Category Archives: Nonfiction

Pine Rock, Ogle County, Illinois

Though I’ve lived near this sandstone prominence most of my life, I’d never stopped to see it up close until last Monday. I didn’t see many pines around Pine Rock, but I did see many cool views:

View of Pine Rock from the northwest, just off Route 64 between Rocky Hollow and Pine Rock roads.

View from west-southwest of rock. My shadow’s at lower left.

Cracks, view from SW.

Many cavities in the rock.

View from southwest.

View from south.

Closer view, south side.

Southside detail of Pine Rock.

Southeast corner of Pine Rock, camera facing east.

Southeast corner of Pine Rock, as seen from south.

A shaded bit of the southeast corner. Camera’s facing southwest.

Sand at base of rock, southeast side, near oak leaves, acorns, and snow.

Sand worn from rock is a light-gray color.

A variety of colors in the sandstone, southeast corner.

On southeast side, a minicave.

A view of several feet of the southeast-facing side.

A seam in the rock at southeast end, seen from south.

View from east.

View from northeast of rock.

Looking southwest from northside of rock.

Detail, west side.

A bit of moss in the lower right, view of northmost piece of rock from west.

View from west of the northernmost piece.

Closer view of the northernmost piece as seen from west.

Lichens

‘There are no speed bumps’: My students’ bad fiction makes sudden turns

In the spirit of the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, here are some of my high school students’ attempts to craft bad fiction: stories that give readers certain tonal and genre expectations, and then make sudden turns to subvert those expectations. 

Terry galloped along the circular path facing a crowd of screaming children on his gallant horse of red with a gleaming saddle, when suddenly, the carousel stopped. (J.O., Spring 2015)

It was a dark and stormy night as I realized the poisonous gas filling my house had made me hallucinate and it was really sunny midday afternoon. (T.T., Spring 2015) A quite-unreliable narrator.

I looked out the pale, grim, and gray window, only to see two cats doing it like it was Christmas. (D.K., Fall 2015) I don’t know what this one means, but it does make me laugh every time I read it.

When I woke up in bed last night, I realized there was a fire-breathing dragon in the corner of my room, so I shut the TV off. (M.D., Fall 2015)

Little Jimmy was having a great day, eating his ice cream until he dropped it. Some ask why he dropped it. It was because he got hit by a truck. (J.T., Fall 2015)

So I was about to hook up with this girl and she was super into me. We had to be quiet because we didn’t want anyone hearing us. I didn’t have protection but I just went for it. By far this was the most interesting family reunion ever. (S.C., Fall 2016)

Today for lunch I ate a talking duck. Every time I took a bite, it yelled “Stop!” Until I ate his tongue. (J.B., Fall 2016)

Up the road from my house was  a loud scream. The scream was almost as loud as my parents’ when I murdered them the night before. (A.V., Fall 2016)

The dog walked down the street, through a tunnel, over the hill, took a right, and ended up in the same place. (S.V., Fall 2016) This story shows how linear narration is, how readers can’t look ahead but are fed info piecemeal by the writer–who might lead readers astray, of course.

Her personality was like a potato that had been forgotten in the back of the pantry, the kind that starts to rot and grow those little things. The kind that you find 2 years later and throw outside for the raccoons but even the raccoons won’t want it. (S.K., Fall 2016)

He asked his wife, “Do you think we should have kids?” “No, honey, I think we shouldn’t.” “You’re right.” He then kicks out his two year old son. (M.L., Spring 2017)

I enjoy running on the beach with my girlfriend, until the LSD wears off, and I’m running from the cops in a McDonald’s drive-thru. (B.S., Spring 2017)

He traces lines along her back and strokes her spine gently. This surely is the book he wants. (C.J., Spring 2017)

My mom was mad at me for sneaking out last night because she heard the door open, but then she died, so I’m not in trouble. (K.A., Fall 2017)

If I had a dollar for every time I was called “ugly,” I would have, like, two dollars, because people don’t care enough about me to judge my looks. (M.K., Fall 2018) This one starts off sad—and then gets sadder.

