Old news photos by Weegee

When looking at historical documents, I find that certain things (such as diaries and city council minutes, things that reflect the thinking and acting of particular people) help distant times seem nearer, more similar, to my own times, while looking at old photographs, showing old fashions and technologies keeps distant times distant for me. However, when I looked last week at examples from this recent discovery of dozens of news photos from Weegee, taken in NYC in 1937, I was remind that there have always been accidents and mistakes and damage, that “the good old days” are good only by subtracting the bad days from the historical sum, and this awareness makes past years seem much more present.

Photo: © Weegee/International Center of Photography

‘Chickens waste heroic dreams’: Creating and revising poems in class

After my students made poems using the Poetry Bingo technique, I modeled a poetry-revision method. I led a class discussion-and-creation session in which we took four 10-word poems and brainstormed several new two-word phrases from those. We grouped some of these phrases into sentences, calling that a new poem. Then I read that poem aloud to the class and I asked particular students which words or lines they liked least (based on their feelings about the sounds or images or anything else about the words). We’d swap those out with others of the brainstormed phrases, or sometimes we looked up words randomly by my opening a book to a random page, putting my finger on a page, and taking whatever word(s) my finger pointed to. We subbed in the new word(s) and read the poem again and tried new change-outs; we did this for 20-30 minutes over two days’ class periods. We started with words that were joined almost accidentally, without intending any particular meanings, and we ended up with texts that seemed to grow almost by themselves into original poems. We said things we never would have thought to say. Here’s what resulted:

 

Sorry water mourns

the judge’s darkest promise.

The gods’ governors trade censors

for groaning temptations.

Earth signs glass bones

with sleeping wings.

Its death agonized

over ancient emotions.

— CW1, 2nd hour, Spring 2019

 

Chickens waste

heroic dreams.

Flat mountains

remain conscious.

Inside a palate, thick breezes

darken corrupt influences.

A blinded witness

frees persimmons.

— CW1, 3rd hour, Spring 2019

 

White rains white on sheets

— perhaps.

Hands expect joy to watch.

Dominion Friday records a man

while silence becomes action.

— CW1, 10th hour, Spring 2019

Note: Poems created by this method may seem abstract and be structured more by juxtaposition than by narrative, of course. This seems to be the kind of poem I prefer, poems that are mental palate-cleansers, poems that startle my mind out of conventional thought, and this is the kind of poetry-sensibility by which I teach the writing of poems. I’m not saying this is the only kind of poetry that’s valuable, but I do want to wake my students from their preconceived notions of what poems can be.

Ag Day 2019

I took my creative writers out to our school’s agriculture day, held by our FFA students, to make similes and write haiku:

Like scratching Otis Calf’s neck.

Student mentions “Hell Cow” being bitten by The Dracula as I scratch Otis Calf’s back.

Like a toy combine harvesting cocktail toothpicks.

Straw slides like snow across pavement.

Like a fuzzy-headed kid watching smooth-feathered ducks.

Alfred Calf’s two white spots on red forehead were near his scooped-out horn spots.

Like chickens in parallel.

One lamb lies in corner of red-metal pen.

Like a duck in the hands.

She said the ducks were named Lucky and Charm. I suggested REAL names, like Steve and Ruth. Now we just have to remember those names.

Like sawdust on a pig’s back.

Duck’s feathers vibrate in breeze. One feather flies up on turkey’s back.

Like two weaned lambs missing their mothers.

Otis Calf lives with goats. He may not know he’s a cow. He’ll retire to a horse pasture one day, his owner said.

Like the facial hair on a pot-bellied pig.

Oranges, grapes, and strawberries mellow out the armful of pig, the holder told us.

Like the sculpture of a duck’s back.

The turkey’s back: Feathers iridesce. Inner eyelid flashes powder blue.  Blue horn deflates.

Like the rough tongue of Otis Calf.

Turkey says, “Block. Block. Block. Block” as it velociraptors toward a boy and his mother.

Like a turkey loose on campus.

‘Don’t be so self-conscious as to write about it!’: April notes from pocket pages

“Paid actor endorsements for products. Individuals in the spot are fictitious.” Photo’d from TV 20 April.

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What am I supposed to believe about/from a piece of fiction? [1 April 2019]

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Most businesses are, or potentially are, so ephemeral. Even big companies need to keep making sufficient money consistently to survive. It’s remarkable that banks are willing to lend to these ephemeral entities. But banks lend to people, too, and surely people are ephemeral. A business must be tended more-or-less every day, like pets, to stay alive. [4 April]

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In creating a text, writers are offering a reading experience to others. What would be the full range of reading experiences? [4 April]

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Cat on chest, dog in hand. 2 April.

