Monthly Archives: June 2020

I was waiting, partly/mostly, to want to do something

Even this paper can’t quite convey what it was, what my experience was, as I lay there in library—I was waiting, partly/mostly, to want to do something, to feel I wanted to do something—even to feel what I want to eat (I had a vague idea of that but it wasn’t grasped—something like maybe Brussels sprouts and sushi—a sushi made of B-sprouts? I wasn’t sure—and I don’t really know what dish that would be, or where to get it).

But I’m here, I’m alive. That’s good. This is where I’d return if I were rich and famous and went off to do rich and famous things—I’d return to a place where people don’t care about my mythic origin story or my public image. Let’s say I was friends with Norman Mailer’s grandson or granddaughter. I’m not sure why he came to mind, but I’d also been thinking how dude had many wives and probably affairs and he was probably a scoundrel (what’s the Charlie Harper term—a “rascal”?). Hell, he even stabbed his wife! But he got away with all this bad behavior, or, he seemed to get away with it in court of public opinion (which isn’t a court at all—it’s just whether certain producers and publishers and talk-show bookers think people in the general audience would want to see a person and would want to pay for an actor’s movie or an author’s book).

But of course those close to the person know the person behind the B.S. persona, and the family members did get hurt by their famous person’s f**king other people and ignoring his kids.  (C__ made some connection between E. Hemingway and some H-way descendant who’s on Fox News. I was thinking of how little care H-way gave his kids while he was off fishing or reporting from war zones or whatever).

(M’s playing something, I assume, as I hear clapping and chanting, audio from what sounds like a political speech, maybe Sanders’ last night. But why haven’t we gotten beyond the rally and the protest in our political-acting?)

So if I were friends with a grandson/daughter of Mailer’s, that’d be fun to know, and then we wouldn’t talk about it much, though, of course, it’s the kind of thing I might use to introduce that friend to my other friends. It’s a thing by which we’d know him/her, which is a label, a tag, but also meaningless. But perhaps so much of what we do and say socially is meaningless?

[From journal of Sun., 23 Feb. 2020, Journal 318, pages 70-2]

I don’t want to get angry—that would change the whole dynamic of the class

My modeling doesn’t seem to work. I don’t want to get angry—that would change the whole dynamic of the class, and I just don’t want to do that. But then, this leaves unresolved such a class as this. How would I handle such a class in the future—a class of kids who aren’t disrespectful but also are talkative and not workative. Maybe there’s just not much to do about that. Just chalk it up to the mix of kids. Or maybe I just get a bit more serious on them, with them, these last few weeks. Many of them do have work to do—like S__, like A__—maybe have a little chat with them Monday, get just a bit more seriuous with them.

[From journal of Sat., 24 April 2010, Journal 126, page 94-5]

He came back from literary fest seeming rather down

He came back from literary fest seeming rather down. His poem didn’t win a prize, and [my teacher-colleague] said he was pouting. She said she had a talk, or needed to, with him about showing character when you lose. But some other kids’ poems got honorable mentions, she said. So this judge [seemed] more amenable to my students’ types of poems than last years’ judges were—not that it matters much.

[From journal of Sat., 24 April 2010, Journal 126, pages 89]

Very dramatic skies to the north—painted roughly, with wide brushes—bruise-blue and white

Well, hot yesterday afternoon, humid. Dinner at Olive Garden because I didn’t know what to make and the thought of sitting in kitchen to make it was no good. And so, there we were, Olive Garden, then Office Max, and when we came out of there about 7:10, very dramatic skies to the north—painted roughly, with wide brushes—bruise-blue and white, etc.

My elbow aches a bit—too much writing? It’s OK to rest it when need be. So, anyway, the clouds came eventually over Stillman. They were coming from the west, moving toward northeast, the news at 5 said, and so we got rain here at 8:30–9. I had walked Gracie briefly because it was already lightning in the distance. When I got home at 8—bed at 9—forgot her pills, though.

Oh, well, I needed the sleep. So here we are, ya know. New journal—it doesn’t say “acid-free,” maybe it isn’t, but oh, well. So, I’ve got some papers to grade quickly this morning. I didn’t feel much like grading yesterday during study hall or 10th hour prep or after school, so I’ll do it this morning, before school and during Morning Pages [writing time in class]. And so, there you are.