He sat on his front steps as the world crashed down around him. Unicorns flew every which way, and rainbows made of jelly beans pelted the sidewalk. Yep, this was it — the end of the world. (A.H., Fall 2018)

Long blonde curls were soaking in the warm water when the boy picked his fork up and ate his ramen noodles. (K.T., Spring 2019)

It was a dark and mysterious cave lit only by the single torch of the traveler. There was supposed to be a bear, but the writer doesn’t feel like describing it. (W.J., Spring 2019)

As the hero approaches the scene, the villain has already killed the entire population. The villain executes the hero with one shot of a gun. (E.S., Spring 2019)

I was so excited that my sister was pregnant, knowing that finally I was going to be an awesome dad. (A.K, Fall 2019)

The story begins like this: two people were getting married at a beautiful park, and I don’t know what else happened because I was only passing by. (I.M., Fall 2019)

The parent was driving through the school zone and couldn’t believe the amount of speed bumps there were, until he remembered there are no speed bumps. (L.P., Fall 2019)

‘Quickly here the critics come’: Exquisite Corpse poems, Spring 2020

Here are this semester’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 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. Punctuation was added, but the words below appear as they were in the Exquisite Corpse poems made in class recently.

Exciting news is coming into house barefoot.

Anytime we can all hang off the old tree is air.

Blue is my favorite colors.

Today I woke up, told my dog to stop making a fool of mice and men.

Sometimes I’m happy; sometimes I’m so ready to graduate.

I’m excited to be married but not orange.

School appropriately dress in clouds.

Queen Elizabeth is dead like the nae nae.

Mashed potatoes are delicious while mashed potatoes are good.

Wait to be in cars.

The end is now and later.

Can you write a thesis statement on your paper cuts?

Live a little and feast is what I did.

I ate the whole case of a sound from a mouse.

Dogz is a boy band of musical animals with some ramen on the album.

Logic does not cross the pig.

The pig ate the other times.

Party like it’s 1999 or peanut butter with some jelly with bread and peanut butter jelly time! Peanut butter.

The number of the way I eat grass.

The best things are like stuff that could be danger ahead of me.

I love you, so I knew what I am.

Earth is not spinning today.

Silly words are used to create a new species already. I’m just getting started.

I need to use the Earth.

The Earth deserves to be careful for the wasps.

You are such a bee.

Luigi is a character from Avenue to Lake Street.

The best options are too complicated with my boots and coat.

Sign when you are tired of your stupid lies.

Mock me rudely later today.

Like, what is your problem solving?

You are such a can of beans on my shirt.

Many people think that I’m really hungry right now.

I am hungry due to the dark world made of glazed donuts.

Stop talking helps with good communication with the elderly.

Because of the peach, James is a name.

From limb to limb in limbo, you put that thing back.

Very boring sentences make me want to die to go to Florida.

Quickly here the critics come.

Yes to the dress like you are 21 kisses.

We will forever remain quiet for a while.

Zucchini tastes like wet dust.

I am actually elephant, is going extinct — goodbye!

What do I write to see her here?

Live in peace and candy bars.

Nothing pure is faithful, though pain continues to grow flowers in the summer.

Eat candy bars where you meet guys.

Ever speak to me again.

Time is something that doesn’t potato even death.

Fancy new clothes, fire flows into my heart, my Instagram pic witchcraft.

A very deep water was below me.

A boring word is a word is a word is a word is love for you or maybe a special car.

Divine the dinner was he made for you.

Beans make people feel, “so what do I write?”

I write my own life away from me.

Spotless is not my converse.

To create something is to eat raw pasta.

Toads roam the night. Roads really suck in Illinois.

Sad kitten, eat corn magenta and turquoise.

Halls are so very long hair braided down beautifully.

Home is where love blossoms bloom every Tuesday.

A strong word is only worth something pretty wild and vile.

