Good writing seduces, bad writing awakens: March 2020 notes

Outside Union Dairy, Freeport, Illinois. 7 March 2020

‡  Saw an “L” shape on a rural road. It tipped and became a squirrel. [2 March 2020]

‡  Patterns are not icons — by “icons,” I mean cliché images, like “the lone tree in the field,” such as the one I drive past most mornings. Iconic images are ones I try to avoid photographing, no only because they’re clichés but also because they seem to imply a meaning (a lone tree represents solitude, loneliness, etc). But patterns — like, say, a certain repetition of ice crystals or a sequence of toys on a shelf — aren’t cliché or meaning-heavy. [2 March & 9 March].

‡  When things are set close together and similar, that’s asking for them to be compared. [4 March]

‡  Maybe most teaching is coaching, having students do and redo certain things until they are automatic: rehearsing a play or performing a cheer routine. But I don’t always like the coaching model, even with fairly routine things like fixing sentence fragments. I want my students not to memorize a routine but to be able to respond to different sentences. [5 March]

NIU campus, approached from the west. 5 March 2020

‡  There’s not much narrative coherence in dreams. Also not in life, if you don’t stay in the story (like today, I’ll find myself at N.I.U., which is not a normal setting for my lived experience). [5 March]

‡  A history of smells: What were the common smells someone alive in a small Midwestern town would’ve smelled in 1858? Horse manure? Wood smoke? Body odor? (My mom says her grandmother, born in 1904, remembers there being a smell to most adults, before bathing was frequent.) Being an adult in the 1990s, I remember when most public restaurants and bars smelled of cigarette smoke, and since smoking in public places has been banned, those smells indoors aren’t as common today. I wonder too about a personal history of smells. In my life, I love the smell of wintergreen, perhaps (as I found out in recent years) because my mom used wintergreen candies to encourage my progress in being potty-trained. I also strongly associate the smells of woodsmoke and animal fat with visiting my uncle in the barn where he skinned, fleshed, and dried pelts of beaver, muskrat, raccoon, and other furbearers. [7 March]

‡  How many days I’ve been conscious — ALL of them! — for all the decades I’ve been alive. [9 March]

‡  Good writing seduces, distracts. I get pulled into spending too much time reading online, and escapism has a place in my life, sure. But bad writing — unpolished, not-publication-smoothed — wakes one up. Finding a misspelling in a story disperses the spell that the narrative casts on the reader. On the other hand, maybe it’s OK to not be under a spell! So many businesses want an audience’s “eyeballs,” people’s attention, to get money from them. What about a literature that doesn’t want to capture readers’ attention? That might be a non-capitalist literature, available for free. Or maybe the distinction isn’t good/polished writing versus bad/unpublishable writing. Rather, the distinction is smooth, easy, familiar, bingeable versus prickly, new, legitimately attention-repelling. [11-12 March]

‡  We teach each other — subtly, indirectly — all the time. [11 March]

‡  If you need to market yourself, you need to have a brand, be unique, stand apart. But if I don’t need to market myself, I don’t have to claim to be unique. [12 March]

‡  Fitting into a discipline — say, becoming a trained ballet dancer — can shape you, and perhaps there is value in being shaped. But there’s also value in the uncarved block! There’s value in seeing individual people not as generic people in school (or other) systems, not as role-players, but in seeing them as uncarved blocks themselves, as individuals full of potential! [12 March]

‡  The vague dread — awaiting the spread of the pandemic virus. The dread of not-knowing — having a serious situation I’ve never seen before in my whole life. I get image of low, dark blue clouds on horizon. And I wonder if perhaps this could become the kind of event after which a lot of things  change — hopefully for the better (a better social safety net, etc). I just noticed a Slate.com article: “We’re not going back to the way life was before.” [midday & afternoon of 12 March 2020]

‡  I have already joked to a couple people about the woman I saw at grocery store yesterday with three boys whose cart was nearly full — it included several boxes of Pop Tarts. My wife said you can tell what people value — she said she saw a dude with three cases of Snapple. The guy who helped carry our groceries to our car said his boss had texted him — he showed us the text — something like “keep stocking t.p.” [13 March 2020]

Dandelion-greens salad, fresh from my yard. 23 March

‡  Why we have other people around instead of just having cardboard cut-outs or pics or texts that people have written: texts, personas, images, and ideas can’t respond. But a person can respond — which also means that the respond-able person isn’t any fixed, steady, permanent idea. A real person isn’t always cool or kind or any trait (traits being defined, fixed). [24 March]

‡  A reminder to myself: you know, you can’t go dine out or go get coffee — but you ARE still alive, for god’s sake, meaning you can still look, think, write, relate to others, etc. — all the stuff you’d do were you located in any place, say, like in a waiting room or in a park or something. In other words, it’s not like getting a latte or a particular meal or buying a book, etc., would be all that satisfying. The tastes aren’t all that important. [24 March]

Empty downtown Byron, Illinois, Weds. 25 March 2020, afternoon.

‡  I’m starting a personality profile of our neighbor dog, a big Labradoodle named Paisley. I decided that she’s a Wings fan — “Listen to what the Paisley says.” My wife said, “Paisley does NOT strike me as a Wings fan.” When I told my neighbor about my supposition, he said Paisley’s much more of a Bob Seger fan. [26 March]

Our cat sleeps like a hibernating chipmunk. 28 March

‡  I remember days (four days) later the woman at the produce aisle last Friday, who saw my shopping list and said she should’ve made a list, too. [31 March]

Our cat worships at our home printer like it’s his god. He had ignored it before it was plugged in and came to life. 30 March

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