I’ve been tired last two days, not sleeping so well, but I slept well last night. We watched TV 8–8:30, but then satellite started going out at 8:30, so from 8:40 ’til almost 9, I just sat here, in this chair at this table, watching the skies light up. Didn’t see many strokes of lightning, but whole-sky stuff. I’ve probably taken some risks in walking dog, etc., when there’s been lightning out. You don’t think about a lightning strike being a real possibility, but then L___’s dad—she was a student last semester—her dad was killed by lightning., and now I’ve got her brother T___ in study hall …

So there you go. Anyway, there we are—two storms last night, 8:30–9, then another one about 2:30, with closer lightning. So 1.75″ of rain in gauge out by the garden, which may or may not include the 1/4″ yesterday. And I watched a couple minutes of morning TV, local. They said there could be more rain, same pattern as last night, tonight. Already the second wettest month on record (since 1906) in Rockford—the wettest month on record in Madison, 11″+ in Madison, and still a week to go! Rain seems so commonplace now when two years ago we hardly ever saw it.

So, I’m writing in this new journal—maybe I’ll only get to three pages today. I started later than I did last two days. I got up 5:20 last two days, but today, dog came by my bed at 5:31 on clock, two minutes before alarm. She’s good at her timing, that dog, and she had to pee right away, out by peonies. And there’s the Grace dog.

[From journal of Thurs., 23 August 2007, 6:09 a.m., Journal 89, pages 1-2]

We made good time down Michigan Avenue, parked in Grant Park North garage

We made good time down Michigan Avenue, parked in Grant Park North garage under the street and got up the stairs at about 3:30 at 30 N. Michigan. The Writers’ Museum (nope, no possessive) is at 180 N. Michigan, 2nd floor. We paid $12 each to get in. It was OK. The best parts were the typewriters. M had conversation with a law student over the typewriters while I communed with Kerouac’s scroll: I noticed places where it seemed he adjusted the scroll so it didn’t go off the—so typing didn’t go off the paper. And edges were ragged in spots and there were handwritten corrections and also—

what—I’m not sure I have any deep thing to say. I’m feeling a little tired now as I write. I could go nap. Cat’s on back of dark-blue couch. He was lying on my hi-viz vest (“Ogle County tuxedo”) and I put the blue blanket under him, and he settled in, and later I folded blanket over him, leaving his head and a strip of his back visible.

And the scroll—I guess I don’t have any deep thoughts there. Maybe just that I was seeing the creation of these stories, this story that became mythic. I was seeing the foundational layer between his experiences and published book.

Back with a third round of tea. I’m not quite sure what it means to say a “foundational layer,” except maybe that this was the first putting-down of Kerouac’s thoughts into words.

The old advice about writing—show, don’t tell—but my journaling voice shows by telling—and Kerouac, too—his narration is a big part of the fun, the joy, of On The Road.  I recall now seeing “OTR”—over the road—on trucking mags at Petro and wishing these things were more hip to Kerouac. Of course, what do trade publications care of personal narrative? I’m trying to imagine my mind then—a mind that would want that kind of, of what, society-wide awareness of Kerouac? Or just some cultural writing? I’m not sure—things that get popular tend to get dumbed down. Not all people get them as I do in my way. But now that I’ve been a teacher, I’ve seen how I can’t expect others to be what I want—others have very little interest in doing what I want them to do.

M said she’s proud of me to being open. After Writers Museum (the typewriters and the typed pages hung on wall clips, and a [fill-in-blanks game] computer screen and a Magpo screen), we ate at Noodles & Co. (is name correct?) next door, walked south. We were met by a lot of people crossing Michigan—I thought how rural types need to see this city-humanity richness.

We walked over east but not alla way to lake, over the twisty bridge over Columbus, and back and sat at the Grant Park MusicFest orchestra concert. [end of page 45]

Journal 257, page 46

Journal 257, page 47

[page 46] This page is one article—it (and the earlier one about restaurants) reminds me of how a city has so many cool places—and I underlined pieces here as an erasure-type poem—read just the underlined parts—there’s the poem (quasi-poem, anyway)—

[Underlined phrases conjoined:

Take grown-ups only. Try to cool yourself down.

Nothing says “1950s” like Honor the Midwest.

Keep it Heavy.

Is there such a thing as Joy credit?

Nostalgia makes for a visit. Take your notch, recently opened.

You can also add.

No dairy necessary for a regular, and boy, do they. Trust us on this one. Dabble with pecan. You can keep creative.

If your’e OK sharing your experience with a flood fudge, staple flavors like Raspberry. You haven’t lived.

