 p.m. I think I saw it about an hour ago, too, when M and I were here together. Yeah, I’m not hearing the Big Ben bell sounds, and we heard those at 1 p.m. And it really is nice — the water splash sometimes sounds like Gulf waves (We were in Florida just under a year ago. I talked to that UK couple about Brexit vote, I think.) It felt silly to read while outside here but writing feels OK. When we heard bells last time, M told me that there were mindfulness bells at the conclave (the annual religious gathering she went to when young) every half hour: when bells sounded, everyone was supposed to take a moment of quiet for mindfulness.

There are some young (late teen? early 20s?) women in a Jeep behind me, and there have been others. I look but then I remind myself that it’s not cool.

I never quite got into the writing mood this morning.

By the way, I’m at a picnic table that’s covered with a vinyl-canvas cover. The next picnic table has bench covers, too, with snaps.

“The pineapple never made it,” said one girl in a group walking past. “We had TWO pineapples,” said another. Someone in a second group of girls walking past said, “we had a joke that her hashtag was ‘Kate’s vagina.’”

These young women now could be — I’m old enough for them to be — my own children. I have a book bag. I’m a dad-nerd writing out here at a marina, near a beach, on a lovely day — though not quite as uncool as that 60-ish dude in black suit and carrying leather briefcase.

It’s easy, while sitting here, to let go of my fretting about publishing — which fretting is kinda dumb, anyway.

Gordy’s has a Boat Sales storefront, and a Proshop, and the Boat House, and Cobalt Lounge and Surf Shack — Gordy’s has quite the presence. Each Gordy’s business has a navy-blue with white-lettering awning.

I had a thought this morning while sitting in our car, just outside of our garage, that I’m alive and I can observe, and if I died then, no more observations would be made, and that my writing could reflect my being alive — my writing can be new every day (something like that, which now feels banal).

Down the street, a woman in a black bikini strides into one of Gordy’s businesses.

“Travis, why? … You were swimming and I thought you were a girl,” said one dude to another dude who seems to have his hair braided in 2 lines down the back of his head. A yellow dog shakes off water and then gets leashed.

Sunbathers out on Pier 4 boat seem gone. Here’s a white-haired man carrying a bag of ice by its drawstring. He’s very tan in the chest.

I’d like to talk about being here. I wanna talk about the brick apartment building — it’s not all that special-looking but it seems special just because I remember it from previous visits, because I associate it with this particular place, which is a particular place.

I hear a squeaky cranking sound–a dude at Pier 4 cranks down a jet ski platform.

Last thing before I walk back to meet M: It’s 2:47. I hear the dull roar of boats out a ways, the wind in my ears, slap of water. And I keep thinking that what I write about this place is still writing about this place — it’s not the same as being here and not-thinking, not analyzing at all.

And I want to tie this up by saying something about how I’m experiencing things. I experience things and I can write about them and this may not seem profound to write but it feels profound. I can experience new things each day I’m alive. I can have new ideas each day — each moment of crystallized consciousness — that I’m alive.

And yet, this too is just an idea, and the brick building and the lakeshore and the biting fly and trespassing spider. And even I, at this place on this day, don’t need ideas!

And so I leave off — not having written something that satisfies. But that’s OK, too, of course.

Perhaps God is a cat: Notes from my May brain

Leaf in rain run-off, gas station parking lot, Stillman Valley, Ill. 10 May.

φ

When you tell a joke, you make an argument to the audience, which has to agree to see the context/set-up from the your perspective. And when you tell a joke, you mean it, at least in that moment. You reveal that you’ve taken a position — say, if you tease someone for being short, you are revealing that you have an idea of what height people should be. You reveal your expectations, your criteria for judging others. 30 April.

φ

Ideas about the past — like those in a documentary I saw about London in the 1300s — are still just ideas. 2 May.

φ

Grass. 7 May 2017

φ

“I love it when people get embarrassed — unless it’s me,” said a senior student of mine, practically defining what it means to be embarrassed. 4 May.

φ

Dandelion. 3 May 2017.

φ

Looking at papers containing student arguments, I read a student’s statement that said our class definition of “real” is true. But then I thought that definitions aren’t true or false — they’re just definitions. 4 May.

φ

My wife uses our dog to model a necklace. 26 May.

Our dog, Sammy, models a second necklace. 26 May.

φ

It’s kinda weird that English professors just write about interpreting other texts. I know I’ve read some interesting interpretations, and yet, it seems odd that so much writing in our culture is not about real things or events but about other texts or artworks. Watching the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? recently, I’d noticed something I’d not noticed over several previous viewings (specifically, that at least four times, a character mentions that people are looking for “answers”). It strikes me as interesting, this repetition of this idea, but I don’t really know that observing this pattern is all that important — it doesn’t  fundamentally change my interpretation of the movie. It starts to feel like a game that the filmmakers are playing, if they did this intentionally, but to what end? I wonder what’s satisfying for me in playing this art-interpretation game. 10 and 12 May.

