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Happy new year!
My students are doing research on particular properties in our local area, and we’ve turned up some helpful links. Some are specific to Ogle County or to Illinois, but some are national.
1937-1947 Illinois Historical Aerial Photography. It’s like a time-travel experience to look at these images from 80 years ago and try to orient oneself. Overview link here, link to Illinois counties here.
Ogle County GIS maps. Look for property/tax ID numbers and much more at this link.
Illinois early historical maps & discussion here.
More historical maps of Illinois and other states.
Illinois highway maps archive.
Illinois Public Domain Land Tracts — original purchasers from the federal gov’t.
General Land Office Records, U.S. BLM — click here to find original patent letters granting ownership of federal land to first buyers. These include info about the person awarded the military warrants.
History of General Land Offices in Illinois here.
In 2010, John Grogan wrote in Parade magazine that when Marley “died in 2003, I buried him on the edge of the woods at the house where we then lived,” and then, when he moved to a new house, he dug up the dog he’d buried “five years earlier.”
Grogan writes, “we found his remains—still neatly packaged in the heavy black plastic we had buried him in—and carefully lifted them out of the ground. ‘You didn’t think we’d forget you, did you?’ I said aloud.”
He’d worried that “exhuming our beloved bad boy sounded like the kind of behavior I normally attribute to ‘those nutty dog people,'” but as a sort of nutty dog person myself, I think this goes a little beyond the pale. I didn’t dig up my beloved dirt-bound canine when we moved a few years ago — dead is dead. I imagine that after five years, Marley was decomposed down to bones, or maybe, wrapped in plastic, Marley was a stinking, rotting cadaver.
I’d first read this a few years back, and in recent weeks it came to mind as I was telling my students that Marley and Me was a sweet and sad movie that ended with a dog’s death, as a lot of stories about beloved dogs seem to end. And then I told my students how creepy it was that the dog was dug up after five years of putrefaction. (A video of that in the DVD extras would surely change the tone of the movie.) So I’m posting this “he really did that?” story here to remind students to think about what stories of themselves they’d really want out in the public.
I don’t mean to tell Grogan how to feel or what to do with his dog’s long-dead carcass, but I do think that maybe telling this story makes him seem a little more ghoulish than average “nutty dog people.”
It’s B.S. to declare things, like, for example, those people who declare they’re not gonna eat meat any more, or they’re gonna bike to work every day. But the attraction to doing this — I’ve felt it — is in having something bold to say. To make such a declaration is an act of artifice, of course; you don’t need to declare something like this — you can just do it. But I’m also thinking of all those writers who do stunts — The Year of Living Biblically guy, the Paper Lion project.
And this brings me back to the point about everyday living. Why not describe the normal world around you? Let’s find the words, the forms, that will convey this — the beauty of a calm world, the non-magical thereness, which is itself kinda magical, of every real thing in your there-place: the wood of the table I’m writing on, each scratch and worn spot and stain (there’s now a strawberry-colored circle-stain, apparently from where I set a tea cup on a pink Post-It note).
I put on my Byronfest “SECURITY” t-shirt and I thought of the lady at my Pensacola hotel pool who shouted “security” as a joke, but in her accent it sounded like “seh-KYER-tee,” and I thought that it’s not just that she said it that’s funny — it’s that it was really happening around me — and readers won’t have that sense if I, as I did in my 3rd hour creative writing class last Wednesday, merely repeat what I heard. I need to convey to readers something else, maybe that I was there in that real palace on an average day, and suddenly this weird event breaks thru my expectations, breaks thru my consciousness, draws my attention, disrupts my calm mind filled with expectations. And the world is so often interrupting/disrupting.
And now in these two paragraphs above, I’ve created a spectrum, a pair of opposites, a paradox, or something. I’ve talked about wanting to convey the (how to name it: the calm magic? the blunt thereness?) of the things around me, and I’ve also talked about the disruptions of these expectations. But these aren’t actually opposites at all but versions of the same thing — things that are real, are really happening, near me. That’s a terribly dull, vague way to say this exciting thing (this type of writing that excites me, anyway). I’m trying to convey to readers who aren’t present what’s so amazing about here and now — maybe what’s really amazing is my mindset when I’m looking and writing [see here and here for examples], and that mindset would not be shared by the person reading my words. That reader would be in an abstraction (words, ideas) mindset while reading, not looking around himself/herself.
All I can do thru ideas is point out that one could be looking around. Write a text where you say “stop reading this text! Take five minutes — a full five — to look around you! Then come back later” — a text that points away from the text. It’s possible to do that, sure, but it’s dull as a text?
It’s easier to say anything than do it. Saying’s still valuable, of course, as it can influence others. I write to an audience of people like myself — like my younger self. But my younger self would eventually go on to learn these things anyway (as I have done just today). Well, if I give a leg up, then that next young person could surpass my learning, and that’s kinda the goal, I guess. Each teacher, each creative artist, would, if being honest, like his/her followers (audience) to surpass his/her accomplishments? Else it’s just an ego wish to be loved.