Did we mention there’s a top?

Nobody puts a corner. This local killer count out Options.

What pairs better with a window: hole-less?]

[Page 45’s text continues onto page 48]

I’m just gonna leave those previous two pages with minimal additions by me, word-wise.

So we left after two songs—a Rimsky-Korsakov [Overture: The Tsar’s Bride] and [another song, unnamed]. Left garage about 7:30 or 7:40. Minimal traffic. Got to Woodman’s at Algonquin at 8:30.

[From journals of Sat., 12 August 2017, Journal 257, page 42-8]

Write in the summer about calm things

My overall thought was: continue the advance on many fronts (try many things), and also just sit down and start typing in a variety of materials: old pocket pages, random journals—significant journals, notes from In-School, etc. Once it’s typed in, it could be blogged, but more importantly, it could be included in a book or books. I mean, maybe don’t plan too much out. But do get engaged with the text.

And maybe don’t fret too much right now (or at any time when you’re not engaged in editing) what to do to get to a book or books. Maybe I truly don’t have many ideas when I’m not teaching. Maybe my summer-mind doesn’t confront as many problems (with teaching, with texts I teach, with writing, with students, and with colleagues), so there’s not as much to write. Of course, even now, as soon as I write that, I’m thinking.

(I hear the insecty “chucking” sound—repeated—insecty like a cicada—of a sprinkler over at S___haus.)

Text mom to find exact dates of Minnesota trip. I’ll go text her now. I did and am back at 8:10.

I’m thinking, after writing the above, that conflict/problems don’t always need to be what writing is about (though maybe I was saying above that conflict gives rise to new ideas). I ought to be able to write in the summer about calm things. Descriptions, observations—the summer journals could be more expansive than school-year ones.

[From journal of Sabado, 24 Junio 2017, Journal 253, page 162-4]

You’re following the life you’ve been given, learning who you are

Mostly what I remember of that wedding is how I brought two outdoor chairs wrapped—unstylishly, awkwardly, ugli-ly wrapped—in plastic bags. Not smooth, Matt. But, eh, it’s clearly not what I was thinking about at that time.

Just start reading through your journals from 20 years ago? In order? Is it possible that, if I can look past my awkwardness, my embarrassment of my past self, that the writing was decent? Not all of my writings from then, of course, but …

I’m not so sure I want to go to this reunion, this 20th high school reunion. I mean, sh!t, last night I started thinking how the people who don’t see Rochelle every day, how they might be eager to come back, but me, eh. I was starting last night to think those thoughts, the same ones as before: That I should’ve left Rochelle, that these others’ lives are better than my own, etc.

But then I caught myself and said to self, you don’t have to come up with these “I hate my life”-type excuses. Your life is what it is; you are not in control, you’re following the life you’ve been given, learning who you are (as I say in less-negative moments). So, I don’t want to dwell on those thoughts—though it seems easy to do, especially lately—and instead I can just say (I was writing the last couple of lines with kitty on my lap. He purred, then leapt off. Before that, he’d been play—and is now again—playing inside my shirt that’s hanging over back of chair) instead (I paused here to hold Sam from barking at meter-reader lady), you can just say, “eh, maybe I just don’t feel excited about the reunion.” You don’t have to justify or build on/from those feelings.

[From journal of Fri., 3 August 2012, Journal 163, page 94-5]

Speculative nonfiction: “Silence 104—We play nothing, all the time”

Came home. Read some. M and I were up ’til about midnight—then there were what sounded like firecrackers outside. Dog panted by side of my bed. About 12:34, we got dog onto the bed and I kinda hugged him, spoon-style, and M said I fell sleep before Sam left.

Old Man Show’s back on [the radio]—he said #1 on 26 December 1942 was “White Christmas.”

Had an idea while outside: how if I quit [my subscription to newspaper] RRStar (“I don’t give a sh!t. It’s not like I ever read it,” M said just now, at 11:10, when I asked her if she’d mind me canceling RRStar), I’ll be out of that conversation.

How people get excited to see people they know on TV (Mom even used the term “Tebowing” to mean going down on one knee—I was surprised she knew and used that term.)

M and I joked about a radio station without talk or songs: “Silence 104—We play nothing, all the time” and “We’ll be back with more silence after these words from our sponsors.”

We joked at Copy Center counter about “Fiction on Demand.”

20 years—”Enter Sandman.” I heard that on way to New Year’s party. It’s been out 20+ years, that song. I played it at my graduation party 20 years ago.