φ

Demolition of buildings at southeast corner of Rt. 38 and 1st Street, DeKalb, Ill. 23 May 2017.

φ

I’m 43. I could live another 43 years — or I could have a heart attack tomorrow. I feel both old and not-old (or I feel these alternately). Driving down my town’s 2nd Street today, I saw two young men crossing an empty lot and I thought about the generations coming up, how they too will grow old with us. And then I saw a very old man out front of a house, and I thought, that could be me one day — but it’s not me yet. 11 May.

φ

We ask questions of other people when we want some information from them. But a mind may also ask something about the physical world — “Why does this natural feature (like a cave, say) exist?” But the physical world doesn’t answer our inquiry. We humans have to figure it out ourselves. Our question is an abstraction that is satisfied only by another abstraction, the answer. 12 May

φ

View north toward intersection of Main and Walnut streets, Stillman Valley, Ill. 10 May 2017.

φ

Perhaps God is inscrutable because God is a cat (at least it’s a funny conceit: “And the Lord sayeth unto Jacob: ‘Rairr.'”). Perhaps God has a feline sensibility instead of a human one; if God’s as indifferent as cats are, that might explain the problem of evil. 16 May.

φ

As I was walking my dog this evening, I was shifting my mindset from focusing only on my life (my stresses, etc.) to remembering the dog also lives in the world — and he lives differently from how I live. He lives in a different mind. 19 May.

φ

Dirty wind obscures stop sign, NW of Rochelle, Ill. 17 May.

φ

ALL ideas are “according to” some person — all ideas, all facts, all stories come from a person (rather than existing spontaneously in nature, say). 23 May.

φ

I was too tired last night to read, which means thinking of elsewhere. I could only be here, and tired. 24 May.

φ

Waiting to graduate: My students Dylan P., Kayway P., Josh N., Taylor N., and Aly N. 27 May.

My creative writing students Alex M., Kenzie L., Owen M., and Ashley M. 27 May.

Several characters I’ve had as students this year. From left: Katelyn R., Zach P., Katelyn P., Matt P., Alexia P., Christian P., Kenzie P. 27 May.

φ

As students lined up for their high school graduation ceremony, one senior said to teacher as she walked past, “Thanks for pushing me through!” The teacher answered, “Thanks for passing!” 27 May.

φ

Two of my creative writing students, Luis M. and David E., with yours truly, after the graduation. 17 May.

Devyn D., Ali V., and me after the graduation ceremony. I’m not always good at using my face to convey normal human expressions. 27 May.

φ

The only way we know to root for the Rebels against the Empire in Star Wars is that the Empire uses worse methods — their means (such as Vader choking a subordinate) are excessively violent, and therefore illegitimate. Both sides have the same ends of wanting power, wanting to be in control — the main reason why we root for one over the other is the morality of the means. 28 May.

φ

Visiting a cemetery on 29 May, it came to my mind to say that I like cemeteries because “nobody’s trying too hard.” There’s a calming lack of ambition among the graveyard denizens.

φ

Maple in a cemetery, Byron, Ill. 13 May.

‘The most thing I want’: April’s notes from my pocket pages

Searing visage of the minivan in which I drove students to state WYSE meet. 10 April

“They’re adult-ier than me,” said a 23-24-year-old woman who was soon to be interviewed for a teaching job by three school administrators. 1 April.

Perhaps I understand other people by creating models of their minds — and those people I don’t understand are those whose minds I have trouble modeling. I can’t even imagine. 3 April.

A book-length text isn’t a natural or automatic form of expression for anybody — in other words, nobody accidentally writes a book — so it must be a formal construct, an intentional creation, and I don’t want that level of formality. I’m looking for text-forms that come more naturally. 5 April

Most humans are women. So maybe we shouldn’t think of men as the default — or typical — person. 5 April

I don’t need to be a critic at all! For a long time, I have had the idea that what intelligent adults do is critique things. Perhaps I learned this from my older family members who had strong opinions, and maybe I had this reinforced during my liberal arts education, the point of which seemed to be training me to interpret and analyze and evaluate. But nobody’s asking me (in most of my life) to do these things. So I don’t need to. I don’t even have to care enough to critique things — I can let go of the sense I often have that I should always have thought-out opinions on contemporary society, on politics, or on educational policy. Instead, I can let go of my criticisms and just do those creative things I love doing. 5 April

Dandelion-pollen racing stripe on my dog’s forehead. 22 April

Part of my critiquing and complaining is a feeling that I could be or would be or should want to be in charge, in control. But I can finally admit to myself that I am not now, and probably never will be, and don’t really want to be, in control of any institution or group. This being the case, I can free up a lot of thinking-time by just not fretting about the functioning of these big things I’m not in charge of. I can save my energy and do what I really enjoy. What it comes down to is that I don’t want to be a cultural (or other kind of) critic, as once I thought I did. Instead of analyzing and evaluating, I want to have new ideas — that’s what is primary for me. 6 April.