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The moment of me looking at the textured black plastic of my open car door this morning, a glimpse that I had, a moment of being conscious and seeing some real object — and it’s not that I want so share this experience — or do I? Maybe I just want to record this conscious experience, this experience of an familiar object. [5 April.] Or: what is obvious here and now (at present) is merely an idea through writing. [6 April. ]

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That disconnect of seeing and reading about local buildings in a book yesterday, and then I could go see the buildings today — I had some of this feeling about Monroeville, too. There’s an excitement in (or created by?) the reading? The dissonance in “here IS what I read, imagined.” [5 April]

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Bored dog waiting for me to write outside the local library. 7 April.

6:25 p.m., at the same benches on the east side of my local library where dog and I were a couple-three (or four?) weeks ago. Here I am. I did moments ago remember a thought that came during this morning’s journals but which I don’t think I wrote: that reading, in its ability to pull attention (and thus, minds) away from the here-and-now is kinda magical — or at least it’s a kind of power that reading (or words, basically) has (have). Maybe this goes to the core of abstraction or thinking or imagining — that is, having a mind helps people learn from past experiences and prepare for future ones, and so thinking can be used to help us, but being too immersed in thinking (in mediated experiences) isn’t necessarily good. Thinking is a tool capable of being used or abused, or both. Well, it’s a lot milder than my last time sitting here while the dog wanted to keep going. And, well, I am at this spot again as I write. I’m at a place on teh earth that’s not my dining room table (where most of my journals get written, even if I don’t state that fact every day). I suppose readers would have to take my word that I’m here. I could describe the bird song and traffic noise and the leaves rattling as they slide on pock-marked concrete. [7 April]

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If there’s no overall theme (organizing idea) in a publication, then one’s attention is on the publication itself — a magazine or the Today show or my blog (who’s only organizing principle is me). [8 April]

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The library’s tree. 7 April

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Where my attention settles as I drive. I look from place to place, I notice various things — yet I still attend to driving. This process of what I notice seems somewhat opaque to me.  [8, 21 April]

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George R.R. Martin’s fans don’t care about him except for his writing of novels. I think I’d like to have readers who would care about me as a person, and not just as a supplier of story-product. [8, 21 April]

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Spiders write poems at local video store. 7 April

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A property — not land itself, but a piece of land as a property — is just an idea, and a deed is just an idea — but so too is history just an idea. These suit each other. History is made from ideas, not from land or other objects themselves. [9, 21 April]

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I wrote a while (years) ago that I’d want to get a Ph.D. in now — not in the idea of now, just in now. But this has got to be metaphorical — Ph.D.s aren’t given for being. There’s nothing, really, to report — or is there? There’s no need to report from awareness. And there’s freedom from ideas in the present moment. (Like the Emerson quote about out not needing to bring rags into the new hour — but quoting Emerson does precisely what he says not to do, of course). [9 April]

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I knew I was close to school but it was hard to know how close when fog blocks landmarks. 8 April

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Writings are at best a way to instruct myself (or others) at other times to be mindful — or IS there a way to read mindfully? [9 April]

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Perhaps it’s my decision to judge my own situation at a particular time as being as happy as a story? My cat’s partly on my lap, partly on the table. His head’s ahead of me. It can be that. I just eat my cashews and raisins and I pet cat’s head and choose to do nothing more. But don’t be so self-conscious as to write about it! The cat shares his consciousness (he yawns and snaps jaws shut, then does left-ear grooming) with me. And now he’s down. I was (and am again) reading on my phone a New Yorker piece about Nelson Algren — mere ideas. [10 April]

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My arguments today with a student about the merits of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d like to be seen not just as someone who has thought-out views or a strong point of view, but as someone who’s analytical method/approach can be followed. I don’t want to scare students off — I’d like (hope) they find something in my model worth following or trying themselves. Of course, I may never know if I’m a model for anyone else — I don’t know that I told my mentors that they were models to me. Maybe I did tell a couple of them — yet, what is it worth to tell them this? [10 April]

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Inches of April snow. 15 April

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What I write (even journals), others can probably read. If I can write it, others can read it. Even if I wrote in a code, it’d be decipherable. I mean, I’d really have to work hard to write in a way that wasn’t readable. (This in light of my mom’s point that diarists wouldn’t write if they didn’t want their words read.) [10 April]

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My wife said that the reason why romance stories often have love in extreme circumstances (between two unlikely lovers, say) is to convey a sense to readers of how their own love-story seemed unusual and unlikely — though of course it can’t be all that unusual, since people in real life fall in love quite often. [10 April]

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My wife said that when neighborhood kids gathered in our backyard one day last week, they all watched our dog turn away from them and poop. One kid said, “It’s really big!” about the dog’s butthole-dilation or the turd circumference or both. [11 April]

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Nonfiction is creative, I told my writing students, in that the writer chooses what to write and how to write it. [11 April]