Super white rabbits jumped very quickly picking pickled peppers, Peter.

Forever is a long time to start something new.

You shall always keep going to your jobs.

Jobs are difficult to keep calm.

Light as a feather, heavy snow is expected.

Quickly look at you.

17 Oct. 2019: An image and an idea

Drawn 17 Oct. 2019

So, I felt too tired to want to work last hour and that’s OK, you know? I tried to annotate journals but I’m not sure I quite felt up to that, either. I had some cool ideas from this (and yester?) morn and they seemed underexplained but also subtly wonderful, and I don’t know that I could maintain that nuance, that I could keep my thrill at the subtlety alive as I tried to define the ideas. Now I know that things do have to be defined (in some sense) or the idea might not be any more than an image, which would be OK, but there was more than image— maybe there was idea or at least feeling to the original idea. I shouldn’t feel a need to determine things, but if I don’t try to define it, I won’t be able to learn/communicate from it in the future. I don’t always want to sit and annotate my pocket page ideas but if I don’t, the ideas will be just topics—not ideas at all. I’ll look at the words later and not sense anything new there, nothing crafted, no sculpture, just clay (a good metaphor?) [from Journal 312, page 15]

We get offered candy: 28 August 1995 journal

28 August 1995, early Monday morning, 3 a.m.  [in my Urbana apartment?]

There are two options for me in my academic calendar—I can either take English 248 and not read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Lawrence, or I can not take the class and not read those books, but it’s not as if actually reading them is an option.

Real interesting conversation with Ryan E. and Jordan tonight about Daily Illini [newspaper staff] personalities. We dropped (late) about 1 a.m., but the three of us talked til about 2:15 or so while Ryan printed out the separations of the cover of Touch Down Times. We talked about mostly personalities and people—and the way—(I’m losing interest, picking up the Urbana Park District leisure guide).

The thing is: Ryan and I were sitting, chatting, on Green Street Pizza Hut front stoop, across from his Skylight apartment when this tall (6’6″ or over), lanky man came across the street aiming towards us, a lavender/dark shirt, long-sleeved, and I noticed him stop three lanes from us as a black limo sped through. I looked at him, he wasn’t approaching real fast, but to diffuse the situation, to understand what was going on, I said, “Hey.” He responded, “Hey, you guys want some candy?”

I jumped in, “No, thanks, man,” and Ryan had chimed in before I finished with a similar response. But it was like he wasn’t sure what to do, or was it all fast and so not a real pause from him? I don’t know.

I’m not sure he was looking to sell us anything so much as rob us. Here we sit at 2:45 a.m., but it was on Green Street—surprising how that familiar, near environment can become so threatening. I felt open, raw and exposed the entire 15-20 minutes we sat there, not comfortable at all like sitting outside in Urbana. I don’t fear for my life in Urbana. But he turned and watched these three young college girls, followed by a couple guys, walk down Green then go north.

I turned to Ryan and did the brow-wipe and the “whooo” sigh, silent a moment, then I said, “this has been a cool chat, but I think I’m going to leave before we get offered candy again.” So I left and walked the south side of Green Street back to the dark safety of Urbana. The guy ambled along, really seeming to look for mischief—really looking, searching, looking into windows, following the girls with his gaze, seeming every minute to pause for the crime calculation of risk over return.

He was slow, looking into buildings, and I was a “spirited” walker, to say the least, so I soon lost sight of him behind, last seeing him peer through the front glass of Deluxe pub. But the night walk home was interesting—not the general paranoiac fear of darkness unknown, of the possibility of bushes pregnant with full grown men—but the specific one thought-fear of the Lavender man. Is he behind me? Did he run and sneak around front of me ? No, probably not. I left him behind. He didn’t seem the running type.