Mom: there’s less pressure now on young people to get married than there was in her time.

Me: I don’t like life, being alive, well enough to bring someone else into it? My life’s not so great that I need to bring others to life. Mom: We don’t give life, we force it on people. Me: Maybe people don’t think about it this way? Maybe they just selfishly want kids, or didn’t want kids but had them.

Mom: Having kids is wonderful, but fraught—worry, disappointment. One invests in other humans, but bad things happen. Being a parent can be wonderful, but it can also be the opposite of wonderful.

People growing up to do their people-things.

The wrong beast: M said she was talking sweetly to Sam as I held him, and I fell asleep first—the wrong beast fell asleep.

Mom: “I love learning things—new ways of looking at things.” She said this when she was telling example of perspective, how an artist told about how important things in Eastern art are larger in depiction—a mountain is top or bigger (not distant as in Western art).

M liked “speculative nonfiction” as a term. (It helps explain stuff her parents say.) M said all nonfiction is an argument. Nonfiction makes a claim for truth, so fiction either claims falseness, or makes no claim. Every nonfiction statement about the future is B.S. (as Wendell Berry said, the future doesn’t exist), whether it’s an expert’s prediction or an idiot’s. It’s just that some predictions are less likely than others.

I was saying last night that the possum we almost hit in Chana at railroad crossing a couple years ago—the possum I advised to “pick a direction”—was maybe a “hobo possum,” ridin’ the rails. M said, see, you make up things all the time—why not write fiction?

[From journal of Sun., 1 Jan. 2012, Journal 152, page 16-8]

Just had a smoke with S___

Just had a smoke with S___. She stopped here at cafe as break from her work at lawyer’s office across street. She’s about done—tomorrow’s her last day. K_’s done with her job, and I will be, too, as soon as I finish my stories (it’s not measured in time, as much as in getting this work done). I feel maybe I’m an inspiration—several people have told me now is the time to break away, while I’m young. They tell me to find something I like, that if I’m not happy, it’s not worth it, that sort of thing. Maybe I’m even an inspiration to [my editor] W__ —he talked today, for the first time I’ve ever heard him, about how the years are all similar, they play back like tapes in his mind, and maybe it’s time to throw those tapes out. He even said that maybe he should look for a job at Springfield paper. Maybe aimless pondering, but there’s a real sentiment behind it.

So, smoking—there’s a subject to be written about here. I haven’t smoked for two days until tonight—and as long as I don’t start again—and the first smoke is always the best or the worst—tastes bad after a period of not smoking, yet that is the only one that gives a buzz. Future smokes, the second half of the pack, are just consumption, busywork, unspecified and unsatisfying—same as chewing a whole pack of gum at once—because you have it.

But herein lies a topic for discussion—why is it that I smoke when I chose to smoke, each individual instance? It really got in the way sometimes, like smoking one just before I got in my car to drive home (such as from work). Sometimes it’s just something to do, like during a commercial break in a TV show. I would just think to myself that I hadn’t had a smoke in a while, and that harshness in the lungs—that solidity, that substance—somehow filled a void, met a need. At other times, like why I would smoke during a writing session (not while typing, however, and while writing in the journal, it was just a hindrance, and it wasn’t noticed or enjoyed), this is almost the “break” theory, the pause from work—though it was both procrastination technique and reward for work already done. And it truly was just a break, a pause, a chance to think about what I was to write next—lede or just next transition, next block of text.

And then there’s the smoke that I “need”—don’t usually feel it unless I have the smokes and I just haven’t smoked one in a while, like at the stare fair this week. I don’t get needy from my body (as I do when I’m quitting), but moreso antsy in my mind. Maybe this partly shares with the “something to do”/waiting motivation.

My question here is, why do I want the second one? Almost no other substance I know of—excepting maybe sweets because of my sweet tooth—makes you want to have another. In an evening, I’ll want to drink more than one beer, but that’s almost a sipping thing—wanting to have one handy, nearby always, and at those times, smoking is like that, too—I keep one lit constantly or almost so at those drinking and smoking and talking times.

But The Second One—do I really expect it to be as good as the first? Or is that where the addiction kicks in?

Why do I smoke a second—yeah, probably because the first was good. But that’s too simplistic, doesn’t really apply for me now, as someone who has established a smoking habit. In my case, the reason I light a second is because the first put me back in a “smoking period”—it’s OK to smoke a second because I’m not trying not to smoke, I’m allowing myself to smoke, and so why not live it up in this period of self-granted freedom? That’s what these jags—weeks of smoking—feel like, I think. Then soon it becomes a pattern again: wake-up smoke, before and after drives, before and after lunch, during TV, etc., etc.