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My work gets done just by me going to work everyday. I don’t gotta obsess over getting done. [11 April]

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Half my face and a wall of deed books at the county recorder’s office. 17 April

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Lot lines create properties AND places — a field or pasture isn’t a spot until there’s something to mark it. [11 April]

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This afternoon I wondered if I had anything more I wanted to write before the calendar day was over — like meeting a paperwork deadline. But I don’t usually think that way — dates on each note are more like “New Message” signs than time capsules (though maybe they’re both). [11 April]

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What’s the large number of times I’ve unbuttoned and unzipped my pants (to dress, to pee, etc.) — a few times a day for thousands of days! After calculating, I realize I’ve been alive almost 16,500 days! And if I unbutton 5 times a day, that’s over 82,000 unbuttonings. Of course, some of those days I wore shorts. [12 April]

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Reading Rochelle City Council minutes from 1874 for a research project I’m doing with some of my high school writing students, I thought about how detailed these are, how they don’t tell a great narrative but in their particularity of dollar amounts and votes and actions taken, they seem to make their time seem not all that distant — at least, as compared to how distant seem the 1870s settings described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House books. But then, she was writing about the 1870s decades later, and writing through her memory and nostalgia made those times seem distant. But the 1870s were modern for some people — and it was not really so different being then from being alive now. A person’s basic consciousness surely hasn’t changed that much. But there are several popular autobiographical fictions — including those of Nelle Harper Lee  and Jack Kerouac — that were written years or decades after the events described therein. I’m suggesting a distinction between writings done soon after the events occurred (like city council and other official records, but also journal-writings) and those stories written years later — that maybe there’s something about telling stories years later that makes them easier to tell, that the writer’s mind has a chance to shape the story just through remembering and retelling the events — and this years-later writing perhaps lays a sense of clarity of meaning over events that soon-after writing doesn’t have. However, these told-years-later stories take on a sense of the mythic, the better-than-real-life, while soon-after writing feels more authentic to how life is lived. I feel like it’s taken me years to stop trying to find that mythic-story sense in my daily-lived life. [16, 18, 21 April]

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I’m not special to my journals. I’m necessential (necessary and essential), for without me, there’d be no journals getting written. But there’s a difference in being special to one’s family and seeming special to one’s fans. My family needs me for financial and emotional support in a way that my fans (should they exist) never will. In their need, my family and friends appreciate me, but don’t see my mind as quasi-magical (an attitude I may have adopted towards certain artists I’ve admired). My consciousness, my experience, aren’t special to others — except that others can read about these. People who don’t write their experiences remain unspecial because they remain unknown. [17 April]

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As I grew up, I first became conscious, and then as I developed my consciousness (through experience, education, etc.), I became aware of others and of the world. I formed models of and opinions of others and of things in the world. In later years, my development seems to have been in becoming more conscious of my own consciousness, of my own ways of thinking. I think this is where I can still learn: questioning why and how I have the models and opinions that I have [17 April]

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Forsythia blooms, 19 April.

Links on tiny books, illuminated books, handmade books

1. A New York Times story about a collection of tiny books.

2. The Book of Kells, digitized and online.

3. 800 illuminated manuscripts online

4. Larkspur Press in Kentucky (letterpressed books)

5. American Academy of Bookbinding

Comics: The Fox and the Books

I thought I’d posted this comic when I wrote it a few years back, but I can’t seem to find it on here. Anyway, “Eat, Pray, Smurf” still makes me laugh. See this earlier comic.

‘Look at these things that are where they are’: January pocket pages

Snow drift as a moon rise. 20 Jan.

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Everything lasts just a moment — specifically, here, I mean the laughs after a joke, the cry after a drama scene, the blown-mind after hearing a new idea. These all last only briefly. After that moment, I might remember that an artwork is good without feeling that first-moment reaction. 6 Jan. 2019.

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“I’m bad at walking, buddy,” I told my dog, Sam, when I slipped on the hardwood floor near our blue couch and he, on the couch, looked up as startled. 6 Jan.

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Lights around a city-owned treetrunk. 2 Jan.

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If “I don’t care” means almost the same as “I don’t mind,” then “care” would be a synonym for “mind” — caring is akin to paying attention? (In the movie “Lady Bird,” a character says that paying attention is the same as loving something.) 7 Jan.

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As of this January 2019, I have outlived Thoreau,who died at age 44. Fitzgerald was 44, also. I learned this weekend that I’ve also outlived Kierkegaard, who died at 42. George Gershwin didn’t make it to 40. Of course these people are each more accomplished than I am, but, in a petty way, I feel good about having outlived them. I have a chance to keep thinking, keep learning, and perhaps to become more wise, more thoughtful than any of these dudes were. I also realized recently that Heidegger was only about 38 when he published Being and Time. I was intimidated by that work when I was an undergrad, but now that I’m older than he was when he wrote it, I feel I might have enough wisdom to understand it — or to dismiss it as not all that important!  9 Jan and late Jan.