Who I am, who I want to be — these are becoming the same, and that feels good. 6 April

My cat in my lap. 8 April

Why are my dreams usually narratives? They’re not abstract; they seem to be first-person narrative — though even it’s in the first-person, I often feel the dream is being told or shown to me. I’m not in charge. 7 April.

I’m starting to see why someone facing death would say they’ve lived a good life and not be super-desperate to keep living. 7 April.

Slime from where I’d dumped into my garden some nightcrawlers collected from the street after a rain. 27 March

“Nerds have the funnest fun,” said my student while on our WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) state competition trip. 10 April

I’m interested in whatever I have to teach me. I’m referring here to how I seem to learn, to receive new ideas, insights, from my own mind, my subconscious, whatever, when I freewrite in my journals. 11 April

Me, Mr. Hagemann, in front of the “H” (for Hagemann, I tell my students) built near what had been my senior-year apartment building at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 10 April

It’s probably better — humbler, and more promoting of social calm — if I think of myself more as the annoying person (who should keep quiet) rather than thinking of myself as the fascinating person (who should keep sharing every insight with people) in any group of people. 11 April

“A rectangle is basically an oval,” said a senior student, to much peer criticism. 11 April.

My WYSE students at U of I: Lexy, Alec, Abe, Nick, and Matthew. 10 April.

A fiction idea: A protagonist learns that the nemesis has died, partway through the novel. 11 April

You don’t get to choose who likes you or your writings. You won’t necessarily impress a particular person, and you can’t necessarily make your enemies jealous. 13 April

Be careful what you decide is normal, I told my sophomore students after they’d expressed some harsh social views. What’s normal in our small town isn’t what’s normal in Chicago. 13 April.

Giraffes behind a barn door at “Ag Day.”

I often hear high school seniors bluntly announce their opinions about certain classes and teachers. Maybe this quasi-rudeness is useful in helping other students to figure out what’s popular. If students were quiet and less judgmental, they might not know how to fit in with each other. New York magazine has an article about people forming friend-groups by sharing certain views and excluding those who have different views. Perhaps if one has no views, one is in no views-group. 13 April

“Ah, the miracle of new life! Isn’t it easily made fussy?” I said to my wife of a tiny baby at a nearby table in our local diner. 16 April

Coulters in the coffee grounds, at “Ag Day,” 21 April.

When I do my own writing and thinking, my ideas expand, branch outward, into new ideas — but there’s no way to grade that type of thinking within a school situation. In class, we limit, or condense, thinking to what’s testable — in other words, what’s already known. Schools can’t handle new ideas. 18 April

My father-in-law begins a story this way: “This girl at work — OK, not work, but at church, and she’s not really a girl — she’s 82 years old …” 25 April

A calf-side map of an imaginary white island. On Jasmine Calf at my school’s “Ag Day,” 21 April.

“That’s the most thing I want for my birthday,” said an elementary-aged girl to an older girl about a journal at Target store on Rockford’s East State Street, 29 April

My dog seems to be dreaming when he’s sleeping and his legs start twitching. Does he know that he’s dreaming, like I do once I’ve woken up? The dog doesn’t have the dream-like experiences of watching movies and TV that I’ve had. 30 April

A statuesque farmwife at my high school’s “Ag Day.” I imagined that she still sometimes wonders what her life would have been had she finished that M.F.A. program. But then there are eggs to gather and geese to feed.

My student Ali gets published!

My creative writing student Ali Van Vickle recently took initiative and submitted a short story to TeenInk.com, which published her story! Here’s the start:

I was born in New Orleans into a wealthy family who gave me everything I needed. I’m your typical 13 year old. I love to ride my bike with my friends. As long as I can remember I’ve been happy. I remember my first day of kindergarten was terrifying because I didn’t want to leave my momma. I remember meeting all of my friends and all of the people who weren’t my friends. There was this girl named Sara. She has tortured my friends and I everyday from kindergarten to seventh grade. One day my friends and I were riding our bikes down by the bayou even though our mommas always told us not to. Sara and her friends came and told us that this was their bike path, and if they ever caught us there again they’d throw us into the bayou to the gators. I never road my bike so fast away from something before. I’d never been so scared either.

See more of the story here. She also dedicated the story to me:

My biggest inspiration is my Creative Writing teacher Mr. Hagemann. He has always been encouraging, supporting, and helpful with any of my questions. And he always gives me his honest opinion on my work.