Why do I smoke? After the first couple, I don’t even taste them. Is it a habit for its own sake, like breaks during writing? I was sick of cigs by Tuesday a.m. after smoking much of Monday night until 3 a.m., and then smoking more at 7 a.m. But I kept doing it until I was done writing.

But really, smoking isn’t too much of a habit for me. It’s not too deeply ingrained, or I’m not as chemically addicted, or something, or I wouldn’t be able to go even a whole day without a smoke. Sure, I am an addict at some level—like B__ said, I can’t take one because I’ll want another. The way to quit is just not to pick up the next one—there is somehow that reassuring feeling that if you take one, the next is “indulge yourself.”

But I know that I don’t want to keep smoking, that I can’t keep smoking, not only for the long-term considerations, but really I don’t like myself as much when I’m smoking. #1 is the weakness. I’m using a substance. Because it makes me so weak and out of breath, etc., and makes me smell bad, costs $, etc., I’m submitting to the substance. But I also smoke so fast—like I’m sucking these things down. I’m not attempting to make them part of my life—which is what I was thinking today, that deciding to smoke (at least by not quitting) is a large life-choice, almost a lifestyle, because of the prominent role it plays in your life. You have them with you all the time, you’re often thinking of how/when/where to have your next smoke, you’re choosing to not be athletic, or, really, healthy at all.

[From journal of 14 Aug. 1997, Journal 18, pages 210-15]

What’s hard about quitting is just the thought

No burning thoughts or issues tonight, but it’s probably good just to get the thoughts flowing. Ate first sweet corn tonight, and picked ripe tomatoes, more than I can use.

I don’t know why I’ve lost some level of interest in the garden. Partly I haven’t been out there much because of lack of time. And probably some of it is simply lowered excitement—there’s less to do out there now, more bug troubles. Planting and seeing sprouting seeds is the most fun, exciting. Nothing to do now except weed, water, and wait for ripe vegetables, excess vegetables we can’t use. And I did get kinda tired of salads, even though we didn’t eat all of our lettuce by any means.

I remember telling some people early in the season my biggest challenge of having a garden is seeing if I could stay interested in it season-long. That’s still the challenge, I suppose, though I haven’t given up on it. I just know now that for next year, I should plant smaller batches of each vegetable, so it doesn’t ripen all at once, and two, I need to do more work on protecting my plants from bugs, as well as spacing things out better and staking tomatoes up better.

Here’s an analogy: I’m quitting smoking again. Voice and lungs were getting tight and phlegmy, respectively, lately. And when I’m smoking a pack a day, I’m not really sure why I keep smoking after the first couple of the day. I never feel a buzz after first one or two. I just keep smoking them. Really for me, smoking more than anything else is something to do—take a break, go outside, think about things (get ledes for stories during those breaks), something to do while waiting somewhere or walking.

I thought about smoking today, but the need was never real strong today. The need is the feeling from my lungs that they’re empty, they need to have something in them, filled with smoke or tar or whatever. Never felt that today—spent most of the day coughing up phlegm. Lungs have been full lately.

What’s hard about quitting is just the thought that from now on, I will never smoke another cigarette. Like today—for a moment, just as we were packing up to go home, I thought to myself, I could smoke in a few minutes when we go outside— a reward of sorts?—then I realized: no smokes, and no smoking. It was just a background thought, the kinds of thinking you do when you smoke: where/when would be my next chance to smoke?

But for me now, as I write in notebook today, I’ve just got to think not about wouldn’t it be nice to smoke, or the good times I had smoking—not really, thought—can’t taste after a couple, anyway—or that I’ll never have another. What I’ve got to think of is my healthy body, being strong—clear, strong lungfuls of fresh air, something I felt almost ecstatic about when I experienced it today. Feels heavy, like a deep inhale, but it actually tastes good, light on the throat, empowering.

Analogy—landing airplane

In a few weeks when my lungs don’t feel so bad, then smoking won’t seem so bad again. My lungs will be better, it’ll be easy to breathe normally.

I regret all the time I’ve smoked already—I’ve never really quit.

[From journal of Wed., 13 Aug. 1997, evening, Cinema Cafe, Urbana, 10:25, Journal 18, page 207-210]