I thought this morning, while doing my daily back-stretches, that it doesn’t matter exactly how many reps I do. It’s not like if I count to 15, then suddenly my body is triggered to, say, do some reset of all bones and muscles to perfect alignment, like resetting a computer to get back to a clean slate.
Words — no physical thing in the world responds to words. There’s no “open sesame” or “abracadabra” (though I guess there’s starting to be — you can talk to your Siri, your Echo, and it’ll do some things for you) by which things react. Words only work on other consciousnesses — people, dogs, and computers, which, OK, are not exactly conscious, but they approximate consciousness when they respond to voice commands or to keystrokes, for that matter. Printers do things in physical world when we press keys — so do computerized cutters, robots — maybe that’s not conscious awareness but it’s a form of consciousness?
Of course, conscious beings don’t need to be told what to do, either. Responding to verbal commands is only one of our handy features.
Why I normally tell stories is because the story relates something unexpected happening. So why would I tell something that’s not surprising? Well, maybe to establish a baseline? or to be calm, convey calm? I’m not sure.
This is an uncertain time, and it’s scary for that reason.
People may prefer the certainty of stories from the past over the scary uncertainty of the non-story of the present.
Traditional stories — satisfying stories — are always moral. When a bad guy wins, or when a random event happens to a main character, that’s not a traditional, satisfying story. My dad’s death wasn’t a good story at all — he died in a car accident though no fault of his own. There was no lesson for me to learn from this accident, except that sometimes in real life, people get killed and it’s not their fault. Bad things happen to good people. Real life isn’t a satisfying story.
Religious reasoning seems to fill the role of explaining the inexplicable for some people. I’m thinking here of those religious leaders who say natural disasters are caused by God’s displeasure with human behavior. That’s a cop-out, of course. Why do random and bad things, and randomly bad things, happen? Well, God’s either not all-good, or not all-powerful (which would include not existing).
These times feel uncertain. Of course, every time, every present moment, is uncertain. There’s certainty only in looking back at stories of the past. But stories can be told only about the past! We tell stories mainly to teach each other for the benefit of the future.
But stories don’t serve us well in a time where we can’t really figure out what’s going on, and where the old stories, the old expectations, don’t seem to apply. What I learned from watching the first episodes of the Vietnam War last week was that stories — the stories the U.S. war leaders told themselves — can be bullshit.
I used to think that “be skeptical of stories” was a content-belief, but last night I thought that being skeptical isn’t a content statement but a process statement.
We may not need stories. We use them to guide (in some sense) our actions, our behaviors — don’t do what bad guys do.
Being skeptical of stories is a valid process, a valid orientation to the world, a useful way to live, it seems. If you hold on too tight to any belief, you’ll be let down, led astray.
A creative experience is like a stretching session: if it’s not a big of a challenge, you’re not doing it right, not getting anything out of it.
Here are this fall’s Creative Writing classes’ poems written in the Exquisite Corpse method. What I love about these lines is how they were created almost randomly but seem to have a kinda of weird logic. I like how some of these seem almost brilliant, in an obtuse way. See here for previous semesters’ poems.
Americans are impatient with my whole life.
A big storm came to my house, for I am a gentleman.
A strange door is where I be the person you admire.
Gross-looking fish often smell what the man cooks.
I literally can’t stand people that like me or unlike my milkshake.
When he woke up, he was not in poverty.
Since 2000, I was born in the hospital.
Beautiful panda breaks the Internet to order some parts of the world.
Boy, you have betrayed me, and you are great.
Miles we have come to the gorilla festival.
Penguins that live in the patience I held.
Thing One and Thing Two plus two equals to all human rights and lefts.
I really cannot control her nuclear proliferation.
I’m swimming in a sea of something funny that happened.
The school sounds fun like tying a fish to crash into a car.
Best leave it to the pros and cons.
My own sorrow cannot hold onto my hand.
You are my sun shine is like the sun shine.
I lost my pencil in your name.
Place the gun on the only husband.
Those who appreciate you look very hot today.
Fender on a car breaks so simple like ice is cold.
The Wright brothers are like sisters but boys.
The zookeeper ran to keep the penguins inside the body.
Here I once was a way you smile.
Be smart if you want to survive — it’s not that hard.
The bird flew far, far away where the movie was very boring.
That gray cat leaps off the sofa, but will the world end?
“Duh” is what I exclaimed to your mama’s grave digger.
Dispute this because I think about it, and you are so nice.
First I went bald yesterday.
I slipped and fell down the stairs at room temperature during winter.
Sad like a broken plate with soul food delicious.
I’m trying so hard for somebody to notice the fire alarm.