Thanks, Ali! Keep writing!

Trees never get lost in the woods: March notes from pocket pages

♦ Nothing in the physical world remembers! There is no material or physical past. Things are; there’s no were, no record of how things used to be. 28 Feb. & 3 March

Willow buds appear on 2 March after a couple weeks of warm weather. After a month of cool weather, the buds are still about the same.

♦ The most useful thing to keep in mind is that there’s nothing you have to keep in mind. 6 March.

♦ To will something, to mean a message, to assert a claim — these acts are abstract? Or merely private? Or are these the same thing? 6 March

It’s not every Regional Office of Education that has its own “Soiled Linen” chute as our local ROE, located in a former nunnery, does. 3 March

♦ There’s no off-switch on a person or a dog or cat (or any living thing) — we’re alive until we’re dead. Our consciousnesses are continuous, until they aren’t. 6 March

♦ I (and maybe most people) seem to play various personas or roles in various social situations. I play the responsible employee, the considerate neighbor, the respectful customer, etc. Maybe it’s only with my best friends that I can let go of playing anyone beside myself — and maybe that’s one way to define intimacy. 8 March

♦ We learn to be the right level of weird? I don’t endorse “normal” kids picking on the “weird” kids — but as a weird person myself, I feel I’ve learned, through positive (such as making others laugh) and negative (such as being ignored, being labeled “weird”) responses how to be socially appropriate. 8 March

♦ I should not value myself by the ideas I’ve already saved (by writing them down), no matter how clever. I remind myself that my ideas aren’t me. 9 March.

♦ “I love when people print stuff out — it’s just so warm,” said my printer-adjacent student. 9 March

Electricity infrastructure, downtown Byron. 30 March

♦ Each person has to learn wisdom anew. Each young person’s mind is new to the world and has to make sense of things. But with this need to learn comes an opportunity: each person might come up with new wisdom! 15 March

♦ “I really wanna see a ghost. I just don’t know where to look,” said student. 15 March.

♦ A tree becomes a what it is — its particular size and shape — in a particular context, at least partly in reaction to other trees and things around it. Of course, this could be a metaphor for how each particular person develops, too. 15 March

♦ I might get lost in a woods — “these trees all look alike,” etc. — but a tree never gets lost, and not just because it’s rooted to a place. Each tree doesn’t need to know where it is in relation to others. (This might almost be a contradiction to the previous note, but not quite.) 15 March

♦ Why did I listen to myself — have confidence in my own judgments and gut instincts — for most of my growing up? An independent streak? 16 March

♦ “I have conversations with myself all the time,” said student. “You might be having one now,” said teacher. 17 March

♦ Perhaps one could learn all about songwriting from extensive study of just one song, or learn all about writing poetry from one poem, by seeing what can be varied. 18 March

West side of city building (left) and grocery store (right), Byron, Illinois. 28 March

♦ I’m thinking lately that I’m glad I’m not a performer, like a musician, but a creative artist, who can be new, not repeating myself on stage every night. 19 March

♦ “At least he was an alcoholic who had a lot of sex,” said student of writer Ernest Hemingway. 20 March

♦ “Maybe I’ll revive her,” said student, of a character who had died in her story. 21 March

♦ Part of my maturing, of figuring out who I am, has been learning that I’m not like most of the people I have compared myself to. I don’t need to judge myself as inadequate; I’m simply different, and no comparison is needed. 21 March

♦ “I’m so confuzzled,” said student, going on to explain that she was both “confused” and “puzzled.” 23 March

♦ A word versus its absence — there’s a question attendant to each word, an asterisk on each word, perhaps, that calls each word into doubt. Why did the author use that word, and not some other? Each word is not necessary but arbitrary. 24 March

Here’s a bluntly titled book published in 1919.

The contents of “How to Do Things,” including 5 pages on “Babies and Children.”

♦ Two of my college roommates and I recently met up at a funeral — in our early 40s, we each now have our own responsibilities — our own niches of jobs, houses, families, etc. Though we didn’t have these same things when we were back in college, we did still have particular places we needed to be, plans to carry out. Our niches were never physical locations, really, so much as concepts? 27 March

♦ There’s more to being alive than words and ideas. I don’t want to be just a supplier of words to others. My life, my being alive, is more than whatever I write, of course. 27 & 29 March

♦ Nostalgia for ’80s pop songs — somehow it seems there was innocence then, which there was, among all the things that were going on. Perhaps we focus on the problems (in the world, as well as in our own own present lives) and we don’t pay attention to the innocence and goodness that’s also always there — that must be there, in order for nostalgia to be able to find it. 28 March

Buzzards on the Byron water tower. 28 March