It’s funny, though, how people ask about drugs—this guy calls it “candy,” the Fallout [club in St. Louis] Longhair asked for “snort.” It almost made me later want to find out what he meant by “candy,” but I have a feeling I was correct to do what I did, not even get involved with a ne’er-do-well such as himself. I thought about starting a conversation and backing out—did he mean coke/crack? But it was probably better not to even get involved—and he wasn’t selling anything, not near so much as he seemed to be of the other persuasion, the Aggressive Consumer (when you take the goods without sharing your $). …

The other thing I was thinking about was the bricks on which we sat. I’ve walked by those bricks hundreds of times, so they were a part of Matt’s Campus Realm map, but now I have played out a scene of my life there. I am making use of the whole of my stage. All gets acted in at some point, all that I occupy is a setting for some incident/conversation/thought/recollection, etc. But there is a lot of the campus in which I don’t go and which is superfluous to my existence. This is my image: the places I go are created to a certain depth—a 10-yard tube along the roads I walk, the tube being the scenery I see and occupy. I don’t need what’s behind Pizza Hut until I go by there.

But standing at the sea coast, say, the Gulf of Mexico, you only see the coast near you, and it doesn’t bend much, or maybe it bends a lot at any local area, but the map makers give us these shapes of land viewed from some weird above-and-away-from perspective—the philosophy of calculus. But how do you know, how do they know how far out to draw the boundary, at what angle, to accommodate a bulge in the coastline? Where are they that they can see the coast as they draw it? Nothing at the point can tell you the overall shape of the coast.

But I guess I wasn’t all that into “learning from conversations” tonight because I didn’t question Ryan, find out what he thinks; he told me or I told him what I think. …

Before the Candyman’s arrival, I mentioned how I had worn one pair of shorts all last week, expecting, I guess, for Ryan to laugh. But he called me on it and said dirty laundry is something you don’t talk about—and he’s right. I don’t like to hear about how others are dirty, how they don’t shower. Why did I say it? …

Ramen’s boiling!

I like this kind of writing like tonight—just jotting down all the odd stuff that happens to me, which is inherently odd (to me) in that it happens to me (and seems odd). I’m not sure if that is clear—pretty sure it isn’t. But just this type of writing, not fiction, no pressure to find a plot to fit tonight’s anecdotes into. It’s not all that useful as prose on its own—but it’s fun. It’s fun to write. I like to write, not only to record it and not forget it, to possibly use it in fiction later, but also just to write it—it’s fun to put my words on paper, to shape a story, relate a narrative, and it makes me proud if it has a good overall image, or even just a good sentence/turn of a phrase.

No pressure here to be good. I don’t plan to edit/rewrite—no pressure to finish, even. But I do. It feels good, but also feels like an accomplishment—it’s satisfying to flip through all the pages I’ve filled with blue ink, adding a thousand facets and rippling to the paper, make it crinkle when turned in the writing process. …

[From Journal 11, pages 85–92]

20 Oct. 2019: An Image and An Idea

“He’s a dog of many enthusiasms,” said woodcut artist Audrey Christie of dog Sosa at her house near Dodgeville, Wisc. 20 Oct. 2019.

φ   I don’t need to explain everything in what I publish to blog! And I don’t need to pick a mood/tone before I start writing. It’s OK to be a little messy and inexplicable—like life is, maybe—and like poetry can be. I don’t need to seem calm and collected in my postings from my journal! Why should I try to write like some Op-Ed columnist, valued for one’s opinions or having some theoretical program to promote and sell. … I’m not sure where ideas come from—I’m not a point source/P.O.V. of consistent ideas. I’m a conduit for ideas starting from/originating I know not where. No need to be self-righteous when I do have a new insight, thinking this new ideas is the best ever—even if it feels that way! Being intimate in my blog-posts, not necessarily maintaining a cool, normal exterior (mood).  [20 Oct. 2019 journal, J310]

19 Oct. 2019: An Image and an Idea

Hummus plate at Sahara Restaurant, Rockford, Ill. 19 Oct. 2019.

φ  “Verse Vice-ah”: a poem title?  [19 Oct. pocket pages]