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Sharply drifted snow. 20 Jan. 2019

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We don’t get to make many choices about our families. We don’t get to choose our parents or any other ancestors. We get to choose our romantic partner, and we choose to have kids (but we don’t get to choose the kids’ personalities or other qualities). And the choices we do make, we often make at a fairly young age, and then live with the consequences the rest of our lives. 9 Jan.

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An aspect of being in a location near-but-not-within a town — for example, being a couple miles outside of a small prairie town — is that distance, seeing that distance one is away from the landmark, is part of the experience of being at that location. When you’re in the town already, or when you’re in a forest, or other vision-limited place, you don’t experience distance. Also, when I’m looking at a town from a distance, it might as well be a landscape painting — it’s not real from a distance. Work happens up close. 10 Jan. & 16 Jan.

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The process of memorizing a poem — all these quasi-thoughts, demi-thoughts. On my my way home from work today, I memorized Shakespeare’s “When in the chronicle” sonnet, and in the act of memorizing, I noticed many things: there are maybe many views, concepts, of the poem helping me get it into my head, such as a four-line structure (from “when…” to “then…”); how “praise” is in there three times; the dismissive tone of “wasted time, … ladies dead and lovely knights; the contrast of “our time … you prefiguring.” Basically, memorizing is a way to get a close reading of a text, but also, it seems my memorized version might subtly include some of these structural pattern realizations/insights listed above. 11 Jan.

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As a real middle-ager, nearing age 45, maybe I should challenge myself to do things beyond my routine — read philosophy, memorize poems. My routine may not be satisfying enough. 11 Jan.

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Snow drift topography. 20 Jan.

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“God, use common sense,” said a high school student to another outside after school. She said “God” more as an interjection, but I thought of it, amusingly, as direct address. 14 Jan.

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I’m tired of meaning things, asserting things through public writings. Don’t preach — let cool ideas seep through your blog posts of journal texts, off-handedly. I don’t have anything that I need to say to a general audience. Also, I don’t have to have a certain tone — just be interesting, no? Switching topics is OK! I do look forward to the regularly published columns of a few particular writers, who tend to be interesting on varied topics. 15 Jan., 17 Jan.

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Ice melting off my car’s windshield. 22 Jan.

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Because I have lived in small Midwestern towns where there are few myths/characterizing stories about the places (as opposed to, say, the idea about NYC that it’s exciting, or that San Francisco is artistic — simplistic stories, yes), I wasn’t distracted by these stories — I paid attention to what was here. 15 Jan.

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My career as an example of not setting goals, not being ambitious (which word has a negative history). I don’t need to portray myself as a hero or as a model. I live for me — to see how my life turns out! 16 Jan.

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I think that people who might like reading blog posts of my journal texts would be readers who might appreciate not knowing what I might say. Publishing my journals is a self-centered act, but it’s also being honest, open, maybe vulnerable — not seeking that authority that journalists and most nonfiction writers seek by trying to seem normal and reasonable in their narrative voices.  16-17 Jan.

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View of sun on a snowy day in downtown Rockford, Illinois. Church Street at Mulberry. 25 Jan.

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My lyrics to “Feels So Good”: “Feels So Good — IT feels GOOD, IT feels GOOD, you know it FEELS, FEELS, FEELS, so GOOD…” 17 Jan.

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I feel that I finally have the confidence to (publicly) be my own kind of writer, and I feel I could be satisfied being my own kind of writer. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be sure of the public value of any of my atypical, idiosyncratic writings. But I am choosing to be idiosyncratic in my publishing of my journal texts, and I’m not trying to fit into mainstream publishing. 17 Jan.

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Ronald Reagan’s 6th grade classroom, Northwest Territory Historic Center, Dixon, Illinois. 25 Jan.

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Hallway poetry, overheard before 5th hour: “My locker,/when I open it,/is gonna smell like crap,” said a sophomore (I think) girl to another girl. 17 Jan.

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What portion of all my thoughts are written down? Most of the new insights, yes, but not the daily, getting-around thoughts. 18 Jan.

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A celebrity — having celebrity-level fame — is a business opportunity for the celebrity person as well as for others. Media fame is about and for making money, not artistic quality. More to my point, if I’m not trying to sell (my writings, say), I don’t need to be a celebrity (nor try to become one). 18, 22 Jan.

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(During my morning commute, after crossing railroad tracks) Look at these things that are where they are — road signs, tree limbs, crossing-gate posts. They’re not imagined, remembered, or dreamed.  18 Jan.

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Detail of 2nd floor of a building in downtown Rockford, Illinois, on Main Street, I think. 25 Jan.